How to Sharpen Your Kitchen Knives

It’s important to keep knives sharp so that they can cut and slice through food with ease. A dull, blunt blade requires more pressure, meaning it’s more likely to slip and cause injury.

In this blog, we will:

  • provide a comprehensive guide to keeping your blades in top condition. 
  • discuss when and why sharpening is essential, 
  • the tools chefs use for sharpening, 
  • and the differences between a whetstone and a sharpening stone. 

Additionally, we cover 

  • the ideal grit for sharpening various knives, 
  • the best angle for sharpening,
  •  and the importance of oiling your knives. 
  • The blog also compares methods for sharpening, including using a whetstone for precision and a pull-through sharpener for ease. 

Plus, we will highlight common mistakes to avoid during the sharpening process and address the myth of a knife that never gets dull. This guide aims to discuss knife sharpening, making it accessible and straightforward for cooks of all levels.

Browse our range of whetstones and knife sharpeners or browse our kitchen knives collection here.

Sous Chef knife experts

In this guide, you’ll hear from Sous Chef buyer Kristin Lohse, who has many years of kitchen knife experience - and is a true expert in sharpening and caring for knives. And Sous Chef food editor Holly Thomson, who has been trained in knife skills by expert chefs and cookery teachers. 

Plus Sous Chef founder Nicola Lando will share her insight and expertise. Nicola has worked in a Michelin kitchen, and knows first-hand which are the knives top chefs love. She also has over a decade of experience talking to knife makers, small producers and artisan kitchen knife brands, from around the world.

Become a kitchen knife expert, with our Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives.

How often should you sharpen kitchen knives?

"A good way to tell when it's time to sharpen your knives is when you struggle to cut through a tomato with ease"

You should sharpen your kitchen knives depending on their use, typically every few months for those used daily, and once or twice a year for less frequently used knives.

Sous Chef buyer Kristin says: "A good way to tell when it's time to sharpen your knives is when you struggle to cut through a tomato with ease"

Sharpening your kitchen knives is absolutely worth it, as it ensures the efficiency, safety, and longevity of your tools. Dull knives require more force to cut, increasing the risk of slipping and causing injury. Sharp knives make for precise cuts, improving your cooking experience and the presentation of your dishes.

Investing in sharpening your kitchen knives can also save money in the long run. Proper care extends the life of your knives, delaying the need for replacements.

Professional sharpening once a year, complemented by regular honing, maintains an optimal edge on your knives. This routine keeps knives ready for any task.

What tools chefs use to sharpen kitchen knives

Chefs often have a varied toolkit, to keep their knives sharp. This may include:

  • A whetstone offers control over the sharpening process. It comes in various grits for different sharpening stages.
  • Honing rods, often seen in kitchens, don't sharpen but maintain the knife's edge. They're essential for daily upkeep.
  • Electric sharpeners provide convenience with preset angles. These devices make quick work of dull blades.
  • Ceramic sharpeners, known for their mild abrasiveness, are perfect for fine-tuning a blade's edge.
  • Diamond sharpeners, on the other hand, tackle the toughest jobs with their robust abrasive properties.
  • Japanese water stones are prized for wet sharpening, offering a gentle approach.
  • Leather strops are used post-sharpening to polish and remove any burr left on the edge
  • Guided sharpening systems ensure consistent angles across the blade's length.

Knife sharpening kits often include multiple tools for comprehensive care. Bench stones provide a stable base for manual sharpening efforts. Magnetic knife guides assist in maintaining the correct angle during the sharpening process. Finally, sharpening steel realign edges for a quick refresh between uses.

Each tool serves a specific purpose in the knife maintenance process, offering chefs a range of options to keep their blades in optimal condition.

What is the difference between a whetstone and a sharpening stone?

“Typically, whetstones are used with water to lubricate the stone, reducing heat from friction that could damage the blade.”

At first glance, whetstones and sharpening stones might seem identical. However, subtle differences define their use in the kitchen. A whetstone is a type of sharpening stone, specifically designed for wet use. The term "whet" actually means to sharpen a blade.

Typically, whetstones are used with water to lubricate the stone, reducing heat from friction that could damage the blade.

“Sharpening stones can be used either wet or dry.”

Sharpening stones, on the other hand, can be used either wet or dry and come in a variety of materials, including diamond, ceramic, and natural stone. The choice between wet and dry use often depends on the material of the stone and the specific needs of the blade being sharpened.

Whetstones usually have two sides with different grits. One for grinding down nicks and imperfections, and another for fine-tuning the edge. This dual-grit feature allows for a comprehensive sharpening process, from repairing damaged blades to refining and honing an edge. The grit numbers on whetstones can range widely, from coarse (around 250 grit) for working out imperfections to ultra-fine (up to 10,000 grit) for polishing and finishing.

Sharpening stones made of diamond or ceramic material are known for their durability and the ability to maintain a flat surface. Diamond sharpening stones, being the hardest, can quickly sharpen even the dullest knives but are also more aggressive on the blade. Ceramic stones, slightly softer than diamond, offer a smoother sharpening experience.

Natural stones, often used as whetstones, vary in grit and texture based on their quarrying location. These stones provide a unique sharpening experience and are cherished for their natural abrasive qualities and the subtle patterns they leave on the blade.

What grit for sharpening kitchen knives

The grit you need depends on the knife's condition.
For dull blades, start with a coarse grit around 400 to 500. This removes nicks and reshapes the edge.

Once the major imperfections are addressed, move to a medium grit, such as 1000 to 1500. This stage sharpens and begins to refine the edge.

For everyday maintenance and to achieve a razor-sharp finish, use a fine grit between 3000 and 6000.

Ultra-fine stones, above 8000 grit, are for enthusiasts seeking a polished edge. They're not essential for kitchen knives but add a professional touch.

“Consider a dual-grit stone to cover most needs, like a 1000/6000 combo.”

Remember, different knives may need different treatments. A robust chef's knife benefits from the full range, starting coarse and moving to fine. Delicate paring knives might only need medium to fine grits for maintenance.

Consider a dual-grit stone to cover most needs, like a 1000/6000 combo. This offers versatility without cluttering your space with too many tools.

Whichever grits you choose, regular maintenance keeps knives in top shape.

Sharpening before the knife becomes too dull makes the task easier and extends your knife's life. Always finish with a honing rod to straighten the edge for peak performance.

What angle should I sharpen my knives?

The angle to sharpen your knives varies by type.

A general rule for Western kitchen knives is a 20-degree angle per side.
For Japanese knives, a sharper 15-degree angle is common. These angles provide a balance between sharpness and durability.

Understanding your knife's design and use guides the sharpening process.

For instance, a meat cleaver, designed to hack through bone, benefits from a robust 25-degree angle. This ensures the edge withstands the impact without damage.

A chef's knife, versatile in the kitchen, adheres to the standard 20-degree angle. This maintains its edge through various cutting tasks.

A paring knife, used for delicate work, can go finer, sharpened to 15 degrees for precise cuts.

A filleting knife, needing precision and flexibility, performs best at a finer angle, around 12 to 15 degrees.

Adjustable sharpening tools help achieve these specific angles. Fixed-angle sharpeners ensure consistency, vital for maintaining your knife's edge over time. For those preferring manual sharpening, angle guides can be a valuable aid. They attach to the knife spine, guiding the blade to the correct angle against the stone.

Consistency is key in sharpening. Maintaining the same angle across the entire edge ensures an evenly sharp blade. Frequent maintenance, using a honing rod, preserves the angle and prolongs sharpness. It realigns the edge, reducing the need for frequent sharpening.

Do you oil a kitchen knife?

Yes, oiling a kitchen knife is beneficial, especially for high-carbon steel blades. Oiling prevents rust and corrosion, keeping the knife in top condition. Use food-safe mineral oil, applied thinly over the blade. This practice is crucial for knives not used daily.

For everyday kitchen knives, oiling once a month suffices. For those less frequently used, oiling every time they're cleaned and dried is recommended. Avoid vegetable oils, as they can become rancid. Instead, opt for oils specifically designed for kitchen knives or tools.

Applying oil is simple. After washing and thoroughly drying the knife, place a few drops of oil on one side. Spread it evenly with a soft cloth, covering the entire blade. Repeat on the other side. Wipe off any excess to ensure a non-greasy finish.

This routine not only protects the blade but also the handle, especially if it's made of wood. A small amount of oil maintains the wood's moisture, preventing cracking or drying out. For folding knives or those with moving parts, oil keeps the action smooth.

What is the best way to sharpen kitchen knives

The best way to sharpen kitchen knives involves using a whetstone. This method allows for precision and control, adapting to the knife's needs. Start with a coarse grit to shape the edge, then switch to a finer grit for honing. The process might seem daunting at first, but with practice, it becomes a rewarding routine.

First, soak the whetstone in water for about 10 minutes. Place it on a stable surface. Hold the knife at the correct angle for its design - usually 20 degrees for Western knives and 15 degrees for Japanese ones. Glide the blade across the stone in smooth strokes, covering the entire edge. Repeat on both sides until sharp.

For maintenance, a honing rod realigns the edge between sharpenings. Use it regularly to keep the knife at peak performance. While electric sharpeners and pull-through devices offer convenience, they lack the whetstone's precision.

Finishing the process, rinse the knife and dry it thoroughly. Some opt to polish the edge on a leather strop for an extra sharp finish. This comprehensive approach ensures a keen, durable edge, enhancing the knife's functionality and longevity. Remember, a well-maintained knife is a chef's best tool, making meal preparation safer and more enjoyable.

What is the easiest knife sharpening method

The easiest knife sharpening method is using a pull-through sharpener. This tool simplifies the process, making it accessible to everyone. Its built-in angle guides eliminate guesswork, ensuring the blade is sharpened correctly. Just pull the knife through the slots a few times, and it's sharp.

These sharpeners sometimes come with two or more slots, each for a different sharpening stage. The coarse slot fixes dull edges, while the fine slot polishes and finishes the blade. Some models include a ceramic slot for daily honing, maintaining the knife's edge with minimal effort.

Pull-through sharpeners are ideal for busy kitchens and those less confident in manual sharpening techniques. They're compact, easy to store, and require no setup. While not as precise as a whetstone, they offer a good balance between ease of use and effectiveness.

What you should not do when sharpening kitchen knives

When sharpening kitchen knives, do not rush the process. Speed increases the risk of uneven sharpening and injury. Avoid using too much pressure; let the sharpener do the work. Pressing too hard can damage the blade and remove more material than necessary.

Do not skip cleaning the knife before sharpening. Dirt or grease can affect the sharpening quality and damage the stone or sharpener. Never use a one-size-fits-all approach. Different knives, from serrated bread knives to fine paring knives, require specific sharpening techniques.

Ignoring the correct angle is another mistake. Each knife type has an optimal angle for sharpening; not adhering to it can result in a dull edge. Forgetting to check the sharpness during the process is a missed opportunity for precision. Test the blade on a tomato or paper; if it slices easily, it's sharp.

Never neglect to clean and dry the sharpening tool after use. This extends its life and maintains its effectiveness. Also, avoid sharpening knives only when they become very dull. Regular maintenance keeps them in top condition and makes sharpening easier.

What kitchen knife never gets dull

“Beware of any knives that claim you never need to sharpen them, as that isn't really the case for any knives.“

Sous Chef knife buyer Kristin shares her expertise:

“No kitchen knife will stay sharp forever, however, there are things that influence how long they will stay sharp for. The main things that influence how often you need to sharpen your knife is the hardness of the steel, and how you care for your knife.

The hardness of the steel is measured on the Rockwell scale (HRC for short).

Most knives on the market range between 52-66HRC, where 52 is a softer steel and 66 is a very hard steel. The harder a steel is, the longer you can go before needing to sharpen it, on the flip side, it's much harder to sharpen a hard steel.

So if you're not keen on sharpening, you may want to go for a slightly softer steel and a pull through sharpener. You may need to sharpen it slightly more often, but it will be very quick and easy to get the edge back to your blade. I'd recommend the Water Wheel Sharpener (SKU JK0033).

Often you'll find softer steels in more entry level knives.

If you're a knife enthusiast and you are happy to spend more time maintaining your knives, a harder steel would be for you. You won't need to sharpen your knife as often, it will take some more effort to get the edge back to your blade, but due to the hardness, you'll also be able to work up a sharper edge than on a soft steel.

Beware of any knives that claim you never need to sharpen them, as that isn't really the case for any knives. You just need to take care of your knife, and learn the sign for when it's time to sharpen it, and it will last you a very long time.”

When should I sharpen my kitchen knives?

There is no guide as to when you should sharpen your knives, it depends on how frequently you are using them and what you are using them for. For example, a cleaver will blunt much quicker than a Santoku knife if you are using the cleaver to cut through meat and bone and the Santoku to chop vegetables.

It also depends on the type of knife you are using and the hardness of the steel. You will have to sharpen a softer steel more frequently but it is very easy to sharpen, whereas it will take more work to sharpen a harder steel but you will need to sharpen it less often.

For a chef’s knife with average use at home, we’d recommend sharpening your knife once every 2-3 months or once you can no longer cut through a tomato with ease.

The more you use your knife the more comfortable you will get with knowing when it needs sharpening. However beware of sharpening your knife too often as this can reduce the life of your blade.

How do I sharpen my kitchen knives?

If you’re not entirely sure what you’re doing, it’s a good idea to take your knives to a professional to have them sharpened correctly. However, it is possible to sharpen knives at home using a variety of products - which we’ve gone into more detail below.

  • Whetstones - whetstones are the best overall option if you have a wide range of different types of knives. They can be used to sharpen knives at any angle so can be used with both western and eastern style knives. You can get whetstones in different grits, we'd recommended starting with a lower grit to reshape and get the edge back to your knife, then finish with a higher grit for that super sharp edge. It can take some practice to get right but it's worth it for the final result.
  • Learn more about how to sharpen your knife with a whetstone here.
  • Sharpening wheels - Waterwheel sharpeners are essentially like sharpening on a whetstone, but the angle is already set for you. So it's great for beginners, or if you simply don't feel confident enough to get your angle right on a whetstone. It's very difficult to put even pressure on the knife as you pull it through, but it's important to keep the blade evenly sharpened. So don't put any undue pressure on the knife and just let the weight on the knife rest on the sharpener as it glides through. 
  • Pull through sharpeners - Pull-through sharpeners are made for European style knives. Don't use them with Eastern style knives as it can damage the sharpening edge. They are the easiest to use as the angle is already set and can also have a honing element to them, however they may not make your knife quite as sharp as a waterwheel will.

Please make sure you wash your knife after sharpening it as it can be covered in metal particles.

What products are best for sharpening my kitchen knives?

Messermeister Polishing Whetstone, 2000 & 5000 Grit

A combination stone is perfect if you're starting out using a whetstone. This one comes with two sides and two different grits.

Start by soaking the stone in water, then use the red side of the stone for the initial sharpening of your blade. Flip the stone over and finish off on the yellow side. This has a higher grit and will give your knife its silky smooth, razor sharp edge. Apply water to the stone throughout sharpening for the best results.

2 Water-Wheel Knife Sharpener

This waterwheel sharpener comes with two wheels. Similar to the whetstone they are two different grits. The white wheel offers a coarse sharpening whereas the prink is for finer sharpening. The only difference is the angle is set for you already with a waterwheel so it is easier to use.

De Buyer Knife Sharpener

This knife sharpener will work great with Messermeister, Opinel, Robert Welch or Arcos knives. If you simply need to hone your knife to freshen it up, pull it through a few time on the honing side. If you need to properly sharpen it and bring the edge back. Start on the diamond steel side, and finish on the honing side. 

The diamond steel side will remove a very small amount of the steel of your knife, so don't overuse it as it will shorten the life of your knife.

Opinel Lombardy Sharpening Stone, 10cm

This 10cm stone is ideal for pocket-sized knives. For best results, always wet the stone and knife blade first. Hold the blade at a 20° angle to the surface of the stone, and sweep towards you along the whole length of the stone.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a honing steel?

Honing steels are great to use on a regular basis to just freshen up your knife. You can happily use it every time you use your knife without causing damage. It shouldn't be used with Japanese style knives, but are designed for European style knives(same as the pull through sharpener from De Buyer).
It won't be able to bring back an edge to your knife if it's very dull, so it should be used as a complement to a pull through sharpener or whetstone.

What is the difference between sharpening and honing my kitchen knife?

Sharpening is grinding the metal blade down, which, by definition, is removing tiny bits of the metal. It’s not damaging to the knife, it’s simply restoring the v-shaped edge of the knife.

Honing, by comparison, done with what’s called a steel (or sharpening steel) simply moves the almost microscopic tines of metal to be more in alignment so that V shape is more at a perfect angle.

Technically honing will never make a dull knife sharp. It will, however, take a knife that has been sharpened, and make it seem sharper since the tines will be better shaped.

Browse our range of whetstones and knife sharpeners. Or learn how to sharpen your knife with a whetstone.


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