Don’t Fear Knife Sharpening
Have you noticed lately that your “go to” knife that used to effortlessly slice through even the thickest cut of meat has begun to tear and catch? Fear not, a few minutes of your time will restore your knife edge back to new again and only needs to be done every couple of months.
The Fastest Ways to Kill a Knife Edge!
Avoid using glass cutting boards, they do nothing but dull you blade. Imagine dropping your knife onto a tile floor 20 or 30 times during each use. The edge would not remain sharp very long. The better choice is a HDPE plastic cutting board. Not only is HDPE gentler to your blade, they are inexpensive and won’t trap bacteria.
You might own a dishwasher, but you were born with two knife washers! Always hand wash your knives and dry them immediately afterwards. Dishwashers get surprisingly hot and humid during use. The pressurized water used to spray your dishes clean, creeps into handles of your knife. This leads to corrosion, loose handles, and damages the temper on your blade steel. The temper determines the ability of your knife to hold an edge!
Blade Steel Matters
Even the highest quality knife will dull with use. Higher quality steel will hold its edge longer between sharpening. The good news is that quality knives can be purchased for a very reasonable price and will last for many years. A couple of high quality, very affordable knife brands are Dexter Russel and Victorinox knives. Both feature stainless steel blades with solid non slip handles available in all blade sizes and are used in most commercial industry applications.
The blade edge on a high-quality knife can be touched back up several times between sharpening by simple using a knife steel. The important thing to remember is that you are not sharpening your knife on the steel, you are simply re-aligning the blade edge. A few strokes back and forth on both edges will bring the edge back.
When to Sharpen
Start by trying to bring your knife edge back using a knife steel. If the edge still isn’t cutting like new, then it’s time to sharpen. Chips in the blade edge will need to be removed by sharpening.
Getting both edges of the blade angle equal is the key to sharp knife. The edge durability is also a factor. A razor blade, while extremely sharp, has a very fragile edge and would not last long if used for chopping something like wood. On the other hand, an ax blade edge is very durable, but not necessarily “sharp”. The sweet spot for edge durability on our kitchen knives is around 20 degrees. The edge will maintain sharpness close to a razor blade and be more durable.
Steel Hits the Stone
At the most basic level, sharpening a knife removes a small amount of steel and grinds a new fresh angle. The process can be as simple or as complicated as you make it. The basic idea is to start out on a medium grit stone and progressively step up to finer grits. The medium stone profiles the angle, but leaves a rough edge. The fine grits polish the rough edge. The finer the grit, the more the blade edge is polished and refined. Polished and refined edges slice cleanly.
Coarse sharpening stones should only be used to change the blade angle or remove damage to the blade edge. Generally, if the blade edge is not damaged, start with a medium grit stone.
Most sharpening systems will provide a way to maintain the blade angle during sharpening. This might be as simple as a wedge of plastic or a clamp to hold the blade. More refined sharpening systems will provide angle guides that hold the blade or stone in a fixed position.
Electric knife sharpening systems are a fast way to obtain a sharp edge. Be careful though because blade material can be quickly removed and heat can build up in the blade damaging the temper of the steel. If the blade on your knife is too hot to touch, then you have damaged the temper and the durability of your blade will suffer.
Manual sharpening systems work just as well as electric sharpeners, they just take longer to complete the job. The advantage of manually sharpening is very little risk of removing too much steel, and the slower process won’t build up heat on the blade.
Whichever method you choose, the process is the same. Set your blade angle and begin evenly drawing the knife along the stone. Apply light pressure and let the stone work. After about 10 strokes on the stone, you should notice a raised burr along the entire length of your blade. Once a uniform and consistent burr has formed, flip the blade over and repeat the process. Continue this process a couple of times on each side. The burr that is formed gets bent back and forth until it eventually snaps off leaving behind a nice clean edge. The bevel of your blade should be consistent along the entire length.
Progressively step up to finer grit sharpening stones and repeat the process. The burr will become less and less pronounced as you progress to finer grit stones. Stop when you have achieved a sharpness that you like. Hand wash your knife and dry. Congratulate yourself on a job well done!