1) You haven’t the interest or patience to master a new skill. Sharpening by its very nature takes some training. If you are not paying close attention to what you are doing, you can easily grind away more metal than you need to or, worse yet, completely ruin a perfectly good knife. Especially using a power sharpening system. There’s a learning curve. Respect the curve.
No matter what all the DIY knife sharpening experts tell you, sharpening a knife, like any valuable skill, takes time and concentration to learn and get good at.
2) Your time is precious. Sharpening a kitchen knife can, in an ideal world, take only 10 minutes. That’s, of course, if it’s in pretty good shape to begin with. Otherwise, we’re talking more like 20 minutes or more. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Because, before all this, you’ve got to put in the hours learning how to, correctly, do it. And no matter what all the DIY knife sharpening experts tell you, sharpening a knife, like any valuable skill, takes time and concentration to learn and get good at. Even if you use a power sharpening system, depending on which brand/model you buy, it could take more time for you do it yourself than to pack up your knives and mail them off to a quality sharpening service.
3) Easy-peasy sharpening systems can be the least desirable sharpening solution. General rule-of-thumb—the easier the system, the worse it is for your knives. There are some exceptions to this rule, but fast, easy sharpening is not necessarily quality sharpening.
Second general rule-of-thumb—the more inexpensive the sharpener, the worse it will probably be for your knives. Inexpensive sharpeners tend to grind off more metal than is necessary, thereby shortening the life of your knives. If you really really must sharpen your own, be prepared to pay $100 dollars and up for a decent system.
4) You don’t really enjoy sharpening. Life is short. Have you heard the saying, “back to the grindstone”? There’s a reason it means what it means. If you don’t enjoy grinding down metal in the first place, it’s only going to get more and more tedious, not less.
5) Quality knife sharpening services are plentiful and affordable. There are a number of top-notch sharpening services you can find to mail your knives to that are only a mouse-click away. Really. And they’re not that expensive. A package of two 8-inch chef knives and two 4-inch paring knives, including shipping, could run as little a $33.
Take the next step and find a qualified sharpening service at Reviews of Professional Knife Sharpening Services. You’ll wonder why you waited so long!
P.S. After you get your knives back from the sharpening service, you must hone them regularly if you want to keep them sharp. See below for two hones/steels I recommend (read My Favorite Honing Steels for more info).
P.P.S. And here’s how to do it: How to Hone (or Steel) a Knife.
This sure makes it clear how important it is to have a quality knife sharpening service! I never realized that knife sharpening was such an art!
For years I thought that the only problem with an electric knife sharpener was the fact that they removed too much metal, way more than necessary. That was then, things have changed—I have learned some things from some very gifted sharpeners.
There is a very important flaw in electric knife sharpeners that many folks are not aware of. If we just sharpen the primary edge, i.e. the cutting edge which involves the removal of metal, albeit in very small amounts, nevertheless, if we continue the process, over time that primary edge gets wider and wider as it moves up into the thick portion of the knife. The result is that the original factory angle expands each time the knife is sharpened. While that edge can be sharp, the angle is much too obtuse, just too wide to be effective. We need to remove metal from the secondary bevel, the area behind the primary edge as well, and electric sharpeners just don’t/can’t do that.
With a waterstone, or other systems like Bob Tate uses, we can maintain the original geometry of the knife by reducing the thickness of the secondary bevel as we sharpen the cutting edge. This is not a difficult process with waterstones, but it’s crucial. Otherwise the performance of the knife will be significantly impacted—it might be sharp, but difficult to cut anything.
Thanks much for the explanation, Peter! One of these days, I’m going to try to review your knife sharpening service. Something tells me you’ll pass with flying colors :)
Thanks for your really interesting and informative posts and videos on honing and sharpening. Within the last year I got a lot more serious about my knives (home kitchen) and I bought a diamond steel rod sharpener from a fantastic knife shop we have down here in Hobart, Tasmania. I learnt how to both hone and sharpen my knives using this sharpener from the professional knife sharpeners who run the store. From watching your honing video I am reassured that I am honing properly, but I also find myself need to sharpen my knives probably once a month if I am using them heavily. I have assumed that this is because when I sharpen them I am not doing the same job as a professional sharpener would so it doesn’t last as long but is still very effective in getting super sharp knives. My favorite knife is a hand forged one made for me by a friend who learnt how to forge blades in Argentina. The steel is quite soft and this particular knife needs sharpening often because I use it heavily. But I admit that I am only honing my knives about once a week. What do you recommend? Should I just get all my knives sent away and sharpened professionally and try to hone more often, or am I ok to keep sharpening them myself when the edge gets a bit dull?
Tasmania. . .wow!
You’re a heavy user, but unless you’re a chef, chopping and slicing 3 to 6 hours day-in-day out, you shouldn’t have to sharpen you’re knives that much. You are on the right track with your kitchen knife maintenance, but let me offer some fine tuning:
1) Softer steel. Try using a quality Japanese knife sometime, one made of harder steel, and you will notice that it stays sharper longer. Or even a high-quality Western-style knife that’s been seriously tempered like a Henkels Pro S or Wusthof Classic. The steel should hold up longer. See my article: Best Chef Knives – Six Recommendations.
2) Quality sharpening. Yes, all things being equal, the better the sharpening job, the longer the edge will last. Learning to sharpen well takes time and patience. And on top of that, there’s a large range of quality in professional sharpening services as well. See my article: Finding a Professional Sharpening Service
3) The right tool. My understanding is that a diamond steel rod sharpener should mainly be used to touch up a blade when you haven’t the time to sharpen. It is not accurate, consistent, or versatile enough to produce a top-quality edge on a knife and is not really intended for that job. AND. . .it is NOT a hone. It LOOKS like a hone, but the material it’s made of, diamonds, is for sharpening, not honing. See my article: What’s a Honing Steel?
4) Hone MORE, sharpen LESS. Sharpening is destructive, it’s taking away metal. While honing is non-destructive, simply realigning it. You should hone before using your knife regularly. The more time that has passed between sharpenings, the more you should hone. It only takes 30 or 40 seconds and the more you do it, the faster you become. See my article: The Sharpening Cycle.
Keep exploring more of the KKG site…you’ll find lots of tips that should help you not have to work so hard keeping your knives sharp :)
All the best,
Just found your site, I like the good, solid info without confusing information overload…
One thing many Western knife users should try for maintaining an edge is a buffing compound laden strop. The following things are important:
1. The strop should be on a stiff surface.
2. The buffing compound must do the work, not the leather.
3. Use firm, not hard pressure, on edge-trailing strokes. White knuckles is too much.
4. Use the same angle as the cutting edge bevel throughout. Speed is not important, keeping the angle consistent is. This is extremely important. You do not want too steep an angle—it could lead to edge breaking.
5. More than 5-10 strokes a side means you probably need to touch it up on a very smooth stone or hone. I don’t have a hone, I use waterstones.
6. Do a few strokes after every use for the first few days, thereafter you will find less of a need to do so.
7. My knives are around Rc60 and it works well; I think harder steels would be fine too. Although I haven’t tried any of my Victorinox kitchen knives, they would probably also do well with it. My edges are usually about 12-16 degrees per side (dps).
What I find is that it realigns the edge a little, whilst removing extremely little steel—even less than a hone. You can start off with an edge angle that’s too acute and slowly round the edge angle very slightly. It will reach a very stable angle without being blunt and will resist damage well. This edge will last a long time and has the benefit of thinness, much like a micro bevel. Except, in this case, you get to the micro bevel in a progressive way that takes the steel’s inherent qualities into account, not just an arbitrary number. Obviously a new edge is sharper, but not by lots. If you use a professional sharpener and they buff heavily, all this has been done for you. You just lost out on that first week’s ultra sharpness that youtube videos are made of… ;-)
Thanks much, Andre, for the tip! You’ve almost convinced me to go out and buy a strop and some buffing compound first thing tomorrow :)
Love your site! Was sitting up until 3 am reading on my phone :) I know you said that you are against sharpening yourself and that you should invest in quality equipment if one still felt the need for it :) Have you looked at the Tormek system? I thought it felt very nice and heard a few good reviews on it. And last but not least, its made in Sweden ;)
Hi Johan (from Sweden I assume!),
Yes, I’m familiar with the Tormak system. It’s rock solid and to be recommended and here’s why: slow speed, water-cooled, and guided jigs that control how much steel you take off and at what angle. There’s also two wheels, one for grinding and the other for honing. Plus, it comes with a 7-year guarantee that can be extended to 10-years.
Buuuuut. . .to use it properly, 1) I would think you’d want to be trained and, 2) it doesn’t come cheap—currently $665 for the base system. So, it’s more a system for a very serious amateur or an aspiring pro. For those interested, here’s a link:
Tormek T-7 Water Cooled Precision Sharpening System, 10 Inch Stone
Ceramic hones are very handy and super useful, but they DO remove steel. Not much, and certainly not as much as sharpening on a stone, but still some. That’s why they turn grey over time. That’s the steel being deposited on the coarse ceramic, since the ceramic comes in at a higher Rockwell than the steel.
Even if it’s hard to learn, hand sharpening on various grades of stone is the way and the light. It allows you to get the edge you want and over time the knife becomes more truly yours. By that I mean, over a couple of years, the blade profile will eventually conform to your sharpening style. Ideally, this means you can get a razor edge back on it in just a few licks across the stone. It also means you have the tools at hand to resharpen after Aunt Gertrude uses your Hatori Hanzo to cut brownies while they’re still in the sheet pan. Furthermore, it saves you from “professional” knife sharpening services which might easily consist of some random jamoke with a rotary grinder and a magnetic sign on his van. In the long run, it might even save you a couple of bucks which you can spend on MORE KNIVES! Regardless, you get the satisfaction of using quality tools that are crafted exactly to your own specs because you did them yourself.
If you’re just starting out, get a double sided oil stone and a medium-fine diamond stone. Buy some used knives from goodwill for a couple of bucks and practice during commercials. Try the 7-6-5-4-3-2-1-1-1 method (7 strokes on either side, then six, then five, etc…) to keep the amount removed even and prevent a “wire edge”. Anyway, if you do decide to use a service make sure you send them your cheap knives first and see how they do. Keep your heirlooms at home until you find an artisan you can trust.
Thanks for your comments, Misneac!
Yes, I’m aware that ceramic hones remove steel. I have another post all about hones—What’s a Honing Steel?—where I cover hones/steels in depth.
I’m afraid I’ll have to agree to differ with you about the best solution for your average home cook to keep their kitchen knives sharp. I, myself—and most home cooks I know who have a family to raise—do not have time to sharpen their own knives. And no matter how easy you say it is to learn and master it—it isn’t. I’ve tried, just a little, and found it takes time and patience that I just do not have. Especially, when you consider the incredibly competent professional sharpening services available to the consumer if they are willing to pack their knives up and ship them somewhere.
Buuuut, you’re absolutely right that it’s very important not to give your knives to just anybody who hangs a shingle out their door claiming they’re a professional knife sharpener. Because the quality can vary tremendously. That’s why I researched and wrote my three articles on professional knife sharpening: 1) Why Use a Professional Knife Sharpening Service, 2) Finding a Professional Sharpening Service, and 3) Reviews of Professional Sharpening Services. But, the terrific thing about using a quality professional sharpener—someone like Seattle Knife Sharpening, for example–is that it would take you years and years of practice and you would still never match the edge Seattle Sharpening can get on knife. And, as long as you honed the edge regularly and treated it right, you could make that edge last quite a long time :)