Let's begin by sharpening the knife from the front side. Western knives are not evenly double-beveled. The ratio for sharpening them is 80% on the front side and 20% on the back side of the blade. (The angle of the blade to the sharpening stone surface is about 10 degrees.) All knives are sharpened from the cutting edge to the spine of the blade. You hold the handle with your right hand, push down on the side of the blade with the fingers of your left hand, and sharpen by moving the blade toward the center of the stone.
To use Al's method, take a black felt pen and shade in the bevel of the knife. Then take two strokes on the stone and examine the edge. If you have maintained the proper angle then all the black will be gone. If you see black on the top of the edge it means you are holding the back of the knife too far from the stone. If there is black on the bottom of the edge but the top is clean then you are laying the knife too flat on the stone and you need to raise it a bit. Repaint the edge and try it again. Once you discover what the right angle looks like then just maintain that.
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Electric sharpeners use rotating ceramic or abrasive-impregnated metal wheels to grind a new edge into a blade. Low-end models, which start at about $25, feature a single set of coarse wheels that produce a rough, if potentially serviceable, edge—it depends on how even the edge is, and that’s a matter of overall design and engineering. Higher-end models can cost $200 or more (and professional models for slaughterhouses can approach $1,000), but they feature stronger motors and multiple grinding wheels—coarse, fine, and often polishing/honing—that when well-engineered can put an extremely keen, durable edge on knives of every style and quality.
Scissors get dull, too, but many sharpeners can’t handle their unique shape. This easy-to-use manual sharpener can handle scissor easily, and will also sharpen all of your non-serrated knives with ease. It’s ergonomically designed for either right- or left-hand use and has a protective finger guard so you can safely sharpen all the knives in the block.
A steel is the shorthand term for a steel rod used to straighten knife edges. Any decent knife set includes one, but few people know exactly what it does, much less how to properly use it. If you don’t have a steel, go buy one for about $20. Joe will show you how to use it to maintain a sharp edge. Don’t waste your money getting a diamond-coated surface. You don’t need it to know how to sharpen a knife.
Unfortunately, this sharpener is not meant for use with serrated blades, unlike some of the others on this list. Also unfortunate is the fact that I was unable to find any record of the angle degree to which it will sharpen a blade. However, consumers have been very happy with its performance and estimate the angle to be somewhere around 16 to 18 degrees.
Its main disadvantage is cost: At about $120, the flagship stainless steel Professional model sits in an uncomfortable middle ground between our main pick and our upgrade pick. That said, an otherwise identical Classic model made of black plastic is generally closer to the price of our main pick. A lesser point, but an important one, is that this design is not completely foolproof, as our other picks are. You have to pay attention and use a steady hand and pressure to get a straight edge. Not hard—but you may need a little practice to master the process.
One of the combinations of stones that I was introduced to several years ago is a unique one, it is a 500, 2,000 and 16,000 grit combination. I was apprehensive when I first tried this, that was thousands of knives ago, it works, it is fantastic combination. It is unique because the traditional way of thinking is that we should be doubling the grit sizes as we sharpen, for example, a 500 grit stone should be followed by a 1,000 grit, then 2,000 grit. This line of thought is meant to be flexible, it is a general rule only, I have broken it countless times.
The most important aspect of a sharpening stone is the grit. If you have knives that have taken a beating and are either nicked up or really dull, you’ll need a courser stone to get it back into shape. And in order to put an exceptionally sharp edge on an already sharp knife, you’ll need a finer grit stone. If your knives are already in pretty good shape and just need a touch up, buying just a finer grit stone might be enough, but don’t think you can get away without a courser stone for knives that need more TLC. It is possible to buy a combination, or two-sided sharpening stone.
The Presto EverSharp 08800 electric knife sharpener gets great reviews. In our test, though, its flimsy motor instantly bogged down when our knife contacted its sharpening wheels—and even light pressure threatened to stop the the sharpening wheels entirely. The high, wide guide frames meant it couldn’t sharpen the last ¾ inch of a blade, an unacceptable shortcoming. We’ll take our experience over the reviews.