Proper Knife Care and Sharpening Tips

Knives, in my opinion, are the most important tool in the kitchen next to a cast iron skillet. Because they are so essential, proper knife care is a must to keep them in good shape.  

Cleaning a knife with a cork is a great tip for knife care.
Cleaning a knife with a cork is a great tip for knife care.

During the holiday season, many of us are using our kitchen knives more than ever — to slice through that big Thanksgiving turkey, for example!

Knives are easily damaged and begin quickly to lose their shape, thereby becoming dull. Here are some knife care tips to preserve your knives and keep a sharp blade for longer:

Knife Care Tip #1: Clean with a Cork

Never use a scrub brush to clean your knives.  Instead, for difficult to remove foods, use a clean wine bottle cork over the knife. Then wash the knife with a mild detergent in hot water.

Knife Care Tip #2: Wash Knives by Hand

I know it’s tempting, but never clean your knives in a dishwasher! Many dishwashers are too abrasive. Even worse, the metal of knives may get corroded or start to rust.

Knife Care Tip #3: Store Knives Properly

Knives need a special storage place in your kitchen. Instead of keeping them in a drawer, keep your knives in a cutting board or cutting tray.

Knife Care Tip #4: Steel / Hone a Knife after Each Use

To keep a knife from getting dull, you should steel it after each use. That means to use a a rod-shaped tool knife sharpening tool called a hone or steel (though it may be made of ceramic instead of steel). 

How to Sharpen Knives with a Whet Stone

Steeling a knife can keep it sharp, but what if a knife blade is already dull? Knife care eventually will include sharpening. To sharpen dull knives, I use a whetstone. It sounds like “wet stone,” and in fact, you should wet the stone before sharpening. It’s easiest get all your knives out together, test them for dullness (try slicing through a tomato to check for resistance) and then sharpen all the dull ones at once.

sharpening stone set for professional knife care
I like water stones for sharpening. This professional whetstone set will have you covered with all the tools. This is an Amazon Affiliate link, so I will make a commission if you purchase from this link.

Using the Right Knife Sharpening Tools

A good sharpening stone set will include fine, medium, and coarse grit sizes. The dullness of the blade determines the grit size you need: the duller the blade, the coarser the grit. After sharpening with a coarse grit, follow up with fine grit for polish.

Whetstones vary, so be sure to check the instructions that came with yours. A water stone like I use will need to be soaked in water for at least 45 minutes. (An oil stone, on the other hand, should not be put in water.)

Hold the Knife at the Right Angle

To sharpen a knife, first hold it against the whetstone with the blade edge facing away from you. You will want to hold the knife at a 20-degree angle. Use your fingertips to adjust the angle and pressure of the knife on the whetstone.

Sharpen Both Sides of Knife

Sweep one side of the blade completely against the stone from handle end to tip. Carefully test the sharpness by touch. Once that side is sharp, flip the knife to sharpen the other side. Be sure to sharpen each side the same amount with the same number of strokes.

Polish with Finer Grit Whetstone

If you used a coarse grit to sharpen the dull knife, repeat the whole process with a fine grit to polish both sides. Proper knife care includes keeping the sides even. 

Slice a Piece of Paper to Test Sharpness

Slice the sharpened knife through a piece of paper to check the sharpness. (You don’t want to slice food with the knife before cleaning it.) The knife should easily slice the paper.

Clean Both the Knives and Whetstone

Knife care helps keep your knives from getting any rust on them. Be sure to wash and thoroughly dry your knives after sharpening. To clean a sharpening stone, follow the instructions that came with your whetstone set.

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