Kitchen Kung-Fu: A Knife-Sharpening Primer

Keeping your knives ready for slicing and dicing (and chiffonading and julienning) is easy-peasy using these tools and tips.

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Whether you view cooking as an exercise of necessity or creative pursuit, most of us can agree that our time in the kitchen has at least a small element of fun to it. Not convinced? Just say the words chiffonade or julienne and you’ll see what I mean. To maximize the fun bits, it pays to have good equipment—especially quality knives. Taking it up a notch, it pays to have quality knives that are sharp. Keeping your knives ready for slicing and dicing (and chiffonading and julienning), is easy-peasy using these tools and tips.


A Whetstone
Best for: Resurrecting extremely dull knife blades

These low-tech, rectangular blocks are made of actual or synthetic stone, and have two sides: One for seriously dull knives, and another for blades that just need fine-tuning. To use, soak the stone in water for 10 minutes, then set it on a tea towel. With your knife blade pointing away from you and the flat side of the blade held at a 20-degree angle to the stone, glide the knife across the stone, beginning at the handle side and working toward the point, and using your fingers to hold the blade steady. Repeat the process on the other side of the blade. Check for sharpness after five swipes per side. Note: Keeping the blade at a consistent angle is critical for proper sharpening.

A Steel Sharpening Rod 

Best for: Daily maintenance on already-sharp knives

Learning to use this is a culinary game-changer. With the rod in your left hand, hold your knife in your right hand at a 10-degree angle with the blade pointing away from you. Beginning at the handle-end of the knife and using a firm pressure, glide it down the steel rod until you reach the knife’s point, remembering to keep the blade at a consistent 10-degree angle. Repeat 10 or so times. To sharpen the other side of the blade, repeat the process on the underside of the sharpening rod. Et voila! You’ll never rip through the thick skin of a tomato again.

An Electric or Manual Sharpening Gadget

Best for: Regular maintenance on already-sharp blades

These gadgets come in electric and manual varieties, and are extremely simple to use. Slide your not-too-dull blade down through the slot for several swipes. Note that there is a right and wrong direction; look for arrows or another indicator on the sharpener to guide you.

One of the best tricks for maintaining sharp knife-blades is one of the most overlooked: Prevention. Store your knives in an organizing block or another storage method away from other utensils that can damage their sharp edges.