Best Sharpener For Kitchen Knives – All You Need To Know
Whether you’re looking for the best sharpener for kitchen knives, the best way to sharpen kitchen knives or the best sharpening steel brand, we can help.
So, you’ve invested in a quality kitchen knife or two and you’re using it daily. You keep it clean and safely stored, but why stop there?
Keeping your knife or knives sharp is crucial. It not only makes tasks like chopping, slicing and dicing easier, but more importantly, a sharp knife is ultimately a safe knife.
With this in mind, in this short guide we’re going to talk about the best sharpener for kitchen knives, break down the common types of sharpener and the most commonly used techniques to sharpen kitchen knives. So without further ado, let’s dive in starting with…
The best chef knife sharpener types
There are in fact many types of chef’s knife sharpeners but in this guide we’re going to focus on the big 3. These are:
- Sharpening/honing steels
- Electric knife sharpeners
So why these in particular?
Quite simply because these are the main types commonly found in most home and professional kitchens.
So let’s get started…
Firstly, sharpening/honing steels
Sharpening rods, honing steels, sharpening steels – call them what you will – are typical of the sharpeners you see sitting in a knife block alongside a collection of knives.
You know… the same sharpener you often see manly chefs thrashing away on – we’re looking at you Gordon Ramsay ?
However, to call it a sharpening steel is a bit of a misnomer?
Because it doesn’t actually sharpen a knife.
“Okay, so what’s the point” I hear you say?
It’s purpose is to hone or straighten the edge of the knife back out.
Let me explain…
When produce is sliced, diced or cut on a chopping board, it’s usual to bring the knife back up at a slightly different angle. This causes the knife blade to misalign somewhat.
In fact, if you look at a used knife blade under a microscope, you’ll actually notice the edge of the blade start to bend over.
Therefore, when you use a honing steel, you’re not actually removing any metal at all. Instead you’re simply realigning the blade edge. The blade itself isn’t actually any sharper but is simply realigned or honed to cut better.
So here’s the main point about honing steels and it’s an important one…
Even with the best honing steel in the world, it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to bring a blunt or heavily damaged blade back to life.
Because it isn’t designed to sharpen a knife. It’s designed to maintain it for use. So if you want your knife to continue to cut its way through food like a hot knife through butter, it will still need to be sharpened every two or three months.
In other words, a honing steel is best used in conjunction with a best sharpener for kitchen knives such as a quality whetstone or electric knife sharpener. This ensures that your knife remains in top condition for many years to come.
So now you know what you should and shouldn’t expect from a honing steel, just how do you use one without losing your fingers in the process?
The best way to hone/sharpen kitchen knives for any beginner is to:
- Firstly place the tip of your honing tool down onto a surface (preferably with a damp towel underneath to avoid slippage)
- Then grip the handle using your non-dominant hand.
- Next take hold of the handle of your knife with your dominant hand and bring it to the top of the steel – just underneath the safety guard
- With an angle of around 15 degrees for an Asian knife and 20 degrees for a European knife, swipe slowly down away from you, ensuring that the whole length of the blade is honed.
- Repeat this process on alternate sides of the blade (5-10 times should suffice)
- Finally, rinse and dry the blade, then it’s ready for use.
As you get better, there are other methods you can use but this is arguably the safest way until you get a little more confident. Once mastered, it’s a really useful skill but just in case you prefer visual cues, here’s a great video on the best way to sharpen kitchen knives for beginners using just such a tool
Best knife sharpener types – Whetstones
A whetstone or sharpening stone is essentially a rectangular block of stone specifically used to sharpen metal edges. Most experts will agree that when it comes to the best sharpener for kitchen knives, a whetstone is the best tool to keep your knife in optimal condition.
However, before we dive into the intricacies of what they are or how to use one, we need to clear up some terminology…
All sharpening stones are known as whetstones but not all whetstones are wet stones?
Don’t worry, I’ll explain
To ‘whet’ something means to sharpen. But while some stones are designed to be used wet, others are designed to be used dry.
The good news is that they work in exactly the same way. The stone is fixed to a flat surface and the knife is run back and forth over the top until it’s sharp.
Just like sandpaper, some stones have a course side and a fine side to deliver a perfectly sharp edge, while in other cases you’ll need multiple stones with varying levels of coarseness (grit) to complete the job.
This is by far the oldest method of sharpening implements. In fact, people have been sharpening implements this way for thousands of years, Moreover, many people say that it’s by far the best chef knife sharpener.
The problem is learning to use properly. It can take quite some time to master and moreover, get the technique wrong and it can damage your knife. Therefore it’s advisable to practice on cheap kitchen knives before you let yourself loose on a quality chef’s knife. The key to getting it right is to be able to hold the knife at the correct angle continually.
Once the technique has been mastered, you can sharpen any blade to a good degree of accuracy.
How cool is that?
How to sharpen a knife using a Whetstone
If you want to know more about how to use a whetstone we have more information on our blog but I’m also going to insert a link to an interesting news article I found detailing how to use a whetstone properly. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/recommended/home/best-knife-sharpeners-how-use-them
Again, for those who prefer to learn visually, I’m also attaching a great video on how to use a whetstone – so enjoy!
Finally, electric knife sharpeners
If you’re looking for a device that will keep your knives razor sharp with little or no skill involved, then you’re in luck. An electric knife sharpener is a relatively low profile machine that requires little effort.
So how does it work?
A standard electric knife sharpener consists of 2 or more slots through which the knife is pulled. Inside the slots, sharpening stones rotate at relatively high speed sharpening the blade as the knife passes through.
There is no guesswork involved, it’s simply a case of ‘pull through and repeat‘ till sharp. The right electric knife sharpener has the capacity to restore an edge on a badly dull knife.
Ultimately, for many people who simply want a sharp knife without having to put in much effort, then this is arguably the best sharpener of kitchen knives for you
However, some people want to make a connection with their knives. They want to learn to control the right amount of pressure and angle in order to achieve optimum sharpness. If this is you, then there are probably better options available.
One thing to be aware of when considering an electric knife sharpener is that because you have little to no control, you may be taking off more blade than is absolutely necessary. Naturally, this is only going to shorten the lifespan of your knife.
If you don’t plan to spend a wad of cash on premium knives but still want the convenience of a sharp knife when you need to use it, then an electric model may be the right call for you.
Talking of cost, It’s now time to get down and dirty on price ?
How much should you pay for the best sharpener for kitchen knives – really?
Like with most things in life you get what you pay for, and similarly to chef’s knives, you can pay a small fortune for sharpening tools – but is it really necessary?
The good news is that there comes a stage where you are probably paying for a branded name without any step-up in quality.
Take a honing steel for instance. You can pick up a good quality rod for somewhere between $20-$30 or the equivalent currency. Prices depend on whether you buy a diamond, ceramic or steel rod. However for $30.00, you should get a product that will happily retain the sharpness of just about any knife.
Conversely, it is possible to pay upwards of $200.00 for a branded honing steel. Whether they are 6-7 times better than other cheaper models remains to be seen.
Whetstones on the other hand are a little more complex….
As stated earlier, you can buy single stones with dual coarseness (grit). Alternatively you can buy single grit stones. In this case you may need several or more and finally, you can buy Whetstone kits with varying grit levels which cover all parameters.
With this in mind, at the cheap end of the spectrum, you can pick up a single grit whetstone for somewhere between $10 and $15.00, dual stones for around the $30 – $40 mark. Alternatively, you can buy complete whetstone kits for $100.
On the other end of the scale, you can pay up to $100 for a single grit ceramic stone from some of the top brands, while kits can come in at well over $300. While there’s nothing wrong with anyone buying the best of the best, we would suggest that – when starting out – there are plenty of whetstones available which are more cost effective and equally as capable.
Finally, let’s talk electric sharpeners!
You can pick-up a basic electric tool to sharpen kitchen knives for under $30.00, so not a lot of cash. On the contrary, you can easily pay upwards of $700 for a 3-stage commercial sharpener, ideal for those looking to go into business. Realistically though, somewhere around $100- $150 should buy you a quality chef knife sharpener that will keep your knives looking and feeling fresh.
So now for the million dollar question…
What is the ultimate or best sharpener for kitchen knives?
So far we’ve discussed, knife sharpener types and how to use them, we’ve also talked about the cost. Now let’s talk about the best kitchen knife sharpener.
Every type has it’s pros and cons and there are good and bad sharpeners in every category. So while we could argue that Whetstones are the best form of knife sharpener, it might be that a good electric sharpener delivers far better results than a poor quality whetstone.
Another point to take into consideration is this…
Is the product right for you?
For example if you don’t have great motor skills then unfortunately a whetstone is never going to deliver the results you want.
Despite the fact that serious knife aficionados prefer the control and feel of a good whetstone, some will (begrudgingly) admit that electric sharpeners have their place too.
The point is this…
There really is no right or wrong answer and more often than not, decisions boil down to both cost and preference, but to help you decide further, let’s give you a breakdown of each type…
Electric sharpening tools
- Ideal for use by anyone
- Minimal effort required
- No skill required
- Can shorten knife lifespan compared to other sharpeners
- Steep learning curve
- Initially requires a lot of effort
- Will deliver a great result for longer
- Designed to keep blades sharp not to sharpen them
- A Little skill needed initially
- Need to be used continually
- Great when used in conjunction with other sharpening tools
So there you have it… a complete guide to the best sharpener for kitchen knives.
If there is anything we haven’t covered in this category, then feel free to check out our blog where we share a ton of hints tips and advice. Failing that, you can always ask us a question in the comments section below.
Until next time – stay blade sharp!