A sharp knife is an essential tool in the kitchen, on the homestead, and in a survival situation. Unfortunately, getting your knives professionally sharpened isn’t always practical, so you may need to do it yourself. Here’s how to sharpen your knife.
When you sharpen your knife, you need to hold the edge of the blade at the correct angle, whether you are using a honing rod, whetstone, or another type of knife sharpener. Typically, you’ll hold the knife sharpener in your non-dominant hand and the knife in your dominant hand. Then, gently and smoothly pull the knife across the sharpener with the edge of the blade at the correct angle. Always be careful not to get cut while sharpening your knives.
In this article, we’ll talk about different methods for sharpening your knives. We’ll also talk about how to tell if your knife needs sharpening and how often you should sharpen it. But first, let’s go over why a sharp knife is better than a dull one.
Why Should You Keep Your Knife Sharp?
According to the American Knife and Tool Institute, sharper is safer. First of all, it takes less work to cut with a sharp knife than with a dull one. A sharp knife is less likely to stick. When we use a dull knife, we end up using more force, which is more likely to cause slips. And slips can make you get cut.
Also, when you are using force on a dull blade, it can chip or break the blade. This is hard to buff out and can cause more damage to the knife anyway.
Pushing too hard on a knife can also cause the blade to bend, which means it might not go back into its sheath correctly.
How Can You Tell if Your Knife Needs to be Sharpened?
Over time, your knife may slowly dull without being noticed. So you need to check once in a while to see if it is still sharp.
- Visually inspect your knife.
Hold your knife so that it is perfectly flat and then tilt it in each direction. Do you see any chips or knicks? Do you see any spots that reflect light? If this is the case, then your knife is dull and needs to be sharpened. On the other hand, if the blade doesn’t reflect light unevenly along its edge, it is probably still sharp.
- The Tomato Test
The other test you can use is the Tomato Test. Make a horizontal cut across the skin of a ripe tomato. If the knife effortlessly slices the tomato without force, it is sharp. However, if the knife indents the tomato skin before it cuts it, then your knife is dull enough to need sharpening.
How Often Should You Sharpen Your Knife?
If you use your knife on a daily basis, it will probably need to be sharpened about every two weeks. On the other hand, if you only use it once in a while, then it won’t need to be sharpened very often at all.
How to Sharpen Your Knife
There are a number of different ways to sharpen your knives, but first, you need to know the knife angle.
Check the Knife Angle
One of the keys to sharpening your knives is finding the correct angle of the edge. If you sharpen a knife at too steep of an angle, it will feel blunt and dull when you try to cut with it.
Check with the manufacturer to find out what angle your knife edge is.
As a quick rule of thumb, most American knives made before 2010 have 20-degree edges. Asian knives usually have 15-degree edges.
If you aren’t sure and can’t find the angle of your knife, you might try this method.
How to Use a Sharpening Steel to Sharpen Your Knife
If you purchased a quality set of kitchen knives, it probably came with a sharpening steel or honing rod. A honing rod technically doesn’t sharpen your blade, but it will correct the edge so that it feels sharp again.
The easiest way to use a honing rod is to hold the handle in your fist with your non-dominant hand with the tip firmly planted on a work surface. Next, hold the handle of your knife in your dominant hand. Finally, place the edge of the blade at the base near the top (towards the handle) of the honing rod. Make sure you are holding the blade at the correct angle.
Pull the blade down and through the tip in a sweeping motion. You shouldn’t have to press hard, just enough so you can feel the honing rod against the blade. By the time you have reached the bottom of the honing rod, it should be touching the tip of the blade. Do this equally on both sides of the blade.
Always take precautions so that you do not cut yourself or your countertop.
How to Use a Whetstone to Sharpen Your Knife
First, you need to soak your whetstone in water for 5 to 10 minutes until it is completely saturated.
Put your whetstone on the counter with the coarse side up.
Put the knife blade on the whetstone at the correct angle. Make sure the blade is facing away from you.
Grip the knife’s handle with your dominant hand and place the other hand on the flat side of the blade. Keep your fingers out of the way!
Apply light pressure to the flat side of the blade, and pull towards you along the whetstone. Make sure you keep the blade at the correct angle. When the tip of the knife runs off the edge of the whetstone, do it again. Repeat this up to 6 times, gently and smoothly, so you don’t cut yourself.
Watch for a burr to form. The burr is a little fold of metal that appears as you sharpen the knife. Once you see the burr, flip the knife over and do the other side.
Then, turn the whetstone over to the fine side and sharpen it again.
How to Use a Knife Sharpener to Sharpen Your Knife
Knife sharpeners are easy to use.
First, put your sharpener on your work surface. You’ll want to hold the handle firmly in your non-dominate hand. Make sure it doesn’t slip while you’re using it.
Hold the knife in your dominant hand, making sure to keep your fingers out of the way and behind the heel of the blade.
If your knife is dull, start with the coarse slot and insert the knife into the slot at the heel.
Gently and smoothly pull the knife’s handle towards you, using slight pressure. Be sure to follow the shape of the blade so that all parts get evenly sharpened. Repeat several times until you see a burr along the edge of the blade.
Move to the finer grit slot and repeat the steps again to make sure the blade is smooth. Some sharpeners may have several slots, and some may only have one or two.
Clean the blade to remove any metal filings.
How to Use a Coffee Mug to Sharpen Your Knife
Many ceramic coffee mugs or bowls have an unglazed edge along the bottom. In a pinch, you can use this to sharpen a knife.
Place your mug upside-down on your counter.
Hold your knife in your dominant hand and place the blade edge at the heel on the unglazed edge of your coffee mug. Make sure you place the blade at the correct angle.
Use light pressure to pull the knife blade along the edge of the mug. When you reach the tip, repeat several times until you see the burr form.
Turn the knife over, and repeat the steps. Make sure you sharpen the knife equally on both sides.
Keep in mind that this is a little bit harder on your knife and may remove more knife material than a typical sharpener will, but in a pinch, it will do the work.
How to Use a Nail File to Sharpen Your Knife
If you are really stuck for a knife sharpener, you can even use a nail file.
The surface of a nail file is similar to sandpaper. You can run the edge of the blade along your nail file, making sure you keep the edge of the blade at the correct angle. Be careful not to cut yourself.
Is It Possible to Over-Sharpen a Knife?
Yes, you can over-sharpen a knife. If you sharpen your knife too often, use the wrong type of sharpening tool, or apply too much pressure while you sharpen, you can remove too much from the edge of the blade. This will shorten the life of your knife or possibly even damage it beyond use.
How often should you sharpen your knife?
How often you sharpen your knife depends on how often you use your knife. If you use your knife daily, it may need sharpening as often as every two weeks. On the other hand, if you only use it occasionally, it won’t need sharpening very often.