Caring For Your Knives

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Looking at my past, I wince to witness how I used my kitchen knives. Three descriptions that come to mind are foolish, ignorant, and dangerous. I remember using a knife and meat hammer as a chisel and pick for a stubborn piece of frozen chicken in a last-minute attempt to make dinner. CRACK. My Santoku knife was shattered. It was a wedding gift and I carelessly broke it. Don’t be like me, dazed and confused with a wine glass in one hand and half a knife in the other. Here, I will show you how to take special care for your knives.

Recap:

Knife sharpener (E)(Diamond sharpening steel)(An oval, flat, steel rod with a handle. ~Used to create a new edge for knives, scissors, etc.) When you use the rod, it shaves off a thin layer of metal from the blade to create an angled edge to hone and detail sharpen. This type of sharpener usually has a layer of diamond abrasives that take off a dull edge. This tool can be mistaken for a honing rod, so be careful not to mistake one for the other. This tool isn’t usually found in a knife block set.

Knife Honer (E) (A round steel rod with a handle and handguard. ~Sliding your blade through a honer keeps your blade edge straight and removes jagged edges like burrs.) Some consumer-grade rod sharpeners also have a ceramic honing piece on the handle for finer preservation of your sharp edge. The honer extends the life of your last sharpening job and will be your most used tool for keeping your knives sharp without creating a new edge. This tool is usually found in a knife block set.

Knife Sharpening

Why would you want to sharpen your knife anyway? “It cuts just the same doesn’t it?” It may seem so if you live regularly with dull knives, but I can tell you that a sharp knife will minimize a lot of accidents; Whereas a dull knife will in fact multiply the dangers of working with it.

Dull knives require more force to cut, and if you strain to cut, misjudge your knife/fingers, or have your hand slip, you can get seriously injured. The knives can also break from incorrectly distributed force. The handle may wiggle loose or crack, along with chipping the blade or bending the tip.

I have not understood the value of sharpening my knives until I worked in a traditional Chinese kitchen. The difference was worlds apart. With a sharp knife, you can cut a dozen of hard carrots in a fraction of the time that dull knife will struggle to crack one. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the strained wrist in this experience. My wrist was struggling with a dull knife, and when I was taught to properly sharpen the santoku knife we had, my work was absolutely minimal. The sharpness of the knife loosened the mechanical stiffness of the wrist and icing my wrist after work wasn’t necessary.

Sharpening/Honing Safety:

  1. When sharpening, always sharpen the blade away from the body, and away from others. Tell anyone who is near you that you are going to sharpen your knife and for them to stand clear of your work.
  2. For those who haven’t heard of a blood-circle, it is basic safety at arms-length from others and watching where your hands are when you are holding a knife. If you hold a knife and see the reach of your arm and the knife combined, that is the length of your blood-circle. Anything closer to you than your arms-length and the knife can potentially get hurt or worse.
  3. When gripping the steel rod, hold it like you would hold a drumstick, except backward. Your rod should be firmly in your grip with your fingers behind the rod guard, and the steel should be pointed downward resting on a stable surface like the kitchen counter or a table. Support the rod with a fluffy towel you don’t mind cutting. This saves your knife and your surface from being damaged.
  4. Always keep your eyes on your work and don’t let yourself get distracted while sharpening/honing.

Honing Instructions

  1. You will start by having the heel of your knife (Were the handle meets the blade) resting almost parallel to your rod. There should be a very slight angle to your knife to which we will be shaving away metal to create a new sharp edge.
  1. The general angle used by various chefs is roughly 20 degrees away from the honer or sharpener.
  2. Slide the blade down and away toward the end of the rod. The tip of the blade should roughly meet the tip of the rod.
  3. Keep track of how many strokes you make and take your time. I find it best to keep track of how many slides you make on one side of the knife, and then match it on the other side.

Here is a demonstration I made to show you how I sharpen my knives, according to my instructions above:

Video Coming Soon

Sharpening Notes:

 Generally, knives come pre-sharpened when you buy them, so be sure your blade is dull before you attempt to sharpen it. It is good to be aware that a dull blade is more dangerous to you than a sharp one. I highly recommend you ask a friend, mentor, parent, etc, to show you how to sharpen/hone your knives. It is important to remember that when you are sharpening, the blade can be very dangerous if mishandled. Always wear closed-toe shoes when working on a blade.

If you aren’t comfortable with sharpening your own knives, you can talk to a local sharpener to help you with keeping your tools in the best shape. Sharpeners can be found at a farmer’s market, or in a small shop that sells knives and their prices are usually rather inexpensive!

Disclaimer: Do not attempt to sharpen a blade that is broken, or if the handle is loose or cracked. Unless you know how to replace a full tang blade (Or know someone who can do it for you) replace your knife; there is no need to keep a broken blade unless you are a knife craftsman.

Rust

There truly is nothing better than a newly sharpened knife that slices through anything like it was warm butter. This should be an experience everyone has, but sadly, many leave their knives to rust, dull, and even chip with misuse. Here is a simple reminder:

Steel+Air+Water=Rust

To prevent these issues, remember to:

  • Keep your blades in a safe place like a knife block or a strong blade magnet. This protects you and the knife. Note: A drawer is not a good place for a knife unless you have a secure spot for it. This will damage the metal and your hand!
  • Make sure your blade dries thoroughly before putting away. Rust can develop if left in a wet environment. If you put a wet blade inside a knife block, you are giving the blade a cozy place to rust up.

Rust Remedies

  • If you do see rust on your knife, you can remove it by:
    1. Scrubbing your knife with 1 part baking soda and 3 parts water.
    2. You can use a “steel sponge” or steel wool to scrub older rust marks away.
    3. Soak your blade in white vinegar for 5 minutes to see if you can scrub it off. (Apple cider vinegar works too.)
  • Note: Because vinegar is very acidic, it can damage your blade if left in too long; so be sure you try the baking soda and the steel wool first before trying vinegar. Longer blades can sit in a glass pan full of vinegar for the same short amount of time, or you can use a tall glass if you want to avoid soaking the handle. Be sure to dry completely before putting your blade away.
  • Salt can help intensify the vinegar’s cleaning power, but remember that with this addition, you must watch your blade and not let it soak too long. 5 minutes is plenty of time to remove the rust. I don’t recommend multitasking this job, so use a timer if you must.
  • Once you remove your blades, scrub off the rust with a steel scrubber, rinse, dry, and put it away.

Other Knife Care Tips

  • Sharpen your knife if you feel resistance as you cut. (-Provided you are using the proper knife for the proper job. Check the correct usage for knives in A Guide to Knives.)
  • You can use a piece of scrap paper to test the sharpness of your newly sharpened/honed knife.
  • Tomatoes are a great indication if your blade is sharp enough. Try slicing a tomato after sharpening/honing. The skin will be the most difficult layer to cut and it will show you if the blade is sharp enough.
  • Do not attempt to cut frozen foods! The temperature change will chip/break your knife. (RIP My Santoku) It doesn’t matter how good quality your knives are, extreme cold will render the blade brittle. It is a sad thing to experience but most importantly it is expensive and dangerous.
  • Knives are not designed to be washed in the dishwasher. Water can get inside the knife, between the extended blade (the Tang) and the handle. If that handle is made of a type of wood, the wood will most likely rot away. Plastic and other material handles can wiggle loose and become a hazard. Hand washing and drying are enough for your knives.

Your knives do so much for you. So, please remember to be nice to your hard-working knives!

S.C.

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