Of all the implements in your kitchen, your knives deserve the most respect. Think of them as mini swords, and imagine you live in a time of knights and kings. You wouldn’t face a legion of belligerents with a dull sword, would you? Well, neither should you face a legion of tomatoes with dull knives. Learning how to sharpen a knife can upgrade your level of badassery in the kitchen, the wilderness, or wherever else you wield knives. In our second of three videos with ‘Knife Master’ Eytan Zias and food expert Josh Ozersky, we learn how to sharpen a knife.
Reasons to Sharpen Your Knives
- Sharp knives will not only make you more efficient in the kitchen, but will make cooking more enjoyable. Also, your food will taste and look better since you’re not bruising it with a dull knife.
- Sharpening your knives is less wasteful and more cost-effective than buying new ones.
- You can tailor your edges to your personal cutting style (polished vs. toothy, precision vs. durability, etc.)
- Once you are self-sufficient, you can you can perform “touch ups” rather than regrinding the knife every time. Your knife only has a certain amount of steel on it, and the idea is to keep it there.
- A dull knife can actually be more dangerous than a sharp knife; if your knife won’t cut, you might be inclined to apply more force, which compromises control.
Related: How to Use a Knife
If you want your knife to split atoms, you’ll need to get a whetstone. Sharpening stones come in a wide variety of grains, or roughnesses. The higher the number, the finer the grit. #400 is coarse, #800-1,200 is medium, and #3,000 and up is for polishing. Here are a few sharpening tips from Eytan Zias.
- Use waterstones over oil or diamond stones — waterstones are efficient, cost effective, and leave the best edges.
- The only stones you really need are a medium grit whetstone and a flattener (both start at about $25).
- Avoid draw-through sharpeners or anything with set angles — free hand sharpening is the only way to go. The best way to find your edge angle is visually, and using a Sharpie will help with that (so that’s why they call it a Sharpie . . . ).
- Sharpening is about grit and angles — as long as you control those, it doesn’t matter which direction or technique you use. Eytan sharpens back and forth (Japanese style) since he finds it to be the most exact and effective. The knife never leaves the stone and the fingers never leave the knife, reducing angle variation.
- Burr (wire edge) formation is probably the most important step in knife sharpening. Eytan sharpens one side at a time until there’s a small edge of overhanging steel, then he repeats the process on the other side.
- When deburring, use very light pressure and alternate your strokes — the idea is to loosen/ remove the burr without creating a new one. When finished, the blade should feel smooth on either side but “bite” when felt straight on.
- Eytan finishes all his edges on a leather bench strop with diamond abrasive spray (made in-house, $49; 1 micron diamond spray is $19.50).
- The best test for your finished edge is cutting food, though slicing paper is a good indicator. The better/finer the edge, the smoother and more quietly it will slice (dull or burred edges will stick).
One way to maintain your blade’s edge is with a honing rod. That’s the steel, wand-shaped device in your knife block. While honing rods are great for everyday maintenance, they don’t have serious sharpening mojo. “If you use stones, I generally tell people that they don’t have to use steels,” says Eytan. However, Eytan admits that using a honing rod is better than nothing.
Using a whetstone is the manliest and most cost-effective way to keep your blades deadly and true. Once you know how to sharpen a knife properly, you’ll find that vegetables tremble in your presence.