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The Science of Maintaining Sharp Knives

The Science of Maintaining Sharp Knives

In a perfect world, dinner would magically appear on the table every day, your children would empty the dishwasher without being told and your Chicago Cutlery® knives would never get dull. If you’ve figured out the first two, please share! For the latter, we’ve got you covered. Keeping a knife sharp is relatively easy, fast and safe to do yourself, provided it’s done correctly. But first, a word about the importance of sharp knives: They not only make cooking more pleasurable and efficient, they’re actually safer to use. Why? A sharp knife needs less force to cut, chop, dice or mince, and therefore is much easier to control. A dull knife is more likely to slip off whatever you’re cutting, and even a dull knife is capable of producing, shall we say, collateral damage. And nothing ruins Mom’s Best Day Ever quicker than a trip to the emergency room.


To keep your knives sharp at home, use a Chicago Cutlery honing steel (one is included in most Chicago Cutlery block sets) to maintain the straight edge of your knives. It’s also designed preserve the two bevels—one on each side of the blade edge—that form the “V” shape that makes a knife, well, sharp. The narrower the “V” angle, the thinner the blade edge—and the sharper the knife. Over time, as your knife repeatedly strikes a cutting board, the narrow angle wears away, and the edge can warp and even fold on itself, producing a cutting tool that’s duller than the inside of your kitchen cabinets (yup, it’s the cutting board, not the food, that dulls a knife). But used correctly and often, a honing steel can maintain that sharp angle and straight edge.


  • Place the point of the honing steel on a flat, stable surface, such as a table or a cutting board made of bamboo, wood or plastic.
  • Angle the knife blade approximately 15 degrees from the sharpening steel; picture a clock face and angle the blade at approximately 11 o’clock for one side and 1 o’clock for the other.
  • Pull the knife down and across the sharpening steel in a slight arc, pulling the knife handle toward you. Then repeat on the other side of the blade.
  • Repeat these steps 8 or 9 times, alternating the right and left side of the cutting edge.
  • To test the blade, hold a piece of paper in one hand and the knife in the other, then try to slice the paper. The knife should cut the paper cleanly; if it’s super-sharp, it can even cut curves in the paper.
  • TIP: The more often you use a particular knife, the more often you should take it to the steel.


A word of clarification: Although it is sometimes also called a “sharpening steel,” a honing steel cannot sharpen a dull knife. But it will maintain your knives’ razor-sharp edge by keeping it straight. To actually sharpen your knives, miniscule particles of the blade’s metal must be removed by grinding or shaving, providing a new edge. Professional sharpening services, manual sharpeners, electric sharpeners and sharpening stones can do this. With these tools you can try sharpening yourself; on the other hand, if knives scare you more than a weekend with your in-laws, have a professional knife-sharpening service do the job. It’ll give you peace of mind—and a little more time to remind your kids to empty the dishwasher. To cut this story short: A honing steel straightens the knife edge to maintain sharpness. Use often and cook happy. YOUR TURN: Which knife or knives do you use most often? Do you hone and/or sharpen them?