How To Sharpen A Knife

Learning how to sharpen a knife is a vital kitchen skill for any home chef. Even if you don't cook frequently, knowing how to sharpen your knife set will make the times you do cook enjoyable and easy. Watching someone who's had practice sharpen a knife can make it look like there's some kind of wizardry involved with all the talk of angles and strokes, but it's actually a simple task once you have the basics down.

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Is It Time to Sharpen Your Knife?

For most people, the answer is almost certainly yes, it is time to sharpen your knife. You may be surprisingly overdue, especially when you consider that many experts tell you to sharpen your kitchen knives every few weeks. If you cook at least one meal every day or most days, it's particularly important you keep up with knife sharpening.

How Do You Know If Your Knife Is Dull?

Many people will look at their kitchen knives and assume that since they look good, they're in perfect working order. You have to have near-microscopic level vision to see the imperfections in your knives' blades, though. Instead, try this simple test to see if your knives are ready for another sharpening. Hold a piece of printer or other paper in the air and use your knife to try to cut it from top to bottom (not bottom to top, because you might cut your hand that way). If the paper didn't slice cleanly, it's time to sharpen your knives. Yes, properly sharpened knives are supposed to be that sharp.

Why Does It Matter If Your Knife Stays Sharpened?

If you've been cooking with your kitchen knives and enjoying the food and avoiding slicing injuries, then what's the problem? It's simple. A sharp knife is a safe knife. This is a common adage in the culinary world. When you have to compensate for a dulling blade, you risk hurting yourself. Also, your food won't cut evenly, and food that isn't cut evenly won't cook evenly.

Is Sharpening All You Have To Do?

Sharpening is actually two steps, with most people use the term to encompass both. Sharpening is a combination of grinding and honing. Grinding is when you remove ultra-thin layers of metal from the knife blade's edge. Honing is when you shape the blade to the precision edge you need for cutting. Knowing how to do both properly is crucial to keeping your kitchen knives in top shape. For instance, if you over-grind, the blade becomes brittle. If you forget to hone, the blade will still be relatively dull. Both steps are fairly easy, though, especially with the right tools.

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How Do I Use A Whetstone?

Whetstones are a great way to sharpen your knives. They're relatively gentle and highly effective. High-quality whetstones have two sides--one is a more abrasive grit and the other is a finer grit. The abrasive side is for grinding. The finer side is for honing. The whetstone really needs to be wet to work. Soak it for five to ten minutes or until all the air bubbles are released. This is how you know the stone has absorbed all the water it can.

Now, place the whetstone somewhere it won't slip and run the knife gently over the abrasive side first at about a 15 to 20-degree angle. This angle is best for European-style knives. Stroke the knife back and forth against the whetstone, so that the knife is moving towards and away from your body. After you've finished on one side, turn the knife over and do the other side. Continue to do this until you've achieved the grinding you desire and then finish with a double stroke on each side. Flip the whetstone over to repeat the process and hone the knife.

Can I Use An Electric Knife Sharpener?

An electric knife sharpener is a fine choice for those who are uncertain they will be able to maintain the precise angles required to use a whetstone. While whetstones just need a little practice to master, an electric knife sharpener is fast, safe, convenient and reliable. These appliances simply plug into your wall socket and turn on or off usually with the push of a button.

The only thing to note about electric knife sharpeners is that some are made for European knives and others are made for Asian knives. The reason this matters is the angle of the blade. Asian knives, like cleavers, have a slightly different blade angle and will become damaged or ineffective if they are sharpened to the 15 to 20-degree angle of European knives, which is what most people use at home. But don’t worry, you can get an Asian knife sharpener for these knives too.

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