Ultimate Knife Sharpener Guide – Level Up Your Cooking & Knife Skills

If your knife is squishing and tearing ingredients instead of cleanly cutting them, it's probably time to sharpen it. Even the best knives go blunt. Professional sharpeners are not always available, so every cook worth their salt has to have basic skills in sharpening knives. For this reason, knife sharpeners are indispensable in a serious kitchen.

Here is everything you need to know about knife sharpeners.

How Do Knife Sharpeners Work?

The basic principle of knife sharpening is to grind its edge against a hard surface so as to thin it further. This is what makes a knife sharp. Although there are different types of knife sharpeners, all of them operate on this basic principle.

Knife sharpening

Why Sharpen Knives?

  • It is the knife's job to actually do the cutting, not the cook's. The cook only guide the knife. A dull knife requires extra force for it to cut through food and it feels like you're the one doing the actual cutting. This could lead to injury if you lose your grip while applying force.
  • Sharp knives cut faster so it saves your time.
  • A sharp knife allows you to cut ingredients into (more or less) equal sizes. This will ensure that the ingredients cook evenly.
  • Presentation is key in good cooking. Ingredients cut using a sharp knife definitely look better than those that have been mangled by a blunt knife.

How to Tell If A Knife Is Sharp

Admit it, you've flicked your finger across a knife-edge to check how sharp it is more than once. While this method is fast and convenient, it isn't exactly safe, neither is it very accurate. Thankfully, there are better, less fallible methods:

The Tomato Test

Tomatoes are soft and squishy inside but they have a tough outer skin. A sharp knife will cut easily through the skin without squishing the insides of the tomato, while a blunt knife will leave a shapeless tomato and tomato juice all over the cutting board.

The Onion Test

An onion's outer skin is also tough. Try cutting through it. If the knife doesn't cut through easily, it needs sharpening. Let's now look at different types of knife sharpeners and how to use them.

The Paper Test

A piece of paper can work if you don't have a tomato. Simply try to slice through the paper using the knife, beginning at the top edge of the paper. A sharp knife should slice the paper easily.

Knife sharpener testing on paper

The Sharpening Steel

This is also called a honing rod or honing steel. Strictly speaking, it doesn't really sharpen a knife. It's used to realign the edge of a knife that's already sharp. It's a long, slender rod made of steel, ceramic material, or diamond-coated steel attached to a firm grip handle.

Sharpening steels can be oval, flat, or round.

The KitchenIQ™ Patented 10" Oval Diamond Sharpening Rod & Honer, for example, features a fine diamond surface that is interrupted (has ridges) to speed up the sharpening process. Its handle is made of rubber for a firm grip, and it has an oversized safety guard to protect your hand during honing. Since you have to place the rod against a firm edge during sharpening, this honing rod comes with a plastic tip to protect the surface from chipping.

KitchenIQ™ Patented 10" Oval Diamond Sharpening Rod & HonerHow to Use a Sharpening Steel

  • Hold the sharpening steel firmly against the counter or table, perpendicular to the surface.
  • Hold the knife at an angle of about 150º or 200º to the rod.
  • Sweep the knife blade firmly across the steel from the base to the tip.
  • Do this about 5 to 10 times for each side of the blade.

 Knife steel sharpener

The Sharpening Stone

The use of stones to sharpen or whet knives goes back to ancient Roman times. A sharpening stone or whetstone is simply a natural or artificial stone used to sharpen knives. Natural whetstones are rare and are now mostly used as a collector's item. Modern whetstones can be made of ceramic or diamond material. They typically have a coarse side and a smoother side. Some whetstones also come with a rubber base to give a firm grip when sharpening. The Tojiro Whetstone Domestic Double-Sided #220/1000 has a strong plastic base with non-slip feet to keep the stone steady as you sharpen.

Tojiro Whetstone Domestic Double Sided #220/1000How to Use a Whetstone

  • Soak the stone in cold water for about 5 to 10 minutes and keep wetting the stone as you sharpen. This increases friction, which is good for sharpening.
  • Hold the knife on its flat side and place it against the rough side of the stone at an angle of 15 to 20 degrees.
  • Beginning at the base of the blade, sweep it gently across the stone, ending at the tip of the blade. Repeat this till the edge becomes slightly rough. This is called a burr. Once it forms all along the edge of the knife, flip the knife and repeat the same process.
  • Once a burr forms on this side as well, repeat the procedure on the smooth part of the whetstone to polish the edge.

The Manual Knife Sharpener

It is also known as a pull-through sharpener. It consists of two slots into which you insert the edge of the blade and pull it through repeatedly till it gets sharp. Most manual sharpeners have at least two slots- a coarse grit slot and a smoother slot. They are easy to use and affordable. However, because the slots are often v-shaped, manual sharpeners only work well with double-bevel knives. 

Electric Knife Sharpener

Electric knife sharpeners are similar to manual sharpeners, but with abrasive motorized wheels in the slots which spin to sharpen the blade. The abrasive material can be a ceramic, diamond, or a metal alloy. For instance, the KitchenIQ™ Ceramic Edge Knife Sharpener & Honer - Electric has interlocking wheels made of ceramic material. 

 KitchenIQ™ Ceramic Edge Knife Sharpener & Honer - ElectricFinal Words 

Sharp knives have a lot of benefits; they save your precious time, they make the food look more presentable and most importantly, they make your cooking experience more enjoyable.

Sharpening a dull knife is like reviving a dead knife back to life. Having a good knife sharpener in your kitchen will ensure your knives stay alive for as long as you need them.

Also Read: What Is a Yanagiba Knife? Best Yanagiba Knives