Kitchen Safety: How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives Correctly

how to sharpen kitchen knives

Blunt knives not only make your cooking prep tasks more arduous – they are also a nasty accident waiting to happen!

Using blunt knives causes you to put more pressure on the blade, and your knife is more likely to slip to one side than cut straight through like it did when it was new. Here’s how to sharpen kitchen knives for great results.

How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives – A Step-by-Step Guide

stainless steel blades with black handlesLet’s take a closer look at two of the easiest ways to sharpen your knives at home – using a whetstone with a sharpening steel and using a knife sharpener.

Before we get into specifics, there are a couple of points you should note about the process:

  • These techniques are for sharpening steel knives only. If you want to sharpen your ceramic knife set at home, you’ll need to invest in a diamond stone or special sharpener. As ceramic knives are very brittle, the blade is prone to breaking, and you’ll need to be very careful.
  • Use the following knife sharpening techniques for sharpening your plain-edge steel knives. Serrated-blade models need special attention as they consist of small curved serrations with a bevel on one side of the edge and a straight-edge on the other. You’ll need a small sharpening rod specifically designed for the cutting edge of serrated blades.

What You Will Need:

You don’t need a lot of equipment to sharpen your knives at home like a pro. The first time around, you may be a little nervous, but with practice, you’ll soon get the hang of it and be able to sharpen your blade to suit your exact cutting style and preferences.

Knives are essential tools for cooking and food preparation. We use them so often that we forget just how dangerous they can be. So, remember safety first. Do not attempt to sharpen your knives when you’re stressed or in unsuitable conditions. Always pay close attention to the instructions that come with your knives and sharpening equipment.

  • Knife – straight-edge blade, steel knife. If you are new to sharpening knives, we recommend testing your skills on an old, inexpensive model that you don’t particularly value. A couple of practice runs are essential before you start on any expensive versions.
  • Kitchen towel – for grip on your countertop.
  • Sharpener/Whetstone and honing steel – manual and electric sharpeners will sharpen and hone your knife all-in-one. Opting for a whetstone? Choose a double-sided one with a coarse and a fine side. Your knife will also need honing afterwards – this straightens out the blade.

Sharpening Kitchen Knives With a Whetstone

It can be quite tricky to start with – but easy enough to get the hang of with practice- whetstones are an easy way to sharpen your knives. They give you greater control over your sharpening as you can adjust your strokes to suit your individual blades and their levels of dullness.

Step 1: Set Up

With your selected blunt kitchen knife, choose a spot that is safe and at a comfortable height for you to work. To prevent slipping and damaging your countertop, or even yourself, place a kitchen or paper towel on your work surface and your whetstone on top, coarse side up.

NB – the whet in whetstone refers to its sharpness, not wetness. However, some types may require wetting, although this can actually damage some synthetic models. As stated earlier, make sure you have read the accompanying documentation and safety recommendations before getting started.

Step 2: Get the Correct Sharpening Angle

Before you get to work, take a moment to figure out the correct sharpening angle for your blade edge. This can vary from one specific dull knife to another, so check any information that came with your knives.


Most Western knives are sharpened at a 20-degree or 22-degree angle. To visualise the correct angle, hold your knife vertically in front of you at a 90-degree angle to your work surface. Tilt it diagonally to get a 45-degree angle, halving the angle. Half it again to get approximately 22 to 20-degrees, it’s a touch out, but you’ll get a good enough idea.

If you are sharpening a Japanese dull knife, an angle of 12-15 degrees is standard. It would be best if you had around half an index finger’s width between your knife’s spine and the stone at the correct angle.

Step 3: Sharpening Your Knife (Coarse Side)

With your knife at the recommended angle over your whetstone, use your other hand to stabilise the edge of the knife blade. Apply moderate pressure and slide your blade from the front to the black of the whetstone in one continuous motion. With each motion follow the curve of your knife, from the heel all the way up to the tip of the knife.

You’ll need to repeat this process around ten times before turning the blade around to sharpen the opposite side of the edge. Note, you must always sharpen in the same direction, so if you have started with a front-to-back motion, as recommended here, continue in this manner throughout. If you find a back-to-front motion easier, that’s fine too. Just make sure you stick to it to ensure your blade sharpens evenly.

Step 4: Polishing Your Knife (Fine Side)

Turn over your whetstone, so the fine side is now facing upwards. As in the previous step, sharpen 10 times on each side of the blade with moderate pressure. While the coarse side removes more steel for faster, more effective sharpening, the fine side refines your blade edge for a smoother finish.

If you sharpen your knives sooner rather than later next time, you may be able to skip the coarse side and use the fine side. It all depends on your knives’ dullness levels. If they are very blunt, you will definitely need to use both sides to get a sharp knife.

Step 5: Honing Your Knife

After using your whetstone to sharpen, you’ll need to use a honing steel, also known as a sharpening steel, to straighten the blade. When your knife is razor-sharp, its edge is much finer, making it prone to bend to one side. Honing takes care of this and should be done after sharpening, as well as every time you use your knives to ensure the best cutting performance.

As honing does not remove any steel, unlike a whetstone, it’s no good for getting a sharp edge on dull knives. Using a honing steel will make your sharp “out of true” knives much easier to chop with and safer to use.

Take your steel and hold it in front of you with the tip downwards, resting on a towel for grip. Slide your dull knife downwards along the steel with the side of the blade at the same angle as you sharpened it earlier. Ten strokes on each side of the blade will straighten out your blade perfectly.

Step 6: Wipe Clean

Each time you sharpen your knife, you’ll want to wipe it clean afterwards. As sharpening removes tiny fragments of steel, it’s important to wipe the blade over to remove these particles before you place it back in the knife block or start cutting your food. Enjoy cutting with your razor-sharp knife and try out some new recipes!

Sharpening Kitchen Knives With a Sharpener

If you are looking for the easy route to sharpening your knives at home, a sharpener is your best choice. They come in two main types – manual or electric. While you may not get the best results from manual sharpeners or want to trust your expensive kitchen knives with one, they are very handy and don’t require any particular skills.


Whether you have a manual or an electric sharpener, the process is pretty much the same, although using an electric one requires less pressure. If you have any hand issues, an electric one will make things much easier for you.

Take your knife and pull it through the slot that corresponds with your needs. Be sure to read through the accompanying instructions to find out which slot is best for your particular knife based on its size and dullness. If you have Japanese knives, you’ll want to invest in a special Japanese knife sharpener, as ones designed for Western knives can chip and damage them.

A knife sharpener automatically sharpens both sides of the blade at the correct angle, as well as honing your blade for you. To keep your knives sharp, consider using the lowest, least intense sharpening slot every so often.

Don’t forget to wipe your knife clean afterwards to remove any fragments of steel from the sharpening process before using it to prepare food.

Keeping Your Knives Sharp

To help to keep your knives sharper for longer, meaning less work for you, but also a longer-lasting knife, we recommend hand washing and drying your knives individually. Make sure your knives are stored in a knife block or on a magnetic strip, where they won’t come into contact with other implements.

Knives stored in drawers should be placed in protectors for your safety, as well as to prevent dulling caused by them knocking into your other kitchen tools.

What Is the Best Tool to Sharpen a Knife?

Many people think that whetstones are the best all-around tool to sharpen a knife. However, everyone has their own opinion and what works best for one person isn’t always the ideal solution for someone else. Here’s a quick rundown of the most popular knife sharpening tools, along with their advantages and disadvantages, in case you want to try out new ones.

Whetstone

Inexpensive and incredibly long-lasting, whetstones are readily available and come in a wide variety of designs and materials. Even if you have a sharpener, you may also invest in a whetstone to practice your skills and for any knives that don’t fit in your sharpener.

Pros

  • Inexpensive
  • Wide variety

Cons

  • Learning curve

Waterstone

If you like to have the very best of the best or have sufficiently practised your skills on a whetstone and want to try out a water stone, then you’ll have to pay out quite a bit more.

Waterstones are used wet and create a fine “slurry”, mixing water with the sharpening particles. This makes for faster, more efficient sharpening, enabling your knife to glide more easily over the wet stone.

Pros

  • More effective
  • Sharpen quickly

Cons

  • Expensive
  • May need pre-soaking or wetting throughout use

Sharpener

Knife sharpeners make a good choice if you want sharp knives with a minimum of effort. Bear in mind that not every sharpener is suitable for every knife type, and some can be fairly aggressive, removing more steel than necessary. However, for inexpensive Western-style knives, knife sharpeners give you hassle-free sharpening in a hurry, especially electric sharpeners.

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Sharpen and hone simultaneously
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Not suitable for all knife sizes/styles
  • Can damage some knives

Diamond Stone

Diamond stones cut very fast and can give you an extremely sharp blade. However, it is all too easy to cause some major damage to your blade with one. Unless you have extensive practice at sharpening knives, a diamond stone will likely be too aggressive and cause deep scratches that are much harder to polish out.

Pros

  • Get a sharp knife very quickly

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Very easy to damage your knife with one

Does Cutting Aluminium Foil Sharpen Knives?

No, aluminium foil will not sharpen your knives. When your blade is dull, it needs tiny amounts of steel removing to recreate a fine edge. While cutting aluminium foil with scissors is a traditionally popular way to “sharpen” them, it simply helps to remove rust, making them cut better.

To remove small bits of steel from your blade to create a finer edge, you’ll need something harder than steel. Aluminium foil doesn’t do well for knife sharpening, making no difference whatsoever to the edge of the knife.

Cutting With Precision

Knives dull even with limited use preparing food. Sharp knives are a pleasure to use and will make cooking much more enjoyable.

Whether you choose to use whetstones or sharpeners, take time out every so often to learn how to sharpen kitchen knives properly, and give your knives a quick sharpen. The process can be daunting the first time over, but you’ll soon be sharpening them like a pro. Look after your knives, hone them regularly, wash and dry them individually, and make sure they are stored in a knife block.

How do you keep your knives razor-sharp? Share your tips in the comments below.

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