Most Japanese chefs sharpen their valuable knives at the end of each workday. However, it is up to the individual chef to select the proper technique for each blade. Maintaining a sharp knife is essential for the quality of the food and the ease of preparation. This article shows you how to sharpen a Japanese knife to keep it in prime cutting condition.
Know Your Knife Before You Begin Sharpening
Before sharpening, it is crucial to determine just how sharp your knife is (or isn’t). Ideally, you should hone the knife directly out of the box. This will create the most grounded edge and is particularly important for conventional Japanese knives.
- The first step to sharpen a Japanese knife is determining the current condition of the blade. Does the knife need sharpening? Sharpen a knife before it turns excessively dull since sharpening a dull knife will require substantially more time. To test whether a knife needs sharpening, use the paper test. If the blade is dull, it will take an effort to slice the paper.
- Determine the blade’s type of steel or material. For example, stainless steel knives conventionally need sharpening every 2-3 uses, where carbon steel knives require sharpening after each use.
- Depending on the type of steel, a good quality whetstone will make the sharpening process easier.
- Choosing an angle to sharpen your knife is essential. In this case, an angle guide can help. For example, some Japanese knives have a bevel on both sides, and you should sharpen each side to 20°, which means this creates a total angle of 40°. However, most traditional Japanese knives are single beveled. In that case, sharpened one side to 10° while the other side is at 10° for a total angle of 20°.
Moreover, a chef must know and understand the material properties of their knives when it comes to sharpening.
Choose a Sharpening Strategy
Most Japanese knives have a single bevel, whereas Western knives tend to be double beveled. This tells you which sharpening strategy you should use. There are several techniques, but whetstone sharpening is the most effective way.
Preparations for Sharpening
Before you get ready to sharpen your Japanese knife, determine how dull the blade is, so you know what grit size you’ll need on the sharpening stone. The more resistance, the duller your knife is. Chose the sharpening stone that suits your blade’s condition.
How to Sharpen a Japanese Knife with Whetstone
A knife is an essential tool for a chef but just as important is keeping the blade sharp. Sharpening with a whetstone is the best method to keep the knife sharp and get a smooth sharp edge. A whetstone is a rectangular block of stone used to sharpen and hone the edge of a knife. According to experts, using a whetstone requires a bit of practice, but it is the best way to keep the blade in top condition. Here is how to sharpen a Japanese knife with a whetstone.
Steps to a Perfectly Sharpened Knife
Before you start, you need to prepare your stone. First, soak the stone in water for around 5 to 10 minutes until it absorbs the water, and a liquid film appears on the surface. Then, splash some water on top and keep re-splashing during the sharpening process if the stone gets dry.
Position the stone on something solid so that it doesn’t slip while you are sharpening. Many whetstones come with a holder, but you can just place them on a slightly damp tea towel on a table or counter.
Keeping the knife’s heel pointing towards your belly, hold it at an angle around 12-15 degrees and slide the blade forward and across the whetstone covering the total length of the blade, glide the blade up and down the stone. Continue doing this for around 10 minutes and once you’ve done with one side, flip over and repeat the process on the other side of the blade.
The final step after honing the blade is rinsing and wiping the blade dry.
Benefits of Sharpening a Knife With a Whetstone
Sharpening knives with whetstones is a centuries-old technique. These are some of the benefits of using a whetstone to sharpen your Japanese knife.
- When you sharpen a knife with a whetstone, you will get a much sharper edge than other sharpening equipment.
- It’s straightforward to adjust angles and pressure while sharpening with a whetstone.
- From softer stainless steels to extremely fine-grained high carbon, whetstone sharpening gives you a longer-lasting edge for every type of blade. It also helps a knife blade remain thin, which is just as important as the sharpness.
- Using a whetstone, you will achieve quicker results than other sharpening methods.
- When placing the stone on a damp cloth or towel, make sure that both of them are on a flat surface.
- It is important to sharpen in the same direction, whether it’s front-to-back or back-to-front.
- Whichever lubricant you are using, stick with it.
- Always let the stone dry thoroughly after use and then store it; otherwise, it might decrease its quality.
How to Sharpen a Knife Using a Honing Rod
What is a Honing Rod?
A honing rod (also known as sharpening steel, whet steel, sharpening stick, sharpening rod, butcher’s steel, and chef’s steel) is a rod that is great for fine polishing and realigning the edge. These can measure up to 1 foot (30 cm) long and are flat, oval, or round in cross-section.
A dull knife may need only a few strokes across a honing rod to correct its edge and restore its sharpness without the need to run it through a sharpener. Honing with a rod is also faster than using a whetstone, and it does not remove metal from the blade.
With your non-dominant hand (if you’re right-handed, hold the rod in your left hand), hold the honing rod point-down, with its tip positioned solidly on a dry cutting board.
With the other hand, you should hold the knife crossways against the steel with the back of the blade (the part nearest the handle) touching the steel. Then, pull the knife back toward you. Again, it’s better to start with most of the blade in front of the rod.
Tilt the blade so its forefront meets the pole of the honing steel at a 22½°edge. An easy way to determine this angle is to remember that 90° is a right edge, and 45° is half of that. So 22½° is again half of that.
Keeping this 22½-degree angle, you should pull the knife toward you while at the same time skimming it down along the pole of the steel. Cover the whole length of the cutting edge, keeping the edge at that 22½-degree edge the entire time. Imagine that you’re trying to cut off a thin bit of the blade’s steel. Do this eight to ten times.
Repeat this on the other side of the blade, giving this side an additional eight to ten strokes along the honing rod.
Is it Possible to Sharpen a Japanese Knife with a Honing Rod?
Professionals usually advise against sharpening a Japanese knife with honing rod. However, the blade can benefit from a tune-up on a honing rod when you don’t have time. Honing rods are usually highly abrasive, which can quickly remove a lot of steel from the edge. On a knife with softer steel like a Global knife, it is OK to use a honing rod to sharpen it. But most Japanese knives are made of harder steel, and using a whetstone is the preferred method of sharpening.
How to Choose a Honing Rod
When choosing a honing rod, the first thing you should remember is that the rod or the steel is for honing, not sharpening.
When choosing a rod, one of the most important criteria is its length Make sure that it is at least 2 cm longer than the knife, and it should be magnetized to catch metal waste
Be aware of the type of honing rod you are choosing. Choose one which will not damage blades made of harder steel.
There are three types of honing rods.
Stainless: Stainless honing rods are the most common and suitable for most knives. In addition, they remove only microscopic bits of metal and straighten just about any kind of knife blade.
Ceramic: Ceramic rods are harder than stainless rods and require a reasonable amount of care. However, it takes off a bit more metal with each pass than a steel hone, and what’s more, it will sharpen a blade slightly.
Diamond: Diamond honing rods are the hardest and will remove a fair amount of metal, coming closer to a true sharpening than the other two types. However, it would be best if you didn’t use a diamond hone regularly.
Choose one with an ergonomic grip that will comfortably fit your hand, and it should be a non-slip material. Slipping during honing could lead to damage, both to the knife and you.
Honing vs. Sharpening
|Honing Knife||Sharpening Knife|
|Honing is a process to straighten the edge of knives that already have a sharp edge.||Sharpening is a process which actually removes steel from a knife’s edge, thus applying a new, sharp edge.|
|Honing is dependent on whether a knife has just lost its sharpness due to constant use||Sharpening is dependent on whether a knife has become really blunt|
|When a blade is in good shape but needs to perform at its absolute best, then you should hone it.||When a knife is in rough shape and needs to return to par, then you should sharpen it|
How to Sharpen a Knife With an Electric Knife Sharpener
Before you begin sharpening, ensure that the entire knife blade will fit through the sharpener to get a better result.
- First, place the blade in the slot and press it down as far as possible to connect with the grinding stone. You should start with the heel of the knife and pull slowly through to the tip.
- Slide the knife through the slot so that the sharpener will automatically set to the 15°- 20° angle of the knife’s edge.
- Gently pass the blade through twice on each side. As electric knife sharpeners are so efficient, it will only take two passes through the machine to reshape and sharpen the blade.
- Now re-sharpen the blade on the coarsest stone; move on to the finer grit stone and pass the edge across on each side twice.
- And finally, rinse the knife and dry it with a towel.
Electric knife sharpeners may grind off more steel than necessary which will reduce the life of your knives. So be focused during the process.
Is an Electric Knife Sharpener Good to Sharpen a Japanese Knife?
The benefits of using an electric knife sharpener for a Japanese knife are numerous. First, using an electric knife sharpener ensures that you hold the blade at the proper angle. Most electric sharpeners have pre-sets that enable you to simply set the knife in the guide and slide it through without any guesswork. Moreover, it provides more precise sharpening than is possible with a manual sharpener.
How to Choose a Good Electric Knife Sharpener
Consider these aspects when shopping for a good electric knife sharpener.
- Choose one with strongly abrasive sharpening stones or wheels.
- Choose one with an adjustable, accurate, and easy-to-operate angle guide. It will help make sure that the knife is at the best angle for the most precise sharpening.
- For dull, blunt knives, coarse abrasiveness is excellent, where finer abrasives are suitable for polishing and touch-ups.
- Select a model that offers rubber grip handles and non-slip rubber feet and one that will accommodate serrated and straight blades. It should be able to handle carbon, stainless steel, and alloys.
- Ensure the model is electric and does not run on batteries.
The Benefits of Using an Electric Knife Sharpener
- The first advantage of an electric knife sharpener is that it is safe and doesn’t require much skill and dexterity.
- An electric knife sharpener does short work out of the sharpening process.
- It comes with diamond abrasives that are hard to beat in terms of sharpening quality.
- These sharpeners are also ergonomic, and it is easier for left-handed users to work with them.
The Cons of Using an Electric Knife Sharpener
- It’s an advantage that an electric knife sharpener comes with an angle guide, but a guide requires a lot of guesswork and needs precision on your part.
- Most electric knife sharpeners usually generate a lot of heat, damaging the sharpener over the long term.
- While sharpening, if you put extra pressure on the knife, you may get cut, and also it will affect the sharpness.
Whetstone vs. Electric Knife Sharpener
|Sharpening with a Whetstone||Sharpening with an Electric Knife Sharpener|
|Sharpening with a whetstone is the best method to attain a very sharp result, but it requires much more time and skill.||Sharpening with an electric knife sharpener is a speedy process and easy to use and get a good result.|
|It is beneficial for thinning knives.||It’s not suitable for thinning knives.|
|This is the best way to sharpen your blade to ensure a long, sharp life for your knife.||The sharpness of your blade will last for a shorter duration if you sharpen your knife using an electric knife sharpener.|
|A whetstone sharpens a knife without damaging its steel or materials.||Lots of material loss in this process, compared to sharpening with a stone.|
Japanese knives are made using traditional Japanese blacksmithing techniques and require the perfect sharpening experience and knowledge of sharpening techniques to maintain their superior quality. There are several methods to sharpen a knife: sharpening stone, sharpening rod, sharpening system, electrical sharpening machine, etc
To sharpen a Japanese knife, first, decide which sharpening technique you should use. The proper technique depends on the type of steel of the blade, experience with sharpening, and your preferences. For example, whetstone sharpening is a centuries-old sharpening process that results in a very sharp edge. First, however, know when it’s time to sharpen a knife – before it gets too dull to recover its sharp edge.
3 thoughts on “How to Sharpen a Japanese Knife [ 3 Different Processes: Step-By-Step]”
This article is really helpful for the people which never knew how to sharpen their knife thin and more thinner. Actually, I just knew that there many type of sharpener to sharpen the knife.
Thank you for sharing this article.
Thanks, Hun Puthik for your comment!
Very detailed explanation with great pics! Thanks for sharing