It cannot be overemphasized that a sharp knife is a safer knife! Whether the most expensive brand name kitchen knife, even custom made forged knives or moderately priced stamped knives, all benefit from proper care and maintenance as the sharp tools all are meant to be.
Before getting to the meat of the story, what good is talking about sharpening knives without something about the knives themselves? If you’ve not read about Better, Sharper Kitchen Knives in my article that is the companion piece to this one, please have a look at that one first, them come on back . . .
If you have never sharpened knives yourself or have had them professionally sharpened, you are in for a treat. Imagine trimming hunks of fat from an uncooked roast, or otherwise slicing and chopping with ease as if cutting through butter. How about carving fowl, slicing a standing rib roast or any other knife-related duties in the kitchen with ease you’ve never known? Using a spectacularly sharp knife is a treat you will come to expect and appreciate with each use. This I promise to virtually any reader. The sharpeners recommended have built-in magnetic angle guides so you simply cannot make a mistake.
NEVER pay a professional to sharpen your knives! NEVER be without your knives! Why? Because YOU can do it yourself, just as I do!
Regardless of whether knives are stamped or forged care and maintenance means keeping the edge as sharp as possible, cutting only on a knife-friendly surface and keeping the knives clean and safely stored in a wooden block or another protected environment. Hand washing is better than dishwasher washing of any good knife. Some makers specifically recommend against putting their knives in the dishwasher. This is usually an effort to prevent the sharp edge from contacting a hard surface in the dishwasher OR it is because the handle is not dishwasher safe. To a lesser degree, since consumer knife blades are of stainless steel, there is only a minor risk of rust when running a knife through the dishwasher. Do not leave any knife in the sink or soaking in water.
Stamped knives are punched out from a roll or sheet of steel, finished, sharpened and polished, handle attached and sent out for sale. Forged knives are more labor-intensively produced, from a single piece of heat-treated steel from the tip to the tang (the end opposite the point) through the handle. The heel, which is the back of the knife edge just forward of the handle, may be made thicker than the area surrounding the tip. The handle is attached, usually with three rivets, to the forged knife. Forged knives have a more substantial feel and are better balanced, though there are some stamped knives that approach the feel and usefulness of some forged knives. Learn more about forged and stamped knives here.
Premium forged cutlery is usually sold pre-sharpened to a keen edge, but this is not always the case. Moderately priced stamped knives may not be sold in super-sharp condition and I have received some lower-priced good quality forged knives that are simply not sharpened well. This matters not to me, because I sharpen my knives as needed, regularly and with extreme ease. Regardless of a knife edge’s as-new condition, you are going to learn the not-so-secret way to razor sharpness. With proper usage and care, all your kitchen knives can remain sharp longer than traditional-angled edges.
Let’s establish some ground rules regarding use of knives you care about. NEVER cut with knives you care about on a hard surface such as a counter top, a plate or on a metal surface. The exception to this rule is steak knives, which, of course, will be used to cut meat on a plate. Except for those steak knives ALWAYS use kitchen cutlery with the object to be cut on a soft polypropylene cutting board, a wooden cutting block or some other surface designed as a cutting surface. I prefer the poly board for its lack of absorbency, which allows the surface to be thoroughly cleaned of the raw meat, chicken or fish that has been cut there. Porous surfaces of other materials can absorb juices from these raw foods and contribute to health risks. Another product range I use and highly recommend is any of the flexible cutting surfaces from MagicSlice.
High-quality knives that start sharp, remain sharper, longer. Even with the best of care it will be necessary to bring them back to their as-created (or greater) sharpness. Therefore, maintaining the sharpness of these or any cutlery is the meat of this story! Buying a knife that’s sharp is only the beginning, and practically unimportant.
Do you sharpen your own knives? Do you neglect maintaining them in this like- or better-than-new condition because of perceived inconvenience and expense?
If you’ve had your knives professionally sharpened, you know this can be an expensive outing of perhaps $10 more or less for each knife. Now, you must also know that serrated knives are not sharpened nor created equally. I do not use nor recommend serrated knives for any purpose except one – slicing bread is best accomplished with a serrated knife. Steak knives and every other knife is best NOT serrated, though it will be perceived as sharper, longer simply due to the sawing action each of the scalloped serrations produces. Serrated knives are also much more difficult and costly to properly sharpen! There are other specialty-edged cutlery items that cannot be sharpened by the user. What good are they?
Until recently, European and American knives were sharpened to a nominal 19-degrees on each side of the “V” of a double-edged blade, give or take a degree or so.
Japanese knives have come with either a single-edge or a double-edge sharpened to about 15-degrees on each side, with the same give or take a degree or two.
Quietly, this is changing and it’s all good! Wusthof, a top German maker, is first to make a running change from the wider European angle to the Japanese-inspired narrower angle. Read my review of the first Wusthof knives featuring what I call the new sharp.
Following is a very short image primer on important terms in the world of knife sharpening.
Image of True Hollow Ground edge
Santoku Knife with Scalloped/Hollow/Granton Edge
The “V” edge, as delivered from the manufacturer, comes as either a conventional “V,” as a hollow-ground “V” or as a granton edge, often called a scalloped edge. Just as with the former standard 19-degree edge, sharpening and maintaining the optimal edge is mysterious to most consumers. Do I use a long steel rod to sharpen my knives? NO, heavens NO! The “steel” is NOT a sharpener!
As the knives are used, two important things can occur. First, through use, the fine edge of the “V” will begin to bend over to one side so that the sharpness along that “V” is no longer precise and razor fine and true. A “steel” is designed to straighten up that rolled-over edge. But, do you know the angle to hold knives against that steel? Can you hold precisely to that angle? Of course not! It is likely that the result will be less sharpness than the anticipated outcome! Leave the steeling to professionals who, when you see this done, are also likely using stamped blades made of softer high carbon steel, common to cutlery put to industrial use by butchers and by professional carvers in fancy restaurants.
The other change that can occur, especially if the knife is improperly used on a hard surface, such as a granite counter top or on a metal surface, is that the edge along that sharp “V” becomes blunted, flattened. It is easy to see in one’s mind’s eye that such flatness makes for a very dull knife, indeed.
What to do? FINALLY!
Sharpening stones and steel or ceramic rods, even diamond-coated rods will NOT do the quick and effortless, mistake-proof sharpening job recommended here, and these tools are not easy to use. They cannot and will not produce a clean, sharp, honed edge at precisely the proper angle.
Any sharpening device that is designed to have a blade drawn through a V-shaped cutter/sharpener in a static fashion cannot do what I will tell you. One among many examples of such a draw-through sharpening system comes from AccuSharp. As the knife’s edge passes through the “V” of the sharpener, metal from the knife’s edge is actually shaved off. The jagged edge that remains, visible only with magnification, does the cutting. The sharpened angle manufactured into your knife is lost, gone. Solutions such as this are best employed on inexpensive, imprecise knives you don’t much care about or on inexpensive blades where there is no household electricity available. This sharpening method does not result in a shaving-sharp edge nor one that will remain sharp as long as with my preferred method below. On the other hand, it’s among the least expensive tools toward some degree of perceived sharpness. Just don’t use it on your good cutlery!
Chef’sChoice EdgeSelect Professional 120 Knife Sharpener
The BEST recommended solution has been available for the more than 21 years. I’ve enjoyed it for that long. This solution is an electric sharpener from a company called Edgecraft. Their Chef’sChoice brand sharpeners have been my sharpeners for all that time, with improvements and new models all the while. Until about three years ago, I used and exclusively recommended as best-of-the-best their Model 120 as THE sharpener that makes everyone an instant knife-sharpening expert, effortlessly. Spring-loaded, precisely-angled guides in each of the three positions make this and the other Chef’sChoice sharpeners recommended here as effortless and mistake-proof as possible.
Among the many Chef’sChoice models in recent years, the 120 has been the best to use for creating and maintaining the approximately 20-degree so-called “European edge” on any non-serrated knife. The company’s patented Trizor® technology and the sharpener’s three slots assure perfection every time, with their 100% diamond-coated discs that are gentle on the metal, yet effective cutters of the steel to be sharpened. After all, it takes something harder to precisely cut such hard steel as is used by Wusthof and other makers of fine (and even some not so fine) cutlery.
The first angled, guided slot makes the biggest cut at the widest angle. The second angled slot is less severe and a finer cut. The final, the third stage is a finely angled slot, at 20-degrees, with a rotary stropping wheel inside to polish and finish the edge to its finely honed burr-free triple-bevel at a quite close to perfect 20 degrees. This third, stropping slot may also be used to correct minor imperfections in most serrated edges. This triple-beveled patented Trizor® edge is the perfect edge for customary European 19- or 20-degree cutlery. The change from what was a single-bevel 19-degree manufacturer’s edge to a triple-bevel Trizor 20-degree angle results in a better, longer lasting edge. The Trizor edge, a “Gothic arch” edge, is stronger than the original and the polishing and honing from the third stage creates the perfect, burr-free sharpness.
The angle, be it 14- or 15- 19 or 20-degrees, is really not quite exact, except in writing. My experts tell me that a variance or plus or minus as much as two degrees is perfectly fine. So, as you see here, don’t become hung up on the strict numbers. Use the sharpeners as specified. The result will be amazing!
Knife edges created and maintained with Chef’sChoice Trizor sharpeners are sharper and, better yet, remain sharper longer than with conventional hollow grinding sharpening methods, while being the most gentle on the knife. Less metal is removed and the blade is NEVER overheated as can occur with a typical grinding wheel in amateur hands, which destroys the molecular structure and ruins the blade’s hardness.
Once the knives have passed through all three slots and are honed to perfection, if I plug in the Chef’sChoice sharpener every few weeks and run the blades through the third stage, they are usually, quickly brought back to a finely honed edge easily capable of shaving the hair off my arms! Then, depending upon how the knives are performing, I might take out the sharpener and need to use the second and third slot just a few times, if that much, each year to maintain the knives in perfect condition. Buy online, usually best priced from reputable sellers at Amazon.com
Store your good and sharp knives in a wood block or in a drawer rack designed for the purpose and for the sized of blades you own. DO NOT treat them without the care they are due. Don’t allow sharp knives to be stored without separating them such as in a block or drawer rack. It is not good for the blades to knock into each other and THIS IS DANGEROUS. Alternatively, get full coverage knife guards and carefully lay the knives in a drawer where they might touch each other. Guards are a last-resort method of care, in my view.
Chef’sChoice AngleSelect Diamond Hone 1520 Knife Sharpener
That was fine for 19- or 20-degree edges, but what of this new 14-degree edge? Manufacturers are beginning to feature a 15-degree edge as their new and better, keener Japanese-inspired sharpness. A few years ago, Edgecraft introduced their model 1520, a hybrid of sorts. This three-slot machine, while not producing the micro triple-beveled edge of the model 120, has two grinding slots using the company’s exclusive 100% diamond coated grinding disc. Slot 1 produces a 20-degree “European-style” edge while Slot 2 creates a single 15-degree angle edge for “Japanese-style” cutlery. The third slot is the final honing slot with the rotary strop and may also be used on most serrated knives. The Chef’sChoice model 1520 sells best-priced online for about $168.
Chef’sChoice® Trizor® XV™ Sharpener EdgeSelect® Model 15
More recently, the company introduced their Chef’sChoice® Trizor® XV™ Sharpener EdgeSelect® Model 15, which employs the same patented Trizor method as their Model 120, but this model produces a “Japanese” style 15-degree final triple-bevel Chef’sChoice Trizor edge, the absolute ultimate edge.
I began experimenting with the model 1520 when it was introduced and converted a few of my knives to the 15-degree edge from their native 20-degree sharpness.
It was noted that fine knives did, indeed, take to this sharper edge and with no discernable lessening of longevity of sharpness. I could sense even greater ease of use, an indication of greater sharpness than the previous best. Hmmm. Very interesting!
When the Trizor XV Model 15 was introduced, I decided to convert ALL of my high quality kitchen knives to the new 15-degree standard and just see what happened. From our steak knives to all my fine kitchen knives, with brands including Wusthof, Henckels, Gerber steak and carving knives (no longer produced), Chef’sChoice, Global and Mundial 5100 Series (my bargain-priced, high quality choice brand), all have been converted to the new 15-degree blades. Now, more than one year later, I am sold on the new Chef’sChoice model XV15 as the tool I use to maintain my knives at their absolute sharpest. Some of our knives are more than 60 years old and still perform as intended; only they are sharper now than they ever could have been when new.
Among the three new Wusthof Classic knives recently sent for evaluation, the one seeing the most service is the eight-inch Cook’s Knife, which I use almost daily as a utility knife in the kitchen – it chops, it slices, it dices! It is this one that I selected to maintain early with the Chef’sChoice XV15 and to create on it the famous Chef’sChoice Trizor edge. This time, however, these new Wusthof Classic knives come from the factory sharpened to a14-degree edge on both sides of the “V.”
It is, I am happy to report, just fine. I don’t detect ANY difference between its original 14-degree edge and the new 15-degree triple-bevel edge created by the Chef’sChoice XV15. For an investment of about $150 (shop online!), YOU can purchase this remarkable sharpener to maintain knives at their native or converted 14-15-degree angle throughout their lifetime.
If you know others who value finely honed and razor-sharp knives as you, either the XV15 or Model 120 will make a perfect gift. As well, consider a set of fine knives, such as these new Wusthof Classic models the perfect wedding gift.
You can also be a great friend or relative to a select few who bring their knives to you for sharpening. You’ll do them a favor and save them the expense and inconvenience of sending the knives out or taking them to a sharpening service. In just a minute or two, at most, per knife, the job is done to perfection on one of these recommended Chef’sChoice sharpeners.
This sharpener will convert traditional 19- or 20-degree edges on European and American household knives to the new and higher performance Trizor 15-degree edge. This same sharpener can also sharpen to perfection double bevel or single bevel Asian knives, which are delivered with a 15-degree edge from the factory.
Each of the three stages with their flexible spring plastic guides assures accuracy and control of the sharpening angle, regardless of whether the knife to be sharpened is thin or thick. After the third, the stropping stage, the edge is smooth and free from any burrs. The result is the same – Chef’sChoice sharp!
For sharpness unquestionably the best for all your new and not-so-new fine knives, the Chef’sChoice Trizor XV15 will create and help to maintain sharpness without peer, at home, and with an ease that has to be experienced to be believed. It is darn near impossible to end with anything but a fabulous result.
And for those wishing to maintain a traditional 20-degree edge, go with the Chef’sChoice EdgeSelect Professional Model 120. There are no better, easier to use sharpening products than Chef’sChoice!
So, there you have my sharp tale, of new sharp knives from Wusthof AND of the best way to maintain these and any other household knives at optimal sharpness for maximum enjoyment – for a lifetime and beyond. Please, despite advertisements and information about products you see elsewhere, do not be dissuaded from the advice presented here. I’ve done my homework. This is the real deal so you have to look no further.
If price point is a concern, or if you just want to sharpen your not-so-good knives to a decent edge, waiting for this ultimate and more expensive solution until you get better cutlery, Chef’sChoice has you covered with a few of their other products.
Not as precise for not as sharp a finished edge, but the best manual sharpener coming close with ease of use and results, these Chef’sChoice sharpeners are ideal for maintenance and light-duty edge repair. They are NOT for conversion of 20-degree knives to 15-degree knives. They are not heirloom quality, but will likely perform satisfactorily for from one to three years, perhaps more. Though manual sharpeners, these all are made with Edgecraft’s diamond abrasives to gently and safely sharpen the knife. There are three models I recommend from which to choose.
Get the $40 Chef’sChoice 464 Pronto Manual 2-Stage Diamond Hone Knife Sharpener to use on traditional European and American 20-degree edge knives.
Get the $40 Chef’sChoice 463 Pronto Manual Diamond Hone Asian Knife Sharpener for use on 15-degree edge knives.
Get the $30 Chef’sChoice 4623 AngleSelect Manual Diamond Hone Euro-American/Asian and Santoku knives in both 20-degree edge and 15-degree edge styles.
Finally, I want to elaborate on one point made above with regard to brands. All brands listed above are worth investigating. However, as detailed in the first article about the new sharp, kitchen cutlery is so personal that it is recommended to hold and determine any preference for the feel of one brand versus another, if possible. Different knives feel differently in hand, so why not get what fits and feels best in the user’s hand? Unfortunately, I realize the unreasonability of such a project, but it’s still the ideal method of selection. The differences among are the result of not only general design, but also balance. In my experience, any of these fine names, put to the same tasks, will sharpen and remain sharp in similar fashion, with similar sharpness retention over time.
Now that you have my not-so-secret secret and know how easy and relatively inexpensively you can achieve this ultimate sharpness, I hope you’ll put the information to good use.