Whether you’re a home cook or a professional chef, you know that one of the most important elements in a successful kitchen is a sharp knife.
There’s nothing worse than trying to impress a dinner party with a blade that won’t even pierce the skin of a tomato. Even worse is when you’re running around looking for band-aids to clog the blood pouring out of your thumb from overcompensating a dull edge – while telling everyone that you’re “totally okay” (Yes, this was me, on the same night).
On the other hand, there’s such a thing as sharpening your knives too much. You don’t want to shave down the precious steel of your favorite (and also very expensive) knives when it’s not necessary.
So how many times can you sharpen your knife?
The main thing you need to know is that for the average home cook, you probably only need to sharpen your knives 1-2 times a year. You should hone the blade at least a couple of times a week but it all depends on other factors such as how often you are using the knife, what you are cutting with the knife, and blade steel quality.
In this article, I’m going to break down exactly how much you should be honing and sharpening your knives and the different methods and products available to do it so that everything from your scallions to your sashimi remains perfectly sliced.
How Many Times Should You Be Sharpening and Honing Your Knives?
It depends on what you’ve been cutting, how often you’ve been doing it, and what your knife is made out of, but for the average home cook, 1-2 times should be more than enough.
For example, if you’re a chef hacking away at bones and thick meats on a daily basis, you’re going to need to sharpen your knives more than the casual home cook that slices a tomato or a strawberry here and there.
Here is the knife honing frequency for different materials that knives are made of:
- Stainless Steel – hone after every 2-4 uses
- Carbon Steel – hone after every use
Experts say that if you have been using proper honing techniques and tools, then you don’t need to sharpen your knives frequently (once a year is enough).
Why Won’t My Knives Stay Sharp?
The first and most obvious answer to why your knives aren’t staying sharp is you use them a lot, but you don’t hone or sharpen your knives enough. Below, we’ll go through the specifics of what the differences are between honing and sharpening and how often you are doing it.
If you are honing and sharpening your knives, chances are you aren’t using proper form or tools when you hone or sharpen your blades. When using tools like sharpening stones, it takes a lot of practice and steady hands to perfect the motion and angles that provide a perfectly sharpened blade.
Also, pay attention to the things you are cutting. If you are constantly using your knives to cut through huge hunks of meat and tough bones, your knives will dull significantly faster than if you are only using your knives occasionally to cut through vegetables and fruits.
Another factor that may play into your knives keeping their sharpness is the quality of the blade. Lower quality knives are often thinner and lose their edge much faster than high-quality steels.
What’s the Difference Between Honing and Sharpening?
Honing is done with a knife honer or honing rod. By stroking the sides of your knife a few times on each side with this rod, you realign the tiny, microscopic “teeth” on the blade, which will make your knife cut like new again.
For a home cook, this should be done before and after heavy use or once every few weeks. If done properly, you don’t really need to worry about actually sharpening your knives for quite a while.
However, honing does not actually sharpen your knife.
Honing will never actually sharpen a dull blade, as you’re just realigning the tines on edge.
Also, you can over hone the edge of your blade. Yes, it may help you look cool in front of a date, but if you do it dozens of times, you’re just wearing out those tiny little teeth on the edge of the blade.
A few times on each side is all that is necessary to keep your knife ready for your next meal.
Sharpening, on the other hand, actually grinds a small amount of steel off of the blade, creating an entirely new edge.
So if you think about it, you can definitely over sharpen your knives. Why would you shave off that valuable metal you paid so much for when you don’t even need to?
If your knife is still not feeling so edgy after a good honing, it’s probably time for a sharpening.
Read Also: Do I need a ceramic or steel rod?
What is the Best Knife Sharpening Method?
Today, there’s a variety of different methods and tools to sharpen knives, all of which we’ll cover below, including:
- Oil Stone
- Diamond Stone
- Electric Sharpeners
- Handheld Sharpeners
- Coffee Mug
I personally prefer using a combination of two whetstones – one light grit, one heavy – but it’s all a matter of personal preference.
Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of the different tools.
Sharpening Stones, Whetstones or Waterstones
Sharpening stones, or whetstones, are a rectangular tool that is used to sharpen knives. By using an abrasive material on one side, the user can sharpen various types of edges by placing their knives at a 15-20 degree angle and applying pressure while grazing the surface of the whetstone.
A whetstone is another name for a sharpening stone (whet means to sharpen). Despite what it sounds like, whetstones are used dry.
Water stones, on the other hand, are used in combination with water. This water creates a “slurry” as the water combines with the loose sharpening particles. This helps the process not only become faster and easier, but the excess material is immediately drained away because of the water, which means no extra particles that might scratch your knife.
In short, sharpening stones and whetstones are the same thing, and water stones are often referred to as a sub-category of those stones.
As I mentioned earlier, whetstones also have different “grit” levels, similar to sandpaper. Basically, a heavier grit (typically around 220 grit) would be used on duller knives because they remove more metal than finer grits (up to 6,000 grit). Ideally, you would use a finer grit for nicer knives that you sharpen regularly.
Although these stones have a much longer learning curve than other methods, the results are far superior.
- One of the most efficient and best ways to sharpen blades and variety of tools
- It is one of the fastest ways to sharpen your tools
- It is very flexible as you can choose the angle at which you sharpen
- It is quite difficult to master the technique. It takes a lot of practice to do it correctly.
- It requires a steady hand.
- Certain stones and materials can be very expensive
- Wears down more quickly than other methods, sometimes unevenly
Oil stones are a more traditional Western sharpening stone that are usually made of Novaculite, Aluminum Oxide, or Silicon Carbide and use oil to remove excess metal. The technique is similar to a whetstone except for the use of oil.
They tend to cut at a slower rate than water stones, but oil stones are still quite popular for their simplicity and lower price.
- Great overall performance at a lower price
- Slower cutting rate than water stone counterparts
- Messier clean-up due to oil
Diamond stones have small diamonds attached to the face of the metal plate. These tiny, industrial diamonds are much harder than the materials used for any other sharpening stones.
The greatest advantages of the diamond stone are that it allows very fast sharpening and the flatness of the surface is retained by the diamond material. The main disadvantage, as you might guess, is that these stones are some of the most expensive.
- Durable and retains shape well
- Expensive compared to its counterparts
Electric or manual sharpening machines have one huge advantage over whetstones – you don’t need any experience to use them. The learning curve basically consists of reading the instructions and following the simple steps.
Electric sharpeners often feature a series of different slots, each containing plates with different levels of abrasiveness or grit.
After turning the device on, the blade is sharpened as you pull it through the series of slots, one after the other. Usually, you’ll begin with the most abrasive slot and work your way to the finest grit to get the smoothest surface.
The downside of electric sharpeners is that they are much more aggressive and usually end up removing more material from the knife blade than if you were to use a sharpening stone, which means your valuable knife won’t last as long.
- Simple and easy to use
- Super fast and convenient sharpening of knives
- Aggressive method leads to lower knife lifespan
Handheld sharpeners, also known as manual knife sharpener or pull-through sharpeners, operate similarly to electric sharpeners without the motorized components. You’re left with a smaller, more portable version that doesn’t need to be plugged in.
Since there’s no motor, you need to pull your knife through the slots multiple times. If you’re inexperienced, it may be difficult to know how many times you need to do it. This may lead to you removing more material than necessary.
- Smaller, more lightweight and portable than electric counterpart
- Less expensive
- Higher learning curve than electric sharpener
- Risk of removing too much material from knives
- More work than electric sharpener
Use a Coffee Mug
If you don’t have access to any of the previous tools, there are DIY solutions available. There has been a lot of viral misinformation about using different things around the house to sharpen your knives, but do they work?
For a coffee mug the answer is yes – if it is ceramic. Most ceramic plates, cups and bowls have an unglazed rim at the bottom. This rim is harder than metal and it can be used like a sharpening stone.
Flip your utensil over, hold your knife so that the edge is at an angle of about 15-20 degrees, then stroke 10-15 times on each side.
Although this method is convenient, it removes quite a bit of material compared to a sharpening stone, hence I’d recommend only doing this if you really need to. Also, the technique leaves a dark residue on the ceramic used.
- Convenient – you probably have the materials in your house now.
- Removes a lot of material which means shorter lifespan for your knife
- Leaves residue on ceramic used
Should You Wash a Knife After Sharpening?
Absolutely! You need to wash your knife after every sharpening to remove the grime or feed particles that might have been on the sharpening tool. If the small particles are left on, you may end up scratching your expensive knife.
A dish brush is a great way to safely clean a sharpened knife that doesn’t require you to use your hands.
Your stone or sharpening tool will also have grime and debris left over after sharpening, so make sure to clean it, too.
Do Knife Sharpeners Ruin Knives?
Like previously stated, sharpening knives, especially with stones, takes a high level of skill, patience and steadiness. Without these, you are highly susceptible to carving unnecessary material off your knife, ruining them.
Even if you do sharpen your blades with proper form or use an electric or handheld knife sharpener, remember that you are literally shaving material off the blade to create a new edge, so you are essentially shortening the lifespan of your knife.
Can You Sharpen a Cheap Knife?
Cheap knives can be sharpened just like expensive ones. However, it will probably lose its edge much faster than a quality knife, which means you may need to sharpen it much more often – even weekly, depending on its usage.
Cheap knives use steel that isn’t as hard, which means it loses its sharp edges much quicker. Also, the soft metal shavings that come off its blade are more likely to clog your sharpening stone.
You can sharpen a cheap knife, but be aware that you will need to do it more often and will need to maintain your stone after each sharpening.
How Often Should I Sharpen My WÜSTHOF Knives?
WUSTHOF knives should be sharpened 1-2 times a year to avoid oversharpening. WUSTHOF is a high end brand kitchen knife that recommends that you use only a WUSTHOF sharpener for their products.
How Often Should You Sharpen a Pocket Knife?
Similar to the question for a kitchen knife, it depends on your usage and what you’re using your pocket knife on. If you’re using it a lot, it can wear down quickly, which causes the user to overcompensate with increased pressure, which is very dangerous.
Depending on your usage, you should sharpen your pocket knife 1-2 times a year. Check out our buying guide on finding the best pocket knife sharpener here.
Can Knife Sharpening Wear Down the Blade?
Yes, like I mentioned before, the act of sharpening knives removes material from the edge of the blade. If you do this too much, you’re essentially shaving off the original blade’s form to create a new edge.
We looked at the differences between sharpening and honing as well as the different methods used around the world to sharpen knives.
Most importantly, we answered the question “How many times can you sharpen a knife?”
Although it depends on how often you use your knives, for the casual home cook, 1-2 times should be just fine.
Please let me know in the comment section if I missed anything here, or if you have any suggestions.