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How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives - The Bamboo Guy

How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives

If you're somebody who really enjoys cooking, whether it's professionally or just in your own kitchen, one thing you're bound to have is a good set of knives. And if you don't already, you better get a few!

One of the most important things that you need to be aware of if you own a high-quality set is how to sharpen knives. There are plenty of reasons why you should be sharpening your knives - namely the fact that when they're sharper, they're more effective, of course. But also, sharpening your knives properly is part of the process of taking proper care of them so that they last longer. And while it may not be something you've considered, it makes things safer too - you're less likely to strain your hand or cut yourself if you're using a sharp knife.

Sharpening kitchen knives is clearly important, but it's essential that you do the job properly. If you're going to own a good set of knives, you better get the most out of them and treat them well.

We're going to tell you exactly how to sharpen knives - from knowing when you need to sharpen them to the different ways in which you can do it and how to keep them clean.

But first, we'd like to explain what a Damascus knife is and why everything we're going to teach you about standard knives while also answer how to sharpen Damascus kitchen knives.

What is the Difference Between a Damascus Knife and a Standard Knife?

If you have your very own Damascus knife - or knives - you may be wondering if there's a special way to sharpen and look after them. Luckily for you, there isn't! Damascus knife certainly need to be looked after and taken care of properly, and they are different to ordinary knives in the way they look and are made, but they require the same sharpening process as any other knife you may have.

What is a Damascus Knife?

A Damascus knife has a blade that is made from a special material called Damascus steel, and one of the biggest differences you'll notice between it and ordinary knives is the way it looks. An ordinary knife appears smooth, while a Damascus steel knife's blade has a unique watery, wavey pattern that is quite distinct.

The most important thing to know, however, is that Damascus knife product. It's an alloy, like stainless steel, and is made up of several different steels forged together - hence its appearance. VG10 and VG2 are two different types of steel that are commonly used. The blades are multi-layered, allowing it to be durable, flexible, hard, sharp, and with long edge retention.

Is it Necessary to Sharpen Ordinary and Damascus Knives Differently?

The good news is that if you're wondering how to sharpen Damascus kitchen, it's exactly the same as how to sharpen ordinary knives. So, on that note, let's get onto everything else you need to know about how to sharpen kitchen knives.

How to Tell if Your Knife is Sharp Enough

The best and most logical place to start is to clarify how to know whether or not your knife needs sharpening, and it's easy - we recommend the paper test.

Take a piece of newspaper and hold it on one end. Place the blade of your knife on the edge of the paper at a slight angle and try to slice down. If it doesn't create a clean cut, that's an indication that your knife needs sharpening.

But there are different ways in which you can sharpen your knives – ranging from honing the blade on a sharpening steel to trying out whetstone sharpening. In fact, some people even use simple sandpaper to sharpen their knives' blades!

Different Ways to Sharpen Your Kitchen Knives

Here are some of the different ways to sharpen your Damascus knife 

Steel Rod

A steel rod is a good place to start - it's the first thing to try if your knife fails the paper test.

Essentially, it's not actually sharpening your knife but rather honing the blade. Sweeping the blade of your knife against the rod realigns the edge of the blade, just make sure you're doing it at about a 15-degree angle. Four or five strokes on each side of the blade ought to do the trick for a mildly dull knife.

But how does it actually work? Well, you may not realise it, but blades actually have little teeth that resemble a saw. The size of these teeth is dependent on how course the material of the blade is. That is, if it's very course (something like 400 grit), it'll have larger teeth. However, if it's not as course and has fine grit (closer to 8000 grit), it'll have tiny little teeth.

Now, the more you use the knife, regardless of how course the blade is, the more these teeth lose their alignment and essentially, they're out of position. When you hone the blade, you're realigning the teeth which will result in the blade being sharp once again.

Now, if you'd like something that takes a steel rod to the next level, try out a diamond steel rod. The difference between an ordinary rod and a diamond one is that the latter has little diamond particles in the steel, making the sharpening – or honing – quicker and more effective.

If that's not enough, it's time to try out one of the serious sharpening techniques.

Manual Sharpener

The nice thing about a manual sharpener is that it doesn't require any power and it's easy - and safe - to use at home. Designs may very from one product to the next, but normally, this involves an abrasive material fashioned into a V shape.

Users can pull the blade of the knife through the V, allowing the edge of the blade to make contact with the abrasive material. This ought to be done with evenly applied pressure.

The nice thing about a manual sharpener is that it's easy to use, it's safe, it's quick, and it's easy to store. However, as much as it's generally effective, it won't be able to repair a knife that requires very significant sharpening or repair.

The other thing to bear in mind is not to over sharpen your knives with a manual sharpener. Because the material is abrasive, they take metal off very quickly, so as much as it'll help sharpen your knife, it'll also shorten its lifespan if you do it too much, too often.

Electric Sharpener

An electric sharpener, unlike a manual sharpener, has its abrasive material on motorized wheels. The user needs to pull the knife through the gap and over the wheels.

Electric sharpeners are normally very effective, leaving you with razor sharp blades without having to exert much effort. They are precise, they offer different degrees of sharpening, and are able to repair pretty significant damage on knives – more so than manual sharpeners.

Much like manual sharpeners, however, they they are very abrasive. Indeed, if you use your electric sharpener too much and too often, you'll cut away a lot of the metal very quickly and you'll shorten the lifespan of your knife.

However, this is mostly true for your mid-level electric sharpeners. If you're looking to sharpen your best, high-qualtiy knives without damaging them, you can use a high-quality electric sharpener that allows you to control the grit - often from about 400 to as much as 12,000. This will be far less abrasive on the blade.

Whetstone Sharpening

Finally, whetstone sharpening, generally considered one of the more traditional methods, involves the user manually sharpening their knife on what is called a whetstone – a flat, fine-grained stone with an abrasive surface.

Whetstone Sharpening

Whetstones normally have two different options, one on each side, when it comes to how much you'd like to sharpen your blade, and it's a tool that's rather affordable. In fact, you can actually purchase sets that come with multiple stones, each of which come with two grits.

If you have the time and patience, this will allow you to start from the bottom of the blade and work your way up to the finest edge.

Thus, for those who want to be precise, using multiple stones will help them achieve the perfectly sharpened blade, while one stone may be more than enough for somebody who just want to be quick and get the job done.

However, using a whetstone properly requires more skill and practice than either a manual or electric sharpener.

You need to apply the right amount of pressure and get the angle of the blade right - never mind knowing when to stop. Be sure to look for a kit that comes with a 15° angle attachment for your knife, so you can get the precise angle on every stroke of the knife.

That being said, however, a whetstone is a great tool to have at home so that you can quickly and easily sharpen your knives when necessary.

How to Clean Your Kitchen Knives

Keeping your knives sharp is one thing, but what about cleaning them?

Here are some tips to remember when cleaning your knives:

  • Handwash: Don't give in to the temptation to pop them in the dishwasher! Always handwash your good quality knives. Dishwashers can be abrasive and will end up with your knives knocking up against each other and losing their sharpness.
  • Wash with warm, soapy water: Wash your knives with warm water and dish soap. I like to use Clarks Orange and Lemon Castile-based soap, that I also use on my cutting boards.
  • Rinse them in cool water: Try to avoid using piping hot water, and once they're clean, rinse the soap of gently with cool water.
  • Air dry: Preferably, lay the knife down on a dishcloth or something similar to air dry. Or, if you'd like to put it away immediately, dab it gently with a cloth – don't run the blade through the inside of a drying cloth (for the sake of the blade and your own safety).
  • Don't pack them in the sink: Whatever you do, don't pack your knives in a full sink or anything of the sort. This will lead to the blades bumping and rubbing other things, which will affect how sharp they are and may lead to damage.
  • Take good care of your knives' handles: Always wipe down the handles and consider waxing or oiling them from time to time, depending on the material they're made from.

How to Maintain Your Kitchen Knives

Maintaining your kitchen knives properly really isn't difficult – it's all about sharpening them regularly, cleaning them properly, and storing them appropriately. We've covered the first two issues, so what about how to store your knives?

It basically comes down to the fact that you simply shouldn't store them in a draw, especially alongside other knives. They tend to move around, getting knocked and bumped against things including other knives, and can end up damaged or losing their sharpness more quickly than necessary.

Therefore, try one of these alternative storage options instead:

  • A knife sheath/guard
  • A magnetic strip
  • A universal knife block

Final Thoughts on How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives

There you have it, a full guide on how to sharpen your knives – from the difference between ordinary and Damascus knife  to how to know when they need sharpening, different sharpening methods, and how to take care of your knives.

Essentially, it all comes down to looking after your knives properly. That is, sharpening them regularly and properly (but not too much)

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