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I've finally put down the money to buy a quality knife and it's sharpness is amazing!

How do I take care of it so that the edge lasts and the knife stays sharp?

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3  
Cutting tomatoes with weight alone is an odd test -- they're actually one of the harder things to cut, as you want some irregularities in the knife edge to act as serations to damage the skin as you slice. (that's slice, not chopping, as the downward-only force will result in exactly what you're describing, even with a good knife) –  Joe Nov 19 '10 at 2:18
    
really? I always thought of tomatoes as one of the easier things to cut and that the knife should be able to start cutting through the skin of the tomatoe before the downward force starts pushing the tomatoe skin in. –  merk Nov 19 '10 at 18:02
    
You can chop a tomato with a really sharp knife, but its a bad judge of the knife and a worse way to try to prepare the food. Tomatoes like bread should be sawed at to cut them without damaging the food. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Oct 23 '12 at 19:02

9 Answers 9

up vote 35 down vote accepted

Technique

  • Always use a cutting surface made for a knife, particularly a wooden chopping board/block. Avoid contact with hard surfaces such as metal, glass, or stone; these will quickly cause dulling or even chipping of most knives. Also avoid cutting frozen items, for the same reason.

  • Use the dull end ("top") of the knife for scraping food off surfaces, or use a scraper or spatula instead. Knives are meant to cut straight, along the edge; scraping one sideways across any surface will misalign the edge very quickly.

  • Do not use more force than necessary. A sharp knife should cut with very little effort. The more pressure you apply, the faster it will dull.

  • Use a cleaver for bones or other very hard foods. General-purpose chef's knives or smaller knives aren't appropriate for this task, and may chip or even snap.

General Care

  • Wash or rinse knives promptly after use. The moisture in many foods can be acidic and/or corrosive to the metal (fruits, onions, etc.).

  • Dry knives immediately with a soft cloth or towel. Stainless steel is resistant to rust and corrosion but not immune. This goes for all metal but especially knives, because even an imperceptible amount of rust along the edge will drastically hinder its ability to cut. Air-drying may also leave you with stains or "spots" due to salts and other trace minerals in the water.

  • Store knives in a dry, open area, away from other objects, to avoid moisture build-up, impacts, and secondary rust.

  • Do not put a knife in the dishwasher. A knife in a dishwasher is subject to impacts, corrosion, and warping of the wooden handle/joint. Quality knives should be hand-washed.

Honing

Honing a knife is a good way to restore a slightly dull knife. You will need an honing steel (sometimes misleadingly referred to as a sharpening steel), which can be bought inexpensively. Note that there are differences between steels; the best value tends to be in the $30 (USD) range.

Honing is not the same as sharpening. Honing helps to align the existing edge, which becomes skewed or "curled" after regular use. It will not help to create a new edge if the knife is damaged, e.g. if it is corroded or chipped due to not following the "General Care" advice above.

To hone a knife:

  1. Keep the honing steel vertical.
  2. Hold the knife at a slight angle to the steel.
  3. Stroke downward and towards yourself.
  4. Alternate strokes, and do an equal number of times on both sides.

Here is a video illustrating the technique.

Sharpening

Knife sharpening involves a whetstone (AKA sharpening stone) and is an art unto itself. Some knife manufacturers do explain the process, however, the technique takes a long time to master and most home cooks will prefer to leave this to a professional.

If you find that regular honing is no longer effective at maintaining a knife's edge - and if it's been well-maintained, this should take several weeks or months - then it's time to get the knife sharpened.

  • An alternative to professional sharpening (or learning to use a whetstone) is to use a good-quality motorized electric sharpener, such as the Chef's Choice. This will obviously not yield the same result as a professional sharpening, but it is very convenient and fast.

    Some people believe that all electric sharpeners will damage your knives. This may still be true of the cheaper, single-stage sharpeners, because they do a lot of grinding and generate a lot of heat. However, the more modern, higher-end sharpeners operate very quickly, have precise angle control, and use multiple stages mimicking the manual process (grinding, steeling, stropping).

    The "grinding" stage on a multi-stage sharpener should only be used if the knife is already badly damaged, and will actually create a new edge. If your knife is in reasonable shape, then it's fine to use a good sharpener on a semi-regular basis as long as you don't grind too much. (Honing should still be your primary form of maintenance).

  • Yet another option, if you're on a tight budget, is to use sandpaper. Follow the link for additional information on technique, grit, and tutorials.

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  1. Always use a soft cutting surface like a wooden board or a plastic cutting board. Avoid glass cutting boards.
  2. Always clean them after using them.
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4  
I agree...glass or ceramic chopping surfaces are the death knell for you knifes. I also find the sound of the metal grinding against these surfaces sets my teeth on edge, but that's a psychological issue more than anything :) –  Kev Jul 9 '10 at 23:40
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+1 for avoiding glass cutting boards. They are beautiful cutting boards but are murder on your blades! –  Dinah Jul 10 '10 at 19:22
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Also, they are way too slippery, to the point of being dangerous. –  MJeffryes Jul 11 '10 at 10:32

Here's a video on how to hone your knife, just as Mike explains it:

http://www.epicurious.com/video/technique-videos/technique-videos-knife-skills/1915458779/knife-skills-how-to-sharpen-a-knife/1915433332

The honing keeps your knife sharp from day-to-day. But over time a dullness still accumulates that can't be fixed with honing. So you should have your knifes professionally sharpened from time to time (maybe once or twice a ear).

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Get them professionally sharpened regularly, there is no substitute for that.

Hone them every time before you use them, don't cut on a hard surface (such as a marble or the like)

Some knives like the Wusthof knives I have will lose their sharpness quite quickly other's like Global are meant to keep it for a bit longer, so different knives mean different levels of TLC.

Additionally as others said, its important to keep your knives dry and not chuck them in the dish washer.

Alton Brown had a show covering this, I think the tutorial is online.

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I have a $40 electric knife sharpener. It has two slots (for two stages of sharpening) with a rotating wheel inside. The slot's edges will guide the knife at the right angle.

It requires very little technique and effort, it's quick to learn and quick to use regularly.

It works marvel with the cheap knife set that I got years ago and I haven't had a need to buy another knife ever since.

Check if that would work on your quality knife (it may not). If it does, I recommend that.

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  1. Don't ever leave your knives wet, keep a towel handy and dry the blade regularly while working, especially after slicing acid foods such as tomatoe, citrus, etc.
  2. Hand wash your knives and don't set them down until they have been dried.
  3. Purchase a fine (as opposed to coarse) steel and learn how to use it, half dozen licks every once in a while on a well kept knife will keep it extremely sharp.
  4. Don't even think about chopping food on stone cutting blocks, as seen on the telly.
  5. Store them in the open where they can breath, so that and moisture that happens to accumulate will be rapidly dissapated.
  6. Store them where they won't be jostled, where the edges can't contact other hard surfaces inadvertently.

Yes, I LOVE my knives. Only have three plus a parer.

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One of the very best investments I've ever made in a kitchen tool is this Chefs Choice knife sharpener. It is motorized and has three levels of wheel - one for grinding out really bad knicks, one for sort of once-a-month resharpening and one for everyday honing that will leave your blade razor sharp. The angle guides make it nearly impossible to use wrong.

Now I've got nothing against learning to use a whetstone or waterstone - I know how from woodworking. And I'm all for you learning how to use a steel. But realistically, most home cooks aren't going to do either of these things. A good, motorized sharpener that produces excellent results in seconds is the perfect solution.

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thats a it more then i was hoping to spend. $10-$15 on getting a honing steel seems more reasonable to me. The sharpener cost 3x as much as the knife did :) I'd rather save the $ and learn how to do it myself if that's not unreasonable. I wont rule out your suggestion completely, since it does have very good reviews on amazon. I was just hoping for a less costly solution, especially if it turns out i should replace the knife i linked above. thanks –  merk Nov 18 '10 at 9:48
    
+1 This shapener really works. –  belisarius Nov 18 '10 at 12:13
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@merk: Keep in mind that a steel will not make a dull knife sharp. A sharp knife has a fine edge that folds over quickly in use. With a steel you can unfold this edge and restore sharpness a few times. Eventually, though, the knife just gets dull, and the steel won't fix it. So if you want sharp knives cheap you'll have to get a steel and a decent stone. Good stones aren't cheap either, mind you, and take practice to learn. I know how to use a stone, but I mostly use the sharpener above, FWIW. –  bikeboy389 Nov 18 '10 at 14:24
    
Also because you seem concerned about it: There's nothing wrong with that knife. Properly sharpened and maintained it should last you for ages. And because I just thought of it: Bear in mind that as you get other good knives (and I bet you will) the cost of the electric sharpener will seem a lot less excessive compared to the amount of time you'd spend sharpening them on a stone. –  bikeboy389 Nov 18 '10 at 14:26
    
I knew about the difference between honing and sharpening. So i realize the steel wont help once the blade is dull and needs to be sharpened. I was under the impression though that a good knife properly maintained would only need to be sharpened once every 12-18 months? If so, i thought it would be cheaper to just find some professional place to do it for me. I assumed it would be better to let a professional do it, as opposed to me doing it with something like the device you linked. Or do you think that thing is just as good? –  merk Nov 18 '10 at 17:40

There's a difference between sharpening and honing your knifes. If your knives need sharpening, you should take it to a professional. After a few years of moderate use, it's probably time. Michael has a good suggestion, but only if you plan on sharpening your knives often enough to make it worth it. For regular maintenance, you want to use a honing steel on your knives, which will straighten out any place where the edge has "rolled". This does not actually "sharpen" the knife, as the sharpening process removes steel to create a new edge.

There is some difference between honing steels. In my own research a little while back, I decided they fell into about 3 basic types:

  1. "Cheap" - These are the $10 steels. They have small metal ridges running down the steel. These ridges are really too rough for honing, could remove steel from the blade, and won't put a very good finish on your edge.
  2. "Regular" - These are the $30-ish steels, and the ones that come with most good knife sets (Wusthof, etc). They do not have ridges, but have a slightly rough finish. Properly used, this is the best choice for most people.
  3. "Combo" - The $50+ honing steels are also sharpeners. They will have some sort of diamond-coat finish which will sharpen your knife as well as honing it. I've heard praise for these, but I prefer to separate the honing and sharpening steps. While a regular honing steel is safe to use on a regular basis, you should only use one of these about every 6 months to a year, or you'll grind down your knives too much.

You can also get a ceramic honing rod, which would add an even finer finish, which you could use in addition to a regular honing steel.

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Right now I'm not looking to sharpen the knife myself, just hone it since i'm under the impression honing needs to be done more frequently and is easier to do then sharpen the knife. Although michael above linked an automated sharpener that he says works very well. amazon.com/Henckels-32576-2309-Inch-Poly-Sharpening-Steel/dp/… How about a honing rod like that? It's closer to the cheap range but it's made by henckels. Also, any suggestions as to any chain stores i could take the knife to to get it sharpened? thanks –  merk Nov 18 '10 at 17:45
    
That one is probably fine. It's hard to tell from the picture, but I don't think it's the "ridges" design. –  Bob Nov 18 '10 at 17:49
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A kitchen store like Williams-Sonoma or Sur la table will probably do it, or tell you where you can. –  Bob Nov 18 '10 at 17:51

If you don't want to learn how to use a whetstone or a waterstone and do want to be able to sharpen your knife at home, you can get a fairly inexpensive sharpener made by Henkels for your knife. Another option is to take it into a local store that does sharpening or ask your butcher where he gets his knives sharpened and have a professional do it.

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I actually have something like that already, but it doesn't seem to do much, so i stopped using it. –  merk Nov 18 '10 at 17:47
    
@merk - it works great on my Wustof, but I have seen it not work well on older knives. I'd suggest a trip to your local place that does knife sharpening, then. –  justkt Nov 18 '10 at 17:53
    
@merk: I think one like that won't do much if your knife is truly dull. It's a hone rather than a sharpener. If you got your knives sharp, then used a sharpener like this on a regular basis, you'd probably have good results. –  bikeboy389 Nov 19 '10 at 4:07

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