A: We’re all told that a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife yet most everyone knows that merely touching a sharp knife can often result in a painful cut while we can wrap our hand around a dull blade with little worry. So why would anyone in their right mind claim that a sharp one is safer than a dull one? To a certain extent it’s a matter of semantics for sure, because there is no denying you have to be extremely careful around really sharp knives. But at the same time there is a very good reason to consider a dull knife to be more of a safety hazard than a sharp knife.
A diamond plate is a steel plate, sometimes mounted on a plastic or resin base, coated with diamond grit, an abrasive that will grind metal. When they are mounted they are sometimes known as diamond stones. The plate may have a series of holes cut in it that capture the swarf cast off as grinding takes place, and cuts costs by reducing the amount of abrasive surface area on each plate. Diamond plates can serve many purposes including sharpening steel tools, and for maintaining the flatness of man-made waterstones, which can become grooved or hollowed in use. Truing (flattening a stone whose shape has been changed as it wears away) is widely considered essential to the sharpening process but some hand sharpening techniques utilise the high points of a non-true stone. As the only part of a diamond plate to wear away is a very thin coating of grit and adhesive, and in a good diamond plate this wear is minimal due to diamond's hardness, a diamond plate retains its flatness. Rubbing the diamond plate on a whetstone to true (flatten) the whetstone is a modern alternative to more traditional truing methods.
We offer a series of oilstone packages that combine India and Arkansas stones and are very reasonably priced. At 8" long by 2" wide these stones are not as wide as some other types, but still wide enough for many edges and are plenty wide for knife sharpeners. Available in four price levels, these kits are a great opportunity for the beginning sharpener on a budget.
We tested eight other honing rods alongside our pick. Three were ceramic: The Cooks Standard 12″, the Mac black ceramic 10.5″, and the Messermeister 12″. Five were traditional steel hones: Three by Messermeister (regular, fine, and Avanta), a dual-textured fine-and-smooth “combination cut” Victorinox, and a Winware, all 12 inches in length. With one exception, we set a top price of about $40, which eliminated the professional-grade steels made by Friedrich Dick; these are standard in the butchering trade, but few home cooks need their extreme durability and specialization. During testing, we found all the traditional steel honing rods to be too rough on hard Japanese-style blades, causing them to chip, and their slick surfaces made blades of all types slip and skip. The three ceramic rods, like our top pick, offered a slightly grippy surface that made it easy to slide the knife blades smoothly along their length, which is key to good honing. But all were somewhat coarser than the Idahone, so the Idahone was less abrasive to the blades. As well, the Idahone’s generously sized steel hanging ring is superior: The Cooks Standard has a tiny, flimsy ring; the Messermeister has none, just a small hole in the handle; and the Mac’s ring is made of flimsy-feeling plastic. The Mac, which the manufacturer touts as specially suited to its knives, including our pick for chef’s knives, also costs a lot more than the Idahone, at about $55. And its shorter length made honing an 8-inch knife difficult.
The dual-sided whetstone is made from durable silicon carbide and has 400 grit on one side to sharpen the dullest blades and 1000 grit on the other side to create a nice smooth finish once the blade has been sharpened. The stone also forms a nice slurry that helps polish the blade for a superb shine. The stone is meant to be used with water, not oil and for best results, simply soak stone for 5-10 minutes before use, and lubricate with additional water as needed when sharpening.
Unlike our Top Choice for this category, most rods are actually made only to hone your blade, not to sharpen it as well. To hone something means to straighten it. The very thin cutting edge of any blade will become warped over time. It will not be visible to the naked eye, but it will be warped. Tiny folds and grooves will find their way to your blade’s edge, making it seem as if it is growing dull. Using a honing rod, you can push those folds back into place and create a straighter, stronger, sharper blade. Of course, this will only work for so long, as your blade will eventually grow dull in other ways.
When starting out sharpening, it won’t be long before you hear about the “toothy” vs “polished” edge. It will suffice to know that a 1k stone is going to give you an edge that will perform beautifully as will a knife finished at 5k. There is a belief that a knife that has a highly polished finish, 5k and up will be so polished that it’s toothy goodness will be erased. This knife will not bite into the skin of a tomato for example because the edge is too polished, it will slide over the top. This is not always true, if the knife has been sharpened well, i.e. if Side A and Side B of the blade meet precisely at the Apex of the knife, that edge will slide into a tomato quite beautifully. I have seen many brand new Japanese knives with highly polished 8k edges that no tomato skin can stand up to.
If you do not remove enough metal to create a new edge, you will leave some of the dull edge in place. A dull blade (or a blade with dull spots or nicks) will reflect light from the very edge of the blade. A razor sharp knife edge will not show "bright spots" when you hold it blade up under a bright light. You will need to remove enough material from the sides of the bevel so that the edge stops reflecting light.
If you follow Joe’s instructions and still can’t get a good edge, chances are your knives have been abused to the point that they need a pro’s touch to restore the edge. You can do it yourself, but it takes expensive electric tools or a lot of tricky manual grinding on a stone. But for well under $10 per knife, a sharpening shop can bring your edges to better-than-new condition. Then you’ll be able to keep them that way using Joe’s techniques. Search online for “knife sharpening” followed by your city and you’ll surely find a local sharpener. And don’t give up on high-quality knives that have a chip or notch in the blade. A pro can grind out any imperfections and reshape the edge. Yes, you’ll have a slightly narrower blade, but you won’t even notice.
Honing steels are another story altogether. Honing steels are those instruments that look light a saber (light or otherwise) which you use to gussy up the edge of the blade periodically before using it. These do wear out every few years or less, depending on how often you use them. If you are unsure whether your honing steel is worn out run your finger around it. If it feels smooth all the way around then it’s time for a replacement. Not to worry though, they’re really affordable. One thing you may want to keep in mind about honing steels is that they typically won’t do much to hone the edge of some super hard knives, such as Japanese Global brand knives.
Now you may wonder, if a finer stone produces a better cutting edge why do I need a coarse stone at all? The answer is that finer stones work much more slowly than coarse ones. The amount of metal a fine stone removes with each pass is much less than what a coarse stone removes. If you have an edge with a good shape to it from a coarse stone, this is not a problem because the fine stone doesn’t have to remove much metal to improve the edge. If the edge is dull, it will take many times longer to reshape it with a fine stone than it would with a coarse one.
This knife sharpener features precision-ground tungsten-carbide sharpener on bars which can automatically adjust to provide different blade angles. And just by changing hand positions, you can easily fine-sharp or hone the knife as often as you like. With regular honing, you will maintain a sharp edge without removing metal and extending the lifetime of the blade.
This set of two Norton combination waterstones provides four grits and also includes a flattening stone as an added value. The 220, 1000, 4000 and 8000 grit sides will handle everything from aggressive shaping to final polishing. They are 8" long by 3" wide, big enough to handle most knives and tools easily. Our most popular waterstone kit, this has everything you need to both sharpen with waterstones and maintain the stones themselves. A great starter set.