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Sharpening vs Honing: A Guide to Maintaining Your Knife's Edge

by Wookyong Kim 09 Feb 2023

What's the Difference and Why It Matters for Your Knives?

A good, sharp knife is an essential tool for any cook. But with so many different knives available, it can be hard to know what to look for. Knife manufacturers often claim that the more money you spend on a knife, the sharper it will be. However, the truth is that most knives come pre-sharpened from the factory, and the length of time a knife stays sharp depends on several factors, such as storage, cutting board material, and knife style.

In order to maintain the sharpness of your knives, it's important to understand the difference between honing and sharpening. Here's what you need to know.

Honing: Maintaining Your Knife's Edge

Honing is a technique used to straighten and realign a knife's edge, which can bend and warp from frequent use. Honing is simple to do: just run the blade at a 15-20 degree angle down a honing steel (also called a rod) the same number of times on each side. Honing doesn't remove any metal from the blade, but instead realigns the existing edge, making it feel sharper and more precise. It also helps extend the time between actual sharpenings.

How often you should hone your knives depends on how much you use them. Professional chefs often hone their knives daily, but the average home cook may only need to hone a few times a year. A good rule of thumb is to give your knife a few swipes on the honing steel before every major cooking project.

Sharpening: Restoring Your Knife's Dull or Damaged Edge

Sharpening is a technique used to restore a dull or damaged knife edge. This is usually done by removing metal from the blade by using a whetstone, manual or electric sharpener (although manual or electric sharpeners are not recommended). Since sharpening actually removes metal from the blade, it's not recommended to do it too often (once or twice a year is usually sufficient for home cooks).

There are several ways to sharpen a knife, including pull-through manual or electric sharpeners, spinning grindstones, and whetstones. However, professionals often avoid pull-through sharpeners and grindstones as they remove more metal than necessary, which will shorten the life of your knife.

Sharpening with a whetstone is a delicate process that requires some practice to get right. Whetstones are blocks of ceramic with different grits (similar to sandpaper) on the surface. Running the edge of the blade over the pre-soaked whetstone removes microscopic bits of metal, sharpening the bevel to a razor-thin edge.

If you're intimidated by the idea of sharpening your own knives, you can have them professionally sharpened by a specialist. Many knife retailers (such as Korin) have professional sharpeners who use whetstones to manually sharpen the blade. This can be more expensive, but it's worth it if you're unsure about sharpening yourself.

The type of knife you have can also affect how you sharpen it. Different manufacturers use different types of steel to make their knives, which can be harder or softer than each other. Knives made from harder steel (typically Japanese) have better edge retention, but can be more brittle. These types of knives do not need to be honed as often, but may need to be sharpened more frequently. Knives made from softer metals (such as German steel) require more honing, but can be sharpened less frequently.

When choosing a new knife, it's important

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