How to Sharpen a Knife the Savernake Way

Let’s assume, for the sake of not wanting to waste our time, that we have a half-decent knife. It doesn’t need to be super-duper, but hopefully a nicely hardened, good quality bit of steel that gets pleasingly thin just before it gets sharp. You can of course sharpen a softer, cheaper knife – but just not as well, by which we mean it will not be very sharp irrespective of your ministrations and what edge it does have will last only very slightly longer than a snowball in a furnace.

Until you’ve got your sharpening routine sorted out, it’s always worth having a few peppers or tomatoes lying about. Of course, it’s possible to get a knife shaving sharp, but what’s the point when we’re not about to trim our beard but instead wade our way through plenty of onions and the like?

Once you’ve got the knife sharp enough to cut through your chilis and carrots, we strongly suggest you stop as you will quickly move through the realm of diminishing returns and into the land of wasted effort. If you are able to slice effortlessly through the comestible of your choice, then any more effort you put in to sharpening and polishing the edge is frankly wasted. In order to achieve an increasingly fine edge, you must be more accurate with your abrasive and also considerably more careful – you can spend a lot of time with very little return on the cutting experience.

Moreover, since we don’t want to be sharpening our knives too frequently, the finer the edge, the more delicate it is and significantly less resistant to the considerable forces put on it when you’re frantically mincing away at the chopping board. Research also indicates strongly that the coarser the grade of abrasive that the edge is achieved on, the greater its durability – and so maybe an hour or so of effing and blinding over a whetstone will leave with an edge that is imperceptibly better (if at all), but which will start to roll and fold and decay a great deal quicker than if you’d stopped earlier and done something sensible like have a nice cup of tea and read the paper.

Once we’ve established an edge, then it needs to be looked after – and if you’ve managed to avoid an overly-brittle Japanese blade – then this can be done with frequent and gentle use of a honing steel. Eject, please, from your mind any notion of having at the blade like you see people doing on the telly – all you will do is likely cut yourself, but definitely ruin your knife. The trick to using a honing steel is threefold; use it as soon as you note any decay in cutting ability, do it gently and at the right angle (about 20º is great) and lastly always alternate between the two sides as you do it.

You will quickly notice how sound plays an important part in using a honing steel: after 4 or 5 strokes the sound of the steel on the blade will become smoother and uniform and if you have a good quality blade, you should be able to achieve a pleasing ‘tingggggg’ noise as you lift your knife at the end of each stroke.

Use a good old-fashioned steel, not one of the abrasive ones, and you’re set. For the sharpening device itself, we personally prefer the ‘two rods at an angle’ device sold by all the major brands (Lansky, Spyderco etc) but just be aware that they’re for topping up your edge, not putting a new one on – so use it monthly right from the beginning. At Savernake, we ae also fans of regular honing. Our knives respond well to honing, which is the act of realigning and polishing the edge to maintain sharpness – opposed to using an abrasive surface to sharpen and remove metal from the blade. Savernake Knives require sharpening once in a blue moon due to this, so if you require a premium knife which will last a very long time, check out our knives today via our online shop. Should you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us. Alternatively, check out our FAQs.