Timothy Woods
Published by Timothy Woods
Last Updated On: August 26, 2021

Knives are one of the most important tools for any chef. A sharp and well-maintained knife can make all the difference in your cooking experience.

With a sharp knife, it is easy to slice through meat, vegetables, or other ingredients with precision and control.

As a professional chef, I can tell you that sharpening is a skill that anyone who would use a knife in the kitchen needs to know.

A sharp knife is a safe knife. So it is good news that there are options available to sharpen knives at home.

What Is A Knife Sharpener?

A person sharpening his knife

A knife sharpener has three basic functions: 

  • Hone (or straightens out) the blade
  • Remove any nicks in the blade
  • Create a new cutting surface along both sides of the blade

There are a number of different types of sharpeners on the market, from electric models to honing rods and whetstones.

Each type has its own unique set of features, benefits, and drawbacks, which can make choosing one difficult if you're not sure what to look for.

These functions are all done by grinding the blade against a series of progressively finer abrasive sharpening surfaces. This progressive abrasion results in a knife’s blade that is sharp and long-lasting.

Types Of Sharpeners - Manual And Electric

An electric sharpener beside the knives

Knives are a staple in kitchens all around the world, from preparing food to opening packages.

But knives can quickly lose their sharp edge and leave you with a dull blade if not properly cared for.

Dull knives are dangerous, and it can be difficult to cut food properly with them. By increasing force to compensate for a dull knife, one is potentially putting oneself at risk [1].

To sharpen or maintain your knife's edge you need an effective sharpener that is appropriate for your kitchen.

Whether it be manual or electric, there are some key differences between each type of sharpener that will help you choose the right one for your needs.

"The secret of a successful restaurant is sharp knives." - George Orwell, author

 

There are two basic types of sharpener: manual and electric.

Manual knife sharpeners are relatively inexpensive, portable, and don't need electricity. However, they generally require more time to sharpen a cutter because you have to hold the blade in place while manually sharpening it.

They are also challenging to use - without the right technique, you can make your edge duller.

There are a number of ways to sharpen a knife manually. You can use a whetstone, steel, or pull-through sharpener. They each have their own merits and offer different sharpening results.

Consider the type of knife and its material - some materials may not be compatible with certain sharpeners.

There are also electric knife sharpeners that can be plugged in or run on batteries.

These sharpeners are typically more expensive than manual models, but they're easier to use and take far less time because they do most of the work for you.

How To Use A Manual Sharpener

A stone sharpener below the knife

Manual sharpeners offer an inexpensive solution to the problem of a dull knife, and they don’t require electricity or any other power source.

These sharpening tools may seem difficult at first, but you will soon get the hang of them.

These sharpeners come in three basic types: the sharpening stone, steel, and pull-through. 

Each of these has a different use and will be more appropriate for different knives and your sharpening goals.

1. Sharpening Stone

A small sharpening stone

The sharpening stone, or whetstone, is the oldest and most labor-intensive of these three options.

But it also gives you a lot of control over how much metal you remove from your blade with each stroke.

Most whetstones are rectangular blocks of stone with a coarse grit side and a fine grit side.

You can use sharpening stones to create an incredibly precise cutting edge over the entire length that is razor-sharp:

  1. Set your sharpening stone on top of a moist towel or damp paper towels on a flat surface.
  2. To form the knife edge back into the correct shape quickly, begin by placing the coarse side of the stone on top.
  3. The manufacturer's recommendations should be followed when lubricating the stone. You may not need any lubricant for some stones, others require oil or water as a lubricant.
  4. Starting at the heel of the blade and finishing at the knife tip, place the knife at a 22.5-degree angle and carefully draw it down and across the stone.
  5. Repeat this action at least five times.
  6. Using the same motion, sharpen the knife's reverse side as well. The number of times you sharpen this side should be the same as the other side.
  7. Bring the knife back to the original side, but this time pull it from the tip to the heel. Again, do this five times.
  8. Reverse the blade and again sharpen it from the tip to the heel five times.
  9. Follow the first steps again using the fine side of your sharpening stone.

These simple steps will leave your kitchen knives with exceptional cutting edges.

In case you don't have a sharpening stone at your disposal, don't worry, as here is how to sharpen a knife without a stone.

2. Sharpening Steel

A sharpening steel or rod on a wooden surface

The next type of hand-held sharpener is a steel.

Sometimes called a honing rod or honing steel, a knife sharpening steel is not actually designed to sharpen a knife.

Instead, its purpose is to straighten the metal edges so that they are more aligned and smooth.

This will help your blade maintain its edge for longer periods of time without having to be sharpened as often. You can consider it a "tune-up" for your knife in between sharpening.

 

The steps for using honing steels are:

  1. Start by setting the sharpening steel's tip firmly on a dry cutting board, point down.
  2. Then, hold the knife crosswise against the steel so the heel of the blade touches. The knife will be pulled toward you backward, so you want to begin with the greatest part of the blade in front of the steel.
  3. Form a 22.5-degree angle between the knife blade and the honing steel shaft.
  4. Keep this 22.5-degree angle as you gently pull the blade toward you and glide it down the steel rod. Make sure to cover the blade's entire length and do this ten times.
  5. Then, turn the blade over and repeat the process ten more times on the steel.

Although this will not give you a cutting edge like a whetstone, this will keep the blade aligned and knife sharp.

3. Pull-through Sharpener

A pull through sharpener tool

The final manual knife sharpener is the easiest one of all to use.

The pull-through doesn't require any significant effort at all: you simply run your blade through the slot with slight pressure in order to sharpen it.

The sharpener holds the knife at the correct angle to ensure an excellent edge. It may seem obvious, but you should pull from the heel of the blade to the tip.

The abrasive of the sharpener will remove some of the metal and leave the knife sharper than it was. The more times you pull the knife through, the more metal will be removed.

How To Use An Electric Sharpener

An electric sharpener being used

In order to keep your knife at its sharpest possible point for cooking purposes, you may want to invest in a quality electric knife sharpener that will help restore the edge on your blade quickly and efficiently.

Electric sharpeners work by using two rotating abrasive disks with alternating coarse or fine grits that pull away metal as they spin against each other.

Most electric sharpeners have two or more slots to pull the knife through. The first and most abrasive is a coarser grit. This will help hone the blade and remove any knicks.

The last one you use should be the least abrasive. This will put a sharp edge on the knife and make it ready for cutting.

The process for sharpening is straightforward:

  1. Read the manufacturer’s instructions
  2. Turn the machine on
  3. Place the heel of the knife onto the base of the coarsest section sharpener with the blade pointing down
  4. Pull the entire blade of the cutter backward in a single smooth stroke
  5. Repeat in each additional slot, leaving the fine grit slot for last

 

Generally, you only require one pass through each slot to sharpen the knife. An electric knife sharpener is so convenient that you can finish the sharpening process in less than a minute.

The biggest drawback to the electric version of a sharpener is that it will take more metal off your blade than manual sharpening does. This means that your cutter will have a shorter lifespan if you use this sharpener on it regularly.

Tips For Using Both Types Of Knife Sharpeners

A knife and sharpening rod on a cutting board

Always use a knife sharpening steel that is no shorter than the length of your blade.

You should carefully wipe the cutter with a towel after using the knife sharpening steel to ensure that no metal filings end up in your food.

While you work in the kitchen, you should keep a steel at hand. Within just a few minutes of ordinary slicing on a cutting board, your knife's edge can become misaligned.

Once you're used to the feel of a sharp cutter, you'll immediately notice the difference. As soon as it feels off, you can straighten the knife out by just running it down the steel quickly. This way you don’t have to use a whetstone or grind away more of the blade.

“I like the Japanese knives, I like French knives. Whatever’s sharp,” - Wolfgang Puck, chef  

Whether you're on the front or back edge, sharpen in the same direction.

The myth that some knives don't need sharpening is false. Cutting causes friction to the blade, and friction damages the edge. There's no getting around that, so you will have to sharpen your knife sets.

Sharpening ceramic knives is not recommended since they are brittle and break easily.

Remember, even if you have a good knife, it will eventually get dull and become unsafe [2]. Your cutter will last longer if you take care of it.

  • Knives should not be stored on their edges and should be protected with a blade protector if kept in a drawer.
  • After each use, wash the cutter in warm, soapy water and store it only when completely dry.
  • You can store both Asian and western style knives in a knife block. This is also true for a chef’s knife or serrated knife.

Maintain The Knife Edge

Sharpening knives is easy, but most people don’t know how to do it properly and keep their blades sharp.

The best way to keep your knives sharp and in great shape for years of use is with the right kitchen tools. You need a quality sharpener that will make short work of dull blades so you can cut food safely and easily again.

If you don't currently use a knife sharpener, now's the time to get one. There are even sharpeners that will work on serrated knives too.

With just a few minutes of maintenance, you'll never need to worry about slicing into something again without precision or control ever again.


References:

  1. https://www.wusthof.com/pages/the-importance-of-a-sharp-knife
  2. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=263

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