Amputating an arm to extricate yourself from beneath a boulder. Performing an emergency sidewalk appendectomy. Severing tenacious ribbons around birthday presents. A very sharp blade makes all of these much easier to do. Here’s how to hone the keenest cutter.
You Should Do This If:
You ever use a knife. Dull knives are dangerous, prone to failure, and more difficult to use than a properly sharpened blade.
Moment of Satisfaction:
Effortlessly slicing paper-thin cuts from a thick slab of meat.
Biggest Pain in the Ass:
Maintaining the proper honing angle.
Materials and Tools Required:
- 1 pocket knife
- 1 kitchen knife
- 1 whetstone (double-sided coarse/fine artificial stones are commonplace and inexpensive)
- 1 vial honing oil
- 1 bottle WD40 3-In-One oil
- 1 honing steel
- 1 chopping block
- 1 roll of paper towels
- 1 lint-free terrycloth towel
Difficulty and Cost:
Much easier than losing a finger. You can pay as little as $US15, but a fancy whetstone can cost hundreds.
Sharpen It On A Stone
This is the most basic and versatile means of sharpening a blade. With this technique, you can sharpen everything from pocket knives to machetes.
1. Clean your knife: Working on a surface you don’t mind getting oily or stained, give the blade a couple of drops of 3-in-1 oil and wipe the metal clean. You don’t want dirt or debris working their way into the stone. If it’s a folding knife, give the pivot hinge a squirt too.
2. Prep the whetstone: Place the whetstone on a stack of paper towels atop a steady cutting board or bench top. Liberally apply honing oil to the coarse side of the stone and allow it to penetrate for a few minutes.
3. Get sharp: Once the coarse side of the stone is ready, you can begin sharpening. Hold the knife by its handle in your dominant hand. Lay the knife against the stone so that the face of the blade sits flat against it, then raise the back edge of the blade off the stone between 15 and 20 degrees. It’s important to maintain a consistent angle throughout the process.
Place your non-dominant hand on the face of the blade, keeping your fingers away from the edge. Smoothly and firmly push the knife away from you with both hands. Move the edge of the blade along the length of the whetstone while applying firm (but not hard) pressure with the fingers on the face of the blade. Imagine you’re trying to shave a very fine layer of stone off the top, with the knife travelling as if it’s slicing meat. Work down the length of the blade from the tip to the hilt.
Perform five strokes on the blade’s first side. Then, flip the knife by switching the positions of your hands. With the opposite face down on the stone, raise the back of the blade to the same angle as before. Push the knife away from your body for five strokes, applying pressure to the blade face, again working as if you’re shaving off the top of the stone.
Go through two or three more 5-stroke cycles on each face of the blade. Flip the whetstone over and oil the fine-grade side. Repeat the 5-stroke method for a few sets on the fine side of the stone.
As you work, you can check the blade’s progress between cycles. Hold the knife on edge so that you’re looking head-on at the sharp side. If it’s properly sharpened, the edge will appear as a thin black line. If it’s been sharpened too heavily on one side, it will reflect light. You can also lightly move your thumb laterally across the edge to test it — if you can feel the blade raking across the individual ridges of your thumbprint, you’re doing it right.
4. Clean up:While you’re sharpening, you’ll likely notice some discolored fluid with floating particulates accumulating on the open face of the blade. This is normal. Just wipe it clean with a cloth and continue. Once you’re finished sharpening, pat the whetstone dry with some paper towels before storing it.
Hone It On Steel
It’s only necessary to sharpen a knife on a stone once or twice a year. But the quick, easy process of honing a knife on steel, like this Wusthof tool, can restore a worn edge every other week.
1. Grip the steel: Hold the honing steel firmly in your non-dominant hand (like a tennis racket). Keep your fingers tucked safely behind the guard. Hold the steel away from your body at a rising 45-degree angle.
2. Grasp the blade: Hold the knife in your dominant hand and rest the heel of the blade at the base of the sharpening steel, then draw it away from you in a long, smooth stroke, pulling the entire length of the knife along and across the steel.
3. Feel the rhythm: Once you get the hang of the draw, begin alternating strokes for each side of the knife — first draw across the top edge of the steel, then along the bottom edge. Start slowly at first and, as you gain confidence, you can increase the speed until you’re doing it like Gordon Ramsay.