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What Is the Best Way To Sharpen a Knife?

Any chef will tell you that you're only as good as your best kitchen knives despite your culinary skills. On top of that, if you have a top-of-the-line knife set, they'll quickly become useless if you don't maintain them and keep them sharp. It's kind of like a carpenter trying to frame a home with plastic nails or a hunter trying to take down a buck with a slingshot.

Difficulty

Moderate

Duration

30 minutes

What You Need

  • Whetstone/Knife Sharpener

Even if you don't step foot in a kitchen but use knives for other things like work or outdoor survival, you need to keep them sharp. The bottom line is dull knives are dangerous. That's because you have a greater chance of misusing a dull knife and injuring yourself while sawing away at whatever you might be trying to cut, slice, or whittle. While proper handling is crucial, a razor-sharp blade should do the job in one stroke.

The art of knife sharpening can be intimidating and definitely takes some practice to perfect. However, learning to sharpen yourself is the prudent choice, instead of running out and buying a new knife every time it gets dull. Indeed, you can avoid the process altogether by paying a professional bladesmith to sharpen your knives. There are also knife companies that offer this service, and if you can't seem to get knife sharpening down, there's no shame in going this route.

But if you have the time and patience to learn, purchasing a whetstone (or water stone) and perfecting the art of blade sharpening will save you a lot of money in the long run. Like most knife experts, we believe using a whetstone to sharpen your blades is the best method for knife longevity. However, there are other methods available that we'll dive into a bit later.

best way to sharpen knives whetstones

Whetstones

Whetstones are the best way to maintain the overall integrity of your knife's edge and the overall life of your blade. Some whetstones are designed to use water and some oil. In our opinion, water stones are the best option. There's less mess and no oil you have to purchase.

Whetstones have two sides: A coarse and fine grit. The coarse-grit side is used to reform the blade's edge, and the fine-grit side is to fine-tune the edge and give it that razor-sharp quality. Depending on the dullness of your knife, just using the fine grit side is enough to bring back the sharpness of the blade. But if your knife is super dull, you'll want to start out with the coarse grit.

Step 1: Soak the stone before sharpening for about 10-30 minutes so water can impregnate the stone. You'll know enough time has passed when the stone makes very few bubbles.

Step 2: Place a damp towel down on your countertop or table to secure the stone while sharpening. Have another towel handy to wipe down your blade periodically and a cup of water so you can occasionally re-apply water to the whetstone for lubricant.

Step 3: Hold the knife handle firmly in your dominant hand. Apply the blade to the stone at about a 17-degree angle. To do this, hold the knife to the stone at a 90-degree angle, halve it, then halve it again. For some thinner Japanese blades, you'll likely need to try to go even further to a 15-degree angle.

Note: Some whetstones come with a guide you can attach to the knife that provides the ideal sharpening angle. However, it's good practice to know how to achieve this angle without a guide.

best sharpening stones on amazon knife stone whetstone
Михаил Руденко/Getty Images

Step 4: Run the length of your blade in a rainbow arch motion, starting with the tip at the base of the whetstone and ending with the bolster at the other end of the stone, applying between 2-3 pounds of pressure. Test it with a digital scale if you don't know what 2-3 pounds of pressure feels like. If starting out on the coarse side, you likely will only need to do this around a dozen times until you start to feel the edge return. You might need to do this up to a few dozen times on the fine-grit side. Although you can flip the blade in your dominant hand and do the process in reverse for the other edge, you'll get a better edge if you do the same process in the opposite hand, which requires a bit of ambidexterity. Sharpening the blade in the same direction on both sides results in better honing.

Step 5: Once you think you have your desired edge, hone the blade with a honing steel and clean the knife.

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best way to sharpen knives knife sharpeners

Knife Sharpeners

There are several different knife sharpeners on the market that claim to save you time and are easier to use. While this might be the case, with almost every knife-sharpening product, your knives pay the price. That's because nearly every knife sharpener uses a metal or ceramic slots approach to sharpen knives, which literally shaves metal off your blade's edge to make it sharper.

When using a knife sharpener, it's imperative to do it away from open food and clean the surface if you plan to cook on it afterward. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting metal shavings in your food.

Knife sharpeners are definitely the quick fix to sharper knives. Still, we don't recommend using one on an expensive blade you really care about. Knife sharpeners are great for cheaper knives that you don't mind replacing over time. That's because if you use a knife sharpener regularly, you'll need to. The knife's blade will noticeably wear down over time to the point where it will affect the design and natural cutting motion.

How To Use a Knife Sharpener

With all the different styles of knife sharpeners out there, it's essential to understand how to use them so that you don't ruin your knives. Here's a brief overview of using the different types of knife sharpeners. However, it's always best to refer to the product user manual in case your specific knife sharpener has a unique design.

Stationary Knife Sharperners

Like most on this list, stationary knife sharpeners are relatively straightforward to use.

The sharpener remains fixed on the countertop, and you pull your knife slowly through from bolster to tip. Stationary sharpeners usually have at least two sharpening settings: Coarse and fine. In most cases, blades only need a quick touch-up in the fine slot. But after extended periods of heavy use without any sharpening, the edge might need to be reformed in the coarse setting, then honed to a fine tip in the fine slot. Some stationary knife sharpeners have sharpening slots for serrated knives. Always refer to the user manual on how to use this setting.

best knife sharpeners accusharp 001c  amp tool sharpener

Handheld Knife Sharpeners

With handheld knife sharpeners, the idea is the same as a stationary sharpener but in reverse. The knife should remain stationary as you pull the sharpener over the blade.

Hold the knife sharpener in your dominant hand and hold the knife in your other hand on the countertop with the edge facing the ceiling. Carefully run the sharpener over the blade several times until the desired sharpness is achieved.

best way to sharpen knives electric knife sharpeners

Electric Knife Sharpeners

Electric knife sharpeners fall under the stationary knife sharpener category and are used similarly. The primary difference is that they use rotating ceramic wheels that are supposed to do more of the work for you. In our opinion, electric sharpeners are only good for one thing: Producing a horrible noise that makes your skin crawl when you run the blade through.

We're not big fans of knife sharpeners if you can't tell, and the only "correct" way to sharpen a knife is with a whetstone. But the problem with a whetstone is that it's only the "best" way if you do it correctly. So we suggest taking some time practicing with an older, beat-up knife you own until you feel like you have the process down. Then, once you feel comfortable, move on to your expensive knife set. And remember, there's nothing wrong with paying a professional to sharpen your knives for you. It will save you time, and you most likely won't be disappointed with the result.

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