There is nothing more frustrating than trying to chop vegetables for your dinner, only to find that your knife is too dull and is smashing rather than slicing.
You can easily remedy this problem by using a manual or electric knife sharpener, and it shouldn’t take you more than several minutes to restore your knife’s sharp edge.
If you don’t have a manual or electric sharpener, you could explore using a whetstone, a honing rod, or even sending your knives off to a professional.
The Advantages Of A Sharp Knife:
A sharp knife slices through your vegetables and cuts up your meat quickly and precisely. There are two main benefits to keeping sharp knives:
- Safety: A sharp knife is a safe knife. A dull knife is more likely to slip, cutting something else like a finger.
- Precision: A sharp knife makes precise cuts. The way you cut your food affects how long it takes to cook, so it’s important to cut food into even pieces enabling the food to cook at the same rate.
3 Ways To Determine Whether A Knife Is Sharp:
- Paper test: A sharp knife should slice through a piece of paper easily.
- Tomato test: Tomatoes have a tough outer skin with a very soft interior, meaning that a dull knife will squish a tomato before breaking the skin.
- Onion test: Try cutting an onion’s outer skin. A dull knife will not be able to cut through it.
3 Ways to Sharpen Your Knife Yourself
Sharpening a knife is the process of removing metal from the blade of a knife to form a new sharp edge. There are three ways to sharpen a knife yourself:
- Sharpening a Dull Knife on a Manual Sharpener. A manual knife sharpener also called a “pull-through sharpener,” is the cheapest and easiest way to maintain your kitchen knives. A manual knife sharpener has two slots: a coarse grit, to sharpen, and fine grit, to polish.
- Electric knife sharpener. An electric knife sharpener is similar to a manual knife sharpener, with the same “course” and “fine” slots, but the abrasives are on motorized wheels that spin against the blade. Electric knife sharpeners are much more powerful and precise than manual knife sharpeners.
- Whetstone. A whetstone is a rectangular block with a coarse grit side and a fine grit side. A whetstone, or sharpening stone, is the most precise way to sharpen a knife.
Method 1 Sharpening A Dull Knife On A Manual Sharpener
1) Test your knife by running it through a piece of paper. You may already know that your knife is dull, but if you aren’t sure, fold a piece of newspaper in half (or just use a single sheet of computer paper), hold it up in the air, and bring your knife down to cut through it. If your knife doesn’t slice through the paper, it’s time to sharpen it.
- The knife should continuously cut through the paper without stopping if it is sharp and in good shape.
2) Use the “coarse” setting for very blunt knives that need to be reshaped. Most manual sharpeners have at least 2 settings: 1 labeled “coarse,” and 1 labeled “fine.” The coarse setting will actually remove steel from the blade to re-sharpen the edge, while the fine setting is used for everyday knife maintenance.
- These settings are the same on electrical sharpeners, though an electric sharpener may have an additional slot between “coarse” and “fine.”
3) Pull the blade through from its base to its tip 3 to 6 times. Insert the blade into the manual sharpener at the base, which is where the blade meets the handle. Use the gentle force, pushing the blade down as you pull it through the slot, toward your body. Repeat this action 3 to 6 times, 3 for a mildly dull blade, or more for a severely dull blade.
- This action resets the blade, restoring it to its original sharpness.
- Use enough force when you pull the blade through that you hear an audible grinding sound. If you’re using an electric sharpener, you won’t need to press down—the whirring mechanisms will take care of everything for you.
4) Move the blade so you’re following its contour as you pull it through. Each time you bring the knife through the sharpener, you won’t just pull it straight through. Instead, follow the curve of the knife so that the handle comes up and is higher at the end than it was at the beginning. This way, the entirety of the blade will get sharpened.
- If you’re pressing down, you’ll be able to tell by the sound and feel that you’re moving the blade the right way. If you no longer hear the grinding noise or feel the resistance of the blade, you probably aren’t following the contour closely enough.
5) Run the blade through the fine setting 1 to 2 times to finish the process. After you’ve finished pulling the blade through the “coarse” setting, you need to give it a few finishing touches to refine its edge. You don’t need to use as much force with the “fine” setting, and the grinding sound won’t be nearly as loud as it was in the “coarse” setting.
- If your sharpener has more than one setting, pass the knife through each in-between setting 1 to 2 times, making sure that you end at the “fine” setting. These additional settings are just gradations of grinding and help fine-tune your knife even more.
6) Rinse the knife off and dry it with a lint-free towel. Use warm, soapy water to rinse away any lingering steel remnants before using your knife again. Feel free to use a sponge or dishtowel to give the knife a quick wipe down. Dry the knife off completely to prevent it from rusting, and return it to its knife block or similar storage space.
- Avoid running your knives through the dishwasher. They can get banged up or damaged by other items.
7) Maintain the knife by running it through the “fine” setting daily. The general rule of thumb is to pull your knife through the fine setting once every 2 hours of use. Depending on how often you cook, you may not need to do this every day, but keep it in mind as a helpful way to keep your knife sharp.
- If you do a daily or semi-weekly pass through the manual sharpener, chances are you won’t need to do much more to keep your knives sharp.
Method 2 Electric Knife Sharpener
- Turn on the power before inserting the knife.
- Take the knife by the handle in your dominant hand.
- Begin with the coarse section and insert the knife into the left-side slot, beginning closest to your hand (the heel).
- Pull the knife through slowly (about 5 seconds) and without pressure towards your body.
- As the knife tip comes into the grinder, slowly raise your hand and follow the contour of the blade to ensure all of the edges come in contact with the grinder.
- Repeat 3-5 in the right-side slot to sharpen both sides of the blade.
- After completing several paired passes, check the blade for a burr (raised metal) along the knife edge with your fingers. If there is no burr, repeat paired passes until a burr is present. (Number of passes will depend on how dull the blade is.)
- Repeat the process in the next stage to remove the burr.
- If you are using a 3-stage unit, repeat the process in the final stage.
- For a very clean edge, finish with a couple of quick (1 or 2 seconds) paired passes through the fine grit slots.
- Clean the blade with mild soap and water and wipe dry to remove any residual metal filings.
Method 3 Whetstone
1: Preparing your stone – Before you start sharpening, soak the stone in water for around five to 10 minutes, until it absorbs the water and a liquid film appears on the surface. After soaking, splash some water on top, and re-splash during the process if it ever gets too dry.
You’ll get a dark, splotch of steel and stone building up on the stone while you’re sharpening the blade. This is totally normal so just splash the stone with some water to clean it off and allow it to perform more efficiently.
Once sufficiently wet, it’s time to position the stone on something solid, so it doesn’t move about during sharpening. Many come with holders, but you can just place them on a slightly damp tea towel on the table.
The stone should be roughly perpendicular to your body, though Warner told me it is sometimes easier to angle it ever so slightly to the right (if you’re right-handed).
2: Sharpening the blade – Now the fun begins. Grip the knife in your dominant hand, holding it at a 45° angle across the stone with the edge facing yourself and the knife’s heel pointing towards your belly (as seen in the picture below). “The hardest thing,” Warner explains, “is getting your angles right.”
The toughest angle to master is the angle at which you’ll sharpen the edge of the knife. For a Japanese knife, that should be around 12-15 degrees.
Before you reach for the protractor, a good test is to get roughly half an index finger’s gap between the spine of the knife and the stone (see above). Remember to remove your finger before you start sharpening. For a Western-style knife, you want an angle of about 20°, so raise it ever-so-slightly higher.
Now that you’re holding the handle and the blade is in position, gently apply some pressure to the belly of the blade with your left-hand fingers.
Starting at the tip, glide the blade up and down the stone – around five strokes up and down is a good number. Then move to the middle – five more strokes. Finally five strokes up and down on the heel.
Once you’ve sharpened one side, you need to flip over, but don’t swap the hand gripping the blade – think of it a bit like going backhand with a tennis racket (see above). Lead with the heel this time, rather than with the blade, but repeat the process in three parts.
After five strokes on each third of the blade, it’s time to check your knife. It’s not an exact science, and it all depends on how blunt your blade was to start with (mine was very blunt indeed). But if you sharpen fairly regularly, it should just take a few strokes.
The goal when sharpening is to create a burr, which is a tiny whisper of metal left on one side of the blade. You’ll know you have a burr when you can feel one smooth and one scratchy side to the edge.
3: Removing the burr – Removing the burr is fairly simple. You’ll need a leather strop or block(this sort of thing), which is designed to catch the metal fibers from the knife.
You could do it with a fibrous tea towel or some newspaper if you like, but I’d suggest going with leather, to begin with. The motion is fairly similar to sharpening. Draw the knife over the leather, going away from the edge at roughly the same angle as when you sharpened.
Once the burr is removed, it’s time to test the sharpness with paper. Hold a piece of newspaper at about 45°, with a bit of tension, and slash lightly with each point of the blade.
If it cuts through easily, your knife’s sharp. Warner speedily lacerated his newspaper, but I of course struggled. There is an element of technique involved, he reassured me.
4: Polishing the blade – Now it’s time to polish. This is when you’ll swap over from the coarse grit to the finer grit (make sure this side is wet, too).
I found the knife still had a bit of grime on it, so I gave it a wipe clean beforehand. The motion is exactly the same as with sharpening, but you can apply slightly less pressure, and limit to roughly 30 strokes on each side.
Give your blade one more swipe on the leather, and you should have a perfectly sharp and polished knife that’ll cut onions, tomatoes, and all manner of squishy veg with no trouble at all.
5 Safety Precautions To Take When Sharpening Knives
Sharpening knives pose similar dangers to your fingers as when using knives to slice your food, so keep these precautions in mind:
- Never let your fingertips come into contact with the blade.
- To be extra cautious, put on a pair of kitchen gloves.
- If using a whetstone, make sure you are holding the stone in place or that it’s affixed to the table with a rubber mat or with damp paper towels placed, folded under the whetstone.
- After sharpening, remove any lingering steel shavings by using a wet sponge or dish towel.
How Often Do I Need to Sharpen My Knives?
Sharpen your knives every six to 12 months to maintain a properly sharp knife. In between sharpenings, use the honing rod or run your knife through the “fine” setting of a sharpener after each use.
- In a pinch, you could even sharpen the blade of a knife on the bottom of an old ceramic mug.