Four Good Ways to Sharpen Kitchen Knives
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I’m going to show you four options for sharpening
kitchen knives — the four options that I would consider using. There are, of course,
more options, but these are the four that I think are realistic for most home cooks.
And at the end, I will tell you which one I think is the best. Oh, and knife nerds, I love you, but this
video is not for you. If you’re the kind of person who gets upset when somebody uses the
words bevel and facet interchangeably, watch something else. OK, field trip to the downtown Macon, Georgia,
loft of my friend Katie Wurstner. “I am a recovering chef, I went to Le Cordon
Bleu, and I have a degree in baking and pastry, and I used to teach cooking classes.” So as Katie explains it, keeping your knife
sharp involves two distinct activities: sharpening and honing. Honing is the act of keeping your
cutting blade straight, that’s what the honing steel is for. “If you think about the edge of a knife as
being — microscopically, it’s serrated — tiny little teeth — and as you’re using it, you’re
either gonna knock the teeth off or you’re gonna bend them over. A steel will straighten
them back up, but if you’ve knocked that tooth off, you need to put it back on.” And you do that by removing metal — you
grind off the old dead edge, and you cut a new one from the stub underneath. Katie is
a classically trained chef, so she uses a whetstone like a boss. “Now, that’s not saying that you need to have
one and need to know how to use it if you’re a home cook. Those that go ‘vrrrrr’ and you
just run your knife through it — those’ll work just fine, too.” She’s talking about one of these, that is
option #2, but let’s start with the cheapest option: a manual pull-through sharpener. This
option, option #1, what I used for many years. Inside those slits are little abrasive spinning
disks. You simply apply some pressure and drag your knife over those wheels. The instructions
say to push it back and forth with a sawing motion. That never works for me, it always
catches when I push, so I just pull. What should you look for in one of these?
Well, it depends what kind of knife you have. Most chef’s knives can be readily categorized
as either Japanese/Asian-style, or German/European-style, the most obvious difference between them being
the presence of a bolster here on the European-style knife. A little bit less obvious is a difference
in the angle of the blade. An Asian-style blade has a slightly narrower cutting edge,
about 15 degrees, usually. European blades, traditionally, are more like 20 degrees. The
wider the angle, the more the blade will act like a wedge, or a hatchet, or an ax. It’ll
kinda cut into things and then it’ll split them apart. I probably shouldn’t have done
that on the concrete. The angle on these is fixed, so you want to
use a sharpener that matches the style of knife that you have. I normally use an Asian-style
knife, so I have this Asian-style sharpener. Complicating matters is the fact that many
European-style knife makers have been moving to a narrower angle lately, because we consumers
perceive those narrower angles to be sharper, even though technically it’s a little more
complicated than that. Anyway, apparently 15 degrees is becoming the industry standard
across the board, so consult your manufacturer’s instructions, try to figure out what kind
of angle your knife was designed to hold, and buy a sharpener to match. I would highly recommend buying a multi-stage
sharpener — they basically go from coarse to fine. You pull through the first stage
to really cut the new edge, and then you pull through the subsequent stages to refine that
edge. These work so much better than the single-stage ones, and a lot of times you can get away
with only using the upper stages, which remove less material and therefore lengthen the life
of your knife. These things work. He’s me trying the ol’
paper test before I sharpened. And here I am after, and I’m not very good at this but
hey, there it goes. Downsides? Well, I’m sure this isn’t the sharpest
edge possible. And it’s impossible to apply even pressure the entire way, so you end up
getting something that’s a little bit uneven. And all pull-through sharpeners take off a
lot of material, which shortens the life of your knife. That’s particularly a problem
with European-style knives, because you can’t grind down the bolster part here on one of
those pull-through sharpeners, which means that you’re gradually gonna wear away this
part here, and you’re gonna develop a protrusion down here that’s gonna get in the way. And let me clarify something — this is a
contemporary Asian-style knife, meaning that it slopes down to an edge on both sides — it’s
symmetrical. This traditional Asian-style knife that Katie has is single-beveled, meaning
it only slopes down on one side. Those knives are crazy sharp, great for fish, but you cannot
sharpen them with one of these, because they cut on both sides, these. You can sharpen
single-bevel knives on this, which is option #2, which we will discuss momentarily. Quick tangent. One of the ways in which my
life has gotten very strange lately is I now have people all over the world asking me why
I apparently have such lovely skin, even though I’m rapidly careening toward mid-life. Well
the answer is I have a three-step skin-care regimen. Step #1 is be Italian. Step #2 is
stand in front of soft-box lights at all times. Step #3 is use Harry’s, the sponsor of this
video. I’ve been a Harry’s customer for many years, since they were sponsoring a podcast
I liked and I thought, “You know, I need to find a better razor and I want to support
this podcast, so I’ll try Harry’s,” and I’ve never gone back. My facial hair is weird,
it grows very slowly, it’s very hard to shave it without cutting myself, and Harry’s razors
are the first ones I could ever afford that really could do the job. Razors are like knives
— it’s the dull ones that are gonna cut you, because you’re forcing it. About six years ago, Harry’s founders, Jeff
and Andy, were sick of overpaying for over-designed razors, so they raised some money and they
bought a razor factory in Germany. As we’ve discussed, the Germans know from sharp things.
And these razors are like great chef’s knives. They’re beautifully crafted, the handles are
weighted and they feel great in your hand, and they’re shockingly inexpensive. Blade
refills start at just $2. And because you watch me, you can get a whole
Harry’s starter kit like this one for just $3. That’s crazy. Just go to harrys.com/adamR,
that’s down in the description. Click on that link and get your $3 starter kit. Join me
and 10 million other people who have found a way better way to shave — when we shave.
I only shave like once a week. That’s not Harry’s fault. Thank you, Harry’s. OK, home knife sharpening option #2 is an
electric pull-through sharpener. These are more expensive, you’re gonna pay at least
a hundred bucks for a highly rated one. This one is the favorite of America’s Test kitchen.
It’s like the manual ones except the abrasive wheels are motorized. There’s two sides for
each stage, one side for each side of the knife, that means this can sharpen single-bevel
knives. Do whatever your instructions say, but for this one, you’re supposed pull it
through alternating sides of stage #1 until you can feel a burr on it. That’s a sharp
edge that’s bent over. When you pull your thumb across it here, you feel that smooth
corner. When you pull across it on this side, you can feel it scraping your skin. You’re
not gonna cut yourself if you pull perpendicular to the blade — it’s just like shaving. You proceed through the stages until, again,
you can feel a burr, until you get to the last stage, which straightens everything out,
so no burr. That is crazy easy, that is crazy sharp. The angle is still fixed, this one
at 15 degrees, Asian-style. But you can take a 20-degree European knife and reform the
edge to 15 degrees in one of these — it just takes a few more pulls. Downsides? Well, again, I imagine it’s possible
to get a knife sharper, though it’s hard for me to imagine that I would need anything sharper
than this. The main downside is these things strip off a lot of material, which is going
to shorten the life of your knife. Again, you can buy yourself some time by only using
the upper stages for periodic maintenance. I believe my possessions should serve me,
I should not serve them, so I’m gonna use a mid-priced knife, I’m gonna sharpen it whenever
I want, down to a stub, and then one day I’m gonna replace it. The electric sharpener is
what I use most of the time these days. If you’ve got a crazy-expensive knife that
you want to pass to your grandchildren, then you gotta graduate to option #3, which is
a whetstone. Learn how to use a whetstone like a boss, i.e. like Katie. You can get
a good whetstone for less than a hundred bucks. Katie puts down three little drops of sharpening
oil and smooshes it around. She lays down the knife at a 35-degree angle, pushes down
with her fingers — just a little bit of pressure, and she scrapes the edge across
the surface in little tiny circles. She’s gradually working the knife down the stone
and over the stone, to get the whole length of the knife — it’s easy to neglect the
tip. Some people sharpen in big, long swipes, like that. Katie says she gets a better tip
if she does the little circles. Then you wipe it down and you do the other side. This an
art that takes a lifetime to master, but it gives you incredible control, and perhaps
most importantly, you can get a razor-sharp blade without removing much material. The fourth and final option? Pay somebody
else to do it! Virtually every city has at least one guy like Neil Cowan. Yes, he knows
he looks like Santa Claus. Yes, he wears a kilt, but it’s gonna cost you to find out
what’s underneath it. Anyway, wherever you live, odds are there’s a guy like Neil nearby,
and they’re usually a little odd. Their workshops are usually built into a truck so they can
drive to farmers markets, swap meets, gun shows, and they can just sharpen whatever
people bring. Neil says about half his business is sharpening shears — for haircutters and
quilters and such, and the other half of his business is powertools, hunting knifes and
kitchen knives. Neil uses a powered grinding wheel. The aluminum
oxide one on the left there grinds the new edge, the leather one on the right there hones
and polishes the edge. Now, why go see Neil if you can just buy a
pull-through sharpener and use that at home? “When you do a pull-through, if you were able
to use a microscope on it, you’d see a line where it got pulled through, going down like
this. When you’re cutting with that, you need as smooth an edge as you can, because you
want it to be able to push through the material that you’re cutting. With those, it’s kinda
like putting little hooks on it. And it will cut, but it’s gonna take more effort, and
that type of thing. Because sure, what I do is I polish the edges, which makes— reduces
the drag coefficient, the friction on the edge of the knife, so when it goes through,
it goes through.” I believe it, because one time, Neil was sharpening
a knife, it kicked back at him and went right through his leather apron. He was OK, but
that’s why I will never use a belt grinder at home to sharpen my knives. One other reason
to see Neil is that he can reshape that bolster on your European-style knife. But I think
the main reason to go see him is that he is just a stone-cold professional. “I have people come up to me all the time
and say, ‘What angle are you doing that at.’ The sharp angle?” That’s not because he’s unscientific. That’s
because he’s developed an innate sense of what a knife needs. Now, however you’ve gotten your knife sharp,
there’s two things you need to do next. One is clean it. The other thing you gotta do
is regularly hone your knife. That’s what the steel is for. This gets those microscopic
teeth Katie was talking about pointed up and straight again. You just pretend like you’re
trying to shave off a little sliver of the steel with your knife. A few times on each
side. Katie goes under and out to get the opposite side — that’s as opposed to going
over and back to get it. This what I do, and one of these days I’m gonna stab myself right
in the face. Anyway, I try to hone every time I cook. I promised you I would tell you which of these
four methods is the best. The best method for home knife-sharpening is … whichever
method you’re actually gonna do. Because for years, this was me. “Man, this knife is dull. I should really
sharpen it. But Alton Brown told me that I should only get my knives professionally sharpened.
I should really do that.” Look, I worship the ground Alton Brown walks
on, but that episode of “Good Eats” kinda messed me up for a few years, at least until
I got a good manual pull-through sharpener. The best sharpening method is whichever one
you’re actually gonna use. A lot of people think they’re bad cooks when they just have
bad knives. Get yourself a sharp knife, and everything in here becomes so much easier.

100 thoughts on “Four Good Ways to Sharpen Kitchen Knives

  1. Q: Isn't it bad to use a honing steel on blades made out of particularly hard steel?
    A: Yes. I made this video to speak to people who have the mass-market knives that are typical in the western countries where my audience is concentrated. As I understand it, there are high-end traditional Asian-style knives made out of very hard steel on which a honing steel (and probably a pull-through sharpener) would do more harm than good by breaking off the brittle edge. But the makers of all of the low-to-mid-market Asian-style knives that I can think of, like Shun and Calphalon (the maker of my knife), do recommend the use of honing steels with their products. You could argue I should have made this distinction in the video, but I figure if you're hardcore enough to own a very hard steel knife, then this video isn't for you anyway.

    Q: Why didn't Wurstner use water on her whetstone?
    A: Asian-style whetstones use water. Western-style whetstones use oil. I'm sure that's an over-simplification, but that's the gist of it.

    Q: Why didn't you talk about the ceramic mug technique?
    A: Indeed, it's possible to sharpen a knife on many household ceramics, including the bottom of a mug or plate. I've tried it; I felt I got a very uneven result, and it also seemed a little hazardous. I really think a high-quality manual pull-through, suited to the style of knife you have, is pretty effective, fool-proof, and cheap. I consider that the entry-level option. But if you want to try the mug method, there are many youtube tutorials.

    Q: Why didn't you mention that X type of pull-through sharpener is awful?
    A: Indeed, such sharpeners are highly variable in quality, but this is not a video about the merits of different sharpeners on the market. It's about the basic four methods that I would consider using. Once you've picked one, you'll need to do some more homework to pick the right tool for you. There are many great reviews online of different sharpeners — as I mentioned, America's Test Kitchen did some typically exhaustive testing, and the models I use are the ones they recommend. They've worked great for me.

  2. Wetstone doesnt take a lifetime to master. It took me twenty minutes and i can shave the hairs off my arm. I use 3000 and 8000 grit. The stone cost me $20 not $100. When you finish you can get rid of the burr with rough fabric or leather.

  3. Guys u took the joke "why i season this NOT that" to far to the point it isn't funny, really i was laughing so hard on each joke of these but u are repeating the same joke to the point it is NOT funny anymore and became more like annoying to adam, i think so..

  4. Use a whetstone, there simple enough to use especially to sharpen a knife to a home cooks standard, aren’t very expensive, don’t take up much room and produce the best results assuming their used properly

  5. holy shit. The last bit. Yes that episode of good eats made me never even try to sharpen my own knives and yep I ended up with dull knives for years. Adam

  6. Mastering knifed sharpening takes a lifetime, but I didn't try it for years because of that… I didn't realize that, even if you are a beginner, doing it yourself is both satisfying and you can achieve an edge roughly near what like your option one offers, maybe a little better. Caveat here that I'm an artist and I may have more motor memory with fine angles and pressure control than is perhaps common?

  7. Every pull through sharpener I've had was a disaster. One broke down after just two days! That was about three knives sharpened! At least I have my 20-some years old whetstone which is doing the job (I'm poor and these are expensive).

  8. whetstones come in grit levels exactly like sandpaper does. Sandpaper is about a dollar per sheet. DO WHAT I DO… buy a multipack of 1000 grit wtd/dry sandpaper. sprinkle water on it. lay it on the countertop. 20 swipes one direction at about 35 degrees, 20 back, 5 back then 5 back. Done. Just like a whetstone. No need for fancy circles. But yes, remember to get the tip.

  9. Tried whetstone and several pull-through sharpeners from amazon. The only thing that actually worked was amazon's top seller (at least in germany) which is from fiskars @ ~20 euros. Had a small microscope from my school days and either I did something wrong with all the other tools or I don't know… but only the pull-through sharpener from fiskars actually visibly removed steel. Looking forward to the electric sharpener though. It's clearly the one to go for I think.

  10. 8:42 the number of times on twitter I've seen people post something about knife trucks and it used to confuse me so much and now I realise it's common in America lol

  11. "She uses a whetstone like a boss" – video show her holding the knife at an angle that is way too low and scraping it over the edge of the whetstone instead of over the top surface … just pause the video and go over the frames with the . and the , keys, you can see it quite clearly.

  12. I clicked "Like" literally when he went to the promo lol.

    Sold it so well I commend that.

    (Oh yeah, and took home some good info from this video.)

  13. Just buy a cheap wet stone watch 3 videos and you’ll have the best sharpener that works for every blade shape thickness and metal

  14. Lovely skin?…No, dude, I wanna know how you have completely hairless and smooth arms and hands. Makes it awks for us ladies with Chewbacca genes…🤣

  15. My grandfather was ablacksmith and he sharpened with blades that farm machines had and he had this sharpener that wasnt leather. It was camel hair. Its crazy good for this thing and goddamn this video made me take a chance and repair that machine bc if I could make some knifes in my household that sharp I would be a lot happier with them than the open that I sharpen with wetstones and bloodsweat.

  16. I always called the stone she was using an Oil stone stones that use water wet stones or water stones. Though with oil stones you want to use more oil then that as the oil removes the metal from sharpening. I find that bacon grease is a very good oil to sharpen with it's easy to remove with soap and water. It doesn't dry out and cause metal to get logged into the pores of the stone. As most vintage treasure stones come loaded up with tons of metal and dried oils. Bacon grease is great for preventing this.

  17. I wonder if it's just me but for the first option I was like, Adam why are you running your knife through a flashlight?

  18. Please don't use those pull through sharpeners, people. They are not a cheap and easy alternative to stones, they mangle knives. Will they make your knife that hasn't been sharpened since you bought it at Walmart 7 years ago better? Probably, but that isn't saying much. You're honestly almost better off just buying another dollar store knife every month than spending money on one of those.

    The ceramic ones are alright for quick touch ups but do not use it as your sharpener. Just save up some money and get a Spyderco Sharpmaker or some stones and learn how to use them. Stones may take a "lifetime to master" but it takes significantly less than that to do a decent job (and one much better than pull through sharpeners). You also don't need a belt sander/polisher to get a better edge. Get some polishing compound and apply it to the back of an old leather belt and you have a strop. Stropping after sharpening will give you a noticeably better edge.

    Those pull through sharpeners, manual or electric, are not doing you any favors. This video may not be for "knife nerds" but we should all learn how to properly take care of our tools.

  19. 0:06 "these are the four techniques which I think are the most realistic for most home cooks" meanwhile there's footage of machines with sparks flying all over the place in the background

  20. You don't need to spend $100 on a wet stone. You can buy them at hardware stores for a fraction of that, and using them really isn't terribly difficult, just go slowly. I learned as a Boy Scout how to do it, though it's easier with carbon steel knives than it is stainless steel.

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