A serrated knife blade follows the same basic principle as a saw: it has “teeth” on the blade that will grab onto hard exteriors and then slide smoothly all the way down. This makes them perfect for use on crusty bread, making quick work of them without destroying them in the process.
Your serrated knife has an interesting trick up its proverbial sleeve. It can go for years without being honed or sharpened. There’s no way its more popular friend, the chef’s knife, could get away with that.
Serrated knives have a unique design that helps them carry on with the solemn duty of cutting through crusty French bread without smooshing the soft inside. It’s something this type of knife can accomplish because it really isn’t like any other knife you have in the kitchen.
Its blade edge works as a hand saw. The teeth catch and then rip through hard exteriors to reach and slide smoothly through softer interiors. If you’ve owned a serrated knife for more than a couple of years, it may not have a very sharp edge anymore. It’s just deceptively efficient.
Sharp yet not very sharp
Serrated knives are the only piece of kitchen cutlery that will still work adequately when the blades are dull. The serrated edge of the knife owes its slicing ability to more than just sharpness.
The high points of the serrations come into contact with what you’re putting first. These points apply higher pressure to the material than a non-serrated blade.
The high points are able to puncture the surface. It’s why a serrated knife will grab and slice through the skin of a tomato, yet a tomato skin can resist all but the sharpest of non-serrated blades.
How long can a quality serrated knife go without sharpening? When properly used, they rarely require sharpening because of their construction, and they certainly don’t need the regular maintenance that the non-serrated blade of your chef’s knife calls for.
A serrated knife will perform well for years — especially if you only end up using it as a bread knife.
Sharper Is Always Better
Sharpening a serrated knife is not as easy as returning the razor edge to your chef’s knife.
People unfamiliar with how to sharpen them — when it’s finally time — are guided by the misconception that it’s better to buy an inexpensive and low-quality serrated knife, and just toss it in the garbage when it obviously isn’t doing the job anymore.
Sidestep this disposable approach. Buy a quality serrated knife made of high-carbon steel. It’ll reward you with better edge retention, meaning it’ll need sharpening less often than the cheap ones you’ll have to regularly replace. It’ll take even longer — years — before you’ll have to sharpen the serrated blade.
A serrated knife probably isn’t going to be used as much as the kitchen workhorses you have, such as your chef’s knife or paring knife. The serrations help protect the sharp edges residing in the gullets between the points, which don’t make full contact with the cutting board.
The recessed part of the serrations is chisel ground into the blade. This means that the backside of the blade is flat, and the serrations are ground at an angle — just like a chisel. Over time, these chiseled edges will become dull, especially the high points that make the first contact. The knife will still cut because the serrated edge can still catch and rip through the surface. Plus, the recessed gullets dull slower. You’ll have to press a lot harder, though, with a serrated knife that needs sharpening.
A quality serrated knife will continue to perform after years of use — but have you noticed lately that it’s not easy to get those beautifully symmetrical bread slices? And yes, now that you mention it, there are more crumbs and food morsels left on the cutting board than there used to be. These are signs that it’s time to sharpen this essential kitchen knife so that it will do a better job.
Sharpening your serrated knife will reduce the amount of pressure you put on the knife to get the teeth to catch and rip through the surface. Cut a few slices from a crusty loaf of bread with a dull serrated knife. Then sharpen the knife. You’ll see a dramatic reduction in crumbs.
You can do it yourself with the right tools, and it’s not a difficult task if you have a quality knife that was manufactured with the intent to be re-sharpened rather than discarded.
What Causes Knives to Become Dull?
Knives don’t get dull because of the foods they’re cutting, but rather, the cutting board. (This assumes ordinary use—not the kinds of abuse that so many kitchen knives are known to endure, like being sent through the dishwasher, tossed into a drawer, or used for opening cans.)
Every time you slice something on a cutting board, the edge of a knife blade is going to suffer. First, it can be knocked out of true: the sharp edge is still there, but it’s been bent over backward. This is easily remedied by a few strokes on a honing steel.
Worse is when, after a long time of striking the cutting board, the sharp edge has been worn down, so that what once looked like a V now looks like a U. In this case, you need to grind away a bit of metal to reshape that dull edge back into a sharp one. And the way that’s normally done is using a sharpening stone.
Serrated Knives Maintain Their Sharpness
However, because the sharp edges of a serrated knife are recessed, they don’t actually touch the cutting board. This means a quality serrated knife can stay sharp for a very long time—as in years.
Even so, you might eventually find that your serrated knife is not performing with the ease with which it once did. One sign of this is that it leaves crumbs on the cutting board when slicing bread, whereas it used to slice cleanly through.
If that day comes, you have options:
- Check your manufacturer’s warranty. Many knife manufacturers will sharpen your knives, including serrated knives, for free. You just have to send it back to them.
- Take it to a professional knife sharpener. Some places will say they don’t do serrated knives, but plenty of places will.
- Do it yourself.
What Is the Best Way to Sharpen a Serrated Knife?
Electric knife sharpeners may not work on serrated blades.
Sharpening a serrated knife is not as easy as returning the razor-sharp edge to your chef’s knife. Many people prefer to have serrated knife sharpening done by a professional. At Mosen, we sharpen the knives you buy from us for free.
One of the reasons why people prefer to have someone else sharpen a serrated knife is because the best method requires each serration to be sharpened separately.
Do you have an electric knife sharpener? It may have a slot specifically designated for serrated knives. However, lower-end sharpeners likely won’t feature this option.
Some motorized sharpeners will only touch the tip of the serrations. They could also damage the bevel by sharpening both sides of the blade with the fixed angle of the internal grinding disks.
Deluxe electric sharpeners use sharpening surfaces mounted on spring-action bars that conform to the shape and angle of a serrated blade, but even a high-end electric knife sharpener may have trouble reaching the entire surface of the concave gullets.
There is no such thing as an automatic serrated knife sharpener. A manual approach will give you better results.
Sharpening Serrated Knives
We’ll go through three alternative ways of sharpening a serrated knife. Each approach differs somewhat in terms of effort and time required. Which you employ will be determined mostly by the state of your knife, but also by the instruments you have on hand. We’ll go over each choice, beginning with the most difficult and concluding with the simplest.
Ceramic Honing Steel (Method 1)
This is the easiest, but most time-consuming way to keep your serrated knife sharp. Fortunately, ceramic sharpening rods are inexpensive. They also yield the best results if your knife has gone a long time since it was last sharpened or if there are any bent points.
Technically these ceramic rods are called honing steel, despite often being made of ceramic. The ceramic rod is harder than the steel and will straighten out the scallops, making it seem sharper and cut more easily. Ceramic rods are very fine, usually around 1000 grit. Here are the steps, including links to the products we recommend using for this method.
Hold the serrated knife with the tip pointing away from your body.
Lay the ceramic rod in each scallop (or serration) and try to match the angle of the serrated bevel as well as you can.
Gently and lightly, pull the rod through the scallop. Rather than running the rod back and forth in both directions, we recommend drawing the rod slowly away from the blade to protect your hands from the sharp edge of the knife.
Repeat the second step a few times for each serration. This is the time-consuming part of this method, unfortunately. But stick with it and you’ll have better results than other methods.
We always recommend passing both sides of the knife blade over a leather strop after honing the edge to further polish the knife blade and remove any fine burrs that were left.
That’s all it takes to maintain a good sharp edge on both sides of your serrated knife. This process isn’t too difficult but is time-consuming. It does do a good job of keeping your serrated knife-sharp though. Technically, this is NOT sharpening your knife at all.
It’s actually honing your serrated knife, and it works as a great maintenance point between your more thorough sharpening occurrences. This straightens out the burr on the edge and makes it cut cleaner!
Sharpening vs. Honing
This is a point that gets confused often. Sharpening can be done with diamond “sharpening steel”, where honing is often done with ceramic honing steel like mentioned above to keep the edge straight and sharp. A diamond sharpening steel should be used with caution as it will remove steel from your blade and give it a new edge.
Spyderco Sharpmaker (Method 2)
This method is similar to that of the ceramic sharpening rod above but uses a specific tool for sharpening all sorts of knives. While this tool is slightly more expensive than just a ceramic rod, the Spyderco Sharpmaker is still budget-friendly for most.
It will also assist you with sharping all sorts of knives in your kitchen and workshop. For this reason, the Sharpmaker is a very popular tool among sportsmen and chefs alike.
Set the Sharpmaker tool up on a bench and place the triangular rods in their holders. Make sure to leave the point of the rod exposed on the serration side of the knife and a flat side exposed on the straight edge side of the knife.
Gently draw the knife down across the rods at a slight angle, several times on each side of the blade. You will move at a slower pace on the serrated side than you normally would with a straight-edge knife. Make sure to cover the entire length of the blade and “choke-up” on the knife and cover the blade in sections if you have to.
Continue with this process roughly 5-6 times on each side of the blade. On the serrated side of the blade, set the angle of the blade so that it matches the angle of the scallop.
On the flat side, you’ll want to angle the blade just ever so slightly off of flat so that it removes any burrs, but does not scratch the surface on the backside of the knife.
Pass both sides of the serrated knife blade over a leather strop once you’re done sharpening the knife. This will further polish the blade and remove any fine burrs that were left.
That’s all it takes to get a good sharp edge on both sides of your serrated knife. This method is quicker than the first one and still does a pretty good job.
The tool used costs a bit more than a ceramic rod, but is probably worth the money if you don’t already have a way to sharpen your bread knife and need to buy something anyway.
The first 2 methods are for longer-term sharpening and serrated knives that have become duller. On the other hand, the following methods do more to “maintain” a good sharp edge on the blade before it becomes too dull or damaged.
These methods are great if do them more often and on a preventative schedule rather than waiting until you have an issue.
Work Sharp’s Knife and Tool Sharpener (Method 3)
As mentioned above, starting with this method, we are merely polishing the serrated blade with more of a “maintenance” sharpening. For this reason, the only belt you’ll use on Work Sharp’s Knife and Tool Sharpener for serrated knives is the 6000 grit belt.
Anything more coarse than this would have more effect on the serrations and wear them away. By using the fine grit belt, gives the knives a nice polish and keeps the edges sharp.
Read and follow the instructions that come with the knife and tool sharpener in case there are specifics about your knife that are different than this generic guide.
Install the 6000 grit belt on the sharpener.
Gently draw the flat (non-serrated) side of the blade across the belt. You can either just pull the knife across several times or you can go back and forth with the knife.
As mentioned above, this will give you a sharper blade edge, but it will not last as long as the first couple of methods discussed on this page. This is a good, easy, quick method, but will not solve your problem if you have a very dull or damaged serrated knife.
Electric Serrated Knife Sharpener (Method 4)
Using an electric knife sharpener on a serrated bread knife is much like the previous method. The major difference between that tool and one like the Chef’s Choice Trizor XV EdgeSelect is that it has built-in guides. This makes setting the angle of the knife super easy, but it also makes it less versatile. This is something you should consider when deciding which tool to purchase.
If you’ll only be using it to sharpen kitchen knives and everything you own uses the same edge angle, an electric knife sharpener is a great choice! Where it doesn’t make as much sense is when you want to cover all your kitchen knives, pocket knives, and tools in your shed. That’s where the Knife and Tool Sharpener from Method 3 fits best.
Always read the instructions that are included so you know how to sharpen a serrated knife with your electric sharpener.
In most cases with a 3-stage electric sharpener, you’ll just be using stage 3 (the finest grit). This stage only hones or polishes the blade’s edge, similar to what a leather strop would do.
Place the knife’s blade in the guides of stage 3 and draw the entire length of the blade through the sharpener 4-5 times on each side of the blade, alternating sides each time.
Using an electric knife sharpener, especially on a serrated or bread knife, is a very simple task as you can see. Just make sure to follow the instructions as not all models are the same.
Sharpening Low-Cost Knives
Note that some manufacturers claim that their serrated knives never need sharpening and in a sense, they’re right. But not because the blades are so invincible that they literally stay sharp forever, which if you think about it is a physical impossibility.
No, what that claim really means is that the knife is so cheap that when it goes dull, you should just throw it away. You’ll usually be able to identify these knives as much by their price tags as by the flimsy feel of the blades: they feel like you could bend them in half with your hands. Knives like this are really not worth the trouble of sharpening, certainly not one bevel at a time.
But in a pinch (as in, as a last resort before throwing it away) you can give them back (i.e. the flat) side of the knife a single pass on a regular sharpening stone, then wash and wipe it dry. But ultimately, as with most kitchen tools, a high-quality serrated knife will last longer and serve you better.