It is a problem most home kitchens endure. Dull knives are one of the biggest no-nos that could be remedied more easily than you’d think. True enough, sharp knives are incredibly dangerous in the wrong hands, but dull knives can be incredibly dangerous in the right hands.
Here’s the scenario: The dull knife tends to travel a different direction from which it was instructed. You must use more force. It slips anyway. You lose a finger. This could happen while butchering meat or slicing a tomato. Every Boy Scout knows no activity is safe from a dull knife.
The sharp knife, like a fast car, does what it’s told. With an ease of use that requires little to no force, a keen blade can do things brute strength could never dream of, all the while making digit removal an “operator error only” event. For certain, the old saying “a sharp knife is a safe knife” has some validity.
Below are some methods for keeping that edge, and therefore, a safer kitchen.
Everybody must get stoned
Water stones or whetstones are probably the preferred method for sharpening knives, but they also require the most skill. Most of the stones are two-sided, meaning they have a coarse grit on one side for getting you in the ballpark and a finer grit for really honing an edge.
The two-step process should begin with a low angle (maybe 10 degrees or less) on the coarse side of the stone followed by a steeper angle on the finer side. The finishing angle should be determined by the type of knife you’re using. A standard kitchen knife should come in around a 20-25 degree angle while a sushi blade may be best at 12-15 degrees. Sharpen for the type of knife and its intended use.
Whetstones and oil stones come in natural and man-made materials. Yes, some people do use oil or water to wet the whetstone but it isn’t something you have to do. It can help with your task, and many have their opinions on whether or not the extra lubrication is needed.
The trick to this is getting the proper angle and maintaining it as you go across the blade. With a bit of practice you can have your entire kitchen slicing and dicing with little to no effort. Prices start in the low $20 range and jump to as high as you can imagine.
Don’t have a stone and need to sharpen a knife? Here are a few items that can be used as a replacement in a sharpening emergency: the top of a car window, the rough bottom of a ceramic coffee mug, the underside of a toilet lid, a flower pot, a brick.
Spare the rod, spoil the knife
Sharpening rods are a popular choice for sharpening and honing. With a little bit of practice you can get a pretty good edge in a hurry — that is, if you have a quality rod. In this category we can basically say the popular ones are either diamond steel or ceramic. There are also rods designed specifically for serrated knife edges that a stone just wouldn’t help.
Diamond rods are considered to be some of the hardest material, but there are those who prefer the ceramic versions. Ceramic is great on the go and barely wears down over time. If you don’t drop it on hard surfaces, a ceramic rod will last a lifetime. Diamond rods are a bit more durable and you can really dial in your choice of roughness.
There is the rod you hold in your hand that you see so many chefs wielding on television as they run the blade over with ninja-like skill. Others make a “V” pattern in a block of wood, taking care of the angle for you. Miniature versions of sharpening rods begin around the $12 price point for a keychain size and reach upwards of $80 for their larger counterparts.
Dress it in leather
You may remember your grandfather’s leather used for stropping his razor. I still see them in real barbershops (I just show up for the hunting stories and magazines). Leather is a great way to hone an edge to a knife, but there must be an edge to begin with.
The style you see in the barber shop starts at about $35 but it isn’t difficult to make your own. It could be a strap or a piece of leather attached to a block of wood or stick. The smooth side makes for the finer edge, but you must use some type of abrasive powder or oil.
Bring it on home
In a perfect world, I would be proficient in all of these methods. I’m willing to give them all a try. I’m fairly handy with a whetstone, not very proficient with the long-handled sharpening rod, an expert with the rods in the block (they are almost foolproof) and not experienced with stropping at all.
Currently I’m using a celebrity-endorsed sharpener that suctions to the countertop as you draw your knife through a pre-angled trench. This works fine for an average knife, but doesn’t allow for any other angle for the Japanese steel. This just gets me through the everyday household chores.
My advice is to first invest in a good set of knives and stay away from the ones advertised on TV where someone yells at you. Then take pride in the way you’re going to sharpen them. Watch your fingers and stay safe.