5 Knife Sharpening Safety Tips

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Knife sharpening is essential for pro and amateur cooks alike. Keeping your kitchen knives sharp will allow you to cut through food more easily, which also decreases your chance of cutting your fingers on a knife that catches or slips off of food (instead of slicing through evenly). However, sharpening can be dangerous, so be sure to follow safety precautions:

1: Use a Steel or a Sharpening Stone

There are multiple knife sharpening methods, but some of the more intricate methods are aimed at hunters, professional chefs and butchers, and are more complicated and potentially more dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. The easiest and most effective for way for home chefs to sharpen their knives is with a sharpening tool called a steel, which is a long metal rod inserted into a handle, or with a sharpening stone. Never attempt to sharpen knives with regular stones.

2: Wear Protective Gloves

Although not completely necessary, you can reduce your risk of injuring yourself by practicing knife sharpening while wearing a pair of protective gloves. Rubber, vinyl and winter gloves are typically not enough. You will want to wear thicker gloves, particularly those even aimed at keeping yourself from getting cut, such as Kevlar and steel mesh gloves.

3: Hold a Steel and Knife Away from Your Body

It can be tempting to hold anything you’re working on near your body, but the proper way to sharpen knives is to hold the steel and knife at a distance away from your body and away from other people, animals and anything that can get in your way. Hold both arms out in front of you when using a steel. Grip the steel tightly in your non-dominant hand and hold the knife in your dominant hand at an angle somewhere between 10 and 25 degrees. Slowly run the blade along the steel toward you.

4: Place a Stone a Safe Distance Away

If using a stone to sharpen your knives, place the stone on a hard, stable countertop. The stone should be at least a foot in front of you so that the blade won’t slip off of the stone and injure your body. Hold the knife at an angle between 10 and 25 degrees and slowly run the blade toward your body.

5: Make Slow Movements

One of the biggest knife sharpening mistakes you can make is to run the blade of a knife against the stone or steel too quickly. Not only does this result in a less smooth sharpening that can potentially render the knife useless, but it also opens you up to a likelier injury. You want to retain control of the blade as you sharpen, ensuring that it won’t slip and that you’ll get a smooth surface on the blade.

You’ll reduce your risk of cutting yourself when knife sharpening if you’re aware of basic tips that can help you sharpen your knives safely. Having sharp kitchen knives will make cooking both easier and safer, so going through the effort will definitely prove worthwhile.

One Response to “5 Knife Sharpening Safety Tips”

  1. April 19, 2010 at 3:26 pm, Tom Hodak said:

    Hello, My name is Tom Hodak and I’ve been maintaining my own professional sharp edges for over 30 years. I read your article and am offering up an article I recently published in Cooks Source magazine. I’d be happy to further this discussion if you are interested.
    Here is the article:
    “On Keeping Your Edge
    It’s really amazing that there’s so much misinformation and mystery surrounding knife construction, knife steel and keeping a sharp edge. After 30+ years of maintaining my own sharp edges, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned along the way. So, let’s address sharp knife edges and how to maintain them.

    “I just bought this knife and it’s dull in a week. What happened?” Well, it goes like this: the downward force of cutting actually rolls that sharp edge over. Your sharp edge is still there, it’s just not aligned to hit the cutting surface anymore. It’s curled up into a wavy pattern along its length.

    At some point you pull out the metal hone – that weird looking metal rod that you’ve seen the chef’s on TV go crazy with. Please, please don’t do it! You will destroy the sharp edge of your knife in record time. Step away from the metal hone – use a ceramic hone with a feather touch. We’ll get into how to properly use a hone another time. In the meantime, remember that metal rod makes for good TV but incredibly bad blade maintenance.

    When you’re cutting, it’s best to use a plastic or wooden cutting board. Glass, dinner plates, stainless steel, countertops, will all damage a knife quickly and you won’t be able to hone the edge back to trueness. Of course, opening cans with your 8” chef’s knife doesn’t do any good either.

    Hand wash your knives; never put them in the dishwasher – they really get knocked around in there and the detergent is far too caustic. Wash them by hand as soon as you’re done with them – the longer food sits on them, the more the steel surface will pit and corrode – even stainless steel. After all, it’s not called stainfree steel, is it?

    The best way to store your knives is with a wall mounted magnetic strip. Second best is individual opaque blade protectors that the knife slides into. Then, of course, there’s the knife block – which is pretty close to mold heaven if you put your knives in before they’re dry. After all, bacteria and molds love wet, dark places and that’s exactly what a wet knife plus a knife block gives you. The absolute worst scenario is tossing your knives into a drawer with other utensils so they get banged around, nicked and gouged. Not to mention just waiting for you to cut yourself while you’re in a rush to grab the spatula. In all storage choices, safety must come first.

    How do you know when your knife is dull and the edge will not come back after using a hone? One way is performance; your knife just may not be cutting it anymore. Just try the ripe tomato test after honing. You’ll know right away. Another way, (you’ll need a good eye and a steady hand) is to hold the knife pointed away from you and the sharp edge up toward a bright light. A sharp edge will not reflect light, so if you see a reflection, anywhere along the length, it’s time to call the knife sharpening guy.

    And that brings us to the big one. What’s the best way to sharpen a knife? Well, that’d be with the least amount of destruction to the steel, coupled with accuracy to maintain a precise angle of the edge along the length of the blade. I know that’s a mouthful, but it boils down to this: if you’re bringing your knife to someone who’s running the edge along anything plugged in (a grinding wheel – oh, the horrors – or a belt sander), please take your knives and walk away. Find someone who hand sharpens and is able to sharpen with accuracy using a series of water stones. Please, no diamond stones. Diamonds and steel don’t mesh well. Diamonds are so much harder than steel that bits of diamond become imbedded in the steel, causing an inferior knife edge that just won’t last. And those diamonds don’t seem to have much flavor.” (copyright protected)
    – Tom Hodak, Knife MD 413-863-9141 [email protected]


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