Knife Maintenance and Sharpening 101

Knife Maintenance and Sharpening 101

Knife Maintenance and Sharpening 101

Investing in a quality, usable item– whether that item is a new car or a new knife– requires a certain amount of daily care and occasional maintenance. The common misconception that a quality knife doesn't dull is just that– a misconception. Sharp, durable knives still need simple maintenance and routine sharpening to keep them at their best, make food preparation safe and fun, and allow them to truly last a lifetime. After all, you wouldn't stop going for oil changes just because you bought a car with a superior motor - in fact, you might pay even more attention to its care.

Let's break down some basic knife care that will make your sharpest kitchen investments last. You can also check out our “How to Sharpen a Knife” video here.

Daily Maintenance Q&A

    Q) Should I always hand wash my knives, or is it ok to throw them in the dishwasher?
    A) Hand washing with regular dish soap and immediately hand drying is always recommended. In a dishwasher, the heat, extended water exposure, and detergent will cause the knives to dull faster and potentially cause oxidation. Therefore, washing knives in a dishwasher results in the need for more maintenance work than simply hand washing! 
      The S35VN used for New West knives is classified as a stainless steel. However, the high carbon content of this steel that keeps these knives super sharp makes them more prone to staining when left in contact with water for extended periods of time. 
        Q) Do certain knives require special care?
        A) As mentioned above, New West’s G-Fusion & Ironwood knives will stay sharp and shiny for as long as possible if they are hand washed with regular dish soap and quickly hand dried. 

        Conversely, our one-of-a-kind, hand-forged Damascus Steel knives are made with high carbon steel without a stainless component (1095 and 15N20), so it’s best to oil them every so often. After hand washing a Damascus knife, dry the blade completely and apply a food grade oil like mineral oil, vegetable or olive oil with a paper towel or cloth and store in the leather sheath or a wooden block. 

        Q) Are there any other tips that can help keep knives in their best condition and cut down on how much I have to sharpen? 
        A) Cutting Surfaces: In addition to hand washing and hand drying, using a wooden cutting surface is the best way to keep knives sharp. Materials like walnut, maple, and bamboo all work well. Only using a plastic cutting board for preparing raw meat is just fine, since they are easier to sanitize. 

          We have found that cutting boards made of ceramic, glass, resin, hard plastic will cause knives to dull VERY QUICKLY, so avoid them if you don’t want to sharpen your knife with every few slices.

          Storage: Storing knives in their leather sheaths, on a wooden magnet, or in a wooden block is the best way to ensure the safety of everyone in the kitchen and keep blades protected from getting banged up or chipped. When removing or replacing a knife on a magnet or in a knife block, avoid scraping the sharp edge across the knife block material - doing any sliding or scraping with a knife “spine down” is another way to keep the blade sharp.


          If you own a New West knife, lucky you: you can  take advantage of free sharpening for life and send them back to New West KnifeWorks to be sharpened free of charge. Follow the instructions here to make sure your sharpened knives get back to you as quickly as possible.

          However, knowing how to sharpen your own knives on a regular basis is an indispensable kitchen skill and quite simple once you get the hang of it. Remember, practice makes perfect– you won't damage a knife by trying to sharpen it, even if you cannot do it perfectly the first couple of times.

          How Often Do I Sharpen?

          Knife enthusiasts and professional chefs sharpen their knives weekly, but bi-monthly or monthly should do the trick, depending on how often you use your knife. Keep in mind that it takes much less skill to maintain a knife's edge than it does to re-sharpen a totally dull knife. As soon as a knife will not cleanly slice a tomato it should be sharpened.

          The Tools

            1. Honing Steel: Most commonly available knife blocks come with a honing steel, which is actually not designed to sharpen your knife. Honing steel "trues" the knife blade or straightens it out. As you use a knife, the edge rolls to one side or the other on a microscopic level. The honing steel takes that wear and straightens it back out. 
            2. Ceramic Steel: Though shaped like the traditional honing steel, these tools are sharpeners, not honers. Because ceramic and diamonds are much harder than steel, when you use these tools they remove metal from the knife's edge or sharpen it.
            3. Sharpening Stones: This is the oldest, most traditional method of sharpening. Stones are made out of different materials. Some remove material (sharpen) faster than others. If you use this method, you will want to have 2-4 different grades of coarseness, or grits, of stone. The coarsest should be used on very dull knives or to grind out chips in the blade. The finest grit stone is to polish the edge of the blade. As with all sharpening methods, it is best to keep the knife sharp with frequent use of the finer stones and avoid using the coarser stones except when absolutely necessary. This will insure your knife is always in optimal working condition and prolong its working life by removing less metal from the blade.

            Step-by-step Guide to Sharpening with a Ceramic Sharpening Rod

            Follow the steps below, or watch the full how to video here

            1) If your knife is quite dull, begin with a medium/coarse grit ceramic sharpening rod. The coarse grit ceramic rods we recommend are around 100-200 grit.

            2) Aim for an angle between 15 and 20 degrees. The edges of New West knives are sharpened to a 17 degree angle. This can be estimated by finding 90 degrees, halving that to 45 degrees, halving that to 22.5 degrees, and then going a few degrees narrower to get in the 15-20 degree range.

            3) Hold sharpening rod straight up and down against your table or surface. This will make the angle of the blade easy to see when keeping a consistent angle against the ceramic rod. However, the exact angle is less important than maintaining consistency with each stroke and consistency on both sides of the blade.

            4) Be sure to do an even amount of strokes on each side. For a dull knife, begin with 20 on one side, then 20 on the other, then 10/10, 5/5, 3/3, 2/2, 1/1. 

            5) If you want an even finer edge, repeat step 5 with a fine grit ceramic rod. Or, if you have been keeping up well with your knife sharpening, you may only need to use the fine grit. The fine grit ceramic sharpening rods available from New West are 1200-1500 grit.

            6) When you finish, your knife should be sharp enough to slide right through a tomato with very little pressure. 

            Sharpening Serrated Knives

            You can do a good job of restoring a serrated knife's edge by sharpening it on a diamond or ceramic steel, if the serrations are wide enough.  The ceramic sharpening rods we recommend can sharpen serrations as small as the width of a pencil. 

            The edge on serrated knives is almost always ground on only one side of the knife. Using a diamond or ceramic steel, sharpen/hone on the ground side, sweeping down the length of the steel and striking the entire length of the blade (just like a straight edge knife). The roundness of the steel will dip down into larger serrations and sharpen the tips. The tips of the serration or any spot where the knife blade touches a cutting board are the parts that get dull. After sharpening the ground side (20-40 strokes) sharpen/hone the other side just a few times with the knife almost flat (totally flat, will scratch the side of the blade).

            And that’s it! Keeping knives super sharp makes food preparation safer, faster, and much more fun, so keep it up and let us know if you have any questions. 

            Learn More about S35VN Steel

            Shop Ceramic Sharpening Rods

            Shop G-Fusion Chef Knives

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