Cooking is a relaxing and fulfilling pastime when you have the right equipment. There’s something oh-so-satisfying about your knife gliding through an onion like butter or flying across a pile of chives with precise slices. However, when you’re putting more work into slicing food than your knife, it’s less satisfying and more frustrating.
If you’ve ever known the pain of sawing at a potato or demolishing a tomato because your knife can’t break the skin, you know what we mean. While the thought of sharpening your knives may seem a little frightening, it’s not so bad. We can walk you through the steps and teach you how to properly sharpen a kitchen knife.
Tools for Sharpening
The first step in learning how to properly sharpen a kitchen knife is to determine the method you want to use. If you don’t already have a sharpening tool at your disposal, let’s look at the options to see which works best for you.
Manual knife sharpeners give you more power over the process because you can stop as soon as you’re satisfied, and there’s little risk of ruining the blade. They tend to be cheaper, smaller, and easier to store than some of the alternatives. If you’re low on space or want to travel with your sharpener, you may want to go with a manual.
Electric sharpeners take almost no effort on your part, so the process is quick and easy. Most models are easy to use and come loaded with extra functions and safety features. That said, you don’t have much control over the process and may end up with a ruined blade if the machine sharpens too aggressively.
Sharpening steel, also known as a honing rod or honing steel, doesn’t actually sharpen the knife. Instead, the honing rod works the edges of the knife until it is smooth and closer to the original condition. However, if you know how to sharpen kitchen knives with sharpening steel, it’s a low-profile, efficient system.
Sharpening stones, also known as whetstones, require a bit more work, but you don’t need much equipment. The rectangular stone is one of the more traditional methods for sharpening knives. Note that it takes some time to learn the proper angles so that you don’t ruin your blades.
How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives with Electric Sharpener
Using an electric sharpener is the fastest, easiest way to sharpen your knives. There’s not much to know about how to sharpen kitchen knives with electric sharpeners because you just turn it on and slide the knife into the appropriate slot. The electric sharpener does the rest of the work for you.
Before using your knife again, make sure you clean it. Use warm, soapy water to remove any particles, and dry it with a clean, soft cloth.
How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives with Manual Sharpener
Learning how to sharpen kitchen knives with manual sharpeners is easier than it sounds. With so many designs, it may take longer to choose a sharpener than it takes to learn to use it.
Note, most manual sharpeners have two settings, coarse and fine. You should start with the coarse slot. If your device has more than two settings, consult your user manual for clarification.
- Pull the blade through the slot three to six times from the tip to the handle. Be careful not to apply too much force as you push the blade through, just enough to hear the grinding sound.
- Each time you slide the blade through, adjust the angle slightly to follow the contours.
- When you finish with the coarse setting, slide the knife through the fine slot a few times to refine the edge.
- Wash the blade in warm, soapy water to remove residue. Make sure you dry it thoroughly before using or storing the knife.
How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives with Sharpening Steel
Though using a honing rod seems like a lot of work, it’s not so bad. Often, it only takes a few strokes to see improvement.
- Hold your honing rod by the handle and place the tip on a sturdy surface. Note that it’s possible to use different positions; it’s easiest to hold the honing rod vertically.
- Set the blade’s heel against the top of the steel with the knife tip slightly upward.
- With the blade at a 15-degree angle, slide the blade down the honing rod and toward your body to keep the blade in the middle of the steel. Use a sweeping motion and light pressure.
- Finish with the blade tip at the bottom of your honing rod.
- Repeat with four to five strokes on each side of the blade.
- Wipe the blade down before using it again.
How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives with Sharpening Stone
Beginners may shy away from this method because it’s a little trickier, but learning how to sharpen kitchen knives with sharpening stones is a helpful skill. Since sharpening stones are portable and easy to store, they can be one of your best options.
Prepare Your Stone
Before getting to work on your blade, you may need to prep your stone. While some stones don’t require lubrication, many do, so consult your user’s manual to be sure.
- Set the stone on a clean, damp cloth. Start with the coarse side on top, and make sure you use a sturdy, flat surface.
- Lubricate your stone with the liquid noted in your user’s manual. Some stones require special honing oil, while others work fine with plain water.
- Slowly drop a line of lubricant down the stone’s center and spread it evenly across the stone.
Sharpen Your Knife
Before diving in, make sure that you have the proper angle. Keep the knife at a 20-degree angle with consistent pressure to sharpen both sides equally.
- Set the blade at a 20-degree angle and drag it down and across in one smooth motion from heel to tip.
- Repeat at least five times on the same side.
- Flip your knife over and repeat the first two steps.
- Turn the knife back to the first side and drag it down and across again, but draw tip to heel for this round.
- Flip the knife over once more to make sure the other side is even.
Once you are satisfied with your blade’s sharpness, flip your sharpening stone over to the other side and repeat these steps.
Clean Your Sharpening Stone
Wipe down your stone with a damp towel to clear away debris and excess moisture. To preserve your stone, clean it after each use and store it in a dry place.
How to Sharpen a Ceramic Knife
Ceramic knives can be useful in the kitchen because they look and feel amazing. However, they eventually get dull. Since this type of blade is more brittle than other styles, you need to know how to sharpen a ceramic knife properly.
For ceramic, it’s best to use diamond stones, but you can try a traditional waterstone or sandpaper. We cannot stress enough not to apply too much pressure to your ceramic blade during this process.
- Using both hands, position the blade over the stone.
- With slight pressure, move the blade over the stone using smooth motions. You can slide up, down, or up and down.
- Make sure you sharpen both sides of the knife evenly.
- Clean the blade before using it or storing it.
Of note, some manufacturers make electric sharpeners for ceramic knives. If you’re too nervous about doing it manually with a stone, you may want to pick up an electric model.
How to Sharpen a Serrated Kitchen Knife
Though they don’t dull as quickly as other knives, serrated kitchen knives can lose their edge after striking a cutting board a few (hundred) too many times. Unfortunately, serrated knives pose a unique challenge because of their intricate divots. However, once you know how to sharpen a serrated kitchen knife, it’s as easy as sliced bread!
To sharpen a serrated knife, you need a honing rod and a sharpening stone or fine-grit sandpaper. The good news is that you only focus on one side! If you take a closer look at your knife, you’ll see that one side is flat and the other has indentations.
- Using your honing rod, you need to drag each indent across the rod. It’s easier than it sounds because the indents fit nicely against the honing rod. Be careful to drag the blade away from you to avoid accidentally cutting yourself.
- Drag each serration across the rod at least five times. Yes, it may take a while if you have a large knife with a few dozen serrations, but it’s worth the effort!
- Pull out your sharpening stone (or sandpaper) and run the blade’s flat side over it a few times.
- Wash and dry the knife properly.
Keep in mind that some serrated knives aren’t made for sharpening. Cheaper models won’t handle the process and end up bent, so it’s better to toss them when they’re too dull to use. However, if you own a quality knife that you want to hold onto, it may be worth the effort.
How to Sharpen a Knife With a Mug
What do you do if you don’t have any of these tools, but you desperately need to sharpen a knife? The answer may be sitting in your cupboard right this moment. Using a ceramic mug won’t get a razor-sharp edge, but it should be sufficient to do the job in a pinch so that you don’t work with a dull blade.
Make sure your mug is as simple as possible because ornate handles can get in the way. You need to be able to grip the mug firmly.
- With one hand, hold your mug upside-down.
- Using the other hand, place the knife blade’s base at a 45-degree angle against the mug’s rim.
- Maintain a firm grip on both pieces and drag the knife against the mug’s rim. Using consistent pressure and keep the 45-degree angle, draw the blade across the mug three times on that side.
- Flip the blade over and repeat the process an equal number of times.
- Return to the first side and draw the blade two more times.
- Flip the knife and do two more draws across the mug’s rim.
- Return to the first side for one more swipe across the mug.
- Flip the knife and run the second side across once more.
- Using a clean, damp cloth, wipe the blade clean.
This sharpening method is surprisingly effective, but you must maintain the three-two-one pattern to ensure an even result. It’s also crucial to keep the angle and pressure consistent throughout the entire process.
Knife Sharpening FAQs
Do you still have questions? We get it. That’s why we thought we’d answer some common questions.
Why Can’t I Use a Dull Blade?
Using a dull knife isn’t safe. It’s actually more dangerous than working with a sharp blade because it takes more pressure to make a cut. Think about it, if you have to use more force to slice through a tomato and you accidentally slip, you can do severe damage to your fingers!
That’s why knife sharpening is so crucial. When you work with a sharp edge, the knife does most of the work and requires less pressure. With less force involved, a small slip usually results in little more than a nick.
I Think My Knife Needs Sharpening, But How Do I Know?
If you aren’t quite sure whether or not it’s time to pull out the sharpener, test your blade. Grab a newspaper or sheet of computer paper. If using a newspaper, just use one sheet folded in half. Hold the paper in the air and bring your knife down. It should slice through the paper without stopping, but if it doesn’t, it needs sharpening.
How Do I Know My Knife is Sharp Enough?
You can gently run your finger over the blade if you feel daring, or simply repeat the paper method noted above.