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Honing Steels

Which Knife Sharpener Do You Need?

Everyone needs a knife sharpener, simply because there is a single truth about all knives. They all start off sharp and, with use, become less sharp. This is completely normal. It happens even to the pros in their kitchens. The only real question is which sharpener you need.

How Do Knife Sharpeners Work?

Knife sharpeners work by delicately grinding a blade back to its original angle of sharpness. You'll know the knife needs sharpening, because your cuts feel different--slightly slower, at first, then less crisp altogether. Use your knife sharpener to bring your blade back to its impressive precision.

  • Angles are incredibly important to knives. Most knives are honed to about 15 degrees on at least one side.
  • Most Western knives are honed to a maximum of 30 degrees or 15 degrees each.
  • Many Asian knives are honed on one side and maintain an extremely sharp angle for quick prep and ultra-fine slices.

When you choose your sharpener, make your choice based on the kinds of knives you have or plan to buy now or soon.

  • Make sure the sharpener you select grinds as fine as your knife angles.
  • Check that your sharpener handles Western, Eastern or both styles of knives, depending on which you own. Avoid damage to carefully crafted blades by using the right one.
  • Many sharpeners also strop the blade, which means to polish it without any major change in angle.

Electric vs. Manual

Discover the difference between electric and manual sharpeners to decide which is best for your kitchen.

  • Electric sharpeners usually require an outlet so you can plug yours into the wall. Manual sharpeners require nothing but you and your knife to make them work.
  • Electric sharpeners are usually programmed or programmable to obtain exactly the right angle for a variety of knives. Manual sharpeners may have fewer settings that are non-digitized.
  • People who cook many meals a week may own one of each. Use the manual for quick, everyday refinements to keep knives ready at all times and the electric for maintenance sharpening.

Whetstone Knife Sharpeners

You can also shop for a whetstone. This sharpener takes its format from historic and even ancient knife sharpening.

A whetstone is a fine-grain stone, the surface of which is used to sharpen knives. The stone gets wet before you run the blade on it, but whet with an h actually means to sharpen.

The whetstone is similar in technique to the honing steel in that you run the blade over it. Honing steels are used for light maintenance, though, while a whetstone may be your primary sharpener.

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