How to sharpen knives yourself

In this article we will give you a quick introduction in to sharpening your own knives with a whetstone. If you're curious what other methods of sharpening there, here you go. Sharpening your own knives is an extremely useful skill to learn. You will able to sharpen everything in your kitchen with only a sharpening stone and a little water. Sharpening your own knives is certainly the most economic way to ensure your knives are razor sharp.

So what do you need? A knife, a whetstone and some water.

Which whetstone do i need?

We get this question a lot. Whetstones range from a couple of bucks to hundreds of euros. If you're reading this article you'll probably won't be sharpening hundreds of knives a month. So we would recommend getting a simple stone to start with. You shouldn't be spending more on your stones then you are spending on your knives.

Which grit do i need?

Whetstones come in different grits, the lower the grit, the courser the stone is and the more material it removes on every pass. The higher the grit, the finer the stone. Generally three distinct ranges are defined

Just getting into knife sharpening? get a medium grit stone, 1000 grit should do the trick. Is your knife damaged so badly the edge needs to be restored? Let a professional handle that.

You could also get a double stone. These stone come with two sides, for instance 1000 and 4000 or 1000 and 6000. This way you get two stones for the price of one.

Lets get sharpening

Allright, we got everything we need. lets start sharpening.

1. The soak

Before you start sharpening you need to soak your whetstones. Put them into a water bath for about 15 minutes. Some stones don't need to be soaked, so called 'Splash-n-Go' stones. If you have a stone of this type, skip this step.

Soaking whetstone in sink

2. First passes

Put the edge of the blade on the stone. In the case of a BARE knife maintain a 15 degree angle. How much is 15 degrees? If you put the edge of the blade on the stone and the tip of your thumb under the spine, the knife will be at approximately 15 degrees.

Now pull the knife towards you while applying even pressure (about 2-3kg of pressure) over the whole knife. Try to make sure you sharpen every section of the edge the same amount. This can be achieved by first doing a equal amounts of passes on the tip, middel and heel of the blade or by covering the whole edge in every pass.

After a couple of passes run your nail over the edge PERPENDICULARLY, if your nail catches a little, this means you have created a burr. When this happens, this side of the knife is done for now. The duller you knife, the more passes you'll need to roll over the edge. Usually about 10-15 passes should do it.

4. Flip it

Now do exactly the same on the other side. Every once in a while splash some addition water on your stone to help cary away the steel filings. Once you feel the burr your done with this side.

Sharpening BARE Cookware knife on sharpening stone

4. Rinse and repeat

Now keep switching between the sides of the knife. Slightly decrease the amount of repetitions and applied pressure each cycle. For example, if you started of with 15 passes on each side, do 12 the next cycle and 8 the following cycle etc. All the way until you're at one or two a side.

5. Final passes

When you finished all passes do single passes per side with very little pressure. In these passes you should be covering the entire length of the edge in every stroke. Do about 3 - 5 alternating passes.

Congratulations! You should now have a very sharp knife. Wash the residue of the knife and you're ready to get chopping.

6. Stropping (bonus)

If you want to get your knife really really sharp, you can strop it. After stropping you should be able to shave with your knife.

get an old leather belt and put the buckle in the corner of a kitchen door, close the door. The belt should now be nice and stuck in your kitchen cupboard. Now pull the belt tight and run the knife over the back of the belt. Maintain the approximately 15 degrees and do a couple alternating passes on each side.

Your knife should now be really really sharp. So be carefull!

If you want a more comprehensive guide, Joshua Weismann has a great one on Youtube.

How to use a chef's knife

Allright, if you have never used a chef's knife before, the task might seem daunting. Chef's knives are a lot larger and sharper then your average potato peeler. But not to worry, using a chef's knife is quite simple. So lets just jump in.

How do you hold a chef's knife?

While just holding the handle might seem the most logical way to hold a knife, but this doesn't give you nearly enough control. The correct way to hold a chef's knife is the 'pinch grip'. Place your index finger against one side of the blade, just ahead of the bolster and your thumb on the opposite side of the blade. Now curl the rest of your fingers around the handle. Tada! the pinch grip.

Now thats you cutting hand taken care of. One hand left to go.

The claw

To make sure you only chop the food on your cutting board, it is imperative that you use the claw grip. Make a claw with your hand and rest the blade against the middle part of your fingers. With the tips of your fingers you can hold the food you are cutting. Using this grip you ensure the safety of your finger tips.

Chopping technique

Now you have perfected your knife holding technique, it's time to actually cut something. The chef's cut, most importantly, take it slow. Get the basic motion down before attempting to speed through a pile of vegetables.

The basic motion is simple. While resting the blade against the middle part of your finger, and resting the tip of the blade on your cutting board move the blade back and forward while simultaneously moving is up and down. Essentially, your hand will describe a circle. While making this motion move your knife along the piece of food you are cutting.

Another good technique to know is the chop. Hold the knife against you fingers as discussed before, and simply move your knife up and down. This is a great technique to chop herbs or small vegetables into very fine pieces.

If you're interested in more things you can do with your chef's knife, we have listed 11 of them here.

Cleaning up

Allright, everything in your fridge has now been reduced to perfect cubes. it's time for the cleanup. Hold your knife under a running tap for a few seconds and if necessary, wipe it of with a non-abrasive sponge or cloth. Then dry it of. Store the knife spine down in a knife block or on a magnet strip.

A couple of quick tips for you to get the most out of your knife.

BARE Cookware scrape with back of chef's knife

The most important thing of all is to make sure you are safe. Using a good chef's knife makes cooking a lot more fun. Make sure it stays fun by being careful with your knife.

How NOT to cut an onion

Or how to murder a vegetable. Let’s start with some onion-crushing basics. The utility knife. But not the nice 'cheffy' sharp one. This isn't cut an onion the easy way. No, we mean the plastic one pictured below. Feel free to use the edge or spine, makes no difference really.

In our quest for the worst onion-cutting-experience possible this is our weapon of choice. Preferably get one with a blade length smaller than the diameter of the onion you’ll be cutting with it. That way you will have to make each cut twice. Double the work: double the fun!

"knife"

This excuse for a knife must have been banged around in your kitchen drawer for at least five years. If not, we recommend taking the blade to a brick wall. Get ‘r nice and blunt. We would not want to be able to cut ourselves, or anything else.

Cutting technique

Time is money. And we want to get the most bang for the buck. So, let’s find a way to maximize effort and risk of injury whilst minimizing usable end product. Grab the onion with extended fingers. No bear-claw-safety-first-proper-technique here. Avoid rock chopping. Rather, stab the knife point-first into the onion as that’s the only sharp part left. Then rock and crunch. Try to get the onion to expel as much juice as possible. Crying is mandatory. It’s supposed to be hard. Sheer force of will and character should net you about 1 ‘chopped’ onion every 15 minutes. Cooking is fun.

if only there was a better way...

If you have done any of the above and thought: “If only there was a better way!?”. We are happy you found us! Because cutting an onion properly is so much more than just learning how to cut an onion. It is the gateway to proper cutting technique. And with that it can be the first step towards learning how to cook. Or learning how to cook better.

Now we will not give advice on proper onion cutting technique on this page. The internet is full of it. Just try the first 5 YouTube results for “How to chop an onion”. You’ll be rocking rock-chopping in no time. There’s only one thing we would advise you:

Walk before you run

If you have just picked up your first Chef’s knife: go slow. Or if your knife skills could use a polish: go slower! This does 2 things for you:

  1. You can try to perfect the technique with slow controlled motions. Don’t start out with the wrong technique. It’s harder to unlearn something than it is to learn something fresh.
  2. You’ll be safer. There’s no point in trying to dice an onion sliver-fine under 5 seconds like Gordon Ramsey. He’s had decades of practice.

The good news: you can practice knife skills and cooking for years to come. We promise you: that’s enough to get good at it. We have listed some basic knife techniques for you here.

Knife!

How did you know?

That “How to chop an onion” is one of the more popular cooking-related search terms? As is “How to cut an onion without crying”. Goes to show how fundamental a skill chopping a simple onion is. About that crying situation we have good news! All it takes is a sharp knife. A sharp knife will damage less of the onions cells releasing less 'tear jerking oxalic acid'. Secondly, by being able to cut an onion faster, you'll spend less time crying. Last tip, try not to cut to closely to the stem of the onion. If you still let out a few tears: it’s okay. We all cry sometimes.

So, what is the right way?

You didn't think we would just leave you hanging right? Cut an onion in half and lay one half flat on your cutting board. Then, slice the onion starting at the root.

Rotate the onion 90° and make one or two horizontal cuts. Take care to ensure the safety of your fingers.

Finally, in a chopping motion cut the onion into small pieces. The result should be equally sized cubes of onion.

Have we gotten you curious about our chef's knife? Have a look at our 8'' Chef's knife

An introduction to knife sharpening

Let’s be blunt: all knives will eventually dull. Even expensive high end high-carbon steel knives eventually need sharpening. Eventually you will need to know more about knife sharpening. We strongly recommend to always use a sharp knife when cooking. Paradoxically: a sharp knife is a safe knife. Blunt knives can slip and offer you less control. That being said: always handle knives with care. Especially when sharpening. 

Safety first

No matter what your sharpening method of choice is, stay safe! Always be weary of the cutting edge of the blade. And as with all skills: learn to walk before you run. Start slowly, move methodically, and don’t rush.

So what are my knife sharpening options?

There are many ways to keep your blades sharp. We listed the most popular options.

1. Have it done for you

Disclaimer: we are knife nuts. We enjoy the art and craft of knife sharpening. We also realize that might not be so for everyone. If you want minimal hassle: have your knives sharpened by a professional. Contact your local kitchen specialty shop and they’ll sure have a service or know a company that does. 

2. Honing/sharpening steels

During use the edge of a blade will “roll over” on a microscopic level. This will cause the blade to be less sharp. When this happens, sharpening isn’t necessary yet. Sharpening removes material and would be a waste at this point. Rather: you can unroll the knife edge and bend it back into shape. This is done by running the blade along another hard material. Usually a honing steel. For the honing steel to work the blade needs to be dragged rather than pushed. Eventually though, sharpening is needed. A honing steel therefor is only a temporary solution, and anyone claiming a honing steel can restore a knife to a razor edge has never used a truly sharp knife.

3. Whetstones

The most popular and easily accessible sharpening tool is the whetstone. They come in different sizes and grits. The finer the grit, the less material the stone removes and the sharper the edge potentially becomes. The coarser the grit, the more material is removed and the faster the stone removes chips or imperfections. 

Knife sharpening on a whetstone is not easy. Especially at first it’s a skill that requires time and practice. However we think it’s a life skill worth learning. Once you become good at sharpening on a whetstone you can sharpen pretty much anything to a razor sharp finish. 

Because using a whetstone results in a razor sharp edge, and is very cost-effective (and honestly it's quite satisfying) it is our favorite method of knife sharpening. But it does take a little practice to get right. There are many in-depth videos on the internet on how to sharpen a knife using a whetstone. We have a quick guide on whetstone sharpening here.

4. Pull through sharpeners

If you want a little more convenience then there are pull through sharpeners. Usually they consist of a rotating ceramic sharpening stone and a slit that you have to pull the blade through. The results are not as good as sharpening on a whetstone. On the upside, pull through sharpeners require zero skill, are easy to use, and get a dull knife usable again in minutes .

5. Sharpening systems

When you want even more control, or don’t want to take the time to practice sharpening on whetstone there are guided sharpening systems. These are designed to take all the guesswork out of sharpening. These systems typically are the more expensive option. However, sharpening systems offer consistent results and may be worth investing in if you want to keep your knives in perfect working order, or have many knives to sharpen frequently.

For more general information on knife care, read this article.