How to Sharpen and Hone Your Kitchen Knives

woman chopping red cabbage

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There’s nothing quite as satisfying as wielding a sharp knife, watching it thinly slice potatoes for a gratin or red onions for a jar of vibrantly pickled rings. Not only is a sharp knife satisfying, it’s also safe. Working with dull knives is more work and more dangerous thanks to issues with slippage which can hurt your food, yes, but more importantly, your hands.

Here’s what you need to know in order to keep your kitchen knives in their best shape for safe, satisfying slicing and dicing.

The Best Way to Sharpen a Knife

Most knives need to be sharpened every few months, as they get dull with regular use. If you’re not sure whether your knife needs to be sharpened or simply honed (more on that below), you can try the paper test, but I would recommend setting a regular sharpening and honing schedule for yourself instead. That way, you never have to question yourself or scrounge around your apartment for a newspaper. An example schedule would be to sharpen your knives every three to four months, honing them in-between—anywhere from every time you use the knife to every other week.

The most reliable and best way for most home cooks to sharpen their knives is to use a knife sharpener. These tools require little to no technical knowledge or skill to use in order to bring your knife back up to peak sharpness—most include two sharpening slots, one with a coarser grain that you’ll start with and one with a finer grain that you’ll end with. In my experience, manual knife sharpeners are the best option as they’re relatively small and vary in price, while electric knife sharpeners are relatively expensive and pretty bulky.

For more control, most chefs will turn to sharpening their knives with a whetstone, but this requires practice and more technical knowledge for proper use and the best outcome.

How to Maintain the Sharpness of a Knife, aka Honing

Knives only need to be sharpened a few times a year, but in between the sharpening (which physically alters, smooths, and removes small amounts of metal from the knife’s edge) honing with a sharpening steel allows you to realign the sharpened edge and smooth out a slightly dull blade.

To use a sharpening steel, also referred to as a honing steel, put the tip of the steel directly on a cutting board, holding the handle firmly so the steel is perpendicular to the board. Place the bottom of the knife (the part of the blade closest to the handle) against the top of the steel at a 15 degree angle and sweep the blade across the steel—pulling it down towards the cutting and board and through towards you at the same time, all the while maintaining that 15 degree angle. Repeat on the other side of the blade using the other side of the sharpening steel, and repeat on both sides at least five times.

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