Honing/sharpening a knife
What's the most elementary, practical advice you can give to a novice chef with dull knives? I have no clue what I need to do to get them sharp again.
It depends on your knives, but there are two stages of sharpening the blade of your knife.
First thing is to hone your blade with a honing steel. Honing basically corrects the angle of the blade, and should be done on a regular basis. Some would even say with every use. From my experience honing steels are all pretty much the same - any of these should do the job:
If you still feel your knife is dull after honing, your blade needs to be sharpened. I used to fuss around with a sharpening stone, but not any more. This works great for most knives and can't get any easier to use:
Between those two tools, my knives are never dull. :) Unfortunately I've stopped using my favorite Japanese knife because I can't be bothered with a sharpening stone any more. :(
sushigirlie: "...the most elementary, practical advice..." Professional sharpening. Cheap, easy, and not frequently needed.
Several posters here (and my friends, really!) have the time, interest, money and aptitude to sharpen their own, apparently quite well. Some even say it's easy to master. I've been making and using knives for a long, long time, own many expensive sharpening tools and stones, and I honestly don't have the "knack" to equal what a good pro sharpener can do. But for many who "get into" sharpening, it becomes a hobby and a bit of an end in itself. If you think you might like to sharpen yourself, there is a whole fascinating world out there if you're willing to/interested in spending the time and money.
Since you asked about practicality, I'll repeat what my friend Bob Kramer says: Have your knives professionally sharpened once a year. In between sharpenings, use a crock stick (ceramic "steel") once a month and a steel once a week or whenever needed.
Now then, by "professional sharpening", I do not necessarily mean your local grocery or kitchen store. You need to ask around.
Seriously, go to YouTube and type in "how to sharpen a knife". There are probably hundreds of informative videos that will show you how to get started. Watch a dozen or so with high ratings, identify the basic principles that everyone agrees on, get a 1000 grit ceramic water stone as a good all-around sharpening stone, and practice on a cheap dull knife. That's what I did, and even though I'd never claim to be a "Knife Sharpening Guru", my knives are now sharper than any I'd ever handled before in my life.
PS. You even may find, as I did, that it's kind of fun.
Honing is for maintaining a knife edge, but if your knives are truely dull, then they will need to be sharpened. The answers partly depends on your knives. Excellent knives should not have the same treatment as poor knives. For inexpensive knives of Faberware, Tools of Trade, Henckels International..., you can use something like the following
However, if you have knives like Wusthof Classic, Shun, Global, ... etc, then you should either use a waterstone if you want to do it yourself or send them out to professional for sharpening. A small gadget like Spydero Sharpmaker may also work for light sharpening jobs:
I think I'm one of those guys Kaleokahu mentioned above. We've disagreed on this subject at times (I still think most people CAN learn to hand sharpen well enough to make it worth their while if they're so inclined), but he's a good, knowledgeable guy, and his advice is likewise quite good.
I can't give you a great recommendation without knowing a few things first.
1) What type of knives do you use?
2) How important are the following factors to you, relatively speaking?
---Easy to learn/do
---Gentle on the knives
All of the good options involve tradeoffs - there's no quick, cheap, easy way to keep a screaming sharp edge all of the time. What matters most to you?
I will say that while a honing rod can be useful, it's not gonna be enough to make a very dull knife sharp again on its own easily (and if yours haven't been sharpened or honed in a couple years, they're probably very dull), even a diamond or ceramic honing steel. It's more useful as a support to some other sharpening method. And not everyone needs one, depending on which method you choose.
Do you cook for a living? If you do, your knives are the most important tools in your kit so I would suggest you start sharpening them by hand(whet stones) sooner than later.If I can learn to hand sharpen knives and get them razor sharp,anyone can.
tanuki's right. You Tube is an excellent place to start. It can look intimidating at first,but once you get the hang of it you'll look forward to sharpening your knives(sounds kinda nerdy,I know).
You are getting good advice. i.e. get hone to help maintain sharpness, sharpen by pro or do it yourself. Any path you choose is determine by what you want to put into it including finances. The only thing I want to add is that If you have Japanese knives or are considering to buy Japanese knives, Japanese knives are sharpened at about a 15 degree angle and it is very important to sharpen at those angles. Some Japanese knives are only sharpen one side (single bevel) Western knives are sharpen at 20 degree angles. Keep this in mind if you are looking for a professional sharpener or evaluating the various sharpening tools mentioned. Many have a model for Japanese knives.
It's very true that not all professional sharpeners are good. However, I wanted to point out that very, very few sharpen on stones (and those few that do reflect that in their prices).
If you have a custom knife or a hard steel Japanese knife, I'd hold out for someone who uses stones (or else learn to use them yourself).
For other knives, someone who is skilled with a belt sander or comparable machine should work well enough. Just make sure they do a lot of kitchen knives (vs, say, lawnmower blades and ice skates) and that they make some considerations not to ruin the temper of the blade - a slow belt, frequent rests or dips in water, etc. Ask em questions about how they sharpen - if they seem knowledgeable and considerate, it's a go.
Ice skates? There's actually a special machine that hollow grinds the edges on ice skates. I have to agree, don't trust your knives to the guy at the farmers market sharpening knives out of the back of his van with a grinding wheel. Although it's difficult to screw up a knife too bad with a stone, it's really easy with a belt sander or grinding wheel. These can do irreversable damage.
Good advice from many posters.
Yes, hockey skates are different, but I thought I heard once that if someone can do scissors, they are a good sharpener. I'm not sure about this; it is just something I heard.
Also, I would highly recommend sending knives out for a professional sharpening and then maintaining them with a fine grit ceramic rod (if you don't want to get into stones). I sharpened some Forschners a year ago and maintain with a ceramic rod honing right before each cutting session, and they are still very sharp. Good edge+maintenance goes a long way. You'll have a better cutting tool than 90% of North America.
If you want to get into stones, you could send your knives to Dave Martell to put an excellent edge on them, and he would probably give suggestions on a stone set up for newbie. Once you experience a Dave edge, you'll never want you blades to go dull again.
Scissors are an interesting because they're easier to ruin than knives and because some of the better ones have convex bevels that you'd have to recognize and sharpen differently - expensive hair shears come to mind. They're also less easy to hold at a consistent angle, and some of what you learn from sharpening knives doesn't apply - you don't want to go putting a 15-22 deg edge on a pair of scissors. I've done a few pairs, but I'm not an expert with them.
I always like the suggestion that people try a really good, serious pro sharpener (like Dave Martell) once to give them an idea of what "sharp" really can be. But I've come to accept that some people are gonna balk at his price. Also, if you are using the cheapest of cheap, poorly tempered stainless steal knives, there's no point because they'll never take much of an edge anyway.
Since you are in downtown LA, There is Anzen hardware in Little Tokyo near 1st and San Pedro on First. They hand sharpen for about $10 -$15 a knife. They sharpen for some of the local Japanese restaurants in Little Tokyo. I use them for my better Japanese knives. They also sell good quality Japanese knives and stones. If they do not have what you want, they will order it for you. they sell typical Japanese kitchen equipment that you cannot get anywhere else like Japanese made cypress hangiri.