Most new knives are very sharp when you take them out of the box. But what happens when they start to get dull?
Kitchen knives need to be kept very sharp to be used properly — and safely. And pocket knives or utility knives are no different. A dull knife is often much more dangerous than a sharp one.
Dull knives tend to slip or get caught in the material you’re cutting, putting your fingers in a dangerous situation.
Keep reading for an in-depth look at how to sharpen a knife and keep it that way.
How to Know if Your Knife is Sharp Enough
Before you begin sharpening your knife, it’s important to check and see how dull the blade has actually become.
If you check the sharpness, you might find that the knife is not quite as dull as you think it is.
Check the blade’s sharpness by trying to cut a piece of paper.
Start by grabbing a regular sheet of printer paper. Newspaper will work too, although it’s usually thinner and a bit harder to cut.
Holding the paper in one hand and the knife in the other, set the edge of the knife’s blade on the edge of the paper and slice downward.
If the knife does not cut or tears the paper, it’s time to sharpen.
Touching Up Your Edge
If your knife cut through the paper but not very well, it may just need a quick touch up.
With kitchen knives, this can be done with the sharpening steel often included with knife sets.
Start by holding the sharpening steel vertically and setting the end on a countertop or other solid surface. Holding the knife at about a 15-degree angle, slide the edge down along the steel.
Start with five strokes on each side of the blade and test the sharpness again.
Similar results can be achieved with a leather strop or a fine whetstone.
How to Sharpen a Knife
If your knife is too dull, it will need to be sharpening.
When a knife is properly sharpened the edge is completely reshaped. The old, worn-out edge is smoothed into a new edge that will easily slice through food or whatever you need to cut.
Selecting Your Tools
While knives are traditionally sharpened with a whetstone or other sharpening stone, other sharpening tools are available that make the job much easier.
This article explores one of the simplest sharpeners to use. But, many similar products are available that help guide sharpening stones or other sharpening implements over a blade.
Getting Set Up
If you’re using a whetstone or other basic sharpening stone, the set up is fairly simple. Just set the stone on a firm, level surface and wet or oil the stone according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Electric or other types of manual sharpeners make set up even easier.
Sharpening the Knife
If using a traditional stone, draw the edge of the blade along the stone at an angle consistent with the blade’s existing edge — typically a 15 to 20 degree angle. Take four to five strokes on one side of the blade before switching to the other.
Work both sides of the blade until the knife is sharp enough for your purposes.
Although an electric knife sharpener or other types of sharpeners make things easier, the same principles still apply. Both sides of the edge still need to be sharpened equally. Following the manufacturer’s directions, work on both sides of the blade until sharp.
You’re Done … Now What?
Once you’ve sharpened your blade, it’s time to check the edge again.
Grab your paper and take another slice. A sharp knife should glide right through a piece of paper — especially a thin blade like a kitchen knife.
If the blade tears the paper at all or doesn’t cut smoothly and evenly, try taking a few more strokes on the sharpener.
When the knife is nice and sharp, clean it well with soap and warm water. This will help remove any metal filings or bits of stone from the blade.
Sharpening a Serrated Blade
Serrated blades can be a bit more difficult to sharpen given the wavy pattern of the blade. But, due to the quick cutting ability of these blades, serrated knives have become very popular.
To get a serrated knife nice and sharp you’ll need a special sharpener design for this type of blade. Serrated knife sharpeners are typically long metal or stone rods similar to the sharpening steel found with most kitchen knife sets.
To sharpen a serrated knife, simply run the serrated sharpener through each serration. Since the serrations on most blades are so thin, a few strokes are usually all that’s needed.
Keeping Your Knives Sharp
If you’d rather avoid sharpening your knives in the first place, it’s important to handle and care for them properly. Most knives lose their edge due to simple mishandling — especially kitchen knives.
Instead of throwing a knife in the sink when you’re done with it or using it for things it’s not designed for, like prying.
Keep It Clean
One way to make sure your knives stay as sharp as possible is to keep them clean. Whether it’s a kitchen knife or a utilitarian pocket knife, always clean a knife when you’re done with it.
Many knives will also benefit from an occasional wipe down with oil. This will help clean and preserve the metal.
Hone the Edge
Rather than grinding away the old steel to form a crisp new edge, honing simply straightens the edge of a knife blade.
Use a sharpening steel, strop, or another honing tool to occasionally polish and refine your blade’s edge.
Learning how to sharpen a knife doesn’t need to be difficult.
Find a sharpener that you’re comfortable using and take some time to learn how to use the tool properly. And when you’re not using the knife, make sure you care for it properly.
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