A kitchen without a knife is hardly a kitchen at all. Considered one of the essential tools in cooking, it is surprising how common it is for people to ignore the proper maintenance of their kitchen knives. Many cooks don’t even know how to use a knife sharpener. Even though there are various ways to sharpen a knife, they all follow the same basic concept. Simply, you use a rough surface to remove and hone metal.
When you have used a sharp knife, there is no going back. A blunt knife is tough to control and can prove to be very dangerous. But the reality is whatever knife you use -- whether it is a high-end chef knife or a cheap knife -- it will lose its sharpness over time. So, it is essential for you to know how to use a knife sharpener to keep your blades performing effectively.
Keeping the blade of your knife sharp will make your kitchen experience safer and more fun. Many people are intimidated by the thought of sharpening a knife. Although it looks hard, it is very easy. All you have to do is familiarize yourself with how to use a knife sharpener to keep your knife in its best possible condition.
How to Use a Knife Sharpener
Knowing how to use a knife sharpener is not as easy as it appears in movies. Simply swiping the blade repeatedly on the tool doesn’t work in real life. First, you must hold the steel part down. Make sure that the knife tip is stable on a dry cutting board or any flat surface.
Next, hold your knife crossways against the sharpener. Your hand should be near the handle. When the back of your blade touches the steel, start pulling the knife backward, then toward you. Start swiping while making sure that the majority of the knife’s blade is on the steel.
After this, tilt the blade of your knife. Its sharp edge should meet the steel at a specific angle of approximately 22-1/2 degrees. Don’t worry. You can eyeball it. It is about 1/3 of a right angle.
While maintaining your hold of the blade at this angle, pull the blade toward you and glide it down along the shaft of the sharpener. Make sure to cover the whole blade of the knife while maintaining the proper angle. To finish it off, repeat the process on the other side. Keeping the edge at the proper angle is a significant step in how to use a knife sharpener effectively.
Research About Rocks
Sharpening your knife using a rock is the oldest and most popular technique there is. However, not all stones are created equal. An ultra-fine or fine stone has a very high grit density for the finishing touches. Ideally, one should always start with a rough stone, followed by a medium stone, and finish with a fine stone.
If you have a very dull knife, you should always start with a rough stone. Otherwise, the sharpening process will take an extremely long time to complete. And the duller the blade is, the more time it takes to sharpen it. It's just another reason to keep your knives sharp.
Do Not Forget to Prep the Stone
If you are using a stone, it is best to know whether or not you should wet it before you use it. Some stones only work when they're dry. If you are using stones that need to be wet first, soak it in water for 5 to 10 minutes before you use it. This method is used to make the rock absorb water. You will know that the stone is ready once you see a thin liquid film on the sharpener’s surface.
After you have soaked your stone, put some water on it again. Repeat this process if you notice a dark bit of steel on your stone. That indicates that your stone is getting too dry. Splashing it with water allows you to work more efficiently and quickly.
After your stone is sufficiently wet, place it on a sturdy surface. The use of a damp towel on a table is a good alternative if you do not have a special holder. Ideally, the sharpener should be placed perpendicular to you.
Test the Knife
There are many ways to test your knife. One of the easiest ways is to touch it to your thumbnail. If the blade catches, it is still sharp. On the other hand, if it slides, that means you need to sharpen it. Just be careful not to hurt yourself.
You can also find out if the blade is sharp enough using a piece of folded paper. A sharp knife should cut it seamlessly. Another popular test method is to attempt to cut through a vegetable. If you feel any resistance, the knife still needs more work.
Try to Flatten the Sharpener
As a sharpening stone gets older, the center becomes hollow. Before you use your sharpening stone, make sure that it is flat. Flattening the sharpener stone is a key step in how to use a knife sharpener effectively. If the sharpener bulges out in the middle, it will be harder to hold the knife at the suitable angle. Additionally, flattening your stone removes metal filings that prevent the sharpening ability of the tool.
Oilstones and waterstones have different wear rates. Waterstones wear out faster than their oil counterpart because they are softer. This is why it is meant to be flattened before you start every session. In contrast, oilstones need to be flattened every 10 sessions.
To flatten the knife, you can use sandpaper. Rub the sharpening tool on 100-grit sandpaper until it becomes flat. Then, repeat the process using 400-grit sandpaper to get rid of the rougher surfaces. However, if you sharpen your stone every time you use it, you can skip the 100-grit sandpaper and simply use sandpaper with a higher grit level.
How to Glide Your Knife
Use your dominant hand to hold the knife handle. Then, put your other hand on the face of the blade. Be careful not to put your fingers on the edge.
Pull the blade of the knife down and across the sharpening tool. Move it from the heel to the tip in an arching motion. This motion is helpful to get the whole blade to slide across the stone. Make sure that the first stokes are more powerful than the last ones. Repeat the process and change sides often to ensure that the entire blade gets sharpened. This is how to use a knife sharpener effectively.
Strop The Knife
Only a freshly sharpened knife is stropped. Stropping is a movement which pulls the knife away from a substrate perpendicular to the cutting edge. This process aligns the edge of the knife and helps it cut better.
First, pull the blade away from the cutting edge so that it would not dig into the leather. That is called a trailing stroke. Then, hold the knife at the same angle that it was made and make sure it stays this way while you stroke the blade. That step is essential because a difference in the angle can make the blade obtuse. As a result, you would have to go through the hassle of sharpening your knife again or regrinding it.
If you see black marks on the leather, do not worry. This is normal. Those marks are the metal that has come off your knife’s blade.
Be Mindful of The Angle
How to use a knife sharpener effectively requires a specific angle used in the knife sharpening process. Perfecting the angle used in knife sharpening will take tons of practice. Since different manufacturers make knives, the best way to determine the ideal sharpening angle of your knife is by trial and error.
The sum of the degree in which you angle both sides of your knife is called the included angle. Knives from Germany or other Western countries have optimal angles between 20-22 degrees. Japanese knives are intended to be sharpened ranging from 10 to 15 degrees. A knife for higher sharpening angles of approximately 40 degrees is typically not the sharpest of knives but retains its relatively low degree of sharpness through many uses.
It is important to note that almost all knives have a bevel on both sides. This is why when you sharpen the knife at a 20-degree angle on one side, you should also repeat this 20-degree angle on the other side.
One of the factors you should consider when you are determining the angle for sharpening your knife is its use. For example, a blade that is meant to cut vegetables should not be sharpened the same way as a knife that will be used to fillet a fish. The lower the angle the knife is sharpened at results in it becoming sharper. That will make the cutting edge of the blade narrow. If you are still not confident about your skill in maintaining the correct sharpening angle, you can choose to use a binder clip.
Choosing the Grit
Many people think that they always have to start sharpening their knives with a coarse grit and then work their way to a finer one. However, that is not always the case.
Since knives that have soft blades can wear out faster, you can start with coarse grit. You might not even need to use the finest grit for this particular blade. Meanwhile, knives with hard blades do not wear out as quickly. For this, you can start with a medium or fine grit.
Just remember that if you start with coarse grit, you can over-sharpen your knife and get rid of too much of the blade. To know when to switch to a new grit, you need to see the burr. It's the build-up of material on the edge of the knife. It is easy to spot if you are using a coarse knife.
You might need to be more watchful when you use a finer grit because the burr is harder to spot in this case. Some people even use a magnifying glass while they are sharpening just to see the burr more clearly. But even if you cannot see it, you can still feel it. Just be careful not to run your finger on the edge of the knife carelessly because you might cut yourself. Just run your finger from the spine to the edge of the knife.
Know Your Sharpener
There are tons of tools for you to choose from if you want to sharpen your knife yourself. How to use a knife sharpener by yourself really isn't that hard. There are handheld sharpeners, sharpening stones, electric sharpeners, and sharpening steels. The electric and handheld sharpeners, as well as the sharpening stone, are used to put another edge on a knife blade. These are mostly used to improve the sharpness of the blade.
The electric-powered tool spins the sharpening stone which is responsible for sharpening your knife. This tool also comes with guides that will allow you to position your knife at the perfect angle. This feature makes the process of sharpening knives much simpler.
Just like the electric sharpener, the handheld sharpener also significantly simplifies the process. Traveling professionals widely use this portable tool. To transform a dull knife into an extremely sharp cutting tool, you either need to draw the knife through the slot or draw it to the blade as it is held spine down on a flat surface.
Sharpening stones are aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, or novaculite. The grit size ranges from 100 up to 10,000. Some stones even have diamond abrasives to make them more effective. Finally, sharpening steels are not meant to sharpen a knife. Its main job is to hone the tool’s blade and perform only minor sharpening.
Sharp Knives Are Vital for Your Kitchen
To put it simply, learning how to use a knife sharpener will drastically improve your cooking prowess. Dull knives cut ingredients poorly, which can result in uneven cooking. Additionally, it makes working much more of a chore, and it lessens the attractiveness of the presentation of food. Despite these cons, the biggest reason why you should avoid blunt knives is that it is utterly dangerous. A dull knife requires more effort, and it affects the arm’s muscle activation. Not only that, but dull knives are also more prone to slipping in one’s hand.
Countless people end up in hospitals due to injuries caused by dull knives. The last thing you want to have while you are preparing your food is a cut finger. People who cook at home are advised to sharpen their knives at least twice a year. However, if you use your knives every single day, you should do it more often. Chefs take care of their knives every single day. So if you love cooking and being in the kitchen, you should learn how to use a knife sharpener and use this skill every day.