Sharpening a knife is one of the many essential skills that you must be equipped with if you want to be leading a harmonious kitchen. Reason? Because the knife is one thing that you simply can’t avoid using in most of your meal preps. From dicing vegetables to cleaning your meats, a sharp kitchen knife is a critical requirement for seasoned chefs and homemakers.
But, there’s clearly some misinterpretation going around when it comes to the concepts of sharpening a dull knife. The most common of all is the confusion between honing and sharpening a knife. Before discussing what exactly happens when you hone or sharpen your knife, you must know how to examine if your knife needs any honing/sharpening at all.
How to Know If Your Knife Is Dull and Needs Sharpening
There are multiple ways of checking if a kitchen knife is adequately sharp. You could test it just like the promotional ads you see where they cut through a thick piece of paper to demonstrate the sharpness of their knives. Simply hold an A4 size paper on the corner with two of fingers and try to slice through the paper from one edge to the other. If the knife cuts through smoothly, you’re all good; and if not, you might need to roll up your sleeves and expect some work.
Alternatively, you could judge the sharpness of your kitchen knife by slicing through a vegetable or fruit with a smooth skin. For example, tomatoes. If your knife cuts through tomato skin and pulp without any issues, it’s fine for now. However, if you have trouble slicing through the skin of the tomato, the knife needs sharpening.
Now, if you feel that your knife doesn’t cut through as smoothly as it right out of the box, there may be two of these reasons behind it. Either your knife’s edge is misaligned along its length or the blade has actually gone blunt. There are separate remedies for each and so you must be able to differentiate between these. In the former case, the blade of the knife is still sharp, just bent out of its natural angle creating a discontinuity of sharpness along the length of the knife. This is where you make use of a honing steel. Whereas, if your knife has lost its sharpness, you might require a whetstone or an electric knife sharpener.
What is the Difference Between Honing and Sharpening a Knife?
Contrary to popular belief, honing a knife is different than sharpening it. Honing is process of pushing and aligning the edge of the knife back to its natural angle so that the blade is continuous along the length. The honing steel (also referred to as ‘sharpening steel’) merely corrects the angle of the edge of the blade and not actually shaves considerable steel from the blade to contribute in sharpness. However, knives may appear sharper after honing them due to the fact that bevel is adjusted back in position, aligned properly along the length of the blade. As evident, honing a knife keeps the edge from tilting put of its natural position. This is the reason why you see professional chefs hone their knives every time they use it.
When To Hone?
Every kitchen knife has invisible teeth all over the blade edge. Each time you use your knife to accomplish any cutting task, the knife’s blade is slightly bent as it comes in contact with the chopping board and the ingredients. And the more your knife gets in contact with the chopping board, the more the edge gets bent. This reduces the knife performance and causes your blade to get blunt.
Your knife needs to be honed when you start to notice that it causes friction anytime it comes in contact with your food. Or when the cutting edge is swivel or curled over.
Honing your knife is more like rubbing the microscopic teeth of the blade’s edge to a rod to readjust the shape and edge. It helps to polish the dents and blemishes gotten from regular usage. The aim of honing is to push back the edge to its initial shape or angle. Readjusting the edge reduces drag on food when you cut.
A honing rod will help you remove these tiny bits and keep the shape of your knife intact. It also realigns the edge of your blade.
Steps to Hone A Knife Using A Sharpening Steel
A honing steel is designed as a slender rod with fine ridges along its length with a handle on one end. While you might have seen chefs and professionals honing their knives effortlessly with the rod in one hand swinging over the knife in the other. That requires a bit of a practice and shouldn’t be attempted by amateurs. Below is a safe and effective method of honing a knife that you should try if you’re going to be doing it for the first time.
- Rest the honing steel vertical on a stable surface with one of your hands firmly grabbing the handle.
- Take the knife in your other hand and place its heel on the top of the end of the ridges over the rod.
- Tilt the knife slightly so that there’s a small angle between the face of the blade and the honing rod.
- Push the knife forward along the length of the blade while ensuring that the angle is maintained.
- Repeat both sides for double bevelled knives.
Sharpening a knife includes carefully shaving off material from the blade at the angle corresponding to the natural bevel of the knife to expose inner steel. Traditional Japanese knives are manufactured with a specialized steel alloy making them easier to sharpen. You can sharpen knives manually with a whetstone or you can avoid the effort and potential chances of error by owning an electric knife sharpener. Either way, sharpening a knife unlike honing will expose a new edge and improve the knife’s functionality noticeably. How often should you sharpen a knife? Well, that completely depends on the usage and the feel of the knife. You’d probably know yourself when it gets too blunt to work with. Also, having knives of unknown brands can turn blunt very soon. So, to avoid that consider brands like Yoshihiro, Kamikoto or Ginsu. Knives from these brands are sharp and remarkably durable.
When To Sharpen
Most accidents that happen during your cutting task result from a blunt knife rather than a sharp knife. A dull knife is likely to slip when handling.
Do you struggle to get a smooth, clean-cut? Or you experience finger fatigue and strained arms after a couple of uses? That might mean that your knife is blunt and requires some sharpening.
There is no better time to sharpen your knife with a whetstone than when honing no longer works. It is advisable to sharpen your blade before it gets to this point to save yourself enough time.
Over time, your knife’s sharp pointed edge will become round after multiple realignments, and there will be no more edge for you to straighten. It is at this point you need to sharpen your knife. The whetstone will help you create a new edge.
Opposite to what many think and believe, a sharpening steel doesn’t actually sharpen a knife. All it does it give the knife blade its natural alignment. While on the other hand, water stones, whetstones and automatic knife sharpeners are meant to shave off material from the knife blade and actually give you a sharper edge, Of all methods, electric knife sharpeners are unanimously considered to be the most effective, efficient and convenient method of sharpening dull knives.