The Single Best Thing You Can Buy Yourself (or Anyone!) Between Now and Thanksgiving

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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

You guys, I’ve lost my edge.

The most dangerous thing in a kitchen is a dull knife, and I had a block full of them. Sharpening is an art — an art that I’m not skilled in and one that’s practically all but lost, which is why I hadn’t been able to find anyone to restore my trusty blades to their precision glory since the “have whetstone, will travel” guy who used to frequent my local farmers market stopped showing up. Just chopping celery was an effort. 

With little alternative other than to spring for a new set, I continued to hack away with blades no keener than butter knives. Then I heard about Knife Aid

The service claims professional knife sharpening via mail. Now, I’ve gotten some wacky things delivered since COVID-19 hit (salmon hot dogs), as well as some undeniably wonderful ones (Wagyu beef, fresh oysters, lots and lots of booze). But a perfectly honed set of kitchen blades? I had questions.

As a food writer, I was able to get my answers directly from Marc Lickfett, CEO and founder of Knife Aid. He first confirmed that, yes, it is completely safe and legal to send knives through the mail, provided they aren’t switch blades, which can pop open and slice through packaging. Every Knife Aid sharpening package (there are five options, ranging from four up to 14 knives) comes with a self-adhesive cardboard sheath for each blade. After they’re sheathed, the knives go inside a larger, thicker cardboard envelope and then a plastic mailing pouch. Any blade that fits in the 16-inch-wide envelope is fair game, says Lickfett, noting that “We get cleavers all the time.” Pricing starts at $59 for four knives, so it’s not cheap but it’s less expensive than, say, new knives or a trip to the emergency room!

Buy: Mail-in Knife Sharpening Package, $59 for four knives

Knife Aid will also sharpen pocket and sport knives, ceramic knives (they cost extra, though), filet knives, and kitchen shears. For a $5 surcharge, they’ll repair broken tips and chipped edges. I do recommend checking out the visual display of items they do not service on their website, if only for a chuckle (spoiler alert: swords, daggers, and tweezers are a no-go).

My needs are relatively tame — I have a pretty standard set by Zwilling J.A. Henckels — but I did include one serrated blade for curiosity’s sake. (Serrated blades, with their many teeth, are difficult to resharpen.)

Once they’re packed up, the USPS will deliver them to a facility just outside Los Angeles that houses Knife Aid’s master knifesmith and team of 14 craftsmen. Although they service hundreds of knives every day, this is no Amazon warehouse. Every blade is sharpened by hand, an artisanal process that depends on many factors, including the type of blade and material. The knives are then deburred, polished, and packed up for the return trip. Knife Aid guarantees you’ll be slicing and dicing again in four to seven business days. Despite being on the opposite coast, mine came back in five days.

Less than a week is a great turnaround time, but for an avid home cook like me, it’s an eternity to be without decent knives, so I recommend keeping a spare chef’s knife or santoku around. I also would not recommend using this service for anything with sentimental value. While Knife Aid will replace blades that go missing (up to a $400 value), Lickfett acknowledges that in rare cases, some never turn up again.

Still, the payoff is practically worth any risk. My trusty knives came back like new. Seriously. I couldn’t remember when they were ever this sharp. They were in even better condition than they were after my farmers market guy would take a stab at them. (Pun intended.) I was cutting through celery like butter and sawing through baguettes in a stroke or two. 

Cooking really is better — not just safer — with sharp knives. I can’t think of a better gift for any cooking enthusiast than that “new knife” experience, and Knife Aid even offers subscriptions at a slight discount for repeat customers. Which we all should be. Because a good knife can last a lifetime when it’s cared for properly. Here’s to never having a dull moment again.