Knife sharpening is an extremely valuable skill, as it can improve the cutting quality of your knives as well as extend their lifespan considerably.
While the chefs on TV make knife sharpening look like a skill they learned from Shaolin Monks in some secret temple, the truth of the matter is that it is actually a very simple procedure.
This article will not only provide the proper technique for sharpening knives, but it will also help you to know when your knives need more help that you can provide with the modest tools at our disposal.
Honing vs. Sharpening
The first thing to realize is that what we often call knife sharpening is in fact knife honing. The difference is that we really don’t let our knives become dull enough to require full sharpening.
The tools readily available to us at our local gourmet kitchen stores are not designed to bring a dull blade to sharpness, rather they are intended to prevent a blade from becoming dull with regular maintenance.
That said we should not be overwhelmed with the act of honing our knives, as all we are really doing is adding additional sharpness to relatively sharpened blades. This is where the condition becomes an issue.
Knives that have become dull from regular use require simple honing that basic tools can provide. Knives that are visibly damaged, chipped or deformed require more care than we can provide with this technique.
Those knives need to either be replaced, or if they are of significant fiscal or sentimental value, brought to a professional for servicing.
Using a Sharpening Tool
While there are several knife sharpening tools available, the most commonly used one is called a honing steel. This tool looks like a round, metal file. Despite its appearance, this tool is only able to maintain the sharpness of a blade, nothing more.
First, choose a surface to perform this procedure on. Your dining room table or kitchen counter will be ideal, as these are usually large surfaces with plenty of light available.
Next, place a towel or cloth on the surface. This will protect the surface from becoming scratched by the honing steel. Then, place the tip of the honing steel on the cloth, holding it vertically.
It is important to maintain a firm grip on the handle of the honing steel at all times.
Choose the knife you want to sharpen and place the sharpened side of the blade at a right angle to the honing steel.
Next, reduce the angle of the blade by half, so that the sharpened edge is pointing down at a 45-degree angle to the honing steel.
Finally, reduce this angle by half again, causing the sharp side of your knife-blade to point down at a 20-23 degree angle.
These extra steps may seem tedious, but they help to ensure the correct angle of the blade, which will make the difference between you sharpening your knife or dulling it even more.
With the knife at the proper angle, bring the handle up and back, so that the point of the knife is resting against the top of the honing steel (where the handle is, furthest from the table).
With a smooth, gentle motion, slide the knife forward and down, but not so far down as to damage your work surface.
Place the knife on the other side of the honing steel and repeat the process for the other side of the blade.
Four or five passes on each side will be sufficient to restore your knife to its intended sharpness.
It really is that simple.
You’re not sharpening your Viking sword at the smithy.
You are simply maintaining the edge of a knife which is designed to keep its form for a lifetime of use.
Needless to say, wash your knives after sharpening to remove any metal shavings or dust that may have been created.
Also, DO NOT run your fingers along the blade. If you want to test the sharpness, have a tomato handy and simply perform a routine cut.
Washing the honing steel is optional, but if you do, make sure it gets fully dried afterwards, as rusting can be an issue otherwise.