Sharpening a knife is a pretty simple task. For me, a knife is sharp when I can slice a juicy ripe tomato into 1/8 inch slices or finer without crushing the tomato; you can also use the paper cutting method. The knife is so sharp that its weight and drawing the edge over the tomato will slice it like gliding through soft butter. How to you get knives this sharp? The way to get the sharpest knife possible is on diamond sharpening stones. They come in a range of grits to get your blade so fine and sharp that you can dissect atoms with it (ok maybe not quit). But this is not necessary for the non-professional cook. I get my knives plenty sharp with a ceramic sharpener and steel.
These are the two sharpeners I have. I got the larger one and showed my girlfriend how to use it after having to go through her kitchen and sharpen every knife cause they were just as effective to used the back of for cutting.
These have a carbide side (course) for sharpening a knife that has an edge basically like the edge of a spoon. Once you have the edge ground to a cutting shape you can then sharpen it using the ceramic (fine) part for getting an edge as sharp as I describe. Simple hold the knife by the handle (right?), place the sharpener so the rods create a V. Put the knife cutting edge in the V so that it is straight up and down and equal distance from both sides. Start by putting the part of the edge closest to your hand in the V and drawing the knife towards you till the tip comes out of the sharpener. Do this about 4 to 6 times. Your knife is now sharp. Note that western knives are normally sharpened on a 20 – 22 1/2 degree angle and Japanese knives are sharpened on a 16 – 18 degree. You will need to use a sharpener for the right angle.
Honing – We have all seen the chef or the guy at the butcher shop sharpening a knife on what looks like a steel rod. Well, that’s exactly what it is. Except (s)he is not exactly sharpening the knife. It is called honing. As the blade bangs against thing like bone, the cutting board (only use wood or plastic) , or other objects (for whatever reason) that thin fine metal edge folds over. So the edge is still sharp, it just is not in alignment to cut properly. The steel, as it is called, combs the blade back into place. There are plenty of very good tutorials on honing on the web and a great video. Remember to hone your steel on the same angle it is sharpened.
Washing – It is best not to put your knives in the dishwasher, anything but stainless steel will rust. Also, putting them in the dishwasher will cause them to bang the blade. Handwash, dry, steel, store. Make this a habitual pattern and your knives will last you a good long time.
Storage – Put your knives where the blade will not bang and be knocked out of alignment. If you are using a wood storage block, put the knives in upside down so that they are not resting on their blades.
- Your knives will come sharp, just hone them till they are actually dull then sharpen. Honing does not take off any metal like sharpening does.
- Hand wash and dry.
- Store in a place where the blade will not be banged and use on wood or plastic, not glass or stone surfaces.
So which knives will you be sharpening? See the post on The Only Two Knives You Will Ever Need At Home Or Away.