How to Sharpen Your Knives
um…okay, I lied. I’m not going to talk much about SHARPENING knives…but rather HONING or STEELING your knives. But I think most home cooks think that using the rod pictured above is for sharpening. Read on – I’ve interviewed Chad Ward, a knife expert and author who will show you step by step how to properly hone your knife. Plus, do you like the knife that I’m holding? There’s a nifty knife giveaway at the end of this post. Oh, and don’t hold your honing steel like a wuss in the photo above. I had to hold it like that for the photo so you could see the angle. Grip the handle tightly.
It took me 12 years of spending money on different knives before I finally found my soul mate and fell into a steady groove with the collection that I own now. In college, I got sucked into the magical world of infomercials and bought the super-duper ginsu knives that can decapitate a soda can in one swift motion and the scissors that can cut a penny in half with just the power of your pinky. Well, those lasted for 3 months and then the only way to cut a chicken breast was to stab it repeatedly with all 6 knives in my hand, Edward Scissorhands style.
As a working girl, to celebrate my becoming a useful member of society, I splurged on a expensive knife block that held like 22 different knives, each one designed to complete a specific kitchen task most efficiently. Need to carve an tomato into a butterfly? I had a blade shaped just for that task. But I hated those knives – they were too big for me and felt like I was shaking hands with a electric saw, not to mention 20 of the knives in the block went totally unused.
I finally decided to save my money and just get one good knife that felt right in my hands. It was expensive, but it was the Ferrari in my kitchen and I loved using it so much that I went around the house every day looking for things to dice. It’s been 8 years and I still grab for that same 8″ Shun chef’s knife (www.kershawknives.com.) And my latest love is a New West KnifeWorks Fusionwood Santoku (www.newwestknifeworks.com) This baby feels like a dream in my hands, it’s sturdy, balanced and the wood handle a piece of art (pictured.)
But a good quality knife is worthless in your hands if it is dull. Can you imagine force cutting through a butternut squash with a putty knife? If your blade is dull, the more work YOU have to do and greater the chance that the blade will slip and cut your precious fingers. Ouch.
I spoke with Chad Ward, author of An Edge In The Kitchen, and he taught me a few things about maintaining knives.
Every kitchen probably has that steel rod used to “sharpen” knives. But really, that rod is used for honing the edge, not sharpening it. So, the first step is to get your knives sharpened, and for most home cooks, that means once a year. Chad suggests buying a $40 sharpening tool (advice and directions are in his book), but I’d rather take my knives to a professional sharpener for $2-$4 per blade. To find a professional sharpener, ask your local chef, butcher or hairdresser where they get their knives and shears sharpened.
If you use your steel rod to hone the edge regularly, you’ll keep a safe, sharp knife in your kitchen. But most people don’t know how to use their steel rod properly and end up dulling their knives even further.
So what does steeling or honing your knife do?
Just through regular use of your knives, the edge of the blade can “roll.” While your knife may be sharp, the edge might not be pointing straight. Steeling or honing your knife will realign the edge.
The proper angle is important
According to Chad, you want about a 22.5 degree angle for non-Japanese knives, and the easiest way to get that angle is hold your knife edge flush against the steel. Now rotate your wrist inwards to get the knife perpendicular to the steel – that’s a 90 degree angle. Cut that in half, it’s 45 degrees. Cut that in half again and it’s 22.5 degrees. If you’re lucky, your steel rod will have a lip that will give you exactly 22.5 degrees (like in the photo) so you just have to line up your blade against that lip.
For japanese knives, you’ll want a 16 degree angle. Just follow the above directions to get the 22.5 degree angle and slightly rotate your wrist inward to deepen that angle. On my steel rod, the lip is oval, so one side is exactly 22.5 degrees and the other shorter end is 16 degrees. This really makes it easy to line up my knife, whether I’m honing western knives or the Japanese knives.
How to steel or hone your knives
photos and text from Chad Ward
Set your angle to 22.5 degrees or 16 degrees as directed above. It is important to keep the angle consistent as you stroke the edge down the steel. Lock your wrist and loosen your shoulder. Use a light touch, little more than the weight of the knife itself.
Slowly swipe the knife’s edge from heel to tip down the steeling rod by moving your forearm and keeping your shoulders relaxed. Keep your elbow and wrist locked to maintain a consistent angle throughout the stroke.
Stroke once on this side and now it’s time to switch sides. Keep the rod steady in place and move your knife to the other side of the rod.
If you’re blades are sharp, all you need is a stroke or two on each side once a week (or for heavy users, each time you use your knives) to maintain that razor sharp edge for up to a year. That’s it.
I know you’re going to ask me how to choose the best knife. I’ll be giving you mine and Chad’s recommendations based on budget levels in another column. But for now, get your knives sharpened and practice honing correctly!
Great books about knives and knife techniques
I highly recommend two books about knives and knife techniques- of course Chad Ward’s An Edge In The Kitchen is one of them, and another fabulous knife book is Knives Cooks Love by Sarah Jay. It’s beautifully photographed and comes with a handful of recipes.
Both books have color photos on specific knife techniques, like carving a TURKEY (holidays are here!), mincing garlic and onions, as well as how to cut different shapes and sizes of fruits and vegetables.
And now the giveaway
I’ve asked my favorite knife company, New West Knifeworks to donate a three gorgeous knives for a giveaway.
The Japanese Phoenix Knives are made with 33 Layers of Damascus steel, precision ground and fused to a beautiful, indestructible Nobel-Lite handle. The innovative, function-based design and unique material selection are partnered with the world renowned craftsmen of Seki City, Japan to create the new standard for Japanese kitchen knives.
The Fusionwood Knives are as functional as they are beautiful. Premium high-carbon stainless tool steel and beautiful hardwood veneer handles are fused into a technically flawless culinary instrument for professional or home chefs. The chefs knives Fine Cooking magazine called “Knife Art”.
Looky all the pretty colors you can choose from!
New West Knifeworks giveaway
This giveaway rocks – because you get to choose which knife you want! New West Knifeworks is give a couple of lucky winners a knife of their choice.
To enter, all ya gots to do is head over to New West Knifeworks‘ website and choose the knife you’d like to win. Pick any non-set knife, either the Fusionwood or the Phoenix line. Come back here and comment and tell me which knife you’d like to win.
On November 30th, we’ll pick TWO random commenters – and they will receive the knife they’ve chosen.
Bonus Entry – ohhhlala!
If you Stumble, blog, post on Facebook or Twitter about the giveaway – you get a bonus entry. That bonus entry will be entered into a *totally separate pool* – a much smaller pool where I’ll give away third free knife.
1. So, enter below by choosing a knife and commenting below.
2 For your bonus entry…Stumble, blog, post on Facebook or Twitter about the giveaway. Then comment again, this time with the word “BONUS” in your comment. I’ll pick a third winner just from this group.
Whaddya waitin’ for? Go ahead and Stumble it!
Okay, who loves you???