How To Sharpen A Knife

People often measure the success of a knife by its sharpness. But even high-quality materials and expert craftsmanship need a boost from time to time. If you want to keep your knives in optimal condition, you’re going to need to sharpen them – properly – from time to time.

Below, we’ll talk about how to sharpen a knife so that you, and your knife, can keep your edge. 

Sharpen It Yourself

Sure, you could take your knives to a professional, but why pay someone else to do something you can do yourself? Plus, there’s a certain sense of satisfaction that comes from taking care of your stuff and personally achieving a sharp knife.

It might sound like a specialized skill, but you can learn to sharpen your knives expertly all by yourself. There are a few different ways you can do this and see excellent results. There are many different kinds of sharpeners and some knives actually come with a sharpener as part of the package deal. But there’s really no reason to try and improve on the tried-and-true methods of knife-sharpening.

Usually, sharpeners come with manufacturer instructions, so you’ll want to be sure to follow those step-by-step. But for a basic understanding of how to sharpen a knife and where you might look if your knife came sharpener-free, we’ve got you covered.

Using A Whet Stone

Unlike a blender or a toaster, a whetstone is never going to let you down. So, invest away. Your whetstone will last you a lifetime, so you don’t need to feel guilty about this purchase. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say a whetstone is the most popular and successful way to keep your knives sharp. So, what is a whetstone?

Put simply, we’re talking about a flat piece of stone. If it sounds primitive, that’s because it is. Nevertheless, it’s a darn good way to sharpen your favorite knife. When first getting started experimenting with your whetstone, we recommend trying a knife that’s not too expensive or important to you. Just like anything else, whetstones require a little trial and error.

First, don’t be fooled by the name. Not all whetstones are water stones – meaning, they don’t all need to be wet. Your stone will come with a description and instructions. Some whetstones are used dry and some can be wet. Both work well, and they’re essentially the same thing.

  1. Put the whetstone one a cutting board or counter, grit-side-up. You can put a wet paper towel under the stone to keep it in place.
  2. Hold the knife by the handle. Place the edge of the blade against the stone, cutting edge at the stone at roughly a 22-degree angle. Use your other hand to stabilize the blade. 
  3. Slide the blade forward then across the whetstone. Keep the blade flush against the stone and maintain the 22-degree angle.
  4. Repeat the process ten times. 
  5. Flip the knife and repeat the action 10 more times.
  6. Flip the stone.
  7. Do ten more strokes on each side of the stone.
  8. If you have a sharpening steel, use it to hone your blade.
  9. Rinse, wipe, and remove any particles.

Using A Honing Rod

Although a sharpening stone is the most popular way to sharpen a knife, another good option is to use a honing rod – also referred to as a sharpening steel. This method is best used for knives between uses and probably won’t be effective if you’re trying to bring a really battered knife back from the dead.

If you use a honing rod regularly, you can use a whetstone a few times a year.

If you’ve opted to invest in a honing rod, here are the steps to take.

  1. Using your non-dominant hand, grip the honing rod.
  2. Grip your knife firmly in your dominant hand.
  3. Hold the knife edge around 20-degrees to the honing rod and try to maintain this angle throughout. Don’t worry – it doesn’t have to be exact.
  4. Move the knife across the top half of the rod. You need to use your arm, hand, and wrist. Getting the right wrist action can take practice! You want to sweep the entire blade edge across the rod.
  5. Using the same angle, move the knife across the lower half of the rod.
  6. Do 6-8 revolutions between uses. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Don’t high-quality knives stay sharp forever?

No. Knives that claim to never need sharpening are mostly false hype. Science tells us that cutting creates friction, therefore dulling the sharpness of a knife. Unless you’ve found a knife that defies the laws of physics, it will eventually need sharpening!

How often should I sharpen my knife?

This will definitely depend on the knife, its primary use, and how often it’s used. But you know your knife and you know that a dull blade is not giving you peak performance. The best thing you can do is hone your blade-sharpening skills so you’re in a position to properly sharpen your best knives when they need it.

Generally speaking, you can use a honing rod between each use. If you do this, you shouldn’t need to sharpen your knives with a whetstone more than a few times a year.

What is a water stone?

Getting a water stone and a whetstone confused is a common mistake. The “whet” in whetstone doesn’t have anything to do with moisture – it actually means to sharpen. However, some whetstones are water stones! This means they do need to be wet, or oiled, for best use.

Summary

Although some knives claim to never need sharpening, it’s best to ignore these false claims. Steel dulls over time with use – it’s just a fact! By investing in a honing rod and a whetstone, you can keep all of your knives in their best condition. Naturally, this saves you money in the long run.

When considering how to sharpen a knife, remember you can keep knives in good shape with a honing rod and you can bring them back to excellence with a traditional whetstone. Both are relatively inexpensive investments that help your best knives keep their maximum edge.