Kitchen knife sharpening and maintenance for the careful chef

Keep your knife in great condition with our guide on how to sharpen knives, and how to maintain them by cleaning and storing them properly.

Updated 27 June 2019

Close up of a hand and knife cutting salmon fillets after the right kitchen knife sharpening

Key Steps:

  1. Keep your knife in good condition by storing and cleaning it properly.
  2. Hone the knife with a honing rod before use to maintain sharpness.
  3. Sharpen yearly using a specially designed stone, or take it to be professionally sharpened.

A good knife is one of the most important (and often one of the most expensive) kitchen utensils. If kept sharp, it can transform chopping from a boring chore into our favourite pastime, so knowing how to care for it, sharpen it and use it safely is important. This guide will take you through how to clean and store you knife, as well as how to use a knife sharpener.

High water temperatures and knocks from other objects in the dishwasher can cause damage to your kitchen knife. Handwash it instead with a good quality dishwashing liquid.

How to Use a Knife Safely

Kitchen knife sharpening and cleaning is one thing, but you need to look after yourself as well! Follow these tips to avoid any accidents with your newly sharpened knife.

  • Keep your knives sharp using the steps above – dull knives can slip while you’re cutting. If the knife slides off an onion skin without cutting through it easily, then it needs sharpening.
  • Curl your fingers when you’re chopping, and hold the food with your finger tips to keep it steady.
  • Slice away from your hand to avoid cutting yourself if the knife accidently slips.
  • It sounds like an obvious one, but keep your knives out of reach of children!
  • When mincing or finely chopping, keep the tip of the knife on the chopping board at all times while pumping the knife up and down.
  • If the chopping board doesn’t have a rubber base, secure it on the worktop with a damp towel instead.

How to Care for a Knife

Caring for and cleaning your knife properly will help keep it in great condition and will stop it from becoming dull or damaged over time.

  • Don’t store your knife in the kitchen draw, as it is likely to get knocked around. There’s also a risk of you grabbing the sharp end of the knife by accident. Keep it in a wooden knife block, or in a knife sheath.
  • Avoid leaving the knife in the kitchen sink, as this can lead to rusting and damage, and it could cut unsuspecting fingers.
  • Handwash your knife in the sink. Don’t put it in the dishwasher, as the high temperatures and any knocks from other objects could make the knife blunt or warped.
  • Don’t be tempted to ditch the chopping board – wood is a much gentler surface for your knife than hard kitchen surfaces like marble, granite or stainless steel. Here’s how to keep your chopping board clean and in good condition, too.

Everyday Kitchen Knife Sharpening

Sharpening kitchen knives is more about daily maintenance than anything else. The best and easiest method for keeping your knife sharp at home is to sharpen your knife regularly with a textured steel honing rod. This can even be done before every use of the knife to help keep it as good as new.

  1. Hold the handle of the rod in your non-dominant hand, behind the protective sheath of the handle so that your hand is protected.
  2. Hold the knife with a firm grip in your other hand and rest it against the base of the rod, near the handle, with the blade facing towards you.
  3. Draw the knife down the honing rod, from the handle to the tip, at a 10- to 20-degree angle.
  4. Repeat on both sides of the knife a couple of times until the edge is smooth and sharp.

How to Sharpen Knives with a Knife Sharpener

To give your knife a thorough sharpen once a year, use a whetstone or sharpening stone. Always check the knife manufacturer’s care instructions for kitchen knife sharpening techniques before you set about sharpening your knife.

  1. Establish the angle at which your knife is sharpened – its manufacturer should be able to advise you. If you are not sure, opt for a shallow angle (between 10 and 30 degrees).
  2. Lay the stone flat on a towel and lubricate it with mineral oil or a specialist honing oil if this is specified in the stone manufacturer’s guidelines.
  3. Place an angle guide under the edge of the knife to help control the angle you are sharpening at. Sharpening without one can be difficult and can cause damage to your knife unless you have a steady hand and a very good eye for angles!
  4. Check the grit on either side of your stone – it may have a course side and a fine grit side.
  5. Draw the knife along the flat edge of the coarse side of the stone, from the base to the tip, taking care to keep it at the correct angle.
  6. Flip the knife over and sharpen the other side until you create a new edge.
  7. If your stone has a fine grit surface, use this to hone both sides of the knife to ensure a smooth edge.

If you are not confident on how to sharpen knives with a knife sharpener, it is always the safest option to take it to a professional.

That’s it – now you know how to sharpen knives and keep them in great condition!

Originally published 19 July 2018