Knife Maintenance – How To Sharpen Blades
THE SHARPEST KNIFE IN THE DRAWER?
If knives are the tools of your trade, it makes sense to keep them well maintained and in good condition. Right? You service your car and you keep your heating equipment serviced, don’t you? You should also take care of your knives. Even for home chefs or mere knife lovers (there has to be a Latin name for that) maintaining a good quality knife is important for many reasons. Anyone who uses knives over an extended period knows the frustration of trying to use blunt, dull knives.
Keep them sharp, keep them clean, treat them with TLC. In this article, we’ll look at how to care for your blades and keep them sharp. We’ll also look at a knife sharpening service that might just save you a lot of time and effort.
Sharpening Knives: The Dos, Don’ts, Hows, And Whys
First of all, never store knives in a drawer or jumbled in with other tools. Apart from the fact that you will cut yourself while rummaging in the drawer, knives will not do well. All that clanging and banging against other metal implements ruins the edge on good knives. If you can, try to be the only one that uses your knives because everyone has a different cutting and honing style. Have a magnetic knife bar near your workstation and keep your knives where you can get at them easily.
Respect Your Knives
Whatever it is that you cut, sharp knives give the best result. The product will look better, your work will look better and your work will be easier when your knife is at its best.
I was told many years ago that a blunt knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. I didn’t understand why at first, but experience has shown me that it is true. If you are working with a blunt knife, you will put more pressure behind the cut. If the knife slips and your hands or fingers are in the way, you can do serious damage to yourself or anybody working near you.
Working with a sharp knife you will put just the right amount of pressure behind the cut and your work will be cleaner and you will be safer. You will also work faster because you will have the confidence in your knives.
Keep unused sharp knives out of the way of your work area. You will get lots of nicks from barely touching a sharp blade accidentally. If you drop a knife. Let it fall. Don’t attempt to catch a falling knife, ever. And if you are passing a knife to someone, never do so with the blade first! Pass it handle first or put it down on a flat surface and let that person pick it up for themselves.
Don’t attempt to catch a falling knife, ever!
One piece of advice I was given while training was: Buy the best knives you can afford. This is still true. There are lots of cheap knives available and they are sharp for a few days. After that, you will be constantly trying to keep an edge and failing every time. So maybe you have saved a few dollars buying a cheap knife, but you will waste many more dollars trying to keep it sharp. Buy only quality knives!
Maintaining Your Knife
Never put your knives into a dishwasher. If the handles are made of wood, they will eventually loosen and fall off. The high temperatures and detergents in dishwashers will eventually ruin your knife and the high-pressure water jets will knock your knives against other cutlery ruining the edge. Wash your knives by hand using hot (not boiling) water and mild soap. Keep the blade facing away from you at all times.
Be careful and watch what you are doing at all times. I was washing a 12-inch knife on Christmas Eve after a very busy day when someone called me. I looked up to see what they wanted and took my eye off the knife. I spent six hours in the waiting room of the local hospital before being seen in the emergency room and went home with seven stitches in the palm of my hand.
A Christmas present to remember.
Contrary to popular belief, honing is not sharpening. Honing is re-centering the edge on the knife. As you can imagine, the fine edge of a knife is extremely thin. While you are using the blade there is going to be pressure on the edge from one side or another. The edge then becomes dull because it is not centred. This is where a honing steel comes into its own. Rubbing the blade on honing steel puts the edge back centrally so you can continue working.
There are a couple of methods of using a honing steel. The first way is with the honing steel held out in front of you and the knife is drawn down the steel towards you. The second is with the steel point on the table and where you draw the knife down towards the table. Method two is probably safer if you are a newbie, but either method works well.
Getting The Angle Right
It is very important when honing a knife to get the angle right. Otherwise, you can make the blade even duller. Aim for an angle of between 10 and 20 degrees while honing to get the best results.
Different knives need different angles depending on the work they do the type of knife they are or the original factory edge that was put on them. Using Method 1, start with the heel of the knife at the top of the steel and draw downwards at the 10 to 20-degree angle. Then do the same with the other side. Put a little pressure against the metal to centre the edge. Do this half a dozen times each time.
With Method 2 start with the heel of the knife under the guard on the steel and draw downwards. Again repeat this half a dozen times. I recommending performing this task regularly while you work. Ideally, every few minutes when doing lots of cutting. When boning meat, the edge will deteriorate much more quickly than when slicing meat because the blade touches bone much of the time.
On the subject of honing, get a decent honing steel. As with knives, you can buy cheap steels, but you will simply waste your money. Buy the best you can afford.
Don’t cut on a metal or marble worktop. This will absolutely ruin your edge in seconds. Wooden or nylon worktops are so much kinder. And never use your knife to cut paper, cardboard or plastic. That’s a sure way to ruin the blade. Have a box cutter nearby for those types of jobs.