A Complete Beginners Guide to Knife Sharpening
There are many tools for the maintenance of a knife, but a sharpener is the most significant of them all. It helps to polish, maintain, and restore the sharpness of a knife. So for that to happen, you will need the best knife sharpener out there, cause let me tell you, there is nothing more annoying than a blunt knife that just wouldn’t do its job.
When to Sharpen your Knife?
Repeated use of knives makes the blade lose its sharpness. But how will you know that it needs re-sharpening? A knife doesn’t exactly give out weekly reminders now, does it? What I recommend is that you should sharpen it straight out of the box, before its first use. This will give you the sharpest possible blade so you can enjoy working with maximum output for a while. After some time, you’ll notice that the knife crushes fruits (like tomatoes), rather than slicing them in perfect shape. This is when you’ll know that your knife needs re-sharpening. Then, you can use any of the knife sharpeners available out there. But before you decide to get one, we need you to know all the variety of options you have in the market.
Types of Knife Sharpeners
Sharpening or whet-stones are the most common way of sharpening a knife. They are rectangular, brick-like stones typically made up of a single material. Anyone, be it an amateur cook or a professional chef, can easily use it with a little practice. They provide a certain amount of control and a firm grip compared to other kinds of knife sharpeners out there. However, sharpening stones only work with straight blades. So, they are not very useful if you have a serrated-edged knife.
- Water stones - Water stones have been used by knife enthusiasts since the 18th century. These can be natural or man- made. Water stones have naturally been mined from places like Japan or Belgium for many years. As the name suggests, they need to be soaked in water for a while before use. Water acts as a lubricant and creates a fine thin blade.
- Oil stones – An oil stone is made up of either aluminum oxide or silicon carbide. The reason it's called an “oil” stone is that it needs to be lubricated with oil while sharpening. Even though it gets a lot messier than with a water stone, it sure is worth the hard work.
Diamond stones – They have small diamonds attached to the face of the plate which makes it extra hard and strong. It retains its flatness and gives a sharp, clean edge. A drawback is its initial cost. The price is a little higher, but it lasts a long time. If you are looking to save some money, you can always head on to Blade HQ, where you can find diamond sharpening stones at discounted prices.
Electric Knife Sharpeners:
If you are someone who is not interested in learning the skill to manually sharpen a knife or don’t want to do the hard work, then this is the gadget for you. An electric knife sharpener gets the job done in little to no time with almost no effort. Usually, it is a 2-3 step process in which the sharpener grinds and hones the blade to create a sharp edge. An electric sharpener usually has three slots, each of which has motorized wheels. They sharpen the blade all by themselves and all you have to do is just put the knife in.
It is more suitable for commercial use where there is a frequent kitchen knife sharpening situation. Because it needs an electric connection, they are not designed for portable use either. This is probably the easiest way to go about it, but you need to keep in mind that it damages the blade and may reduce its life by over-sharpening it.
Like the electric sharpeners, handheld sharpeners too ease the process however, they require a little more effort than the automatic ones. You will learn to use them efficiently with some practice as they do not have automated rolling stones, unlike their electric counterparts. Manual sharpeners provide more control but you can still take assistance from the angle set guide at the side. They sharpen both the sides of your blade at the same time as you pull them through the slot. Some manual sharpeners have different slots. The first coarse slot removes the extra material and the other one straightens the blades out.
Another great advantage of having a manual sharpener is that they are portable. Take Smith's knife sharpeners as an example. They are so small and easy to carry, that it makes them perfect for traveling, camping, hunting, etc. they can also easily fit into your small kitchen drawer, unlike other electric sharpeners which are a little high Maintenance.
Knife Sharpening Systems:
Well, the knife sharpening game starts to get a little tricky here. A knife sharpening system lies somewhere between being as user-friendly as an electric sharpener and giving that angle control like a sharpening stone. The way this thing works is that the knife is tightly held into a place while the system makes a sharpening/ whetstone stroke against the edge of the blade. The piece of a sharpening stone is attached with a rod to the unit, with an angle measure so it's easier for the user to follow. Different blade and knife types require different angles but once you’ve established the right one you can begin with the process. Though it is pretty hard to learn the skill with this one, you can get control of it within a few weeks of practice. This particular kind of knife sharpener gives you an insane amount of control, but you need to have a firm hand and a certain amount of skill set to ace it. This isn’t something that can be carried around in a backpack when you are out in the jungle, so it clearly isn't designed for that purpose. It is mostly used by professional chefs or those Japanese knife enthusiasts who have a craze for stuff like this. So, if you are a normal guy just looking to get the job done in the quickest and easiest way possible, this probably isn’t the product for you.
This isn’t a legitimate way of sharpening a knife, but the reason it is on my list is because it works like a charm (speaking from experience). Imagine you have none of those sharpening gadgets I just mentioned before, but you have a blunt knife that you need to make use of. You couldn't spend like 50 bucks on a sharpening tool and wait for it to arrive just to get a simple job done. In such a situation, all you have to do is grab a coffee mug or a ceramic dish. Turn it upside down and place it on a hard surface. Find that unglazed rim, grab your knife, place it at an angle of around 45 degrees (or according to the bevel of the knife), and stroke it back and forth. Repeat the step for 5-10 times and you’ll notice some of that metal residue on the rim of the ceramic. That residual shows that the blunt edge of your knife has been shaved off and is now a sharp fine blade. Call it a hack or whatever, but this is probably the easiest, most practical way to get the job done, even if it doesn't give it that perfect finish.
Honing vs Sharpening:
People often confuse honing and sharpening as the same thing. And today while talking all about knife sharpening, I thought to make this doubt clear once and for all. Honing and sharpening are not the same. So what is the difference? Well, you see, a knife gets dull due to two main reasons. The sharp edge is lost due to the frequent use, or the edge of the blade is no longer aligned, so it keeps slipping off of things. So, the edge can still be sharp and not work due to its misalignment. So, what honing does is fix it, and straighten the blade out to align. It is advised that you hone your blade regularly for it to maintain efficacy. Even though sharpening your blade is an integral part of the maintenance, doing just that wouldn’t be enough.
Now, what tool do we use to hone our knives you may ask? Well, we have got the answer right down below.
Have you ever watched an episode of Masterchef or any cooking competition show for that matter? If yes, then you must have seen either a contestant, a judge, or the chef effortlessly stroking their knives along a long steel rod. This rod is what's called honing steel. Basically, it straightens out the alignment of the blade that was disturbed due to excessive use. Firmly place the honing steel on either a cutting board or any hard/ stiff surface. Slide the knife up and down of the steel at around an angle of 15 degrees. Repeat the process around 8-10 times for each side. Doing this won't shave any metal off of your knife to make it “sharp”. It would simply push the blade back to the center and make it work. To make sure if your knife is sharp enough for use, you can carry out any of the tests I’ve mentioned right towards the end of the article.
What to Use for my Serrated Knives?
Well, sharpening a blade with a whetstone by just stroking it multiple times sounds pretty easy, but unfortunately, it only works with straight blades. Which tool do you need to use if your serrated-edged kitchen knife won't slice perfect pieces of bread anymore. I have got the answer to that. You will use a tool almost the same as a honing steel rod, just a little smaller. It has different thicknesses which can be very useful for the kinds of serration each knife has. These sharpening rods are widely available in either ceramic or steel. All you have to do is rub each serration against the sharpening rod 4-5 times. Each knife has around 35-40 serrations so this can be a very lengthy process, but because it is easy and simple it would not be much trouble overall. Then, for the last step, move your knife to the other side which is the flat side (for most of the serrated knives), and you will see the residual metal known as a burr. To remove this you will have to grab your sharpening stone and work with it on the flat side of your blade. As soon as you're done, wash your knife, dry it and properly store it at a suitable place for long life.
How to know if my Knife is Sharp?
There are many ways to make sure that your knife is sharp. One is the very famous tomato test (this one is aimed at kitchen knives). What you need to do is get a tomato, place it on your countertop, put your knife on top of it and slide it back without applying any pressure. If the knife slices right through it, then your job there is done, but if it requires pressure, it needs to go back into that knife sharpener lying in your drawer.
Another one is the good old paper test. Take a piece of computer paper and hold it firmly from the top. Slice the knife right through it. If the paper cuts cleanly, without messing anything up then your knife is sharp, but if it slides down the paper or is unable to cut through it, then it needs re-sharpening.
Knife sharpening is a skill that you will learn and with time and a lot of practice. It is advisable to establish a sharpening/honing routine for your knives, to have a perfectly sharp blade whenever you need it.