An area that many knife connoisseurs will need to be skilled in, but can rarely find good training for is knife sharpening. It goes without saying that a set of kitchen knives will eventually need to be sharpened, but many people either do not really know what to do, or if they do then they do not achieve the best outcome due to inexperience
Folks can either be confused by not understanding the proper angles at which to sharpen their knives, or they might not understand knife sharpening techniques at all. Since not everybody is familiar with how to sharpen a knife, it is important to start this knife sharpening guide by reviewing some basic knife sharpening techniques.
Knife Sharpening Techniques
There are several different knife sharpening techniques that use a variety of different tools and skill sets. Some people might prefer one knife sharpening technique for its convenience, while others might prefer another technique that gives their knives the best sharpness.
The first knife sharpening technique is to use a whetstone or a diamond stone. When using this method, it is important to establish the angle at which you want to sharpen your knife. If you don’t know which angle you should use, don’t worry about that. We’ll cover knife sharpening angles later in this guide.
Your first step should be to lubricate the whetstone with a tiny amount of honing oil. This oil makes it easy for the knife to slide across the stone and also keeps the steel shavings from clogging the stone pores. It is important to check the manufacturer’s guidelines for your particular whetstone. Although honing oil works beautifully with many types of stones, it can cause serious damage to others.
Once you’ve lined up your knife at the appropriate angle against the stone, drag it across the gritty end of the stone. Make sure that you are dragging the knife towards your body and across the thin side of the stone. Continue this process until you’ve ground roughly halfway through the steel and then flip the knife over and repeat until a new edge is formed.
When the new edge has been created, flip the stone over and grind the knife steps along the finer side of the stone in alternating swipes. This will eliminate any burrs that might have been created along the blade and create a smooth edge. When both sides are smooth and meet at an even angle to create a sharp edge, you’ve finished your task.
The second method of sharpening a knife is to use a honing rod (also known as a sharpening steel). It is important to use a honing rod intermittently between whetstone sharpenings. This will keep the knife sharp and increase the life of the blade. Honing rods remove indentations, nicks, and flat spots from the edge of a knife. Unlike a whetstone, it will not remove a significant amount of metal.
Start by holding the honing rod in your non-dominant hand. Hold the rod at a comfortable angle, pointed away from your body with the tip elevated above the handle.
Place the knife in your dominant hand, making sure that you have a firm grip on the handle with your thumb resting along the spine. Keep your fingers far from the blade’s edge.
Choose an angle at which you would like to sharpen the knife. It is important that you use this angle consistently throughout the process or the honing rod will not smooth out the metal as effectively.
Once you’ve placed the knife at the proper angle, draw it back towards your body across the top part of the honing rod. Start the process with the honing rod pressed against the heel of the knife and end with it resting on the tip. Now, without changing your grip, place the knife against the bottom half of the rod and maintain the same angle. Draw the blade across the rod the same as before.
When both sides have been drawn across once, that is considered to be one revolution. A full cycle on the honing rod is usually anywhere between 6 and 8 revolutions.
Knife Sharpening Angle Guide
Now that we’ve established the basic knife sharpening techniques, it is important to review the angles at which a knife ought to be sharpened. Each different angle will give the knife a unique level of sharpness and durability.
One important thing to keep in mind during this whole process is that the angle you choose will be the angle that each individual side is faced away from the edge. A knife with two sides both sharpened at 20 degree angles will ultimately create a knife with a 40 degree angle.
The higher the sharpening angle, the sharper the knife will be. However, sharpness is generally achieved at the expense of the knife’s durability. The key to finding the best knife sharpening angle is to find one that strikes an ideal balance between sharpness and hardness.
Knives that are sharpened at 10 degrees or below are very sharp, but not very durable. Since they are so easily broken, they are only ideal for cutting soft materials. This kind of angle is usually seen on straight edge razors, which are sharpened to about 7 or 8 degrees.
A sharpening angle between 10 and 17 degrees will still leave a knife relatively sharp. Knifes in this category are frequently used for slicing meats or cutting soft items. Their fine edge makes them too weak to do most types of kitchen work such as chopping or dicing.
The most common range of knife sharpening angles in the kitchen is between 17 and 22 degrees. This is generally considered to be the “sweet spot” of knife sharpening angles. The balance between sharpness and hardness is ideal for most jobs around the kitchen. Japanese manufacturers will often sharpen their knives to 17 degrees, while most western knives are angled at 20 degrees.
Pocket knives and hunting knives are usually sharpened between 22 and 30 degrees. These angles will provide enough sharpness to make consistently powerful cuts, but they also allow for enough durability to handle a heavier, non-kitchen workload.
Knives that are sharpened at or above 30 degrees are primarily used for heavy-duty cutting that requires large amounts of force. Axes and machetes are both sharpened to over 30 degrees to accommodate the force that is put upon the blade during the chopping motion. While they may not be razor sharp, they are very durable and can withstand heavy amounts of force.
This knife sharpening angle guide will help you figure out the knife sharpening techniques and angles at which you should prepare your knives. It is important to consult a knife sharpening guide before breaking out the whetstone or sharpening steel. Attempting to sharpen a knife without fully understand the techniques or angles can permanently damage an entire set of knives.