Knife Edge Care

A sharp knife is much safer and easier to use than a dull one. Before every use of your kitchen knife, it should be honed (aka steeled), which is the process of realigning micro-sized bends along the knife’s edge from its last use. Honing quickly reforms and straightens the knife’s cutting edge to restore its sharpness. However, honing should not be confused with sharpening the blade. Sharpening is done with a whetstone, ceramic rods, sharpening gadgets, or an electric sharpening machine. Sharpening actually removes metal from the edge to create a new edge.

Honing 

In the professional kitchen, the honing steel is the tool of choice for this task. It is generally a rod of steel (sometimes of ceramic) about 12″ in length. Steels come in round and oval shapes and in different styles. A good honing steel should have a balanced taper towards the tip, be smooth or have regular serrations, be wear-resistant, hard enough (stainless steel with chrome plating), and fitted with high-quality safety features. A knife blade should be honed every time you take it from its block or drawer and as necessary under continuous use.
 
To hone your kitchen knife, you want to draw the blade’s edge at a 20° angle to the steel in an arc from the blade’s heel to the tip. This can be done holding the steel pointing downward with its tip resting on a non-slip cutting board OR the steel upright in one hand while drawing the blade down the steel. The blade should be drawn 6-8 times per side (alternating sides each pass) across the steel. If you are uncertain as to the correct angle, it is simple to find: first hold the blade perpendicular (90°) to the steel, then reduce the angle by half (45°), and then by half again (22.5°), which is just a bit over 20°.
  
 

How to hone knife blade edge

Sharpening

Even with routine honing, a knife blade will need sharpening from time to time. Sharpening removes metal from the blade to create a new edge. A whetstone (or sharpening stone) is the most traditional tool for sharpening. There are many, many kinds of sharpening stones, but all will have an abrasive surface of some degree (grit). The coarser the surface, the more metal the stone will remove from the blade; the finer the surface, the less metal it will remove. Your sharpening stone should be as long as the longest blade you sharpen. As in honing, you will want to achieve the correct edge angle for which a mechanical edge guide is useful. 

A manual pull-through knife sharpener eliminates the need for a mechanical edge guide. The sharpening slot is pre-set to ensure the correct angle every time.  

Pull through knife sharpener
F.Dick Rapid Steel  

Electric sharpening machines are available from the very inexpensive to the expensive, but as it often is, you get what you pay for, and an inexpensive electric knife sharpener may actually damage the edge of expensive cutlery. Better electric knife sharpeners will have multiple slots with from coarse to fine bevels to achieve a super-sharp blade edge.  

Commercial quality knife sharpener by F.Dick
F.Dick RS-150 Electric Knife Sharpener  

In closing, don’t neglect honing your knife every time you remove it from the block, and from time to time, sharpen the edge. And if you have expensive, high-performance cutlery in your kitchen, match it with high-quality tools for keeping it sharp.  

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