Ideally, your trusty chef's knife should be sharpened once a year so that you can put your mastery of essential knife skills to good use.
In reality, you don't sharpen the thing until it slips off a tomato and onto your thumb. At which point you realize that with a mixture of shame and relief that it's so neglected, it won't even cut your own skin. Fact is, a sharp knife that gives you more control is a hell of a lot safer than a dull one that slides all over the place.
When it comes time to sharpen, forget about those whirring electric knife sharpeners and reach for a no-nonsense whetstone. It's better for two reasons:
- You've got total control over the process and avoid grinding off too much of your edge - a notorious problem with sharpeners.
- Men have been sharpening knives on stones forever, and you're about to learn a timeless skill. Exciting, right?
Choose Your Stone
First, you need to pick a stone, which makes this the perfect time to tell the difference between a wet stone and a whetstone. A whetstone is a specific tool for sharpening your blade, while a wet stone is… a stone that has water on it. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)
A lot of people think that "wet" is actually the right way to spell it, and that you're supposed to soak a stone in water for 15 minutes before sharpening. Others say this is completely incorrect, and that soaking it does nothing to help. We say it’s spelled whetstone, and that to “whet” something just means to sharpen it. On the other hand, many people stand by their conviction that regardless of how the word is spelled, you should still soak your stone.
Either way, it doesn't hurt, so if you're more comfortable with a wet whetstone, go for it.
Find the Right Angle
The actual sharpening part is pretty easy. You start with the heel of the blade - the part closest to the handle - and push that forward on the stone while simultaneously pulling the knife so that the last part of the blade to leave the stone is the tip. Obviously, the point (ha) is to ensure that the entire blade is sharpened.
The hardest part is getting the correct angle while sharpening. If you angle too much into the stone, you'll dull the blade completely. Too little, and nothing will happen. To be precise, you want a 22.5-degree angle. That’s 45 degrees split in half. If the stone was a stick of butter, you’d be skimming crumbs off the very top layer.
Sharpen each side of the knife ten times , alternating what side you're sharpening every time, to make sure both get an even amount of pressure on the stone.
You'll know the blade is sharp enough once it can slice a piece of paper without bending it, shave hair off your arm, or slice a tomato so thin you can read through it.
But your job's not entirely done. Keeping your knife in good shape is a constant process, so make sure you're also following all the essential steps to care for any kitchen knife.
One of the most important steps, which you can do after you're done sharpening, is to hone the blade. Grab a honing rod and do the exact same motion at the same angle.
This doesn't sharpen your knife, but it does align the blade to make sure that each cut is as precise as possible. You won't have to re-sharpen your knife anytime soon, but you should hone every few uses to fine-tune the edge.