How to care for your chefs knife?

You know what it is that makes a decent chef’s knife. But how about caring for your knife…

Not only is the efficacy of a knife dependent on its manufacture, but also its maintenance.

Of course, spending a little more money on any knife will hopefully mean you spend less time keeping it sharp. However, learning how and when to hone and, less frequently, sharpen your blade will keep your knife in tip-top condition. 

Taking your car as an analogy, honing a knife is like putting oil and water in your engine, whereas sharpening is taking it in for a full service. You should aim to do the former frequently and the latter only very occasionally. 

Honing requires a decent honing steel and serves to re-align the very edge of a blade after it becomes pushed out of true through frequent and inconsistently-angled contact with a chopping board. 

A professional chef will hone several times a day. Far from the fast-paced, slashing technique that we often see on television, this should be done slowly and methodically. The key is to maintain the same angle, or as close as is humanly possible, as you slide the blade’s edge along the rod, alternating sides as you do so. The perfect angle will be dictated by the angle of the initial bevel made by the maker of the knife ranging from a skinny 9º for the more esoteric Japanese efforts up to a chunky 25º for a flea market special.

Regular honing will delay the need for sharpening, two terms which are often thought to mean the same thing, but are very different. Sharpening removes metal, honing does not.

Sharpening will generally need to be done a couple of times a year, with a whetstone being the most effective method. This is a slightly more involved process with numerous online videos and tutorials showing how it’s done properly. If you have a good butcher then they may well be willing to help out in a pinch.

Besides frequently honing your blade, there are other day-to-day musts and must-nots involved in caring for a knife properly, the most important being not to put a knife through the dishwasher. Irrespective of the quality of its steel and manufacture, no knife wants hot, salty water blasted at its most delicate bits.

A wooden handle feels fantastic, but needs a bit of love: don’t leave it lying around in the wet and occasionally give it a little dash of danish or linseed oil. 

A non-stainless knife will require all manner of clucking over with oil and wire wool and what-have-you and will be enormously upset if you leave it to dry by evaporation.

Knives should also be stored in a way which does not damage the edge: being slung into a drawer along with the rest of your kitchen tools is a sure-fire, fast-track way to a dull and damaged blade. Instead, go for either a knife block, magnetic rack or even a box or sheath.

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