How to sharpen kitchen knives

Taking care of your kitchen knives is much more important than buying fancy ones. In fact, if you make taking great care of your knives part of your routine, an inexpensive knife will last you many years and many meals. 

If you’re a home cook who is nervous about how to sharpen your knives, don’t be—there are sharpening tools that require very little technique (like electric sharpeners). If you do want to learn a more precise technique, try the whetstone method below. And if you’re not ready for either, you can always keep a honing steel on hand and take your knives to the pros when they need sharpening.

large kitchen knife on blue background

Table of contents

How to know when your knife needs sharpeningSharpening vs. honing2 Methods for sharpening5 Tips for keeping your knives sharp

How to know when your knife needs sharpening

A sharp knife is a safe knife! A sharp knife will cut cleanly and easily, while a dull knife will require more force, therefore creating more opportunities to slip. You’ll be able to tell when your knife has lost its razor sharp edge when it’s no longer cleanly slicing, or if you feel yourself pushing down on the knife to get it to do its job. 

If you still aren’t sure, try the paper test: hold up a single sheet of printer paper (or a folded piece of newspaper) and slice down through the top and out to the side. A sharp blade will cut through the paper; a dull blade that needs sharpening will drag through the paper, or leave behind a raggedy edge.

Sharpening vs. honing

Sharpening and honing are two different but important steps in maintaining your knives. A honing steel is the metal rod you’ve likely seen chefs quickly run their knife along on cooking shows. It’s also often referred to as a sharpening steel, which is a little bit of a misnomer because honing straightens metal to improve the edge while sharpening removes metal to improve the edge. So when you’re honing your knife, you aren’t grinding any metal away, but you are helping to create a nice, straight edge. 

To hone, you generally want to hold the knife at a 15 degree angle against the honing rod and run the knife edge from bottom to top in a sweeping motion across the rod.

2 Methods for sharpening

When it’s time to sharpen a blade, there are two main types of sharpeners—a type of sharpening stone called a whetstone and manual or electric sharpening tools. Manual and electric sharpeners function similarly, but one has a motor that does the grinding (electric) and one requires you to apply the pressure with your hand (manual). Note: whetstone doesn’t always mean that you will need to wet the stone with water—always read the manufacturer's directions before you start to see if your particular stone requires lubrication.

How to use to home sharpeners

Electric knife sharpeners are quick, easy, and can repair serious notches, but they tend to be larger and more expensive than manual sharpening tools. Manual sharpening tools won’t be able to restore a severely damaged knife but they are great for maintenance. 

  1. Always read the manufacturers directions before you begin.

  2. Place the cutting edge into the coarser slot and pull the blade through the slot, repeating in the same direction as many times as the directions call for. If it is a manual tool, apply even pressure on the blade as you pull it through.

  3. Flip the tool to sharpen the other side.

  4. Hone the knife.

  5. Repeat the process with the finer grain slot.

  6. Always clean and dry your knife after sharpening.

How to use a whetstone 

The whetstone method is more precise than home sharpening tools and allows you more control, but it requires some technique that comes with practice. It can take a really long time to restore a badly damaged blade with this method so best to bring your knife to the pros if it needs a full restoration.

  1. Wet a dish towel and place the whetstone on it, coarse side up.

  2. Place the bottom side of the blade on the end of the stone.

  3. Holding the side of the knife at a 20 degree angle, move the knife edge down the stone, away from you in a semi-circular motion that sweeps the entire knife edge along the length of the stone.

  4. Repeat about 10 strokes on each side, always working in the same direction (not back and forth). 

  5. Then repeat the same motion on each side but starting at the top of the stone and moving toward you.

  6. Hone the knife.

  7. Repeat the process with the finer grain side of the stone.

  8. Always clean and dry your knife after sharpening.

Tip: The trickiest part of the whetstone method is getting the angle right. To train your hands on the angle, attach a small binder clip to the outer edge, flip back the silver clips, and run the clip along the base of the stone to hold it at a steady angle.

5 Tips for keeping your knives sharp

The best thing you can do to keep your knives sharp is incredibly simple—make it a routine! Do a light sharpening on the finest setting each time you use your knife and it will become a habit that maintains your knife for a lifetime. Other tips:

  1. In a pinch, run your knife at a 15 degree angle along any unfinished ceramic edge, like the bottom of a ceramic plate or coffee mug.

  2. Store your knives in a knife block, magnetic knife strip, or with guards if in a drawer to prevent knicks.

  3. Always hand wash and dry your knives right away—never run through the dishwasher.

  4. Don’t try to sharpen knives that are ceramic as they’re likely to break. Instead replace them when they become dull.

  5. To sharpen serrated knives use a manual sharpener. Motorized sharpeners will only sharpen the teeth and not the knife’s edge.

Bungalow offers private rooms in shared homes that are more affordable than solo housing options in the same neighborhoods. Wifi, utilities, and monthly cleaning are set up before you move in so that coliving is seamless. Bungalow kitchens come with everything you need to cook your first meal—and they’re the perfect home for your knives and sharpening equipment. Find a Bungalow near you.

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