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How to Sharpen (and Hone) Your Knives

How to Sharpen (and Hone) Your Knives

Did you know that more accidents occur with dull knives than sharp ones because of the extra force required to cut with a dull blade? Dull knives will waste your time, tear your meat, bruise your vegetables, and squish your bread. Sharp knives are a necessity in the kitchen, but the best method of keeping a good edge seems like such a mystery! This article will explain exactly how to sharpen (and hone) your kitchen knives.

We are going to cut through the uncertainty of this topic (pun intended), so let’s begin by discussing the difference between sharpening and honing.

Sharpening actually removes material from a knife’s blade to form a new, sharp edge. A properly maintained knife shouldn’t need to be sharpened very often. Something in the neighborhood of twice a year would be reasonable, although this can vary based on quality of the knife and frequency of use.

Honing, also known as steeling, is about straightening the edge of your knife. Even a sharp edge isn’t useful unless it is straight. Normal use can cause the edge of your knife to “roll,” so honing it realigns it. The process of honing can also be called “folding back the burr.” Honing needs to be done very regularly, although experts disagree somewhat on frequency. Many say that once a week is sufficient, while others say a knife should be honed before and after every use. When you consistently use sharp, effective knives in your kitchen, you’ll be able to tell when they need to be honed and sharpened. Just pay attention to your knives’ performance and maintain them accordingly.

Now that you know the difference between sharpening and honing your knives, let’s look at the methods to accomplish both and the correct procedure for each.

Photo Credit: Didrikshttps://www.flickr.com/photos/dinnerseries/

Whetstones (for Sharpening)

Whetstones take a little more time and effort to yield a sharp blade, but they are relatively easy to use. They can develop grooves after a lot of use, so your whetstone will need to be replaced when this happens.

  1. Whetstones need to be soaked in water for at least 10-15 minutes before use. (Check the manufacturer’s instructions.) You will continue to add water during the sharpening process.
  2. Next, lubricate your whetstone with mineral oil, sharpening oil, or machine oil. The lubricant fills the pores of the whetstone to protect them from collecting swarf, the debris that is loosened during the knife-sharpening process. The lubrication also helps decrease the friction caused by sharpening, which reduces the amount of heat produced. Too much heat can warp your blade.
  3. Keep your whetstone from slipping by placing it in a holder or on a towel.
  4. Identify the bevel angle, also known as the rough grind angle, of your blade. You can check with the manufacturer to get this precise angle. You’ll want to keep this angle as consistently as possible during the sharpening process. This angle will probably be in the neighborhood of 20 degrees (at least for non-Japanese knives). A rough way to find this angle is to place the blade on the stone at a 90 degree angle, tilt the blade to cut that angle in half (45 degrees), and then tilt the blade further to cut the 45 degree angle in half (22.5 degrees).
  5. Whetstones are made from stone and usually have a course grit side and a fine grit side. Identify the course grit side, and start there. You’ll want to maintain your angle (from step 4) as consistently as possible throughout the sharpening process. Applying light but even pressure (barely more than the weight of the knife), rub the blade back and forth across the length of the whetstone. The number of passes required will be determined by how dull the blade was to start. Do this step on both sides of the blade, making sure the entire length of the blade contacts the whetstone on every pass. (A rough estimate is 12 passes per side.)
  6. Turn your whetstone over to expose the fine grit side. This step removes any burrs that occurred during the sharpening. Make sure to keep the blade at the right angle throughout this step, as well.

Ceramic Stones (for Sharpening)

Ceramic stones are harder than whetstones, which means they can sharpen your blade faster. They don’t develop grooves as fast as whetstones, so they tend to last longer. Most people feel that ceramic stones are harder to use, but a little practice will help you hone your skills. (See what we did there?)

1.    Ceramic stones need to be soaked in water for 3-5 minutes before use. (Check the manufacturer’s instructions.) You will continue to add water during the sharpening process.

2.    Next, lubricate your ceramic stone with mineral oil, sharpening oil, or machine oil. The lubricant fills the pores of the stone to protect them from collecting swarf, the debris that is loosened during the knife-sharpening process. The lubrication also helps decrease the friction caused by sharpening, which reduces the amount of heat produced. Too much heat can warp your blade.

3.    Keep your ceramic stone from slipping by placing it in a holder or on a towel.

4.    Identify the bevel angle, also known as the rough grind angle, of your blade. You can check with the manufacturer to get this precise angle. You’ll want to keep this angle as consistently as possible during the sharpening process. This angle will probably be in the neighborhood of 20 degrees (at least for non-Japanese knives). A rough way to find this angle is to place the blade on the stone at a 90 degree angle, tilt the blade to cut that angle in half (45 degrees), and then tilt the blade further to cut the 45 degree angle in half (22.5 degrees).

5.    Applying light but even pressure (barely more than the weight of the knife), rub the blade back and forth across the length of the ceramic stone. You’ll want to maintain your angle (from step 4) as consistently as possible throughout the sharpening process. The number of passes required will be determined by how dull the blade was to start. Do this step on both sides of the blade, making sure the entire length of the blade contacts the stone on every pass.

6.    Hone your knife (instructions are under the Honing section of this article).

Diamond Stones (for Sharpening)

Diamond stones are the hardest of the sharpening stones. They’re constructed of metal plates with tiny diamonds bound to the surface. These stones come in hard, fine, and superfine grit. This type of sharpening stone does last the longest, but it’s also the most expensive.

1.    Next, lubricate your diamond stone with diluted dishwashing soap. The lubrication helps decrease the friction caused by sharpening, which reduces the amount of heat produced. Too much heat can warp your blade.

2.    Keep your diamond stone from slipping by placing it in a holder or on a towel.

3.    Identify the bevel angle, also known as the rough grind angle, of your blade. You can check with the manufacturer to get this precise angle. You’ll want to keep this angle as consistently as possible during the sharpening process. This angle will probably be in the neighborhood of 20 degrees (at least for non-Japanese knives). A rough way to find this angle is to place the blade on the stone at a 90 degree angle, tilt the blade to cut that angle in half (45 degrees), and then tilt the blade further to cut the 45 degree angle in half (22.5 degrees).

4.    Applying light but even pressure (barely more than the weight of the knife), rub the blade back and forth across the length of the diamond stone. You’ll want to maintain your angle (from step 3) as consistently as possible throughout the sharpening process. The number of passes required will be determined by how dull the blade was to start. Do this step on both sides of the blade, making sure the entire length of the blade contacts the stone on every pass.

5.    Hone your knife (instructions are under the Honing section of this article).

Honing Rod / Steel (for Honing)

Honing rods are made of steel and are used for straightening the edge of your knife (not for sharpening).

  1. Hold your rod vertically, with the tip placed on the counter. Placing it on a towel will help keep it from slipping. We also recommend placing the towel on a cutting board to protect your counter from any damage.
  2. Identify the bevel angle, also known as the rough grind angle, of your blade. You can check with the manufacturer to get this precise angle. You’ll want to keep this angle as consistently as possible during the honing process. This angle will probably be in the neighborhood of 20 degrees (at least for non-Japanese knives). A rough way to find this angle is to place the blade on the rod at a 90 degree angle, tilt the blade to cut that angle in half (45 degrees), and then tilt the blade further to cut the 45 degree angle in half (22.5 degrees).
  3. Keep your fingers behind the butt of the rod for safety!
  4. Position the heel of the knife blade at the base of the rod. Applying light but even pressure (barely more than the weight of the knife), swipe the knife’s blade along the rod to the blade tip, maintaining the angle with a locked wrist.
  5. Keep your shoulder loose to make several swipes on both sides of the knife blade, and your knife is honed.

Mechanical Sharpener (for Sharpening and Honing)

A mechanical sharpener is much easier than manual sharpening or honing, but make sure you get a good one, or you’ll ruin your knives with it. Big Plate carries Work Sharp® because of their quality and superior reputation.

Our professional level mechanical sharpener uses a traditional belt sharpening process to sharpen your blades the same way knife manufacturers do it. The machine’s one touch programming has the sharpening knowledge built in. This machine can shape, sharpen, or refine, and it automatically adjusts speeds and running time to match the degree of sharpening desired. Meanwhile, sharpening guides eliminate guesswork and uneven sharpening by applying the 17° edge – a balance of the precise cutting ability of Eastern knives and the strength and durability of Western knives.

Our mechanical sharpener designed for home use sharpens and hones at a 20 degree angle. It sharpens with flexible abrasives on a timer, so your knife is sharpened gently and to precision. This model uses a ceramic honing slot to hone your blade in between sharpenings.

Pull Through Knife Sharpener (for Sharpening and/or Honing)

These have sharpening surfaces (ceramic or diamond) in coarse and fine grits to put an edge on your blades with only a few strokes. You don’t have to worry about maintaining an angle, because the pull through sharpener has a set angle that sharpens both sides of the blade at once at a preset angle. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for what the angle is, as it will mostly like be around 20 degrees and therefore only suitable for western-style blades. The grip on a pull through sharpener keeps your fingers out of harm’s way while allowing the sharpener to stay firmly on a surface. Some pull through sharpeners include a finer grit slot for honing, as well.

Professional Sharpening (for Sharpening)

You can always let a professional do your knife sharpening. They usually charge about a dollar an inch. If you don’t know who does this in your area, check with local hairdressers—most have their shears sharpened professionally. There are also mail order sharpeners available. Leaving this job to the professionals can give you a better result, but you lose the convenience of being able to sharpen your knives right when you want it done. Plus, it can get costly, so the decision is yours. If you go this route, you’ll still need to hone your own knives regularly.

If you are in the West Texas area, Big Plate offers professional knife sharpening.

Hopefully this information takes the mystery out of properly sharpening and honing your kitchen knives. Big Plate is proud to carry a large selection of high quality knives in a variety of price points, so come in the store or visit our website to browse what we have to offer. If you’d like to learn more about kitchen knives and how to properly care for them, check out Which Zwilling Knives are Right for You and How to Care for Your Kitchen Knives. Happy chopping!

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