Dispelling Knife-Sharpening Myths and How to Correct Them

Posted by Steven Tuckey on

Have you been in a situation where you are excited about preparing a meal, only to be disappointed that your knife is dull and unsharpened? Even more frustrating, you have no idea how to sharpen one. I don’t blame you. It’s super annoying when your dull knives don't do the job correctly. Nonetheless, throwing your knife away or buying another one should never be an option. At least not when you have a sharpening set. 

Believe it or not, sharpening kitchen knives is not as hard as it looks when celebrity chefs perform it in front of their audience. If you know the basics, you can undoubtedly sharpen your beloved knife. Well, don’t get overwhelmed yet. Continue reading as I will teach you the basics of sharpening. 


5 Myths of Sharpening Knives

Sharpening knives is not tricky, but myths surrounding its process make it seem otherwise. After all, fake news is everywhere, right? But before you let those misconceptions stop you, allow me to bring to light some of these busted myths.


1.    It has to be Expensive 

The first on our list is acquiring expensive sharpening equipment. Let me be clear, there's nothing wrong with owning expensive tools, especially when they are high-quality. However, if it will cause a massive cut in your budget, then definitely it’s not part of your option. Contrary to many beliefs, you really don't need a lot of tools in this process. In fact, you can sharpen your knife by merely using a whetstone, rubber lining, towel, and mat. Trust me, these cheap tools will never fail your sharpening results. For anyone just starting out on their sharpening journey, a full set of sharpening whetstones should set you back no more than $40-$50.

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2.    It has to be Sharpened by a Pro

The next one is that sharpening knives should only be done by pros. You may have heard this and agreed that you don’t have the skills to do it like professional chefs. I’m not saying that hand-sharpening kitchen knives is easy, but it is relatively quick to learn. The method is crucial yet doable even for beginners like you. So, don’t let this myth stop you from trying. After all, practice makes perfect. We suggest starting with a cheaper knife while practicing.


3.    It has to be Done Regularly

A well-made blade will hold an edge for many months, depending on how much you use it. Japanese-style knives are generally made of harder steel (hardness is dependent on HRC rating), which means less sharpening as the edge is maintained for longer. Western knives are generally made of softer steel, which means their edges blunt more quickly. Regardless of the type of knife you are using, an  edge should last for at the very least 3 months.


3(a) – Thinning your blade

Thinning a knife after sharpening is also one of the myths that you should stop believing. If you’re not familiar, thinning a knife means reducing the steel from the shoulders of a blade to improve its cutting performance. With that, you may think it’s necessary to frequently do this to have an excellent sharp knife. However, don't fall for this myth. Thinning your knife should not be done, since sharpening it will already suffice.


4.    It has to be on a Flat Stone

Another misconception is that you need to flatten your whetstone before or after usage. In some cases, that would be necessary, especially in sharpening a Yanagiba or Deba (which are single-beveled). However, that should not be the case for every knife. The truth is, even after sharpening more than twenty knives, the outcome in using an unflattened stone is as excellent as it was from before. So, if you dread having to flatten your stones consistently every time, you can rest easy doing it now. Don’t be upsold on fancy flattening blocks and the like until you have mastered sharpening your knife.


5.    It has to be Following a Specific Method

Sharpening your knives comes in different methods. Since there’s no one-way, the only way is sharpening it. You might have read from some blogs, or heard from some experts, that you must follow this way or that way to achieve better results. Still, you need to remember that you're allowed to use and explore different techniques. The right way depends on how comfortable you are in doing it. If it’s working and not damaging your knives, then it could be the perfect method for you. Feel free to try out different hand grips and styles to find what is comfortable for you.


Sharpening Your Knives

Since we have already unfolded the myths of sharpening knives, it’s time for you to get started. Let’s go first with the basics.


1. What Method Should You Use?

Again, there’s no single technique in sharpening. It always depends on the size and shape of your knife. If more than half of your knife’s body is flat from the heel to the edge, and the remaining is curved up to the tip, then you can try stroking it in a crescent pattern. However, for those knives with a straight cutting edge, you can simply sharpen them by doing a push and pull pattern at a 45-degree angle. This method focuses on one section at a time, thus reducing the pressure in your knife. So, check your knife and identify the correct stroking pattern you need to use.


2. What Tools do you need?

In sharpening your knives, there are lots of tools to choose from. Your choice should always depend on your budget, convenience, and knowledge.


  1. Whetstone

The most common and probably the cheapest sharpening tool is the whetstone. It’s a rough composite stone that sharpens the blade's edge as you push or pull your knife on a certain angle. Whetstones come in many grits (the coarseness of the stone), the smaller the number on the stone, the coarser the grit is. A good way to think of this is sandpaper. Coarser sandpaper removes more wood with every stroke, the same with whetstones. To put a new edge on your knife, we suggest starting with a lower number like a #240-#600, and moving up to a #1000-#2000 to polish the edge.


  1. Electric Knife Sharpener

Another tool is the manual or electric knife sharpener, primarily used in modern kitchens. This tool is the easiest yet the most expensive. A word of caution, manual and electric knife sharpeners can’t repair significant damages on your knives, unlike whetstones. Another downside to these tools is that they can cause excessive heat when using, which can affect your knives steel.


  1. Honing Steel

Lastly is honing steel. You may have seen butchers using this tool. But contrary to our beliefs, this steel does not sharpen the knife's edge but only places the cutting edge back to its original position. Regular usage of this tool can also lead to losing your knife’s edge.

A note about honing rods: They will only work for knives under 56 HRC (hardness level). Most Japanese knives are too hard to correct their edge with honing steels.


3. How to Properly Handle Your Tools?

Sharpening your knives, in general, requires proper handling and safety. You need to secure the stone in your countertop or table when using whetstones. Most stones come with a rubberized base that prevent them from moving while sharpening. If you don’t have one of these, try a wet kitchen cloth or non-slip mat under the stone. Make sure that it’s not moving so you can prevent possible accidents.

After securing the whetstone, you need to hold your knife correctly. One hand on the handle and 2 to 3 fingers of the other hand on the flat middle part of the blade. Ensure that the knife’s edge should be facing opposite from you. Once you’re ready to go, press the edge of the whetstone and begin to push your knife back and forth. Exert pressure as you move back and release pressure as you go forward.

We recommend 15 strokes on each side of the knife in order to put a new edge along the cutting edge.


4. How to Finish Sharpening Your Knives?

The only time you will consider that you’ve successfully sharpened your dull knife is once the edge is sharp and without a burr. Hold on, I know ‘burr’ is not a familiar word for everyone. A burr is the microscopic metal waste that develops at the edge of your knife when sharpening. It usually feels uneven, like a lump. Don’t worry! Having a burr means you have done the sharpening correctly. Just face the knife opposite the burr and do several strokes on the whetstone. Most beginners find it hard to deburr because they do not develop an even edge along the whole length of the cutting edge.

Note: A leather strop is very useful for removing burrs, usually a strap of leather on a wooden base. Finishing with a few strokes along a leather strop will remove any remaining burrs. 

Once you get the hang of it, you're a step away from becoming a pro! 


Sharpen it Like a Pro!

Now that you have learned the basics of knife sharpening, it’s essential not to be discouraged by the myths lurking online. If you don't achieve your desired result at first, don’t worry. With every time you sharpen a knife, your technique will improve. Knife maintenance can be a little confusing. However, with consistent practice and proper understanding, you will soon achieve the sharpness you desire.

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