No kitchen would be functional without at least a few basic knives for food preparation. Even mealtime would be an arduous and messy endeavor: Try to imagine eating a steak, potato, or pineapple without a knife. Knives are necessary for trimming fat from meats, carving the Thanksgiving turkey, slicing bread, and chopping vegetables, to name just a few of many uses. High-quality knives make food preparation and cooking easier, faster, and much more pleasant, and at least two or three sharp, basic knives are a necessity for those who cook.
What many people do not realize is that knives need regular maintenance in order to remain efficient and safe. Proper care of a knife includes using a sharpener on it regularly. In order to buy a knife sharpener, one should first understand the physics behind the dulling of a knife and the difference between sharpening and honing. Next, consumers should become acquainted with all of the different types of sharpeners on the market. Once a shopper has decided which tools or equipment are ideal, he or she can follow strategic buying tips in order to get what they need to keep their knives slicing.
Why Knives Become Dull
A common misconception is that the sharp, tapered edge of the knife wears away over time, leaving a thicker and blunter cutting edge. In reality, the edge of the knife actually folds, somewhat like an ocean wave curls at the top. Even though these changes may be invisible to the naked eye, what this means is that over time, one is actually cutting with only one side of the blade, so it becomes apparent why this seems so difficult.
Unfortunately, some people are under the erroneous assumption that dull knives are safer and less likely to cut someone. It may seem counterintuitive, but in fact, the opposite is true. With a dull knife, extra force must be applied in order to get results. This force can cause the knife to either slip or suddenly cut through at an unexpected speed. A well-sharpened knife needs little pressure to do its job, and therefore, the knife is far less likely to injure someone.
Testing Knives for Sharpness
The best test of sharpness is to slice a tomato with the knife. Any knife should be able to easily penetrate the tomato skin and slice right through without any effort. As soon as there is some hesitation or grip on the knife blade, it is time to hone, and if that does not correct the problem, an actual sharpening may be in order.
Honing Vs. Sharpening Knives
While these two terms are often used interchangeably, especially in the abstract, they are definitely very different physical actions in the knife world. Sharpening actually removes particles of metal from the knife, whereas honing is the straightening of the bent or curved edge. Ideally, both actions are used regularly to maintain a knife edge. When the knife first seems to become dull, honing is the first step. Professional chefs often hone their knives before every use. This involves the use of a steel rod to straighten the edge. Once this action fails to produce the desired effect, it is probably time to sharpen.
Honing Tools for Knives
A sharpening steel is used to keep the knife edge from bending over with use, but a steel should not be the only sharpening tool used. In fact, the steel is usually the finishing touch on a knife-sharpening job. Some people also use the steel just before (or after) cutting to ensure a straight edge on the knife. Most sharpening steels are long rods, about a foot long and may be perfectly cylindrical or have flatter edges.
Types of Knife Sharpeners
Knife sharpeners fall into two general categories: manual and electric. Details on each of these kinds of sharpeners are given below.
Manual Knife Sharpeners
Knives have been sharpened by hand for thousands of years, and stones were likely the first sharpeners used. Ceramic sharpeners are the more modern versions. Manual knife sharpeners come in a variety of grits, from coarse to fine; as with fingernail filing, the coarse grit is used first and then the fine grit is used for finishing and polishing to refine the edge. Coarse grits remove more knife material and should not be used as often as the finer grits; if sharpening is undertaken regularly, tweaking with the fine texture may be all that is needed.
A sharpening stone is a solid block that is used to sharpen a knife manually. Most such stones must be lubricated before use, much like an old-fashioned wheel whetstone is moistened with water. Modern sharpening stones are usually shaped like blocks or slabs, and they may be water stones or oil stones. Some types of stones, such as the aluminum oxide stone, may be lubricated with either oil or water; however, once oil has been used, one cannot change to water. One may see sharpening stones from Arkansas, India, or Japan among other places.
Diamond sharpening stones are cleaner to use because they do not require oiling. Buyers should ensure that they know what kind of stone they have, because oiling a diamond stone will actually ruin it. A diamond stone should be cleaned with a wire brush after each use to remove small particles and knife shavings.
Ceramic sharpeners are a modern alternative to sharpening stones. Some are long, handled ceramic rods or sticks, which look much like sharpening steels. Other ceramic sharpeners feature pre-angled notches through which the knife is drawn. Ceramic material, like stone, is made of minerals, but ceramics have a less porous texture and therefore provide a smoother, more consistent surface for sharpening.
Electric Knife Sharpeners
Some cooks feel more comfortable using electric sharpeners because they automatically put the right angle on the blade, and they are also somewhat safer to use. Electric sharpeners usually feature two or three different stages, from coarse to fine. It is not necessary to use all stages every time a knife is sharpened, so be sure to read the owner's manual thoroughly before using an electric sharpener. This will prevent premature wear or damage to the knife.
Like sharpening stones, electric sharpeners also require maintenance, although the steps are different. An electric knife sharpener must be emptied and cleaned manually every so often, much like an electric pencil sharpener. Other models have a self-cleaning mode.
Many electric sharpeners use diamond plates to do their sharpening. Diamond electric sharpeners are excellent because diamond is one of the hardest substances in the world. Not all electric sharpeners use diamond plates; some make use of ceramic or titanium.
Where to Buy Knife Sharpeners
Any retailer that sells high-quality kitchen knives likely also sells knife sharpeners. The types of sharpeners available depend on the nature of the establishment. The possible sources include
- Kitchen supply stores
- Housewares stores
- Gourmet food stores
- Department stores
- Hardware stores
- Direct-selling knife companies
- Discount stores
- Country or general stores
- Catalogs and websites that specialize in electric and electronic gadgets
- Yard sales
- Consignment shops
- Online auctions
How to Buy Knife Sharpeners on eBay
Knife sharpeners are available on eBay in the Home department. To browse the listings, visit the homepage and choose Home, Outdoors & Decor. From the new page, navigate to Home & Garden, then Kitchen, Dining & Bar, then Cutlery, and finally, go to Sharpeners. You can filter the selections by new or used condition and enter an ideal price range. To find a specific type of sharpener, such as an Arkansas stone or an electric model, simply type relevant keywords into the Search box to narrow down the listings to all matching results.
It is important to keep all knives well-sharpened for safety's sake as well as to facilitate kitchen chores. There are many options for knife sharpeners, including stone, steel, ceramic, and electric versions. Each one functions slightly differently, so it is important to know what each one does and how to use each tool correctly and safely. Understanding the difference between honing and sharpening can help anyone keep their knives perfectly sharp, straight, and efficient. Environmentalists may prefer the natural stone sharpeners, while someone who cooks frequently may prefer the ease of using an electric version. Whatever kind of sharpener is chosen, it should be used in a correct manner to prolong the life of the knife and keep the user safe. Instruction manuals are important, but users may also find it helpful to watch how-to videos until they get the knack for sharpening and honing. In any case, keeping knives sharp and ready to use facilitates and speeds up food prep time and makes working in the kitchen a much more pleasant task.