If your kitchen knife is more blunt than brimming with shine from sharpness, these easy tricks should be a big help.
Sharpen your blade with a whetstone
A dull blade will bruise soft foods, and is far more likely to slip in use than a sharp knife because you need to apply more pressure when cutting, making it less safe. Sharpen your knife when it seems blunt — you shouldn’t need to do this more than a few times each year.
You’ll get the best results using a whetstone — an abrasive, usually rectangular stone that you can buy from any good cookware shop. Some whetstone makers recommend wetting the stone with water or oil (confusingly, the term “whet” means “to sharpen” rather than to get wet), while others are designed to be used dry — check the instructions supplied with your stone. (Information: http://www.yellowpages.ca/tips/easy-ways-to-keep-a-kitchen-knife-sharp)
- Place the whetstone on a flat surface; lay a cloth beneath the stone to prevent it moving around. Angle the knife at about 20 degrees to the surface of the stone or match the existing angle of the sharp edge if it is clearly visible. Wipe the blade — cutting edge first — across the stone, as if trying to cut a fine slice from the top of the stone.
- Make sure you run the whole length of the blade across the stone in one fluid motion. Turn the knife over and repeat on the other side of the blade. Give each side around 20 strokes, alternating sides as you go. Keep the angle of contact consistent throughout.
- Wash the knife thoroughly before use as sharpening leaves tiny fragments of metal on the blade.
- After sharpening, hone your knife.
If you don’t have a whetstone, try using the unglazed bottom of an old ceramic bowl or coffee mug. Run the blade across its abrasive surface in the same way as described above.
Hone your knife
You should hone your knife regularly — ideally before every use — with a honing steel. This is a purpose-built metal rod that can be purchased from any good cookware shop.
- Hold the honing steel vertically, with the handle at the top. Rest the base of the steel on a folded paper towel (for stability) on a chopping board. Angle the knife at about 20 degrees to the surface of the steel and wipe the blade — cutting edge first — downwards across the steel. Repeat at least 20 times on each side, keeping the pressure light and the angle consistent as you go.
- Note that expensive Japanese knives and ceramic knives have extremely hard blades that need specialist sharpening and honing; consult your owner’s manual for advice.
Sharpening vs. honing. There are two distinct processes involved in keeping a knife in top condition — sharpening and honing. Sharpening abrades tiny pieces of metal from the knife, so bringing the cutting edge to a point.
There are many dedicated knife-sharpening devices on the market, but an old-fashioned whetstone is hard to beat for the keenest edge. The fine edge of a knife gets bent out of shape in use: honing gets the cutting edge straight, and is done using a honing steel.