Chefs treasure their knives more than any other tool in their kitchen. They carry their knives where ever they go in those thin black rolls you've seen slung over shoulders in white coats. Borrowing a chef's knife is something you simply don't do, a lesson I learned very quickly in culinary school. That's because a chef's knife is basically an extension of their own hand. Each knife is selected for function and fit.
Chefs also take meticulous care of their knives. Having a properly maintained knife means it will do a better job for you. After all, if you are going to invest in a quality knife, you are going to spend some money. You want to make sure your investment lasts with proper care.
There are two ways to keep your knives sharp and performing well: sharpening and honing. Most students come to our Knife Skills class not knowing the difference between the two, or not being familiar with the tools for each. It can be confusing since the words are often interchanged. However, they are actually two different processes:
Sharpening is actually removing material from a knife blade's edge. This is usually accomplished by grinding the edge of a knife against a sharpening stone or apparatus.
Honing is basically maintaining an already sharp edge. When you hone, you polish the rough surface of the knife's edge which reduces friction and allows the knife to cut into material better.
So, sharpening is making your blades sharper and honing is keeping them that way. If you regularly hone your knife, you shouldn't need to sharpen it but once or twice a year. But it gets even more confusing when you talk about the tools used for each method because again, they are often interchangeable.
A stone is the best tool for sharpening a knife. Electric sharpeners can wear away too much of your expensive knife without making a good edge. You can also have them professionally sharpened (Sharpening by Dave at area farmers' markets and Northwestern Cutlery on W. Lake St.) but once you learn how simple it is to sharpen your knife, you can do it on your own!
First, hold the knife firmly. Start with the heel of the knife and work towards the tip against the stone and hold the edge against the stone at a 20-degree angle. Use the guiding hand to keep an even pressure on the blade.
Start to draw the knife over the stone. Press very gently on the blade.
Keep the motion smooth, using even, light pressure.
Draw the knife across the stone all the way to the heel of the blade. Repeat on other side.
A steel can also be used for bringing back the sharp edge on your knives. A traditional honing steel is simply used to re-align your blade, or keep in good condition. But unlike traditional steels, diamond steels, which we carry at The Chopping Block for $51.50, also contain fine abrasives that will sharpen your knife in addition to re-aligning the blade. The procedure for using either kind of steel is the same.
To hone your knife using a steel, hold the steel and knife away from your body. With the knife in a vertical position, and at a 20-degree angle to the steel, touch the steel with the heel of the blade.
Pass the knife lightly along the steel, bringing the bade down in a smooth arc.
Complete the movement, being careful not to strike the guard of the steel with the tip of the blade.
Repeat the motion on the other side of the steel.
Whether you are using a stone or a steel, you'll want to wipe your knife clean after you hone or sharpen to remove the bits of the blade that have come off during the process.
Want a tutorial on these methods from our chefs? Sign up for Knife Skills. It's our most popular class!
All knives at The Chopping Block are 20% off in April. If you buy a knife, you'll also get a 20% discount on any honing steel. We'll be offering opportunities to test drive our knives in both stores, so stop by and try a few out.