Thursday, February 27, 2014

Knife Sharpening 101
















One thing I learned from my Dad growing up was the importance of having the right tool for the right job. He used to always tell me that it's worth spending a few extra dollars on a tool you know will last. When it comes to the kitchen, no tool is more important than the kitchen knife, and no kitchen knife is better than a Wüsthof.

But just like any other tool, your kitchen knife is only as good as the care you put in to it. This means keeping the blade sharp. I know, I know, as soon as I mention "knife sharpening" your first thought is of some professional chef sliding a blade across a sharpening rod at lightning speeds. If you're like me your first thought is "There's no way I can do that!" Don't worry. Knife sharpening is actually a lot easier than you think. But before we can discuss the "How" of knife sharpening, we first need to cover the "Why."

Why Do I Need To Sharpen?


One of the biggest misconceptions that comes with kitchen knives is that the more money you spend, the less likely it is you'll have to sharpen them. All knives need sharpening from time to time. Think of it this way. You wouldn't purchase a brand new Corvette and then never get the oil changed, simply because you spent more for that car. If you're going to spend that much money, you're going to take care of it, right? The same goes for Wüsthof Knives. You're getting the best knife out there, so that means you need to take care of it.

To further explain, let's start off with your brand new Wüsthof! It just arrived in the mail, you've taken it out of the packaging, and are immediately impressed with how easily it slices through bread, produce, meat, or anything you're using it for. But what you can't see is that with every cut, that super-sharp precision blade is slightly losing it's edge. With each cut, that sharp edge begins to fold over. You'd never be able to see it with the natural eye, but each use causes that edge to fold more and more. Knife sharpening is a way to bend that microscopic fold back to it's straight, true form, keeping that blade as sharp as the first day you purchased it. If left un-sharpened, those folds will eventually roll up under and against the blade, causing the blade to go blunt.

Honing vs. Sharpening


So, now that we know the "Why" to sharpening, we can dive into the "How" of sharpening. Before we get too deep, we first have to talk about the tools needed for sharpening, specifically the Honing and Sharpening rods. Believe it or not, there is a huge difference between the two. To better explain this difference, we'll refer to each rod as either a toothbrush or a dentist visit.

The Honing Rod is the "toothbrush" for your knife. Just as you brush your teeth everyday for basic and preventative care, honing your knife should be done before or after every use. Honing essentially helps straighten out those microscopic folds that occur in the blade, keeping the original straightness and sharpness of the blade. Your Honing Rod should be constructed of the same steel that your knives are forged from. The Wüsthof 10" Steel Sharpener was made from the same steel your Wüsthof knives were created with and is the perfect Honing Rod for everyday use.

If the Honing Rod is the "toothbrush" for your knives, the Sharpening Rod is definitely the "Dentist Visit." Just as you have to visit the dentist every so often for further care that brushing just won't do, your knives need care from the Sharpening Rod that they just can't get from the Honing Rod. While the Honing Rod straightens the folds, the Sharpening Rod removes them completely. Think of the Sharpening Rod kind of like a mini file. It removes the parts of the blade that have completely folded up and under the blade, essentially cutting a new, sharp angle on your blade. To do this, you need a Sharpening Rod that is diamond coated, and none is better than the Wüsthof 9" Diamond Steel Sharpener. Remember, because you are essentially shaving off parts of the blade, using the Sharpening Rod is definitely not an everyday use. Hence the comparison between a "Toothbrush" and a "Dentist visit."

How to Sharpen


Okay, now that we've reviewed the differences between Honing and Sharpening, let's get to the fun part of actually sharpening your knives! The cool thing is that this technique is the same, whether you're just Honing your knife or Sharpening it. While there are two different types of sharpening techniques, I thought that today we'd focus on the simplest and safest method, called Supported Sharpening.


First, place the honing/sharpening steel tip downwards on a firm surface, such as a counter top or cutting board.


Hold the knife in one hand and the rod in the other.


Tilt the knife so that there is a 20 degree angle between the blade and the honing/sharpening steel. The easiest way to determine a 20 degree angle is to rest the top of the blade against the guard of the rod.


Guide the cutting edge down over the steel, making sure you use the entire length of the steel. The base of the blade should glide down to the tip of the blade. You don't want to put a lot of pressure on the blade. It should really be a fluid motion.


Now, repeat the same process on the other side of the steel, again at a 20 degree angle.

Guide the blade in the same way across the steel. Repeat the process six to eight times on each side of the knife.

Just like that, your knife is sharpened!

Using Hand Held Sharpeners


For those a little intimidated by the Honing and Sharpening Rods, Wüsthof offers two great hand held sharpeners that perform the same functions of honing and sharpening, the Wüsthof 2-Stage Knife Sharpener and the Wüsthof Universal Knife Sharpener. On each, you'll find a "Coarse" and "Fine" setting. The "Coarse" setting is essentially your Sharpening Rod, while the "Fine" setting serves as your Honing Rod.


To sharpen, place the sharpener on a firm surface and keep a firm hold on the device.


Guide the blade of the knife at a 90 degree angle through the sharpening slot.


Hold the knife upright and pull it using light pressure straight from the base to the tip.

Repeat this process 2-3 times.


Just as my Dad taught me long ago, you need the right tool for the right job. Wüsthof Knives are the right tool for any kitchen job, but taking care of those knives keeps them performing for years to come.

1 comment:

Erin R. said...

Great post. I didn't get good kitchen knives (Wusthofs) until I was in my 30's and it is absolutely incredible the difference it makes in my cooking. So much easier and more enjoyable! And yes, I learned that it is important to use the honing rod before each use or you're not maintaining your knives. I'd love to attend a knife sharpening class some time if I can find one.