How to Pick the Best Method to Sharpen Your Kitchen Knives
There are a lot of great options for sharpening a kitchen knife. But which one best suits your needs?
Getting ready to sharpen your kitchen knives for the first time can be overwhelming. We’ll tell you what’s great about each option, and what’s not so great. We'll make some suggestions about which sharpener would be a good fit for your sharpening needs, and list a few popular sharpeners from each category.
Guided Sharpening Systems
Some great guided sharpeners from Lansky, Work Sharp, Wicked Edge, and Edge Pro
Guided sharpeners work by holding the knife in place and having the sharpening abrasives move along a pivoting arm that is set to stay at a particular angle.
The great thing about guided sharpening systems is the precision. You don’t have to rely on your skill to hold the knife or sharpener at the correct angle. More precise sharpening means you’re removing less steel so your knives will last longer and the sharpening process will go faster. These systems also come with a range of grits, so you can use coarse grits for quickly sharpening a very blunt knife, or you can jump right ahead to some of the finer grits if you’re just improving the edge of an already sharp knife. Along with a range of grits, some of these have accessories for sharpening things like serrations; handy if your bread knife needs some attention.
There are a few downsides. There is a bit of a learning curve to making sure they’re set up correctly before you begin. Even if you already know how to set one of these up, it takes some time to do so. If you want to quickly sharpen your chef’s knife, you first need to get out the system and set it up. There are also limits to the size and shape of knives these sharpeners will accommodate. They work well for the most popular styles of chef’s knives. However, knives that are longer, taller, or thicker than average might not fit. They also have a limited range of angles they can sharpen. Not a problem for most kitchen knives, but it is worth checking what each system can handle and how that matches up to your knives. The jaws that hold the knife in place can leave scratches on the side of a knife blade. While this is just cosmetic, it can be an issue for some people. Guided systems come with various grits, however, some systems have a wider range available than others. Lastly, buying into a particular system could be limiting, depending on your future needs.
Guided sharpeners are great if you want very precise and repeatable sharpening results. They’ll work best for folks that have a small number of standard kitchen knives. This will allow you to leave the sharpener set up in the best configuration for your knife.
Popular Guided Sharpeners:
Kitchen knife sharpeners from Tormek and Chef's Choice
Electric sharpeners come in a few different shapes and sizes but work in similar ways. They’ll have a motor-driven abrasive and some sort of angle guide. Some electric sharpeners have adjustable guides, while others are fixed. You place your knife in the guide and pull it across the spinning abrasive. Simple!
Electric sharpeners are fast. Motor-driven abrasives moving along the knife edge will remove steel quicker than hand-sharpening options. Aside from plugging them in, electric sharpeners have very little setup time or learning curve to them. The guides make accurate sharpening easy. There is also a wide range of electric sharpeners that work in slightly different ways, so you’ve got the opportunity to pick one that best fits your needs.
Most electric knife sharpeners only have two or three sharpening stages, so you’re limited to what grits are available. The speed of the motor compensates for this at the low end of grits, but at the high end, you might find yourself limited in how refined an edge you can put on your knife. Some electric sharpeners have fixed angle guides, limiting you to that angle. Even those with adjustable guides limit you to sharpening within those angles.
Electric sharpeners are great for home chefs who have knives they care about, and want a fine edge but don’t want to spend a lot of time sharpening or learning how to sharpen. If you have got the counter space to dedicate to an electric sharpener, it’s a great way to make sure you can quickly and easily maintain your knives, even in the middle of preparing a meal.
Popular Electric Sharpeners:
Perhaps the best method for sharpening your chef’s knife is sharpening stones. A sharpening stone is just a flat stone with an abrasive surface that you drag your knife across.
Sharpening with stones is great because of the level of control it offers. Using a stone allows you to sharpen any blade at any angle and you can customize the process to the specific knife you’re sharpening. You can get sharpening stones in a huge range of grits, sizes, and abrasive materials. The control and feedback that sharpening stones offer means they are gentle on your knives, allowing you to remove only what steel is necessary to get the edge you want. Stones don’t need a lot of complicated set up. Just place them on the countertop, get them wet and you’re ready to start sharpening. Some, like diamond stones, are incredibly low maintenance. Most stones are likely to last as long as the knives you’re sharpening.
Sharpening stones aren’t perfect, however. The biggest downside is that hand sharpening requires skill and patience to perfect. It’s not difficult to make a blunt knife sharper but getting a really good edge will take practice. Sharpening stones are used with water or oil on their surface, so they can be messy. Some water stones need to be soaked before you can use them, so a quick, impromptu sharpening session isn’t always an option. All water stones need a degree of maintenance, mainly regular resurfacing to keep them flat.
Sharpening stones are great for anyone that wants the best possible edge on their knives. If you have high-end knives that you care about, stones are great. If you have a lot of different kitchen knives, stones offer the most sharpening versatility. You may see the benefit in the fact that hand sharpening requires practice because you'll be learning a new skill; one that many people find enjoyable and relaxing.
Popular Sharpening Stones:
Before we wrap up this article, I want to give out a couple of honorable mentions to a few other options:
Professional Sharpening Service
First is having your knives professionally sharpened. This is great if you don’t want to deal with sharpening at all. Sharpening services can be cost-effective if you’re having just one or two knives sharpened a couple of times a year. Be aware that not all services will provide the same level of quality. If you can get some personal recommendations for a good local sharpener, it can be worth trying out.
Sharpening Steels and Honing Rods
The second honorable mention goes to sharpening steels and honing rods. These are fantastic options to have in the kitchen to maintain an already sharp knife. These are nice supporting characters but if your knives are dull, you’ll still need something else to get them back to sharp.
Hopefully we've made picking out a method for sharpening your kitchen knives less overwhelming. Which sharpener do you think would be a good fit for your sharpening needs? If you feel like you still need a little more help, feel free to contact us and one of our Sharpening Specialists will be happy to help.