How To Maintain Your Knives to Stay Sharp and Safe
Maintaining your knives takes a little time and effort, but it will pay dividends in the long run. If you keep them sharp, clean and protected from damage, a good set of kitchen knives will last a lifetime. You paid a lot of money for those knives, so protect your investment!
A sharp knife edge makes cutting and slicing easier and more accurate. Sharp knives are also safer: you need to apply more pressure with a dull blade, which will tend to slip and so increase the chance of injury.
Honing and Sharpening
Honing and sharpening are not the same thing. Honing is what you should do every time you start a task – running the knife edge over a honing (or sharpening) steel a few times. Doing this maintains an edge that’s already sharp. All you are doing is realigning the edge of the blade, not filing away the metal.
It’s an easy technique once you’ve got the hang of it. Hold the steel vertically in one hand and, with your knife in the other hand, slide the blade down and across the steel at a 15-degree angle. Repeat this a few times, alternating sides.
Your honing steel – not including the handle - should be a bit longer than your longest knife.
Over time even the best maintained knives lose their edge, become dull, and have to be sharpened. Sharpening means removing a small amount of material from the knife’s edge. This can be done professionally by a sharpening service, knife sharpeners or a sharpening stone.
Conventional wet stones have a coarse surface on one side and a fine surface on the other. The technique for using a sharpening stone rather depends on the type of stone you have; just follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Let’s get this out of way immediately: do not keep your knives loose in a kitchen drawer! This is dangerous both for your knives and your fingers.
A knife blocks are popular and it’s easy to see why: they look attractive and your knives are easily accessible.
But knife blocks take up valuable counter space, there may not be spaces for all your knives and they can dull knife blades through contact with the wood. Also, you can’t easily identify which knife is which until you take one out.
Magnetic Knife Strips
A wall-mounted magnetic knife strip solves all these problems at a stroke, and it’s probably cheaper. Just fix it to your kitchen wall in a handy location. These don’t work, however, with ceramic knives.
If you really have no option but to store your knives in a drawer, then inexpensive plastic knife guards are the way to go.
If you have to carry your knives from place to place there are knife bags (also called knife rolls) on the market for as many or few knives as you need to transport.
Another piece of essential advice: whenever possible, don't put your knives in the dishwasher! Even if your knives are “dishwasher safe” the jostling action of the machine will dull the blades over time.
Clean your knives each time after use. Hand-wash with warm soapy water, rinse, then sanitize.
Carbon steel knives are notoriously high maintenance. They rust easily and have to be wiped frequently, especially if exposed to anything acidic. Some discolouration is inevitable and acceptable. Rub them down with mineral oil regularly.
Proper usage of knives
If you’ve learnt good knife skills you already know most of what there is to know about the proper usage of knives. A good cutting technique uses as little pressure as possible; the weight of the knife should do most of the work. Understanding your knives ensures that you’ll use the right knife for the right job – no hacking at bones with your chef’s knife, please!
Cutting Boards: Wooden cutting boards are the kindest to knife edges. Plastic boards are less kind, but not disastrously so. Just don’t use your countertop to cut items on. This will do neither your knife – nor your countertop - any favours.
Written by Charles Bruce-Thompson