Most professional chefs will tell you that using a whetstone is the best way to sharpen dull knives. But there are other systems and which you choose will depend on the type of knife, your level of experience, and your dexterity.
No two kitchens are the same so if you’re looking for the best knife sharpening system, we’re here to explain everything you need to know. We’ll cover the five main types of knife sharpening systems as well as the importance of sharpening your knives. So which are the best knife sharpeners? Let's investigate...
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Why Do I Need to Sharpen My Kitchen Knives?
For starters, a dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp one. That might not make immediate sense but allow us to explain. When the blade is dull, it requires the user to put a lot more pressure onto it for cutting. This may result in slipping which can then cause an injury. Just because the blade has dulled, that doesn’t mean that it’s no longer capable of doing some damage.
Moreover, using a dull blade just makes life more difficult in the kitchen. You’ll find it much harder to get a clean cut and you’ll definitely need to exert extra effort. When your knives are super sharp, they’ll glide through food and everything will feel effortless.
When it comes to the sharpening process, there are quite a few options out there. While a lot of people will tell you that there’s really only one good way to sharpen a knife (using a knife sharpening stone), this isn’t the case. Stones are excellent but they do require a lot of practice and for the average domestic chef, they might be more hassle than they’re worth.
Different Types of Knife Sharpening
That said, a sharpening stone will produce excellent results but it’s really about what works best for you. We’ll reveal the system for sharpening knives later on but for now, let’s get better acquainted with the various options.
You can quickly set the electric knife sharpener up on your worktop and improve those dull blades in minutes. The electric sharpener will have several slots, into which you put your knives. Beyond this, there is a set of internal stones which spin around using power from a motor.
Each of the stones will have a different grit so that you can finely tune the edge of the knife as if you were using a manual stone. What’s great is that electric knife sharpeners have a guide so that you always insert the knife at the correct angle. That said, there are some tools that do not allow you to adjust the angle so this can be limiting.
However, if you’re looking for something that’s going to take care of all the hard work for you then an electric knife sharpener is probably your best bet. You will need to keep in mind that these systems are a little more abrasive on your blades so you will probably need to replace your knives more frequently. But for people who would struggle to use a manual sharpening system, they’re a brilliant alternative.
It is a given that, when you first start using a stone, you’re going to make mistakes. Before you take out that expensive set of Japanese kitchen knives, it’s probably wise to head to a charity shop or somewhere similar to pick up some cheap knives you can practice on.
A lot of these stones are called whetstones but don’t let this fool you into thinking that they have to be wet in order for you to use them. There are some stones that are designed to be used wet while others need to be dry. It’s important to read the instructions before you get started. Then again, most stones can be used wet or dry so it really doesn’t matter too much.
The term whet actually comes from an old English word which means to sharpen. It has nothing to do with water or any other liquid.
Using a sharpening stone involves setting the stone on a stand and moving the knife blade across it at the right angle. This is where a lot of people struggle as getting the angle spot on is essential yet not always easy. We’ve actually got a guide on whetstone angles here.
It’s important to note that this type of sharpener is not the same as an electric sharpener as there are no spinning stones inside the tool. But the great thing about these pull-through devices is that the user has far more control. You won’t need to worry about getting the angle right as the slots have preset angles which make this an easier manual method than using a stone.
However, you should keep in mind that, while they are easier than stones, they still require a degree of physical effort. If your dexterity is poor or you suffer from conditions such as hand arthritis, you may find this type of sharpener too demanding.
These tools are not designed to fully sharpen your knife but merely hone it in between sharpenings. What this does is realign the blade edge allowing better cutting performance. You might see a chef using a honing steel just before carving meat at a table.
These tools are used by passing the knife blade across the steel and it’s an important piece of equipment to have in your kitchen. Regular honing will reduce the need to sharpen the blades as frequently.
There are steel sharpening rods that can be used to sharpen serrated knives. You cannot sharpen these knives in the same way as a straight edge blade and each serration must be sharpened individually. The good news is that knives like this don’t need to be sharpened anywhere near as often. That said, it can be complex and time-consuming when it does need doing which is why most people will take their knives to a professional.
There are clamps that are designed to hold the knife in place. You’ll then move the attached stone over the edge of the blade in order to sharpen it.
What we love about these guided systems over an electric knife sharpener is that you have the option to adjust the sharpening angle. There is an angled arm that can be easily altered depending on the type of knife you are sharpening. This makes these tools far more versatile, especially if you have a lot of different knives. However, do note that there are some guided systems that only allow you to sharpen one side of the blade at a time so if you’re working with a double bevel blade, it may take a little longer.
Much like using a whetstone, you will have to spend some time getting to know your guided system. While there is something of a learning curve, it’s not quite as intense as a stone and you have the advantage of greater control and precision. If you’ve been using an electric sharpener, this might be a good step between that and moving onto a sharpening stone.
When you’re learning to sharpen knives, you will notice that there is a lot of jargon involved. This can seem pretty confusing at first but once you wrap your head around the different terms, it isn't so scary. Here are some of the most common terms you’ll hear.
Knife Sharpening Jargon
● Bevel - this is the shape of the blade edge and is sometimes referred to as the grind
● Edge - this refers to the sharp part of the knife blade
● Grit - refers to how abrasive a sharpening stone is. Lower grit numbers show a more coarse stone while higher numbers denote a finer stone.
● Honing - this refers to realigning the knife-edge as opposed to sharpening it.
● Spine - this is the top part of the knife blade; the bit that isn’t sharp.
● Swarf - these are the fine particles of metal that are left after you have sharpened the blade.
Understanding One thing that is incredibly important to understand when it comes to sharpening your knives is the bevel. As you’ll have seen in the glossary above, the bevel, or grind, refers to the shape of the knife blade. There are a lot of different bevel types and it would be impossible for us to include all of them in this guide. However, here is a list of some of the most common types. Also note that sometimes bevel types are combined in order to make an entirely new bevel.
Understanding Bevels and Angles
The convex bevel has a taper that curves outwards. This means that there is a lot more metal behind the knife-edge compared to other types which makes it much stronger. However, you’ll still get a relatively sharp edge.
When sharpening this type of bevel, you will need to have the right skills. That said, these bevels are usually found on many kitchen knives and are usually reserved for things like cleavers.
With a chisel bevel, you’ll notice that only one side of the blade is ground and the other is flat. The major advantage of this type of bevel is that you get an extremely sharp knife. It’s something you’ll typically find on Japanese and Asian knives. Another brilliant advantage of the chisel bevel is that there are both left and right-handed versions available.
Sometimes, you will hear people calling the double bevel a compound bevel but note that these are two terms for the same thing. These blades are most commonly found on German knives and the benefit is that, due to the second bevel, the cutting ability is improved without having to increase the thickness of the blade.
It is important to keep in mind that double bevel blades won’t ever be as sharp as other types. However, if you’re looking for a knife that is super durable and resilient then that’s exactly what you’ll get from a double bevel.
On a flat bevel blade, the taper will begin at the spine. The result is a blade that is incredibly sharp; potentially one of the sharpest. However, these blades are much more difficult to make because so much metal has to be taken off. For this reason, you will rarely see a flat bevel kitchen knife. Even in commercial settings, there are very limited numbers of this type of knife.
The hollow bevel is the opposite of a convex bevel since the bevel is inwardly tapered as opposed to tapering outwards. These knives are super sharp but they are nowhere near as strong as other types. For this reason, they’re not usually used for kitchen knives but reserved for things like straight razors.
You might hear some people referring to the sabre bevel as the V bevel, again these terms are interchangeable. Instead of the taper starting at the spine, like a flat bevel, the sabre bevel starts at the middle of the blade. You’ll find this type of bevel on a lot of kitchen knives and the great thing about it is that it’ll retain its edge much longer than other types. However, the cutting ability of the blade might not be as good.
As well as understanding bevels, you’ll also need to get to grips with angles when it comes to sharpening your knives.
The angle measurement refers to the angle at which the blade needs to be sharpened. More often than not, a kitchen knife will have a 20-degree sharpening angle but you’ll also find a lot with a 15-degree angle. Generally speaking, the higher the angle, the more durable the blade is. However, as the angle increases, it’s not possible to get such a sharp edge.
● Knives that need to be incredibly sharp usually have the smallest sharpening angles. This could be anywhere between 12 and 15 degrees and is something you might find on a paring knife or a filleting knife. It’s important to note that the blade on these knives is generally weaker but since they’re only used for fine slicing, this isn’t usually a problem. You won’t normally find kitchen knives with an angle lower than this.
● Most kitchen knives have a sharpening angle between 18 and 25 degrees as this is the best place for getting a good balance between durability and sharpness. This makes these knives perfect for a variety of cutting tasks such as working with meat, vegetables, fruits, cheese and other foods.
● Knives that are used outside of the kitchen such as hunting knives and outdoor utility knives might have a sharpening angle somewhere between 25 and 30 degrees which makes them much more robust. This is because they need to cut through much tougher materials without chipping or breaking.
● Finally, bigger blades like cleavers which are primarily used for chopping will have a blade angle between 30 and 35 degrees. This allows you to use the force needed to chop foods without damaging the blade.
Now that you have a good understanding of how to sharpen your blade and what things affect this, it’s time to choose the best knife sharpener system for you. As we have discussed earlier in this guide, there are good and bad things about each system.
So, What Is the Best Type of Knife Sharpener?
Most people would agree that a sharpening stone is always going to be the best option. That said, if you’ve got a terrible stone, it’s probably better to use a high-quality electric sharpener. It’s all about finding the right tool.
Some people might struggle with certain sharpening systems. For example, those with limited dexterity would find it hard to use a pull-through or sharpening stone so an electric device would be far preferable. Again, you could use a whetstone in this instance but probably wouldn’t end up with the results you were looking for.
While there are a lot of knife enthusiasts that swear by their stones, they will tell you that a guided system is the next best thing. So if you want to combine the benefits of a stone and an electric sharpener, this might be the best option for you.
In order to help you make a final decision, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each type.
Knife sharpener type
KNIFE SHARPENER TYPE
|Can be used by anyone
Easy to use and no learning curve
No effort required
|May shorten the life of your blades
Can be used by anyone
Requires a degree of practice
|Easy to change angles
Good balance between the benefits of electric and a stone
Produces good results
|Requires some learning
Can be time consuming
Effort required for use and set up
|Minimal set up
Produces great results
Authentic sharpening experience
|Very difficult to learn
Lots of manual effort required
The sharpening stone is largely accepted as being the best method in terms of how good the results are. However, there is a very intense learning curve so it’s normally something reserved for more experienced chefs. A guided system is great if you want the benefits of a manual and electric system; these require less physical effort but still provide immaculate sharpening.