Every few months, you’ll notice that your chef’s knife has a harder time making perfectly thin slices and precise dices. You may even slip your knife work – literally. And besides being annoying to cut, a dull knife can be seriously dangerous. To keep your fingers (and your dinner) in good shape, you’ll want to learn how to sharpen a kitchen knife using a whetstone or sharpener and maintain that edge by inserting it with a steel rod.
Difference between sharpening and honing
You’ve probably seen someone using a honing rod to “sharpen” a knife. But the steel rod doesn’t actually sharpen your knife—it straightens the blade’s cutting edge for a smoother, safer cut. Sharpening your knife, on the other hand, actually, well, sharpens it. So yes, you should do both. Sharpen your knife weekly – as often as you use your knife, if you want – and sharpen your knife every few months or at least every year (not really an improvement, depending on how often you use it and how quickly you see it dulling). .
1. How to sharpen with a whetstone
Our favorite way to sharpen a blade is to use a whetstone—a rectangular block that acts almost like sandpaper, helping to straighten and refine the blade’s cutting edge as you slide the knife across. Most wetstones are designed to be soaked in water before each use, so check the manufacturer’s instructions to be sure. (Fun fact: Whetstones aren’t actually named for the fact that most are used wet – “whet” is actually an old word for “sharpen”).
If you need to soak the whetstone, submerge it in water until it is completely saturated and no bubbles come out of it, 5 to 10 minutes. To use it, hold the knife at a 20-degree angle against the whetstone and gently pull on each side of the knife a few times. Most whetstones have both a “coarse-grind side” and a “fine-grind side”—start with the coarse side if your knife is particularly dull, then repeat the process on the fine-grind side.
2. How to sharpen a knife with a sharpener
This tool is a quick-fix for a dull knife—just press the knife blade on the rough side, pull it toward you a few times, then move on to the sharp side. Learning how to use a knife sharpener can come in handy in a pinch, but it’s not the best possible solution.
The real concern is that these sharpening tools may not be great for your knife — so consider this method of sharpening inexpensive knives and stick to a whetstone when sharpening your fancy Japanese chef’s knife.
3. How to maintain a knife edge with honing
Now that you’ve sharpened your knife, use a honing steel weekly to keep the knife edge perfectly straight (don’t worry about damaging your blade with frequent honing – the process doesn’t damage your knife as much as sharpening).
Instead of holding the steel in the air and dramatically sliding the knife against it, hold a honing steel vertically, with the tip resting on the work surface and gripping the handle firmly in one hand. Press the bottom (thickest part) of the knife blade against the honing steel and, working at a 15-20 degree angle, pull the knife down and toward you. Follow through the tip of the blade. Keeping the knife in the same hand, repeat the motion on the other side of the steel, reversing the angle of the blade against the honing steel. Read more: How to cut green onions
Store them properly
Once you’ve gone through the trouble of sharpening and deburring your knives, make sure you store them so they stay pristine for a long time. From knife blocks to wall strips and drawer docks, we’ve got tons of storage ideas to keep your sharpening efforts in check.