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How to Care for and Sharpen Your Kitchen Knives

A wet chef's knife and a sharpening whetstone on a black countertop.

Are your knives becoming dull, but you aren’t 100% sure how to get them back to factory sharpness? All you need is the right equipment and a bit of guidance to get your kitchen knives back into prime cutting condition.

Before you can sharpen your knives correctly, it’s important to understand the difference between maintaining a sharp edge versus creating a new one. There’s a time and a place for both of these essential tasks, and we’ve got the lowdown.

How Often Should You Sharpen Your Knives?

An image of all the tools used to sharpen a chef's knife at chefSteps

How often you should sharpen your kitchen knives depends on how often you use them. Some people sharpen their knives every two weeks, while others do it about once every other month. If your carving knife only touches a roast one or two times a year, you can get away with very minimal maintenance.

However, if you’re working that chef’s knife several times each week, it’ll need some regular maintenance, including frequent honing and occasional sharpening sessions. Unsure if your knife needs to be sharpened? If it doesn’t easily glide through a sheet of paper or a tomato, it’s dull and needs to be sharpened.

Honing and sharpening are two different steps that require two different tools. Honing is the process of maintaining your knife’s already sharp edge by pushing the blade back into alignment. You’ll want to hone your knife with a honing steel (more on that later) after every few uses.

To sharpen a knife, you have to remove some of the material from the blade to give it an entirely new edge. Don’t let the process intimidate you; all you need is a quality sharpening stone, a little bit of guidance, and some practice.

Tips for Keeping Your Knives Sharp

Two images of products recommended in the aticle including a Ironwood Gourmet cutting board and a Mantello universal knife block.
Ironwood Gourmet/Mantello

In addition to honing and sharpening your knives when they need it, there are several other things you can do to keep them in tip-top shape:

  • Don’t wash your knives in the dishwasher: The high heat and pressure are too harsh for your knives and can move them around, causing damage to the edges. Stick to hand-washing them in warm, soapy water, but avoid soaking them.
  • Dry them completely: After hand-washing your knives, dry them immediately before putting them away or returning them to a block or sheath. This will protect them from mold, corrosion, and rust.
  • Use the right cutting board: Never use your knives on a glass cutting board (we’re not even sure why they make those). Wooden cutting boards are best, followed by plastic, but bamboo is also okay.
  • Remove any food residue ASAP: The best time to wash your knife is right after you’re finished using it. Acidic foods in particular, like tomatoes and lemons, can tarnish certain metals.
  • Protect your knives when storing: To preserve your knives they also need to be stored correctly and safely. Never leave them loose in a silverware drawer unless they’re protected in individual sheaths. A block or magnetic strip are both excellent storage options.

Ironwood Gourmet End Grain Cutting Board

Attractive, efficient, and safe for your knives.

Mantello Universal Knife Block

The perfect storage solution for mismatched knives.

Now that you know how to clean, care for, and properly store your knives, let’s get them resharpened and ready for some effortless slicing.

How to Sharpen and Hone a Chef’s Knife

ChefSteps offers a free class on basic knife sharpening skills. The course essentially breaks down the video above into detailed steps. You’ll learn everything from the benefits of a sharp knife to the anatomy of knives.

This video is an excellent intro to how to sharpen a knife with a whetstone—just don’t confuse the word “whet” with “wet.” Although many agree that using a wet sharpening stone is better than a dry one, the name isn’t actually referring to water.

The word “whet” in this usage actually means to sharpen. Sharpening stone and whetstone are often used interchangeably, but they both refer to the same tool. A “water stone” is a type of whetstone that must always be soaked in water before use.

We recommend watching the entire video above, as it will show you how to repair and sharpen a damaged knife using several different grits.

Then, you can move on to the video below to learn how to hone your kitchen knives by ever-so-gently dragging the edges along a honing steel. This dagger-looking tool is also known by other names, including sharpening steel or honing rod, but they’re all referring to the same tool.

The swishing sound is actually quite relaxing.

Necessary Tools

Two items recommended in the article including a Sharp Pebble whetstone and Mercer honing steel.
Sharp Pebble/Mercer

If you don’t yet have a whetstone or honing rod, but you do have a set of dull knives, it’s time to make a small investment. Sharpening your knives makes them easier and safer to use. Plus, as you learned from the tutorials above, the process is also pretty straightforward. Like anything else, it just takes some practice.

We recommend the Sharp Pebble Premium whetstone for beginners. Made from quality materials, the stone itself is double-sided, with 1,000 grit on one side and 6,000 on the other. The 1,000-grit side will shape and sharpen any knife that’s lost its edge, while the 6,000-grit side will further refine the edge to a superfine finish.

It also comes with a guide, so you can make sure your knife is at the correct angle while you’re sharpening. This is an extremely helpful feature for anyone new to sharpening. The nonslip base is a nice bonus, as well.

Sharp Pebble Whetstone

One slice closer to a sharper knife.

There’s no need to spend loads of cash on a honing steel. We currently use a Mercer steel similar to this one for our collection of Mercer knives, and it gets the job done. The high-carbon steel design and ergonomic handle make this a great addition to your knife set.

Mercer Culinary Honing Steel

Realign those edges with ease.

Sharpening your kitchen knives is easy when you have the right tools and knowledge for the job. Once you have your sharpening stone and honing steel, you’ll be able to keep your knives slice-and-dice ready at all times.

Emilee Unterkoefler Emilee Unterkoefler
Emilee Unterkoefler is a freelance food writer, hiking enthusiast, and mama with over ten years of experience working in the food industry. Read Full Bio »
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