Blog

March 22, 2018

Knife Sharpening Skills with Chef Warren

By

Properly sharpened knives are a must have tool for professional chefs and home cooks alike. Learning how to sharpen your own knives can save you time and money. It can also prolong the life of your knives. Indeed, if you do this right, you should have to buy new stones before you ever have to buy a new knife! I sharpen my knife about once a month, but if I'm really going crazy and using it a ton I might sharpen it once a week! You don't need to own and use expensive, custom, handmade knives to make sharpening worthwhile. Even standard / basic (but still well made) knives can be excellent tools and will last a lifetime with proper care. Now, let's get started. I personally use what's called a Japanese Wet Stone for sharpening my own knives. The one I use currently is a Norton Water Stone (these are around $100, I've had mine for 3-4 years). With a 4000/8000 grit, this stone is meant to maintain the sharpness of your knife. If my knife were to get significantly dull, I would need to use a stone with a lower grit in order to bring the sharpness back up. The lower the grit the more metal the stone will take off in order to create an edge again. However with a maintenance stone like mine, I don't worry about it taking too much metal off. About a half hour before you plan to sharpen you'll need to start soaking your stone. Soaking makes the stone more pliable and loosens the grit! Submerge the stone completely in cold water for 20-30 minutes. There shouldn't be any air bubbles coming out of the side, you'll want it to be nice and wet! (NOTE: My stone has not been soaked in these photos, yours will be much wetter!) When using a wet stone, you are sanding off little pieces of metal to make the knife sharper. You can also control the angle of sharpness your knife is. A flatter angle - typically 15° to 16° (common on Asian style knives) will create a really fine, sharp edge. But, because the flatter edges are more brittle, they will also dull faster. A broader angle around 20° (common on European style knives) is not quite as sharp, but you can get more wear out of it. The angle to sharpen a knife all depends on the the type of knife, the intended use, and the user preferences / needs. For example with my fish knife, I do about a awfully flat at  a 12° angle (very very sharp), most of my knives I sharpen around a 16° angle, and a couple classic chef knives I keep at 20°. How to set the angle of the bevel? Many experienced chefs do this simply by experienced eye and feel. You can learn this skill by gauging the angle one step at a time. A knife perpendicular to the stone will be at 90°. Half of that angle will be 45°. Half of that is about 22°. From there you can get pretty close. However if you are learning to sharpening on a stone,  you may wish to purchase a honing angle guide. This will assist you in getting the correct angle consistently while you practice.

45° angle

12° angle

I would recommend that you lay out your stone on a table over a towel to keep the water from getting everywhere. There are multiple ways to sharpen your knife on a wet stone. I do a simple side to side motion, and I do the same angle on both sides of my knife. What ever you do you're going to want to apply 4-6 lbs. of pressure evenly distributed across the knife. Some chefs want one side to be more angled than the other, that's all up to you and how you actually want to handle your knife.

Side 1

Side 2

You'll want to take care of your stone so that it can take care of your knives. If your stone starts to bow you're not going to create an even edge on your knife! To do this, you'll need a flattening stone.

 

When your stone is wet, make some hash marks with a pencil across the entire the top of the stone. Rub the flattening stone along your wet stone until the surface is nice and flat and all the pencil marks disappear . This will ensure that your stone and your knives are kept in great condition!

Once you're done with your stone you'll want to make sure it's nice and clean (it will look black from the metal), dry it off (soak up any residual water), and keep it in a ventilated container or a nice dry area. Although this is our preferred method to sharpen knives, for the home cook who's intimidated by investing in and learning to use wet stones, there exist other very serviceable knife sharpening alternatives. We've achieved excellent results using an Apex Edge Pro device. This contraption  helps to set the proper angle and encourage the proper motions without as much practice required as traditional stones.  The end result can be effectively the same as a sharpening on a traditional stone. Highly recommended. Another option is a Diamond Hone knife sharpener. These offer preset angles. Some units will sharpen all knives to 20 degrees. Others will sharpen to 15. Some units allow you to switch and back and forth between multiple angles. These are very intuitive to use and will do a good job at making most knives plenty sharp for most applications. However, these don't get your knives quite as sharp as a true stone and in applications you may be left wishing your knife was even sharper. Something that most home chefs don't know is that many knife manufacturers offer a life time sharpening policy. You typically only have to pay for the shipping. Just mail your knives in and receive them back later with a fresh factory edge! If you use your knives daily, the waiting game may be unreasonable. But for many home cooks, this can be a great option. There are also some bad sharpening options to avoid. For example, devices like the one below can help you get through a project in a pinch when your knife is dull and not cutting effectively. However, these are not a long term solution and are certainly not recommended for regular repeated use. Instead of the sanding / polishing effect of a stone, these tend to shred the metal on the edge of the blade, which both removes the proper bevel and shortens the lifespan of the knife. What about honing steels? Many of you will have a honing steel already. These are often sold as part of a knife set. These are a must have tool and very helpful in the kitchen. However, it's important to understand that these do NOT sharpen your knives. Sharpening is the act of creating an angled bevel on the blade edge. Honing, on the other hand, is simply ensuring that the bevel is straight along the edge of the blade. If you've ever seen a barber strop a straight razor on a leather strap prior to a shave, you can understand the difference here. That razor gets sharpened on a stone whenever it's dull. But it is stropped (honed) on the leather before every use. Your knives should be sharpened as needed depending on when your knives are dull. Your knives should be honed before most every use. Your honing steel is the kitchen equivalent of the barber's leather strap. It should be used regularly, but it takes just a few passes to ensure that the edge is straight. Happy cooking! Chef Warren

20x winner Utah’s Best of State

16x Best of State Caterer

3x Best of the Best / Hospitality

1x Entrepreneur of the Year