Knife Sharpening Tips

Important Facts:

  • Knives made of the finest steel will hold an edge longer, but even the best knives dull with use-and the initial factory edge only lasts for the first few days or weeks of use.
  • For more than 99% of the knife’s useful life, its edge performance depends entirely on how it’s re-sharpened. The replication of the initial factory edge is not particularly relevant, especially since modern day sharpeners can put a better than factory edge on every knife.
  • Keeping your knife sharp is important-besides being easier and more enjoyable to use, sharp knives are safer. Dull cutlery requires excessive force to cut, increasing the risk of knife slippage and injury.
  • Cutlery becomes dull when the edge begins to fold over or break off.

Choosing the Right Sharpener

There are two basic types of sharpeners, those that straighten and condition the edge (traditional sharpening steels) and those that use abrasives to create a new and sharper edge.

Straightening the Edge

Sharpening Steel

The traditional sharpening steel can straighten and recondition the edge but requires skill and practice to avoid doing more damage to the blade than good. The straightened edge is still weak after “steeling” and can quickly fold again. Eventually, steeling breaks off too much of the edge and is no longer effective. The average person doesn’t have the skill or know how to use a sharpening steel correctly. The margins for error are slim because there are no angle guides and using the steel proficiently requires effort, skill, patience and lots of practice. Diamond steels produce better results because the diamond abrasives will actually sharpen the edge of the knife blade even if the angle is not correct The recent introduction of a precision-guided steeling device, however, now gives consumers the ability to steel like a pro. Note: All knife manufacturers recommend periodic professional sharpening in addition to regular steeling.

Additional Knife Tips for the Diamond Sharpening Steel

The Chef’sChoice® Diamond Sharpening Steel contains a coating of 100% ultrafine diamond crystals that mildly hones the knife edge while it is being steeled. The number of diamond crystals and their size have been carefully adjusted to optimize the relative amount of honing and edge straightening that occurs when the Diamond Sharpening Steel is properly used. Conventional steels do not hone but merely restraighten the cutting edge.

Well sharpened edges dull under the stress of cutting because the cutting edge bends over. It ultimately folds over on itself, and when this happens the edge cannot be straightened or sharpened with conventional steels. If the edge is steeled frequently as the blade is used, on the order of every few minutes or so of normal cutting, much of the bent edge along the blade lengths can be restraightened by conventional steels. However, because of the random nature of cutting, edges become bent more or less at different points along the blade edge. At some point or areas along the blade, the edge may as a result of use have broken off. In other areas it commonly becomes bent-over excessively and cannot be restraightened. When this happens it becomes necessary to lightly hone the edge in order to sharpen those points along the edge that are broken or irrecoverably bent over. The Chef’sChoice® Diamond Sharpening Steel is designed to add an optimum amount of honing to the conventional steeling action.

Correct Use of the Chef’sChoice® Sharpening Steel

Warning: Use the Diamond Sharpening Steel only on the edge of the knife. If the steel accidentally strikes other portions of the blade or bolster it will scratch the polished surface.

Because you generally do not know the angle at which any knife has been previously sharpened and because of the difficulty of controlling by hand the angle at which you are “steeling”, we suggest several different stroking procedures. Choose that procedure which is best for you – considering your experience and proficiency in the use of sharpening steels.

Success with any sharpening steel depends on three key considerations: (1) developing a good consistent and comfortable stroking procedure; (2) establishing the correct angle between the edge on the blade and the sharpening steel; and (3) applying only light pressure to the knife edge as it is steeled.

Note: Sharpen only on the oval shaped surfaces of the Sharpening Steel. Do Not use the sharp corners where the oval shaped surfaces meet.

Stroking Procedures

Steps A, B, C and G for the Model 416 Diamond Sharpening Stone

The experienced chef or butcher can use the Chef’sChoice® Diamond Sharpening Steel following the same procedures he has been accustomed to in sharpening with conventional steels. This generally involves one of the following methods of stroking the knife-edge.

Only the highly experienced user should attempt to use Method C. Because this requires skill and training, and involves moving the sharpening edge toward your hand, this method can be dangerous, and it should not be attempted by the inexperienced.

Those with less experience should use stroking Method A, B or D where the knife edge does not move towards your hand holding the Sharpening Steel. In Method A the steel held vertically can be pressed and steadied against a non-slipping surface or towel laid on a table. The blade edge is moved with your other hand down the Sharpening Steel as the blade is pulled toward you as illustrated. Method B is also a relatively safe method. Regardless of method used, alternate strokes should be on opposite sides of the edge in order to create a sharper and more balanced edge.

Method D is very easy and more comfortable for the less experienced. It is somewhat slower but safer to use. In this method the knife is held still while the Chef’sChoice® Sharpening Steel is moved along and across the edge.

This method like method B has the advantage that you are making strokes with the steel moving along and away from the edge – not into the edge. This will create a better edge.

To sharpen optimally with any of these methods there must be relative motions between the knife edge and the Sharpening Steel so that the Sharpening Steel moves along the edge and simultaneously moves across the edge. This is true whether you move the knife or move the Sharpening Steel.

Use only light pressure as the knife and Sharpening Steel come into contact. Excessive pressure can remove too much metal, damage the edge, and make it more difficult to maintain a consistent angle.

Control of Sharpening Angle

It will take practice to simultaneously control the sharpening angle while stroking the edge along and across the Sharpening Steel as described above.

Since the edge angle of knives varies widely from one brand to another and sometimes between blades of the same
manufacturer, the correct sharpening angle for each blade must be established by trial and error.

Start steeling with an angle of approximately 20° which is really a very small angle. (See Figure above). An angle of 45° (half way to perpendicular angle) is too large. If you can imagine a 45° angle and then cut that in half you will have 22½°. That will be about the right angle to start with. Stop steeling after a few strokes and inspect along the edge or along the shoulder of  the edge.

Angle Control is Key to Success

Steps E, F and G for the Model 416 Diamond Sharpening Stone

If you are striking only the edge as in Figure E, decrease the sharpening angle slightly until you are stroking along both the edge and facet as in Figure G. If you are striking the should, as in Figure F increase the angle until you are striking the edge and facet simultaneously.

It is important to try to keep the angle relatively consistent stroke after stroke. This sounds difficult but with experience you will find it becomes easier. You do not want to err on the side of too small an angle because you will not be sharpening the edge and you can accidentally scratch the face of your blade. It is better to err on the side of a slightly larger angle to insure you are sharpening the edge itself.
If you become confused about the angle, take a marking pen and color the beveled facets along both sides of the edge. After sharpening for a

few strokes you will be able to quickly see where the Sharpening Steel is sharpening by noting where the ink has been removed. If the sharpening marks do not contact the edge or the facet, increase the angle slightly. If you see marks only at the very edge and there are none on the facet, decrease the angle slightly as needed until there are light sharpening strokes on the facet extending to the edge itself. Continue steeling until the edge is sharpened. With experience, only a few strokes on each side of the edge will resharpen the edge.

As a reminder use only light pressure between the Sharpening Steel and the blade edge.

Steeling is relatively fast once you gain experience. It is a convenient means of sharpening when working at a remote table or work area. Remember to sharpen often in order to keep the edge in good condition.

We recommend periodic resharpening of all of your knives with one of the professional Chef’sChoice® electric sharpeners. These will restore your edges to perfection – better than new – and create a new edge better than available from conventional sharpening services. Chef’sChoice® electric sharpeners sharpen to incredible sharpness with minimal removal of metal, giving extended life to all of your fine cutlery. Each is a multistage sharpener that will create arch-like edges that are ultra-sharp and will stay sharp longer.

Creating A New Edge

Electric and Manual Sharpeners

Chef’s Choice recommends using a multi-stage sharpener-whether electric or manual-with guides (to ensure angle control) and diamond abrasives (which will sharpen any metal alloy and never overheat/detemper the blade).

  • Create An Edge That Resists Folding. The secret to keeping knives sharper longer is to make certain your knives are made of a high strength steel and then to create an edge shape that resists folding. The strongest edges are arch-shaped, not small angle, “V” or hollow-ground. The arch-shaped edge is multiple-angled on both sides, in order to provide more metal to support the sharp cutting edge.
  • Avoid Detempering the Blade. Conventional old-fashioned single-stage sharpening wheels or grinders remove excess metal and can overheat the edge so that the steel is weakened and folds over quickly again. Never use overly aggressive single-stage sharpeners (like those built into many can openers) which grind away excessive metal and detemper the blade. Select sharpeners that use diamond abrasives. Because of their extreme hardness, diamonds remove metal efficiently without heating or damaging the blade edge.
  • Shape and polish your edge. To obtain the ultimate edge, use a sharpener that has multiple stages. Proper sharpening requires both shaping the edge with coarser abrasives in the initial stage and polishing closer to the edge with finer abrasives in the final stage. The sharpener angle must be slightly larger in each successive stage. The use of finer abrasives, which remove only microscopic amounts of metal, is very important for re-sharpening the knife, thereby extending its life.

Stones, Rods and Files

The historical method of using a sharpening stone can create a new edge, but will require skill and extensive practice since it is very difficult to maintain a consistent or accurate sharpening angle by hand. Some stones also tend to be messy because many need to be coated with oil or water when using. Rods and files can be used to sharpen knives but the burden falls on the user to consistently maintain the correct sharpening angle. Diamond stones, rods and files will produce the best results.