Chef Knife Sharpening 101

When it comes to knife maintenance, the simple, most important task is sharpening. Working with a dull kitchen knife is not only a depressing experience, it is also dangerous. Despite their superior quality, even Cerberus Cutlery’s knives need a resharpening every now and then to regain their razor edge, so we made a short guide, so you can sharpen your knives anytime. Although this sharpening guide is written with Cerberus Cutlery’s knifes in mind, it can be applied for most top quality knives.

When to sharpen

The rule of thumb is, if you have to use anything more than mild pressure during chopping, it is time to sharpen your knife. Once you get used to a sharp knife, you will know when it is time to take out the whetstone.

Whetstones, oilstones, hones, sharpening steels – or what to use

The market of sharpening stones is so diverse nowadays that it is hard to generalize. The same result can be achieved with a number of different stones and methods, so it is up to you what you stick with in the end. However, one is for sure: forget the cheap DIY store whetstones (NOT wet stones), those are not suitable for anything. Look for a whetstone in knife shops or online and tell the clerk what you want to buy a stone for, when you are in doubt. You will most likely end up with two grits of whetstones, or one combined stone with two grit size each side. You will need the coarser grit (usually F200-F400) for heavier work, like removing minute nicks in the edge, reprofiling your edge, or starting with a really dull knife. The finer grit on the other hand (usually around F600-F800) is for finishing your work or retouching a slightly worn edge. And leave the oilstones as a first timer – reconsider buying one when you have some experience.

Sharpening stone
A good, sizeable whetstone on a solid cutting board – this is an excellent start for your knife sharpening endeavor

Whatever you choose, do not spend too much on your first whetstone. Instead, experiment with whatever you can buy or borrow and stick to whatever works for you. For example we at Cerberus Cutlery use Haidu stones from a local company. Our sharpening set consists of three grits of whetstones: a fairly coarse, a semi-fine, and lastly a  super fine grit to have our cutlery delivered extra sharp.

How to start sharpening

What most guides forget to mention is step zero: set your goals. Do you absolutely, definitely need a razor sharp knife? Of course sharper is better, but when your store-bought knife looses its hair-shaving ability in the first ten cuts, you may reconsider whether you should have gone that far in sharpening. The fine grit waterstone that you have may not be able to make a hair-popping edge, but it will make your knife nice and sharp.

 

Knife sharpening setup
Here is what you need: a kitchen towel, a cutting board, a bowl full of water, a coarse whetstone, a fine whetstone, and, of course, your chef knife

Now, submerge your whetstone in clean water. Leave it there for about ten minutes, so it will soak up enough water to work properly. After you take it out, put it on a non-slipping surface that tolerates water, like your wooden cutting board. Make sure that it lays firmly and nothing rocks.

Whetstones in water
Leave your whetstones submerged in water for at least ten minutes to make them work properly

How to actually sharpen your knife

First, inspect the edge of your kitchen knife. If it feels really dull, or has tiny nicks in it (like when you hit a bone with a knife that you shouldn’t have), start with the coarser grit. Lay the blade on the stone’s surface with only the edge touching it – two coins should fit between the spine and the whetstone. Maintaining this angle the whole time is very important when sharpening, so pay close attention to it.

Kitchen knife edge
This edge seems fine, but only looking at it never paints the whole picture

 

Knife sharpening angle
This is about the right angle. At first, it is really hard not to deviate from it too much, but it becomes easier with practice

 

Now, with the edge looking forward, draw the whole edge on the whetstone, like you would want to slice a thin piece off of it. Some start with the point, others start with the heel, this is only personal preference. Use only moderate pressure. Make two strokes, then flip the blade and do the same on the other side. Carefully watch your angle between the blade and the whetstone. Repeat.

 

Chef knife sharpening movements
Hold the grip in your dominant hand and secure the blade by lightly holding onto its spine near the tip

While sharpening, you will notice a grey discoloration appearing on the whetstone’s surface. This is a slurry made of water, whetstone particles and very fine metal dust from your knife. Clean it as soon as you notice it by wiping it down with your fingers and some fresh water. This slurry would otherwise build up on your stone, dulling the edge in the same time when you sharpen it.

 

Watery whetstone surface
Keep your whetstone really clean. Otherwise, sharpening your knife will take a lot more time than it should

 

When to stop sharpening your knife?

Regularly check the edge of the knife by wiping it down with a clean cloth and cutting some fresh paper with it. This will not only show you your progress but it will also show dull spots on the edge by grabbing the paper there more. You can concentrate on these spots when you notice them.

 

Kitchen knife cleaning
Wipe down the blade before inspecting its edge

 

Kitchen knife testing on paper
Test your knife’s edge by cutting paper with it. Good sharp chef knives cut through fresh paper nice and clean, without any resistance

After a while, you will notice that the knife will not get any sharper. If you started with a rough stone, now is the time to switch to a finer grit. If you were already at a finer grit, you are done sharpening!

What to Do after sharpening

Rinse your knife with clean water and wipe it down with a clean cloth. If you have a carbon steel blade, or a semi-stainless, like our Cuvac’s N690 steel, wipe it down with an oily cloth before you put it away. Wash your whetstones with a brush and lots of water (you may use some detergent as well). When done, let them dry out before putting them away.

Now you have only one thing to do – enjoy those paper-thin raddish slices!

 

Cuvac chef knife on cutting board
You will be amazed how much better your cutting experience is with a sharp knife

 

“Couldn’t I just use that steel rod in the drawer?”

No. That steel rod (most often simply called “steel”) is not for sharpening. Simply put, the edge starts to fold on itself in use on a microscopic level. The steel straightens that out, refreshing your edge and extending the time between two actual sharpenings. Using a steel is great for softer knives, like most stainless steels, but harder blades, such as the Cuvac, benefit little from it.

We hope that this article was useful to you. If so, do not forget to share it with your friends!

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