Honing vs. Sharpening
- Knives become dull through repeated use and must be honed or sharpened to regain their edge.
- Honing is the process of straightening a knife’s edge, which becomes bent and out of alignment from contact with the hard surface of a cutting board.
- A honing steel should always be kept at your work station, and used regularly when working with a knife.
- A steel doesn’t sharpen a knife, so if repeated steeling doesn’t produce better results, it should then be sharpened.
There are a variety of devices used today to keep cutlery sharp including traditional sharpening stones, rod-type systems, slotted manual and electric sharpeners, and belt-type sharpeners. Most chefs prefer the use of traditional sharpening stones which are standard in most professional kitchen. However for the best maintenance cutlery should be sharpened periodically by a professional knife sharpener using a belt-type sharpening system.
Whetstone is a term used for stone sharpeners both natural and artificial. The term “whet” means to sharpen a blade. Sharpening stones come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and material compositions. Stones are usually available in various grades, which refer to the grit size of the particles in the stone.
The most notable natural stones are from mines in Arkansas, Belgium, Japan, India and Turkey. Natural stones are expensive and are harder to obtain because many of the mines have been depleted.
Artificial sharpening stones composed of stone, ceramic or diamond materials are available with two or three levels of grit or coarseness and are the most common types used in professional kitchens. These stones can be used dry or with water or oil.
Japanese water stones are made from natural or artificial materials that are softer than western-style sharpening stones. They are soaked in water before sharpening and because they are made from softer materials they are less abrasive on cutlery.
Sharpening with a Whetstone
The general objective is to create a consistent edge on the blade without causing excessive wear on the knife or an uneven edge. The knife is laid parallel to the surface of the stone with a slight 10°-20° angle depending on the type of blade. The process begins by sharpening one side which will create a burr on the opposite edge. The burr is then taken off returning an edge to the knife.
- Place the stone on a table with a damp towel underneath to prevent slippage
- Oil or wet the stone before starting the sharpening process
- The angle of the blade should be about 10° for Japanese blades and 20° for German blades
- Apply even but not excessive pressure when drawing the knife across the surface of the stone
- The knife can be drawn across the stone from the tip of the blade to the heel of the blade or in reverse from the heel to the tip of the blade
- Follow through and sharpen the complete blade from tip to heel so there are no dull spots at the top or bottom
- Draw the knife across 5 times
- Repeat the process with the opposite side of the knife
- Use the coarser grit sharpening surface to begin the process and move to the finer grit to finish the sharpening process
Knife Safety Tips
A sharp knife is a safe knife - Dull knives make it harder to cut through the surface of some foods which can result in the knife slipping and causing injury. Dulls knives can also make work harder by putting a strain on your hands, wrists and arms. Both sharp and dull knives can result in accidents but dull knives usually result in worse ones.
Keep focused to avoid accidents-Distractions often lead to accidents so stop cutting when talking to someone or if something in the kitchen distracts your attention.
Stabilize the cutting board- Cutting boards now come with rubber feet to keep them from sliding but if they don’t make sure you use a damp towel under the board to stabilize it.
Never grab a falling knife - Avoid leaving a knife with the handle handing over the edge of a work space. The natural instinct to grab for anything that’s falling should be avoided when a knife falls. Get you hands and feet out of the way of the falling object.
Use the right knife for the right job -Knife injuries occur through laziness when using the knife at hand rather than the correct knife for a job so always have your cutlery set within easy reach.
Carry a knife properly- In a professional kitchen the environment and pace can be quite hectic. Always walk with a knife pointed straight down and the blade turned towards your thigh. Never place a knife on a cutting board or box and walk with it. If you trip the knife will fly through the air and possibly cause injury to someone else.
Never place a knife in a sink full of water- Always wash knives and other sharp objects like food processor blades by hand and put them away immediately. Sinks are bad for knives because they can damage the blade but can be worse if someone reaches in the sink without knowing.
Always cut on a cutting board – Hard surfaces like metal, glass or marble will damage and dull a knife’s edge.