All electric, and most manual, sharpening units will come with instructions for their use, and it is a good idea to should familiar with them before putting the machine to work.
To ensure longevity and optimum performance, cleaning, and maintenance of your sharpening gear is essential.
Apart from cleaning and lubricating the moving parts of sharpening guides, and general cleaning of all equipment, the sharpening surfaces used by different tools can be maintained in various ways.
Here, we’ve broken this down into three broad categories to capture the most commonly used sharpening tools and materials.
Read on to find out how best to look after your sharpening gear.
1. Kitchen Sharpeners
Standard kitchen electric knife sharpeners have grinding wheels encased within the external guard/blade guide assembly. The blade guide positions the knife blade at the correct angle to the grinding wheel.
These machines have a guide on either side of the grinding wheel that alternately sharpen the left and right sides of the blade.
Quality machines have multiple grinding wheels that differ in coarseness so that the user can quickly grind the blade to the correct angle and progressively polish the blade to a sharp edge.
Starting with the coarsest setting, position the blade in one angled guide and slowly draw the blade through. This should be done at a controlled pace without applying any downward pressure through the blade. A 5-6” blade should take about three seconds to draw completely through the sharpener.
Alternate each side of the blade through the opposing guides for around five pairs of draws. A very dull blade may require up to 20 pairs of draws.
Continue paired draws until you can feel a burr (a minutely rough surface) on either side of the blade edge. This means that the grinder has reached the very edge and the blade is as sharp as it can get at the given setting. Further grinding is only unnecessarily removing material.
Ensure that the burr extends the entire length of the blade.
Next, move on to the next grind coarseness and repeat the process. Continue working through grind settings until you have reached the finest grind and the knife is feeling sharp.
To finish the sharpening process and achieve maximum blade polish, give a couple of paired draws through the finest setting using a quick draw of about one second. This will clean the blade up to its best edge.
Care and Maintenance
Electric kitchen knife sharpeners are very user-friendly and low-maintenance. They require no lubricants for their operation.
Always clean and dry knives before sharpening them. This minimizes any substances fouling the grinding wheels.
At the end of each use, give the sharpener a wipe down with a clean cloth.
Periodically, the catch tray on the underside of the sharpening unit should be emptied. This is where the metal shavings are collected, and keeping it from filling up helps keep the machine working to its utmost. Empty the contents of the tray into the bin and give everything a wipe over with a clean cloth.
After a lot of use, the grinding wheels may need re-dressing. Brands like Chef’sChoice have built-in manually operated dressing pads that should be employed for this task. Be sure to consult the operating manual for use.
In extreme circumstances, the machine may require refurbishment by the manufacturer. Most quality brands perform cleaning and maintenance of their products and this will ensure continued operation and life of the machine.
Whetstones are the oldest form of sharpening tools. In ancient times, these would’ve been as simple as a suitable rock, and natural stone is still used for certain applications. Synthetic compounds are also widely available and cost-effective.
Whetstones include the standard flat stone or plate (pocket-sized, bench stones, diamond plates, and the abrasives used in guided sharpening systems), as well as round grinding wheels constructed from appropriate materials that are used on mounted bench grinders.
Not included are high-speed grinding wheels that de-temper blades.
A coarse whetstone is first used to clean up a dull or damaged blade and set the angle for sharpening. Once this is achieved and a burr develops on the opposing side of the blade edge, the user progressively works through finer grades to bring the edge to a finely polished finish.
Whetstones are best used when securely held on a bench or table so that the knife can be drawn across their surface. This ensures good consistency in results and allows the user to guide the knife with both hands.
The blade should be held at the correct angle to the stone and drawn across the length of the surface, edge first. The sweeping stroke should start at the heel of the blade and fade out to the tip by the end of the stroke to ensure an even grind along the length of the blade.
Care and Maintenance
Ensure that you use the entire surface of the whetstone. This helps keep the surface flat and even, which helps prolong the life of the stone.
All whetstones are porous. Stone is actually porous as it absorbs liquid, however, this term can be broadly applied to all abrasive surfaces used in sharpening, which are surfaces constructed of many micro-surfaces interspersed with pockets of lower-lying material.
The principle is that each micro-surface scratches a small area of a blade, removing material that is deposited in the adjacent pockets. Through use, these pockets fill up; the surface becomes smoother and the effectiveness of the stone is diminished.
Natural stone should be lubricated with water. Many synthetics can be lubricated with either water or oil; however, once a stone has oil added to it, water will no longer penetrate the stone. It is therefore harder to clean and requires solvent to do so.
Water is a preferred choice as it’s readily available and helps to clean the stone during use by washing away the abraded material.
Periodic scouring of whetstones removes built-up material and improves their effectiveness. Synthetic eraser plates – high-density foam rubber impregnated with pumice – are one tool for this job.
Natural sandstone eraser plates are also available, and other products such as Comet Scouring Powder can be applied using a sponge.
Simply give the surface a good scrubbing with the scourer to remove clogging. Keep all surfaces flat to maintain the stone surface. Rinse with flowing water during the cleaning process.
3. Sharpening/Honing Steels
Steels should be one of the final steps in any sharpening process, which helps to polish the blade.
Ceramic rods, diamond-coated steels, and corrugated honing steels all fall into this category.
They should be used sparingly on a regular basis while using the knife to keep the blade in good shape and reduce the need for more abrasive sharpening.
The less pressure applied while running the blade along the steel, the finer polish.
To use a sharpening steel, hold the rod securely in the non-dominant hand. Position the knife at the tip of the steel, addressing it at the correct angle. Starting at the heel of the blade, smoothly draw it down and away from the steel, so that the entire length of the blade has been polished by the completion of the downwards stroke. Switch sides and polish the opposite edge of the blade. Alternate sides on each stroke to keep the work even.
Always keep your hand behind the handle guard. If the steel doesn’t have a handle guard, work the blade stroke away from the body.
Care and Maintenance
Never drop or bang steels on hard surfaces. While they are tough, they are also somewhat fragile and may snap (but more likely the steel will be dented). This can cause rough spots that cause damage to blades and may give ingress for corrosion of the steel.
It’s good practice to clean knives before using a sharpening steel.
At the end of each use, give the steel a thorough wash with hot soapy water and allow to air dry. Scourer pads are fine to use when washing, but draw them along the length of metal steels so as not to affect corrugations.
Don’t use coarse scourers on ceramic rods in case they are scratched.
Periodic deep-cleaning and conditioning of steels is also beneficial. The same eraser plates used for whetstones can be applied, running along the length of the steel. Alternatively, cleaning powders like Comet Scouring Powder can be applied to a sponge and scrubbed along the steel.