Dull knives that only fray vegetables spoil all the fun of cooking. To sharpen knives, there are different methods. Which is better, sharpening steel or whetstone, and what other alternatives there are, you will learn in detail in this article.
What you absolutely have to pay attention to: Sharpening steels are not always the same, but can be very different. This concerns:
- the effect
- the hardness
- the coating
- the material removal
A straightening sharpening steel is only suitable for very sharp, hard and cutting knives to maintain their sharpness. If a knife is already dull, it is not suitable. With cutting sharpening steels, you should definitely keep an eye on the material removal: they come in coarse or fine, with pulls and special coatings. Depending on this, their effect can be very different.
Grinding stones also come in different types, though it’s very easy to tell the difference by looking at the grit size. 1,000 grits are common for sharpening, while a 3,000 grit provides that “extra polish” for the blade. Professionals also refer to 1,000 grit as a “repair grind.” The material plays a lesser role, although there are subtle differences between materials (such as corundum and ceramic). The decisive factor, however, is always the grit size.
Basically, one can assume that with a (new) sharpening steel, the material removal is brutal. This is even more true for sapphire or diamond coated surfaces. This does not agree with every knife, especially high-quality European kitchen knives can suffer from the radical treatment.
With particularly hard knives – such as Japanese kitchen knives from actual Japanese production – you should never sharpen with sharpening steels. They can often be even harder than the sharpening steel. Japanese knife steels are famous for their massive hardness and delicate edge.
For this, sharpening steels very quickly establish a certain basic sharpness for very dull knives. However, the roughness on the blade that results from this process compromises the result and usually damages the knife in the long run.
With whetstones, the material removal is much gentler. They also ensure a very smooth blade, but grinding very dull knives requires some patience. On the other hand, it is also suitable for very delicate knives and – especially when using the 3,000 grit – results in a very high level of sharpness on the knife.
It is always important to grind at the right angle – about 15° to the whetstone. For the inexperienced, there are also sharpening aids that hold the knife at the correct angle. High-quality whetstones are significantly more expensive than sharpening steels, prices of 30 – 70 pounds are not uncommon.
Knife sharpeners are almost always inferior to both – sharpening steels and whetstones anyway. Only a few products in the high price segment come close to the performance of a good sharpening steel.