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Should I Have a Pro Sharpen My Knives?

Should I Have a Pro Sharpen My Knives?

How should you take care of your knives? Can you adequately sharpen them at home or should you leave it to the pros? What's the difference between honing and sharpening? Here's our advice!

Photography Credit:Andy Christensen

READER QUESTION: Are there any good knife sharpeners for home use, or should I take my knives to a professional for sharpening?

Great question! To start, let’s quickly recap on knife care terminology.

  • Sharpening a knife shaves off a bit of metal to bring back the knife’s sharp edge. If you’re a frequent home cook and use your knives at least once a day, you should sharpen your knives 2 to 3 times a year.
  • Honing a knife with a honing steel realigns the edge and helps keep the knife sharp. It doesn’t remove metal like sharpening. If you’re cooking a lot, you should hone your knives 2 to 3 times a week.

Professional knife sharpeners charge on average about $1 an inch, or $8 to sharpen an 8-inch chef’s knife. This is a great option if you have want to offload the responsibility and ensure your knives get a tip-top treatment. Depending on how many knives you use regularly, though, it can get costly if you’re having them sharpened a few times a year, especially since you’ll still want to purchase a honing steel to use at home. (I like this one, but this is a more budget-friendly pick.)

If you want to take charge of your knives and do your own sharpening, there are good knife sharpeners for home use. They’re not cheap, but could still be cheaper than professional sharpening when you consider the cost of sharpening knives a few times a year over many years.

I have and use this electric knife sharpener from ChefsChoice. I got it as a gift years ago, and it has been a solid performer — it’s fast, easy to use, durable, and most importantly, really works to get my standard 20-degree edge knives super sharp again.

If I were buying an electric knife sharpener now, though, I’d go for the updated 15 Trizor XV model, which comes in at $10 more than the model I have. It’s universally praised for being an electric sharpener that can do all the things: sharpen, hone, and polish both Western-style knives with 20-degree edges (serrated, too!) and Japanese knives, with their thin, razor-sharp 12 to -15-degree edges. Even better: it can turn a knife with a 20-degree edge into one with a super sharp 15-degree edge.

Hope that’s helpful!

-Cambria, Product and Lifestyle Director, avid knife-user, and pro electric knife sharpener

NOW PUT THAT KNIFE TO USE!

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How to Sharpen a Serrated Knife

Serrated knives are a kitchen marvel. They breeze through tricky tasks like slicing tomatoes, crusty breads, and tender cakes without squashing, smushing or otherwise destroying them. If you've ever tried to use an ordinary chef's knife to do one of these things, you know how frustrating that can be.

But if that weren't enough to qualify serrated knives as one of the great wonders of the culinary world, consider that they rarely—if ever—need sharpening.


This Tiny Tool Makes Knife Sharpening Way Easier

Working as a professional restaurant cook is the ultimate culinary workout. Every day, you're guaranteed to get in your reps thanks to the never-ending need to slice and dice bushels of vegetables, break down dozens of whole chickens, fillet tubs of fish, and then cook for hours on end during service. Even working as a professional food writer and recipe developer, it's nearly impossible to get in the same amount of practice as I did working in a restaurant kitchen the vast majority of home cooks would likely have an even harder time finding the time, budget, or desire to do the same.

Unfortunately, this can become a real issue with knife sharpening. At Serious Eats, we've long advocated using a whetstone, which, when done properly, is one of the best ways to sharpen a knife. But there's a lot riding on the "when done properly" part. To get a knife truly sharp on a whetstone requires a significant amount of muscle memory—it's up to you to maintain a consistent sharpening angle relative to the stone. If you can't hold the same angle when grinding your blades on a stone, they won't have a consistent edge, and they'll be much duller as a result.

Maintaining a consistent sharpening angle doesn't just take a lot of practice to do well—it also requires upkeep. When I worked in restaurants and had a need to sharpen my knives at least once a week, I was able to develop the skill and keep it—and my knives—sharp. Yes, I still cook a ton for work, but the volume of food that I prepare is so much lower that I don't need to sharpen my knives as often. When I do take out my whetstone, I can feel the uncertainty in my hands, that lack of instant recognition when my angle isn't just right.

For most home cooks without professional cooking experience, it's an even bigger challenge. Unless you commit to a near-daily sharpening regimen, it's difficult to become proficient at knife sharpening on a whetstone, let alone be able to maintain that skill. I mean, can you tell me right now without consulting any tool what a 15-degree angle looks like compared to an 18-degree one? I can't.

That's where I've found these little angle sharpening guides to be helpful. The kit comes with a variety of angle options ranging in one-degree increments from 10 to 20 degrees you can also stack them to create more angle options. You attach the small plastic wedges to the end of your whetstone with a rubber band, and they sit there as a reminder of the sharpening angle you're trying to apply.


When Does a Knife Need Sharpening?

With a sharpening machine, it can be difficult to sharpen the part of the blade closest to the handle.

But when do we know a knife should be sharpened? At what point do we give our cutlery some care?

New Knives

Out of the box, kitchen knives have what’s referred to as a “factory edge.” This is the specific sharp edge (angle, bevel, and shape) a manufacturer gives its knives before shipping them from the factory.

Many consider the factory edge an ideal standard , while some prefer to further sharpen the blades to their personal satisfaction before the very first use. For home cooking purposes, however, a factory edge will do the job.

Regular Sharpening

A general rule for knife sharpening is to do it after every 300 meals — every 6-12 months for moderate use, or 3-4 months for heavy use.

(Note that sharpening is different from honing, which maintains and realigns the knife’s edge. Honing should be done in between sharpenings, at least once a week.)

Numbers aside, a practical way to check if your knife has grown dull is with an everyday tomato. Place a firm tomato on a cutting board with the stem up. Put the knife blade on the top of the tomato without applying any pressure. Then, pull the knife toward you (by pulling your elbow back). If the knife cuts into the tomato, it’s still sharp. If the knife just dents or smashes the skin, it’s definitely in need of a good sharpening.


2. How to Sharpen with a Knife Sharpener

This tool is a quick-fix solution for a dull knife—just press the blade of the knife into the coarse side, pull in in towards you a few times, then move on to the fine side. Learning how to use a knife sharpener may come in handy in a pinch, but it's not the best possible solution.

The real concern is that these sharpening tools might not be great for your knife—so consider this method for sharpening less-pricey knives, and stick to using a whetstone when sharpening your fancy Japanese chef's knife.


Best Paring Knife For Peeling, Slicing, and Coring

  • A 3- to 3 ½-inch blade: This size is just right for various cutlery tasks.
  • Choose a blade with agility: A sharp, agile edge, which can fit into tight corners and can handle tight curves when peeling and paring, is much more important than weight and balance. A paring knife’s edge should be somewhat flexible for easy maneuvering into tight spots (such as tomato cores) and handling curves when peeling and paring.

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The Best Ways to Sharpen Knives, According to Chefs and Knife Experts

We checked in with chefs and experts for their knife sharpening tips&mdashfrom easy-DIY tips to more professional methods.

“I like the Japanese knives, I like French knives. Whatever’s sharp,” Wolfgang Puck once said in an interview.

Knives are essential tools in every kitchen, but what do you do when yours start to lose their edges? We checked in with chefs and experts for their knife sharpening tips𠅏rom easy-DIY tips to more professional methods.

For those who prefer a DIY approach to knife sharpening, Claudia Sidoti, head chef at HelloFresh, has a few ideas to share, the first of which is using a piece of sandpaper: "The best size will depend on the knife and how much you want to sharpen it,” Sidoti says. She suggests starting with a coarser sandpaper and working your way up to a finer piece for maximum sharpness. Another of her methods is using a nail file, running the cutting edge of the knife blade against it.

  • Honeycomb Design Diamond Whetstone Grindstone Tool, $11 at amazon.com
  • Double Sided Diafold Sharpener Fine / Coarse, $34 at amazon.com

In a pinch, you can also grab a mug for sharpening. "Turn the mug upside down, find the raw part of the cup (the rougher part of the bottom), and run the knife across the mug until you get your desired edge," Sidoti says. She says that you will notice discoloration on the mug, which means the ceramic is removing steel and sharpening the blade.

Chef Jeff Osaka from 12 @ Madison in Denver is also a proponent of the mug method—he recommends slowly pulling the edge of the knife at about a 45-degree angle along the unglazed area. Chef Nicholas Tang of DBGB DC learned a similar technique from his grandmother, using unglazed base of a porcelain bowl instead.

“If I’m stranded with a painfully𠅊nd dangerously𠅍ull knife, say in an Airbnb, I use the non-sharp edge of one knife as a ‘steel’ to sharpen the sharp edge of another,” explains Chef Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. “Hold the sharp edge at a 15-degree angle to the dull edge and give each side a few swipes. It always make the knife better𠅋ut never makes it a sharp knife.”


Honing and Sharpening Tools

Now here&aposs where things can get confusing. The tools used for sharpening and honing are often used interchangeably. Refer to this guide to know exactly which tool is right for your knife needs. 

Sharpening Stones

While convenient, some argue that electric sharpeners can be too harsh and wear down your knives. However they do take a lot of the work out of the process.

But most experts agree that a sharpening stone ($80 Zwilling) is going to be your best bet for sharpening knives (aside from having them professionally sharpened). Sharpening stones help you to get a sharp blade without removing too much steel from the blade. 

To use a sharpening stone, hold the edge of the blade against the stone at a 20 degree angle. Apply pressure to the with your other hand, as you guide the blade across the stone from the heel to the tip.

Honing Steels

To maintain the beautifully sharpened blade you just worked so hard to get, you&aposll want to hone your blade after sharpening (and after each use). For this you&aposll use what is referred to as either a honing steel or a sharpening steel ($60 Zwilling). Despite the name, it won&apost sharpen your knife — a "sharpening" steel is meant for honing. 

To use a honing (or sharpening) steel, start by holding it vertically with the tip placed on the counter. Slide the blade down the rod at a 15-degree angle, applying light pressure. Repeat this about half a dozen times, alternating sides. 


Henckels Bevel Angle, actual

Long time lurker and first time poster here.
We received a set of Henckels pro S a while back and I’ve sharpened a few blades once or twice with decent results but I never considered what the bevel angle really is.

I see that Zwilling’s website says 12-15 deg/side for all blades and 10/side for santokus. Are those real numbers with German steel? As far as I know my santoku knife is the same steel as all the rest, can it really tolerate a 10 deg grind? Even the regular blades, can they really be 15 deg? I’ve seen posts saying that’s marketing nonsense. If not those angles, what are they?

For what it’s worth I mostly use a 1000/6000 water stone with a 400/600 diamond stone for any serious reshaping.

Rick alan

wusthof Ikon is hardened close to the max for 4116 steel and it can be easy enough sharpened to a 12deg/side angle. But any board contact does indeed degrade it rapidly, and upon resharpening you will have a lot of fatigued metal to remove. Relatively thick edges and big angles/microbevels the way to go with this steel.

Bottom line, there is no good reason to spend real money on top of the line German 4116 stainless knives, they simply are not worth half of it.

Chrislehrer

Nj6964

I compared my pro s chefs knife that I’ve sharpened before to my mother in law’s brand new 4 star chefs. I think they really try to grind a 15 degree bevel on it. The length of her bevel was loooong compared to my knife. It seems like it has no place on soft german steel. I’ll remember that when she needs a sharpening.

Regarding the value of german knives, we got her block set for dirt cheap, like $120 after coupon. That seemed like a can’t-lose (her prior knifes we’re horrid). I can’t see splurging for Ikons.

Have german knives been completely obsoleted by Japanese cutlery or do they still serve a purpose?

Galley swiller

As a beater knife, a German knife can be sharpened to work, but for general cutting, a decent basic Japanese knife (such as a Mac chef series) will cut rings around any 4116 steel blade (pun semi-intended). I can get a good Japanese blade to sharpen faster and hold that edge longer while resisting dulling longer.

The trade-off is that good Japanese steel isn't as tenacious as 4116 steel, and is more likely to chip if used against bone or frozen foods.

Brianshaw

“. serving a huge market of uneducated users, and professionals with poor habits. “

That’s just ignorant. It may be your opinion but.

Chrislehrer

Now be fair, guys. Those heavy German knives stand up to punishment that decent Japanese knives won't. A great many professional kitchens in the US (and elsewhere) are run in such a way that knives need to be extremely durable, because there isn't time or willingness to treat edges delicately. It's been pointed out to me that the pace of an average Western pro kitchen is much, much faster than a Japanese one. So these knives do have a legitimate function. I think that for home cooks, there is no real reason to use them any more, but when you see how many home cooks treat knives, I'm going to recommend that they go German too.

Ultimately, the real question is whether a kitchen is capable of treating fine Japanese knives as they must be treated. If so, there's no reason to use anything else. If not, stick with a product that will tolerate the conditions.