How to Use a Kitchen Knife Sharpener

It may seem obvious at first glance, until you actually go to try the first time that is. Then you start to doubt yourself.  Am I holding it right?  Should I move the knife like a saw or just tip to heel?  Or should that be heel to tip?  Does it even matter?  Why then does my knife never really feel sharp as it was when I first bought it?  Am I doing something wrong?

The fact is many people do not really know how to sharpen a kitchen knife.
So here is the quick answer to how to use a kitchen knife sharpener.
Check you can still see at least 1mm of the bevel that forms the cutting edge of the blade. If not the knife will be too blunt to sharpen. Holding the knife horizontally, place the heel of the knife in the kitchen knife sharpener. With moderate pressure keeping the knife blade horizontal, pull the knife through the sharpener. Repeat a few times. With two stage sharpeners use the coarse side a few times first and finish with a couple of passes through the finer side to hone

If you are:

Fed up with buying kitchen knives that seem to go blunt so quickly?

Got a knife sharpening tool but don’t really know how to use it?

Not sure whether to pull the knife both ways or just one?

Although the answers may seem obvious at first, but if you are like me then there may still be a nagging doubt in your minds as to whether you are really doing it right.

This article aims to help you with the right answers and give you a few tips.

How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives

Sharpening kitchen knives is one of those questions that has a short, easy answer but which really needs a longer answer.  Bear in mind that there are various styles of knife, single bevel, double bevel, serrated knives and so on.  Each requires slightly different treatment.  But we are concentrating here on kitchen knives.

The basic answer to the question posed is that each bevel of the cutting edge of the blade should be drawn at a constant angle (usually 20 degrees) across a sharpening surface enough times to produce a consistent bevel of about 2 mm.

Not quite as helpful an answer as it should be right?  You are probably left with lots of questions unanswered.  How often should I sharpen them?  Why does one knife stay sharper longer than another?  Let’s cut to the quick and dive a little deeper shall we?

Good quality kitchen knives will need a quick sharpen quite frequently. The quality of steel will determine how often they need a quick hone.

How to Sharpen a Kitchen Knife - Blade Edge
A Sharp Knife has a Consistent Blade Edge

Essentially, as soon as the knife is no longer cutting efficiently, and you feel more pressure is needed to cut, get your day to day sharpener out.  And here frequency is very much desirable as a very blunt blade will need a lot more work to bring it back to peak sharpness.

The cutting edge of the blades of nearly all kitchen knives are ground on each side to a bevel.  The extreme of the bevel is very thin and even though stainless steel is hard, it is not difficult to damage, what is essentially, very thin metal.  Likewise it is not hard to return that metal to a very thin edge again.  This is why it’s a good idea to sharpen frequently before the edge gets too blunt.

What type of Knife Sharpener to Use?

Kitchen knife sharpener - two stage
Two Stage Sharpener

The first question to ask yourself is how damaged the blade is?  Are there nicks in the blade?  Does the edge of the blade look dull, lifeless and blunt?

If you look at the image above you can see the bevelled edge to the knife is a consistent width and angle from the point to the heel of the blade.  This is what we want to see in a sharp kitchen knife.

If the width of your knife cutting edge bevel varies a lot or there are lumps out of it then it will need a thorough sharpen using a dual surface carborundum stone.  If this is not something you want to tackle then the best course of action is to take the knife to be professionally sharpened.

If you have been good, and sharpened your blade frequently then the bevelled edge will look fairly consistent in which case you can use a regular two stage knife sharpener or a chef’s steel.

Chef's Knife Sharpener
Chef’s Steel

You simply place the knife vertically between the coarse grinding wheels usually marked 1, with the back or heel of the blade nearest the sharpener and the point poking out away from you.  Holding the sharpener firmly and applying a consistent moderate downward pressure, draw the knife towards you keeping the knife level and horizontal.

Repeat this a few times and then place the kitchen knife between the second stage grinding wheels, usually marked stage 2, and repeat the horizontal action in exactly the same way.  You’ll need to run the blade through it a few times drawing from the back to the front of the knife. 

What you do NOT do is rub the knife back and forwards in a sawing motion!  The reason is that the natural rocking action of your wrist will change the way the blade edge sits in the machine resulting in a very uneven sharpening action.  Not good!

How to Sharpen a Kitchen Knife that is Damaged or Very Blunt?

If the kitchen knife is badly damaged and nicked or the bevel has worn down significantly to less than about 1.5 mm, then it will need more persistent sharpening.

Chef's Electric Knife Sharpener
Electric Chef’s Knife Sharpener

Eventually any knife will wear down enough to need more thorough sharpening. The frequency will depend on the hardness of the steel, how often the knife is used, what you are cutting with the knife and what surface the knife will come into contact with after it has cut through whatever you happen to be cutting.

The kitchen worktop sharpener above will put the final edge on an already reasonably sharp blade but is not meant for resetting the knife surface.

With use the angle of the steel cutting edge will widen and affect the cutting efficiency. At this point you will either need to visit a professional sharpening outlet, become skilled in using a carborundum stone (and be able to keep the knife edge at the optimum angle as you sharpen which is 15-20 degrees) or buy yourself a chef’s electric knife sharpener.

Sharpening with carborundum stones is an advanced technique which this article does not attempt to cover as the average cook is looking for a user friendly solution.  If you want to learn how to use a carborundum stone and there are plenty of knife sharpening guides on youtube showing how to do that if you are so inclined – just do a quick check on YouTube.

How to Know when the Knife is Sharp

There is a simple test for this and it is not running your finger along the edge of the blade!

The easy way is to grab a piece of ordinary, wrinkle free paper and run the knife down through it.  it should slice easily.  If it catches the paper then sharpen a little longer.

Which knife should you use?

Well Designed Stainless Steel Kitchen Knife Set
Kitchen Knife Set – Amazing Design

If you are looking for a knife set, stainless steel is the way to go.

We feature this Stainless Steel Chef’s Knife Set which is a set comprising a 20cm long knife, a 28cm knife and two 33 cm knives all solid stainless steel.

  • The 20cm knife is intended for prepping food immediately before cooking such as peeling, slicing or cutting smaller vegetables and cuts of meat ready to go in the pan.
  • The 28cm knife is for cutting larger and harder vegetables like carrots and potatoes and when the smaller sized knife is too small
  • The 33cm Chefs knife is a multi-purpose knife for general use and one that is the tool of choice for many chefs
  • The other 33cm knife is a carving knife which is slimmer and purposely shaped to make carving easy.

Stainless steel knives can become slippery when your hands get wet. The unique and awesome design of these knives however reduce that risk with the hollowed styling which gives you better grip.

They are designed to fit inside one another so take up very little space when stored.  If kitchen space is an issue then you might like to take a look at our blog post featuring Pro Hacks to Keep Your Kitchen Organized

How to Clean Stainless Steel Chef Knives?

They are dishwasher safe but if you wash them like that then they will get damaged by the other cutlery knocking the cutting edges. So best to wash with plain old soapy water.

An excellent birthday gift for her as long as you keep on the right side as knives have other uses than chopping food! Keep your kitchen pretty as well as practical.

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