Stay Sharp

If you’re like me, you cooked nonstop over the holidays. And while I’m none the worse for wear and tear, my knives sure are, making now a great time to sharpen them.

Keep in mind that running your dull post-holiday blades along a honing steel might not do the trick at this point. (Also remember that some honing steels may permanently damage single-bevel Japanese-made knifes—read the manufacturer’s care instructions carefully.) To test sharpness, hold a piece of paper in one hand and draw the blade down through the top edge of the sheet. If the knife won’t slice the paper or tears it raggedly, run it along a honing steel a few times and try again. If it still won’t slice the paper cleanly and effortlessly, it requires sharpening.

At the edge of a knife blade are microscopic teeth. Over time, the teeth bend back, rendering the knife less effective. The honing steel straightens the teeth, which is fine for tune-ups, but what you need is to reform these fine teeth and renew the cutting edge with a full sharpening. If you don’t have a whetstone, look for a knife sharpening service in your area; sometimes butchers, fabric stores, and local markets may sharpen them as well for a few dollars per inch of blade.

Whether you do it yourself or have it done professionally, sharpening your knives after extensive—or intensive—use is critical maintenance that will save you headaches and possibly even a finger or two; knives too blunt to slice through butter always somehow manage to penetrate skin.


  1. Shaun C

    Thanks Tim!

    January 15, 2009 at 7:14 pm
  2. Tim Cebula

    Hi Shaun–
    It’s probably best to avoid sharpening machines, particularly for your best knives. Ideally, knife sharpening services will sharpen by hand. Check with some of your local knife grinder’s customers to see if they’re satisfied, but your concerns about machines are warranted.
    Don’t be intimidated about using a stone. It just takes a little practice to get the gist. You might want to use a steak knife or something other than your best blades to practice. Use smooth, steady strokes at a constant angle (about 20°). There’s a lot of information on the topic online, much more than I can fit here. Check out this detailed primer for starters:
    Good luck!

    January 15, 2009 at 3:33 pm
  3. Shaun C

    Hi Tim,
    Can you give tips for using a stone? I used to have my knives done by hand, but since moving, I haven’t found anyone here that does it by hand.
    Should I be so picky? I’ve heard that the machines stores use can ruin your knives.
    But I’ve been intimidated about using a stone myself — I don’t want to mess up my own knife, either. (How likely am I to mess it up as I learn how to use a stone?)
    Thanks for any help.

    January 15, 2009 at 10:36 am

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