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Sharpening steels and whetstone sharpeners: successfully maintain your kitchen knives

Even the finest knives require proper care in order to maintain their razor-sharp cutting edge over long periods of time. There are two commonly used tools for maintaining kitchen knife blades: sharpening or honing steels and whetstone sharpeners. The following article provides in-depth information about their advantages and the most convenient ways to use them.

Sharpening steels and whetstone sharpeners: successfully maintain your kitchen knives

Maintaining kitchen knives with a sharpening steel

Steel kitchen knives must be maintained regularly, unlike ceramic knives. Thanks to sharpening steels - also known as a honing steel - it is easy to restore a knife’s sharp edge by smoothing and realigning it.

The different types of sharpening steels

The sharpening steel is a cylindrical rod used for sharpening knives. They are available in various shapes and lengths depending on the type of kitchen knife that needs to be sharpened. The following lists the different types of sharpening steels:

  • Standard sharpening steels: intended for simple, basic sharpening
  • Fine-grit sharpening steels: intended for more pronounced yet delicate sharpening
  • Super-fine grit sharpening steels: intended for precise sharpening

The latter of the three is the most thorough. To effectively align the knife blade, slide it along the steel to realign the blade’s edge, creating the appearance of a micro-serrated edge.

It should be noted that an increasing number of specialists are using ceramic sharpening steels instead of ones made of steel, proving an equal, if not superior method for sharpening knives.

A high-quality ceramic sharpener, which is very rich in zirconium dioxide, will provide better results than a poor-quality one with a low zirconium dioxide content. Zirconium dioxide is the purest mineral in the world after diamond.

How to choose a sharpening steel?

A sharpening steel is a very efficient tool for maintaining your kitchen knives, especially if it meets the following specifications:

  • A surface hardness greater than that of the steel used to make the knife blade. In general, chromium is a deposited along the sharpening steel through a process called electrolysis to obtain a hardness between 900 and 1000 Vickers.
  • Low resistance to friction and sliding: this varies depending on the type of material and the shape of its surface
  • A Taber Wear Index around 2. This index measures an object’s resistance to abrasion.
  • Complete resistance to corrosion.
  • A good ability to retain metal particles when tested with magnets.

If you have a sharpening steel that meets all of these standards then you can start honing all of your kitchen knives. This accessory can also be used for sharpening various kitchen utensils such as scissors or oyster knives.

Sharpening steel maintenance techniques

The techniques for using a sharpening steel are simple. Follow the steps below to restore a razor-sharp edge to your knife:

  • Place the near edge of the knife blade at the base of the sharpening steel, holding it at a 30° to 45° angle
  • Slide the knife along the steel while keeping the steel stationary. Be sure to pass the entire length of the blade along the steel. Repeat this operation several times, alternating between the two sides of the blade.
  • When the knife is sufficiently sharpened wipe the blade to remove any filings.

When honing a kitchen knife with a sharpening steel, it is very important to hold the blade at the proper angle in order to obtain the thinnest possible edge. This sharpening technique is very easy to master and with a bit of practice you will be able to complete the honing process very quickly. For more security, be sure to acquire a steel that is equipped with a hand guard.

Sharpening knives with a whetstone

The second most widely used tool after the sharpening steel is the whetstone. There are several kinds of whetstones. We recommend you choose one according to ease and comfort of use.

Different types of whetstones for maintaining kitchen knives

In France, natural whetstones come from quarries located in Lorraine and the Pyrenees Mountains.

Savvy professionals tend to purchase whetstones made of Coticule Stone from Vielsalm, France, which are considered to be a high-performance whetstone.

There are two main types of natural whetstone:

  • Whetstones that can be used with water or oil. These whetstones are made from a material that sharpens extremely well when soaked in water or oil. When a whetstone that is destined to be used with oil is new it can also be used with water. However, once you place oil on the stone you can never revert to using it with water! A whetstone created for use with water is generally more aggressive than one destined to be used with oil, even if the two stones have the same grit number. The latter must not be soaked in viscous mineral or vegetable-based oils, but rather in a petroleum-based oil, which will extend your whetstone’s longevity.
  • Synthetic whetstones: high-performance tools that are rising in popularity for maintaining kitchen knives with very hard blades. These are often made of corundum and can be used dry or with a small amount of oil. Whetstones made of metal coated with diamond powder are also increasing in popularity. These are used with water.

Easy techniques for sharpening a knife with a whetstone

In order to properly sharpen a knife with a whetstone, it must first be placed in water or oil for a few minutes – times vary according to the material the whetstone is made of. It is important that the whetstone remains wet during the entire sharpening operation, do not hesitate to add water or oil throughout the process.

Using a whetstone is easy to master and, just like a sharpening steel, it will become easier with practice. The knife blade should be positioned on the whetstone while keeping a 40° angle.

Slide the knife from tip to handle along the whetstone to restore your knife’s cutting edge. Just like with the sharpening steel, don’t forget to wipe the blade when you are finished. There you have it; your finest kitchen knives are as good as new!

Voilà, now you know how to properly maintain your kitchen knife blades. One last tip: repeat this operation regularly as it will make your knife last considerably longer. A dull knife is more difficult to sharpen so maintaining your knife regularly will make the task of sharpening it easier. Another solution is to purchase a high-quality Evercut ® kitchen knife by TB Groupe whose incredible cutting edge is guaranteed for life and hardly ever needs to be sharpened!
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