Knife Sharpeners – what you need to know
Over time the cutting edge on any set of kitchen knives will fade and they will need to be sharpened – this is quite normal. On TV you will never see a celebrity chefs using a knife sharpener though, they always use a sharpening steel. So what is the difference between a knife sharpener and a sharpening steel, and when should you use one or the other? The answer is actually quite simple – a steel is only useful when your knife is already sharp. If the knife is blunt then it must be sharpened first with a knife sharpener to bring back the edge. The steel is used to ‘hone’ the edge by remove any deformation.
When using a knife sharpener on a blunt knife the cutting edge is reshaped, and burrs are removed by grinding away tiny amounts of the blade. The angle of the cut is set precisely (usually around 20 degrees). The knife sharpener should leave the edge of the blade with as smoother Finnish as possible.
The better quality your knife sharpener, the better the finish on the blade, and the sharper it will be. With your knife sharpened the cut should be almost as good as when it was new. To maintain the sharpness for as long as possible you should use a honing steel every time you use the knife to smooth the edge.
Sharpening / Honing Steels
The cutting edge of a kitchen knife is very thin and in a very short time the edge will "fold" over making it less sharp. A sharpening steel (sometimes called a honing steel, or knife steel) is used to reshape any tiny rough or uneven parts of the blade, and comb the sharp edge back into position – and maximum sharpness. Ideally you should use a sharpening steel every time you use your knife in order to maintain a nice and straight edge. When the knife becomes too worn for the steel to "hone" the edge, or the edge is lost completely, then it will again need to reshaped with a knife sharpener. To complicate things slightly some modern knife sharpeners will have a "honing" device built in that has the same effect as a sharpening steel. The idea is that the device does the hard work for you as some people find it tricky to master the technique needed to use a steel. These devices also ensure that the edge is combed at the same angle as it has been sharpened – View sharpening steels.
Types of Knife Sharpener
1. Sharpening stones / Whetstones
Sharpening stones are an hi grade abrasive stone that a knife is drawn across to gently file the edge into shape. Sharpening stones (traditionally called Whetstones) come in various "grades", which indicates how fine the finish will be on the sharpened knife. A finer grade stone will remove less material and take longer to sharpen the knife, but will leave a better Finnish Sharpening stones require some degree of skill and practice to use as the blade must be held against the stone at the correct angle. Sharpening stones are generally not used on kitchen knives. A serrated knife cannot be sharpened with a stone sharpener for example.
2. Manual Knife Sharpener
Manual knife sharpeners work by drawing your knife between two abrasive wheels in the device set at a precise angle. The main factor in producing a very sharp knife is that the blade must maintain a uniform angle between the wheels and not allow the angle to be changed from stroke to stroke. This will round the edge of the blade and it will only feel sharp for a short period of time. To this end some manual knife sharpeners will have a guide or roller to help draw the knife in a smooth straight line. The device may also have multiple slots for different types of blade (serrated edge, scissors hectic), and may also have a honing device, or slot, that is used to fine tune the blade between sharpening. The cutting edges in a manual sharpening device can be made from many materials including aluminium oxide, hard stone, ceramic abrasive or even diamond abrasive.
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3. Electric Knife Sharpeners
A top of the range electric knife sharpener can put an incredibly fine edge on your knife. Electric sharpeners work in the same way as manual knife sharpeners, except the abrasive wheels in the device are powered. This removes some of the inaccuracy of drawing the blade through a manual device as the angle of the knife may alter slightly with each stroke. A quality electric knife sharpener such as the Chefs Choice Diamond 2000 will provide the most accurate edge to your blade. The sharpening system on most electronic sharpeners will also include a honing device, which means there is no need to buy a separate sharpening steel (unless you want to hang it on the wall. or wave it around at dinner parties 🙂
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Top 10 tips to keep your knives sharp
- 1. Do not use a glass, ceramic or marble chopping board
- 2. Never put your chefs knife in the dishwasher. Detergents in the machine are very strong and the knife edge may rub against other utensils
- 3. Cut only on a wooden or a plastic cutting surface
- 4. Choose a wooden knife holder where the knives are supported on the spine, not on the cutting edge
- 5. Do not cut meat or vegetables directly in the pan!
- 6. A better quality knife will stay sharper for longer, but quality comes at a price.
- 7. Hone, wash and dry your knife each time you use it.
- 8. Use a Knife Sharpener only when your honing steel becomes ineffective to prolong your knives life
- 9. Do not sharpen your knives unnecessarily. They will wear out too quickly
- 10. Buy the best quality knife sharpener you can afford. It will be kinder to your knives.
Buying the best Knife Sharpener
It is best to choose a knife sharpener within your budget unless you are going to use it with an expensive set of chefs knives, then it may be worth spending the extra to reflect the investment you have already made. In general the price of a knife sharpener is reflected in the quality of the materials it is made from, and the precision of the device (although some expensive sharpeners may be a little overpriced). Please read our knife sharpener reviews to see what we recommend this month.
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