A sharp kitchen knife is an essential tool for any cooking enthusiast. Carbon steel knives are favored by many chefs for their exceptionally keen edges and their ease of sharpening. While others prefer the ease of maintenance with stainless steel. Regardless of steel type, regular sharpening is necessary to maintain their optimal performance.
In this article, we will guide you through the process of sharpening kitchen knives using four popular methods: diamond sharpening, wet stone sharpening, stropping, and honing.
Diamond stone sharpening is a quick and effective method to restore the sharpness of your kitchen knives when the edge is very dull. Diamond stones have a hard surface that efficiently removes metal from the blade and don't deteriorate as quickly as natural stones. These stones are great at low grits to get a dull edge sharp.
Here's how to do it:
- Start by placing the diamond sharpening stone on a stable surface, or hold it firmly in your hand.
- Hold the knife's handle firmly and place the blade against the stone at the original angle of the sharpened edge--feel for the subtle flatness of the sharpened edge angle.
- Using light to moderate pressure, move the blade across the stone in a sweeping motion, blade moving towards the stone--in the direction of cutting, maintaining the original angle and running the entire length of the blade along the stone with each pass.
- Repeat the process on the other side of the blade, ensuring equal sharpening on both sides.You can jump sides with each stroke, or spend 10-20 seconds on one side and then jump to the other side.
- Continue this back-and-forth motion until you have achieved the desired sharpness.
- Note that whether you're planning on stropping the edge after sharpening or not, you want to sharpen the final side until you see a small foil-like edge appear on the opposite side. This thin burr is often called a "wire edge" and at high grits can mostly be felt and a small bull sticking out at an angle from the sharpened edge (See figure 1 below).
Wet stone sharpening is a traditional and time-honored method that allows for precise control and customization of the sharpening process. These stones often get fairly high in grit, allowing the potential to get quite the keen edge. There are both oil and water stones, but water stones are more convenient and more common. Here's how to sharpen your kitchen knives using a water-based wet stone:
- Submerge the wet stone in water for about 10-15 minutes until it is completely saturated.
- Place the wet stone on a stable surface with a damp cloth underneath to prevent slipping.
- Hold the knife's handle and position the blade against the stone at the original angle of the sharpened edge.
- With moderate pressure, move the blade across the stone, in the direction of cutting. Run the full length of the edge along the stone with each pass while maintaining the original angle.
- Repeat the process on the other side of the blade, ensuring even sharpening on both sides. You can go back and forth, or focus on one side for a bit, and then jump to the other side.
- Continue this process, periodically adding water to the stone to keep it wet, until you achieve the desired sharpness.
- Again, note that you want to sharpen the final side until you see a small foil-like edge appear on the opposite side of the edge (See figure 1).
Stropping is the final step in the sharpening process after using diamond or wet stones. Stropping helps refine the edge and remove any burrs or micro-imperfections from the sharpening process. Stropping can also be used to simply extend the length of time the knife stays sharp in between sharpening sessions, similar to a honing tool. Stropping involves using a strop typically made of leather, canvas, or cork, where a stropping/polishing/honing compound is used on the surface.
Here's how to strop your kitchen knives:
- Attach the strop to a stable surface or hold it tightly.
- Apply a small amount of stropping compound or honing paste to the strop. This helps enhance the sharpening process.
- Hold the knife's handle and place the blade flat against the strop. With a belt-strop or "unbacked" hold the blade at a slightly lower angle to the sharpened edge. Resting on the heel of the edge, avoiding overly rounding the fine edge due to the give in the soft strop. On a hard-backed strop that has less give than a belt strop, use the angle that the knife was sharpened at, trying to avoid rounding the fine edge while still removing the fine foil edge.
- With a light touch, move the blade across the strop, stroking away from the edge-- opposite of cutting and sharpening, all while maintaining the original angle.
- Repeat the process several times, alternating sides, until the foil has been removed and you achieve a razor-sharp edge.
Knife honing is an essential step in maintaining the sharpness of your kitchen knives. Honing is different from sharpening as it focuses on realigning the microscopic edge of the blade rather than removing metal. A knife hone, also known as a honing rod, is used for this purpose.
Here's how to use a knife hone:
- Hold the knife hone upright in one hand, with the tip resting on a stable surface.
- Hold the knife's handle in your other hand, with the blade against the hone at the original angle of the sharpened edge.
- Starting from the base of the blade, gently swipe the knife down the hone, moving from the base to the tip, while maintaining the angle.
- Repeat this process several times, alternating sides of the blade, to ensure even honing.
- Remember to use light pressure and let the hone do the work. The goal is to realign the edge, not remove material.
How to tell if your knife is sharp:
For one, make sure you get the foil edge before moving to a higher grit stone or strop. This is one of the most critical points in the process and is too often overlooked.
Paper Test: If the edge seems sharp, then you can cut paper as a test. Thin newspaper is a very good material for this test, as opposed to thicker magazine or printer paper. Slowly cut the paper, testing each part of the cutting edge for sharpness. If the blade catches or hangs up on the paper, there must still be a burr or other micro-imperfection at that point in the blade. Investigate and use whatever means in the arsenal to address the issue.
Fingernail Test: Another popular method for a quick check of the sharpness of your knife is the fingernail test. The surface of the nail is soft enough for the knife to bite in under its own weight, so that it won't slide laterally across the nail when pushed. Simply rest the blade gently on one of your fingernail outstretched horizontally and then try to move the blade sideways while avoiding putting any downward pressure against the nail. The blade shouldn't move with light lateral pressure because the blade is sharp enough to bite into the nail under its own weight.
Sharpening your kitchen knives is an empowering skill that enables you to maintain your own kitchen environment and cook with confidence. By exploring different sharpening techniques, including both traditional and modern approaches, you can ensure that your knives remain consistently sharp and ready for any task.
Remember to approach the sharpening process with patience and precision, keeping in mind the original angle of the sharpened edge. You can easily do more damage if you are not mindful of the entire process and go step-by-step. Feel free to email us with any specific questions through our contact page.