How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives?

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Last Updated on June 10, 2021
Annabelle

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

Annabelle is an experienced food writer and editor. She focuses on common sense, easy to replicate recipes formulated to help keep things fresh and exciting while fitting into her day to day life as a wife and mother.

sharpening

Image Courtesy to Didriks

One of your most trusted kitchen tools is your knife. A good knife can make quick work of chopping, mincing, and slicing. However when your knife goes dull, it can create frustration. 

Simple tasks take more time, foods get squished and frankly safety goes out the window. When this happens, it’s important for you to know how to properly sharpen your kitchen knives, without damaging them.

We’ve chosen the three most common ways to sharpen your kitchen knives, what you will need and some advantages and disadvantages to each that will keep your edges straight and your blades sharp.

1. Ways to Sharpen a Kitchen Knives

There are three different approaches you can use to sharpen kitchen knives: whetstones, electric sharpeners, and manual sharpeners. Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.

Whetstones

Whetstones or sharpening stones are a traditional way of sharpening your knives. This long rectangular block is made from natural stone or sometimes ceramic. They have a coarse and fine side that help you sharpen your knives.

To sharpen your knife, you slide the blade across the surface. As you work your knife, tiny bits of the blade are rubbed away, creating a sharp edge.

  • Advantages: This method is both adaptable, versatile and simple. The whetstone can sharpen any knife, even knives not used in the kitchen. Additionally, whetstones are one of the best options for sharpening full bolster knives.

    Our favorite advantage? Price. Whetstones are relatively inexpensive, so perfect if you’re on a budget.

  • Disadvantages: To be direct, using a whetstone isn’t one of those tasks that you get perfect the first time. This option takes practice and patience.

Electric Sharpeners

Electric sharpeners are a great option if you are looking for ease and speed. Most electric sharpeners do a great job of sharpening your knives, and they are simple to use, so you don’t have to practice or spend hours on sharpening, just to get a good edge on your favorite kitchen knife. These are a bit more aggressive, so it’s important to hone your knives as much as possible, before putting them in your electric sharpener.

  • Advantages: With electric sharpeners you get a consistent result every time. They are constructed to minimize error. You’ll also find that they can make a sharper edge than your knife started with. If you select a sharpener with multiple coarseness options, you can do everything from touch up a blade, to a complete restoration.
  • Disadvantages: The biggest disadvantage of electric sharpeners is that you cannot use them for full bolster knives. These sharpeners also remove more material from your knife blade, so they will decrease the life of your knives.

    Additionally, electric sharpeners are more expensive.

Manual Sharpeners

Manual sharpeners are a nice combination of the whetstone and the electric sharpener. They are more forgiving on your knife blades, like the whetstone, but easier to use, like an electric sharpener. Simply insert your knife in the chamber and pull with even pressure. 

For best results, it is recommended that you follow the instructions that come with the sharpener.

  • Advantages: These sharpeners keep the blade in the right position thanks to tall walls. These are also relatively compact, so they store nicely in kitchen drawers. Manual sharpeners are also versatile, and can sharpen most kitchen knives, including full bolster blades.
  • Disadvantages: If you’re looking to restore a badly damaged blade, a manual sharpener will not work for you.

2. What You Need to Sharpen a Kitchen Knife Using a Whetstone?

Whetstones

Image Courtesy to Didriks

To avoid mistakes when sharpening, you should know the difference between Primary and Finishing stones

Primary Sharpening StoneYour primary sharpening stone will generally come with two coarseness options, a coarse and fine. Coarseness is designated by the grit number. Lower grit numbers are more coarse, higher numbers are finer. Use the coarse side of your whetstone to start the sharpening process and clean up the blade edge. 

The fine grit side of your whetstone is made for smoothing the rough edge created with the coarse side. The higher the coarseness number the smoother the finish. This is also the side that creates that super sharp edge.

Finishing StoneFinishing stones are made for polishing the blade once it is sharp. These stones return the sheen and luster of the metal to the knife after sharpening. They generally have very high grit values.

3. How To Sharpen a Kitchen Knife Using a Whetstone?

Step 1 - Soak Your Sharpening Stones

Like it’s name suggests, the first thing you need to do when sharpening a knife with a whetstone is to soak it in water. Soak for a minimum of 15 minutes, and then place on a towel, coarse side up. This step is necessary to protect your knives from damage caused by a dry sharpening stone. Then make sure the stone stays wet, or you risk damaging your blades.

Step 2 - Inspect Your Knife

Do take a bit of time to examine the blade of your knife before you get started. This will show you issues with the blade and show details like if the blade is single or double sided or are their chips or other damages to the blade? Also observe the blade angle, so you can properly set the knife on the whetstone.

Step 3 - Time to Sharpen

This is the step that takes practice, and we recommend that you take your time, the first time you sharpen a knife with a whetstone. Each knife has a unique blade angle, so before you start sharpening, make sure to take the time to feel the blade angle and how it sets on the whetstone.


Use one hand to keep the blade in contact with the stone. Then with the other hand, adjust the angle of the knife until you’ve found the proper angle of the knife that keeps it flush with the stone. This does take practice, so don’t get frustrated.


Once you’ve found the right angle for your blade (around 20 degrees is fairly common), pull the blade across the stone towards your body. Make sure you run the stone from the heel all the way to the tip of the knife. Repeat this process 12 times on each side of the blade (if it’s a double-sided blade).


For fine tuning the blade, repeat this process on the fine-grit side of the stone.

Step 4 - Finish the Knife Blade

Use your finishing stone to shine up the edge. This process is the same as sharpening, but you’ll use a finer grit stone, and slightly lighter pressure.


Annabelle

Annabelle Watson

Final Thoughts

The more you utilize your kitchen knives, the duller they are sure to get. Sharpening your kitchen knives doesn’t have to be an intimidating task. 

Whether you choose a whetstone, an electric sharpener, or a manual sharpener there’s bound to be a learning curve. When your done with the sharpening task, you’ll be confident that the knife will be sharp when you use it. Knowing if your knife is sharp and how to sharpen it is a nice skill to have.

Read also: Tips on Using Sharpening Steel.