Whether you’re working with traditional kitchen knives or hunting and fishing knives, making sure your knife has a sharp edge is very important – a sharp knife does its job more efficiently and is safer to use. Unfortunately, all knives lose their edge over time, requiring that they be either replaced or sharpened. Now what?
Know Your Options
Depending on the type of knives you’re working with, there are a few different ways you can sharpen your knives. For our purposes, we will only be discussing non-serrated knives, as serrated knives require a slightly different set of tools and skills.
In the past, many areas had a local grinder, either a shop owner or an individual who would travel the area to sharpen knives and other household blades, such as those used in gardening. Today, grinders are very rare, and the few that exist are often carrying on a family business; don’t count on being able to find one.
Another way you can sharpen your knives is by using an electric sharpener. Electric knife sharpeners are very popular because they provide good results with little effort. We recommend the Chef’s Choice 1520, a multi-stage sharpener with advanced features, perfect for any style of knife. Other good alternatives include the Presto 08800 Eversharp or Wusthof 3 Stage electric knife sharpeners.
Finally, if you want to understand your knives better and are willing to spend some time learning a new skill, we recommend learning to manually sharpen your own knives. To do this, you’ll need a few simple tools and a lot of patience, but you’re sure to be impressed with the final results. The sharpest edges come from manual sharpening.
To manually sharpen a knife, the only tool you really need is a sharpening stone or steel. You’ve likely seen chefs use a steel on cooking shows, that long rod that they seem to run the knife along the sides of very rapidly. We’ll be focusing on using a stone, a much slower and safer process for beginners. You may also want to have a honing rod on hand if your knife blade is no longer straight.
In addition to the stone, you’ll also need something to lubricate the stone – typically water, though in some cases vegetable oil. This helps to wash away the metal dust that will come off during the sharpening process. Be careful when using vegetable oil on knives that aren’t used that frequently, as it can go rancid. As long as the knife is being washed regularly, however, you don’t really need to worry about this issue.
Step 1: Mark Your Blade
When manually sharpening a knife, you need to hold it at a constant 20-degree angle to the stone in order to create a consistent edge. This can be hard to do and requires you to feel your way into the process as much as visually judge the angle. For those new to the task, however, it can be hard to know what feels right. We recommend marking your knife bevel in Sharpie so that you can distinguish which part of the blade should be moving across the stone. It can be hard to visualize such a small angle on a thin knife, so this visual guide will help you stay consistent.
Step 2: Go Slow
Once you have your blade and stone out, moisten your stone and prepare to get started. Steady your knife along the stone at that 20-degree angle and push it slowly away from your body against the grain of the stone. Make sure to always hold the knife facing away from you so that you don’t cut yourself.
Alternatively, you can also sharpen your knife by moving it side to side across the stone, rather than pressing it forward. This is known as sharpening Japanese style, and many consider it to be a more precise way to sharpen knives since the knife never leaves the stone. When pushing the knife forward along the stone, on the other hand, you have to regain your angle every time you start the motion over. Keep track of how many times you make your chosen motion.
While sharpening your knife, check the stone regularly to be sure it’s still lubricated. Some stones are known for being “thirsty” – they require rewetting frequently during the sharpening process, as is the case with the Naniwa Super Stones. Shapton Glass Stones, on the hand, hardly ever need to be rewet during the process, but they’re less friendly for beginners.
Step 3: Switch Sides
Once you’ve begun to develop a good edge along the first side of your knife, flip it over and start on the other side. You want to perform the same number of strokes on each side in order to keep your knife even and maximize the edge, so repeat this process as you did on the first side. You may need to switch back and forth a few times, depending on how keen the initial edge was and when you changed sides.
It’s also important to use the same amount of pressure on both sides of the knife. Your hands may be tired by the time you get to the second side, but your knife won’t come away even if you apply different amounts of pressure.
Step 4: Check The Edge
Finally, when you think you’ve finished sharpening your knife, you’ll need to check the new edge. People do this in different ways – some prefer to put the knife to work, while those looking for the sharpest possible edge tend to attempt to cut vertically through a piece of paper with no pressure. (The most daring shave the hairs off their arms with barely a touch – we don’t recommend this strategy.) Whatever way you choose to test the edge, you should be able to make a clean cut with little effort. That’s how you know you’re done.
Knife Advice You Can Trust
At Carlson Knives, we know all about knives, from hunting and survival knives to your core kitchen tools. If you’re in the market for a new knife of any type or an important accessory like a knife sharpener, our reviews will steer you in the right direction. And if you can’t find what you need? Contact us here and we’ll help you solve even the trickiest knife conundrum – we’re always on the cutting edge.