Being able to sharpen your own knives is one of the most important skills to have in order to prepare beautiful food and appreciate a fine knife.
There is more than one way to skin a cat. Sharpening is a very simple operation. Many different techniques work. Some are faster than others. Some may give you a sharper edge at the end of the day. Using a steel or stone, some draw the knife against the steel or stone towards the knife's the edge. Some draw the knife away from the edge. Some go back and forth. Some go in circles. A lot of gadgets work fine.
"If I'm in a pinch, the bottom of a ceramic mug or bowl works nicely." - Corey Milligan
What is the ultimate steel for sharpness, toughness, edge-holding and ease of maintenance? Read the details about S35VN "powder metal steel"- the steel of choice for New West Knifeworks.
There are as many different sharpening tools as there are knives. Most of them work to one degree or another. This is an overveiw. For specific use, follow the manufacturers instructions. If it works for you go with it.
Steels: These are the long metal rods that come with many knife sets and is the traditional tool that chefs use to hone their knives.
Honing: This is the term used for aligning or straightening the knife's edge between sharpening sessions. This term and sharpening method is not as effective as it once was when knives where made out of more simple, softer carbon steels. The edges of those knives tended to bend under cutting pressure and would straighten with the use of a steel and the honing steel removed some metal from the blade or sharpened it. The metal used in modern cutlery is much harder and does not bend easily. Also, the blade is often as hard or harder than the metal honing steel, so it has little effect on removing metal or sharpening.
The traditional steel will maintain a knife's edge for a while but will do nothing to sharpen even a slightly dull knife. Some people like to use it to polish the edge after sharpening by another method.
Ceramic Steel: Though shaped like the traditional honing steel, these tools are sharpeners not hones. 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.
"I use a fine grit Idahone Ceramic Sharpening Steel in my home and it is the only thing I ever need to use. I have maintained my primary chef knife with a shaving-sharp edge for over 5 years with heavy home use and never used any other sharpening tool on it."
- Corey Milligan
Check out our selection of Ceramic Sharpeners for details on this ideal knife accessory.
Another advantage of the diamond/ceramic steel is that you can use it to sharpen quality serrated-edged knives.
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 coarsenesses, 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.
For specific technique on sharpening stone use please read Step-by-Step Guide for Sharpening Knives Using Bench Stones.
Gadgets: There are many different gadgets that are made to make sharpening require less skill. At New West KnifeWorks, we don't have as much experience with these but have heard, from many people, that they have had success with different kinds. If you would like to use one of these gadgets, go to a reputible kitchen or cutlery store and ask them to recommend one to you, as well as, show you how to use it.
Use the same sharpening principles with these gadgets. As soon as your knife won't cleanly slice a tomato, give it a light sharpening. This will make using your knife more enjoyable and extend your knife's life. Try to avoid using the coarse sharpening part of these gadgets unless there is a chip in the blade that you want to grind out or the knife is butter-knife dull. Fully sharpening a dull knife takes more metal off the blade than maintaining a knifes edge over time.
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. This technique will only work on a knife made out of high quality steel. Cheap knives (Ginzu style) are often made with serration and inferior quality steel. These knives will not sharpen well.
Serration on 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 striking the entire length of the blade (just like a normal knife). The roundness of the steel will dip down into larger serrations and sharpen the tips. The tips of the serration where the knife touchs the cutting board is the part that really gets dull. After sharpening the ground side (20-100 strokes) sharpen/hone the other side just a few times with the knife almost flat to take the burr off. If you go totally flat, you will scratch the side of the blade.
Some folks like to get a very small round file and sharpen each serration individually. This is a very time consuming process. If it works for you, go for it. Otherwise, the above technique is very fast and effective.