If you’re getting serious in the kitchen, then a sharp knife is an essential tool. Dull blades can cause a hazard in the kitchen, as you will have to struggle to use them, which is more likely to result in accidents.
If you’re searching for the best method of sharpening your knives, that will not only restore their effectiveness but also result in lasting effects and the least damage possible to your implements, here is a breakdown of all the different methods out there and their pros and cons.
Sharpening stones, otherwise known as whetstones, are used across the board to sharpen all kinds of metal tools, and knives are no exception. Their coarse surface is able to grind and hone the surface of a knife to allow you to reach a razor-sharp edge.
Sharpening stones can be found in a whole range of different materials offering varying coarseness, which is measured according to the grit size and density of their particles. A higher grit size corelates with higher density; this equals smaller particles that provide a less abrasive tool, which can be used to create a finer finish.
Although it is possible to find natural sharpening stones, such as Coticule or Novaculite, artificially created stones tend to dominate the market due to their superior abilities and uniform particle size. You can often find sharpening blocks with a different particle size on either side, allowing for a whole range of different functions.
When sharpening your knife using a stone, it is essential to consider the following:
Selecting a Coarseness – You should always be careful to select the correct coarseness for each particular knife. Knives which simply need a quick refresher will only require a medium or fine stone. Blunt knives, on the other hand, should start with the coarsest stone to achieve sharpness, followed by a finer stone to refine the blade. Generally speaking, all knives will benefit from working through to the finest stone – only those which will be used for cutting soft vegetables are better with a toothed edge created by a coarser blade.
Choosing a Sharpening Angle – There is no use sharpening a knife if you get the angle wrong, which is why it is essential to take this into consideration before you begin. This is easiest if you know what angle your knife was sharpened at to begin with – these details can be found from the manufacturer of the knife. However, these angles usually fall within the ten to thirty-degree mark. The majority of knives which are to be used to cut hard products work well with a twenty-degree angle for a durable edge. On the other hand, knives used for softer foods should go slightly lower than this for the best effects, although the results may not last as long. Maintaining the angle whilst sharpening is essential to achieve a precise edge.
Maintaining the Angle – For the less experienced among us, a sharpening guide is a powerful ally when it comes to maintaining a consistent angle when sharpening. This allows you to achieve a sharp and precise edge using a small tool designed to maintain a consistent angle when sharpening. This removes room for mistakes in attempting it freehand. Another method which can be used to determine whether a consistent angle has been maintained is to shade the sloped edge of the knife with a black marker. If you have kept to a consistent angle, then this marker will have disappeared following a couple of strokes.
Wetting the Stone – Water or oil is sometimes used to lubricate sharpening stones as a method by which to dispel any waste material that arises whilst sharpening, thus preventing it from obstructing the surface of the stone. this makes the sharpening process more efficient and effective. It can also reduce the need for resurfacing or cleaning following use.
Sharpening Technique – The knife should be swept across the block sideways a number of times, moving from base to tip, first on one side and then on the other. It should be swept with the blade coming from bottom to top – in the opposite motion to that which would be used to slice a thin layer from the surface of the stone.
When to Use – Sharpening stones should not be used too often, as they can wear down the knife and reduce its lifespan. They are best kept for desperate times, when your knife is becoming unmanageably blunt.
Sharpening steels or rods commonly come as part and parcel of a knife block, meaning they are often more readily available than sharpening stones. They provide a quick and easy fix when you need to refresh your knives. Sharpening steels are effective at topping up the sharpness of your knives throughout their lives but may not be capable of reviving a very blunt blade.
Honing rods are capable of smoothing out the blade of your knife, removing any bumps or nicks that may be causing resistance in your cutting motion. They are a good solution for a quick fix that will not significantly alter the lifespan on your knife.
When sharpening using a honing rod, your technique should be as follows:
How to Hold – The honing rod should be held facing horizontally outwards at a slight incline, in your non-dominant hand. Your knife should be held in your dominant hand so that you can maintain a firm grip whilst sharpening.
The Angle – As with sharpening stones, the ideal angle for sharpening is approximately twenty-degrees and should be maintained as consistently as possible throughout the process for the best effects.
The Motion – The knife should be drawn across the length of the honing rod, using a wrist motion to begin with the base of the blade and move up to the tip of the knife as you reach the end of the rod. Between six to eight sweeps should be adequate to complete the task. This should be repeated on the top side and the bottom side of the rod, so that both sides of the knife are sharpened.
Pull Through Sharpeners
Pull through sharpeners consist of a device which contains gritted grinding wheels, which you can simply pull your knife through in order to sharpen.
Although these are very easy to use, the effects are usually not as good. They are incapable of achieving the fine edges made possible with sharpening stones, and their results are usually short-lived. It is usually not possible to achieve a fully smooth edge or a razor-sharp blade with a pull through sharpener.
Electrical Sharpening Machine
Electric knife sharpeners are not something you find in every kitchen. These consist of a device containing a number of different slots with varying sharpening wheels, which are set at a precise angle.
On the plus side, they are very quick and easy to use and can achieve precise and reliable results. On the down side, their ready-set angles reduce flexibility for knives which require something a little more nuanced. In addition, they can significantly reduce the lifespan of a knife compared to practically every other method, as they diminish the metal much faster. Furthermore, they are quite large, so are not suitable for kitchens with limited storage.
A Coffee Mug
You’re probably wondering ‘did I read that right?’ – but, yes, a coffee mug can be used to sharpen a knife. If you place your mug upside-down on a clear, flat surface, it can act in much the same way as a sharpening stone. Drag each edge your knife along the edge of the cup several times at a twenty-degree angle. Just don’t try this with your favourite mug!
If you want a set of effective knives which are sharpened to perfection, then the best option is to use a combination of a sharpening rod and sharpening stones. Whilst the steel rod can be used regularly to top up the performance of a knife and maintain longevity, the sharpening stone can be whipped out when times get really tough and your knife is crying out for a new lease of life.