Sharpen Up

How To Sharpen a Knife: The Video

updated Dec 17, 2019
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While there’s definitely an argument to be made for taking your knives to a pro to get sharpened, there’s also a case to be made for doing it yourself. “I highly recommend knife sharpening,” says Eivin Kilcher, homesteader, cookbook author, and one of our “Cutting Board” knife experts. “It really is a great skill to bring into your life and an important thing to be able to do at home.”

That said, the first time you do it — and even the first dozen times you do it — can be intimidating. But practice makes perfect. Even Kilcher, who has been using knives since he was 10, notes, “Every time I sharpen a knife, I’m getting better. Sharpening knives is a lifelong art.”

Ready to get started? Read on to find out more about sharpening and watch the video to learn how to safely sharpen your knives.

What You Need to Sharpen Your Knives at Home

If you purchased a knife block, there’s a good chance that it came with a honing steel. Note, though, that honing is not the same thing as sharpening and you need different tools for each.

That means home sharpeners will need to invest in a sharpening stone. Some, like Kilcher, like a diamond edge, but it’s not necessary for sharpening success. Others recommend a stone that’s slightly less aggressive.

Taylor Erkkinen, another of our experts and the founder of Brooklyn Kitchen, recommends the 400/1000 grit whetstone from Messermeister. “The 400 is a thicker, coarser grit; the 1000 side, you’re just keeping it polished,” she explains.

Get the Sharpening Stone: Messermeister Two-Sided Knife Sharpening Stone 400/1000 Grit with Silicone Base, $27.99 at Chef’s Resource

How to Sharpen Your Knife

1. Test your knife’s edge.

Once you have a stone, it’s time to get to sharpening — but first, test your knife’s edge. This way you’ll have a point of comparison when you’re done sharpening. You can do this by slicing the skin of an apple or tomato to see how much resistance you get.

2. Set up your stone.

Next, run your sharpening stone under water and set it on a dampened dishcloth on a sturdy surface. Running it under water reduces friction, which can heat up your blade and cause damage, and the towel holds the stone still while you sharpen.

3. Get your angle.

Holding the knife in your right hand with the blade facing away from you, set the heel of the knife against the upper-left corner of the stone and tilt the blade until it’s at a roughly 15- to 20-degree angle to the stone.

Pro tip: “Get an angle that you’re comfortable with,” says Erkkinen. “You’re eyeballing it. It’s always going to be eyeball unless you’re using a professional.”

4. Pull the blade toward you.

Maintaining this angle, pull the blade toward you and across the stone, ending with the tip of the knife in the lower-right corner of the stone. You can rest the fingers of your other hand against the flat of the blade to help guide it.

5. Repeat.

Repeat this motion an even number of times on each side.

6. Test your blade.

The knife is sharp when it will slice the skin of an apple or tomato with hardly any pressure or effort on your part.

(Image credit: Christine Han)

A Note on Frequency

If you take proper care of your knife, you shouldn’t have to sharpen your blade that often, say one to two times per year. But, as with most things, sharpening is individual. Depending on how often you use your knife, you may need to sharpen your knife more or less frequently. Over time, you’ll get a good sense for when your knife needs to be sharpened again. But if you’re not sure, here are a few ways to tell.

Do you sharpen your knife yourself or take it to a pro?