I love my chef knives. While I do sharpen and hone them regularly, I started to wonder exactly how often should you sharpen a chef’s knife?
So I decided to check with some chef friends. Here’s what I discovered:
For regular home use, a chef’s knife does not need to be sharpened more than a few times a year. However, you should hone the edge with a steel once or twice a week. However, the quality of the knife, the amount of use it gets and the type of food you are cutting all factor into how often you may need to sharpen yours.
But there’s more to know about the world of chef knives, sharpening knives, honing and frequency. I even discovered some surprising differences between cheaper knives and a high-end chef’s knife such as those made by WÜSTHOF.
So let’s dive in!
Also, make sure to check out all the options for the Best Chef’s Knife, Sharpening Tools, and Steels and what’s perfect for your kitchen and budget. That link takes you to my page on this site for all my top picks in a variety of price levels.
How long should a chef knife stay sharp?
Of course, the big question here is how often do you use it and what are you cutting?
After all, the home cook who uses it a couple of times a week to cut onions and garlic might not need to sharpen their knife more than a few times a year.
But then a recovering foodie like myself who uses my chef’s knife for just about everything in the kitchen on a regular basis including meats and poultry, I tend to sharpen mine once a month.
Also, bear in mind that sharpening is NOT the same thing as honing.
Sharpening is grinding the metal blade down, which, by definition, is removing tiny bits of the metal. It’s not damaging to the knife, it’s simply restoring the v-shaped edge of the knife.
Honing, by comparison, done with what’s called a steel (or sharpening steel) simply moves the almost microscopic tines of metal to be more in alignment so that V shape is more at a perfect angle.
Technically honing will never make a dull knife sharp. It will, however, take a knife that has been sharpened, and make it seem sharper since the tines will be better shaped.
Confused about chef’s knives?
You’re not alone! So why not take a moment and review my Ultimate Guide to Chef’s Knives? Just click that link to read it now on my site.
I cover different brands, different lengths of blades, and even get into things like Damascus steel knives and whether they are better. But the most surprising thing I learned in researching that article was that Anthony Bourdain’s preferred chef’s knife is the same one I have!
So take a moment and see if you don’t need one of those too!
How often should you hone a knife?
Honing, which aligns the tines of an already sharpened knife is something that should be done every few times you use your knife.
It does NOT need to honed with every use unless it’s a carbon steel knife.
So for most of us who use our chef knifes typically at home, once, or maybe twice a week is plenty of honing.
There are 2 big mistakes people make when honing a knife:
- Thinking a sharpening steel will sharpen a dull knife
- Over-honing the knife
So only hone your knife if it’s sharp. If you just sharpened it, you obviously know it’s sharp. Otherwise, I like to gently rub my finger against the blade to feel the edge.
If you’re uneasy with that method, then see how easily your knife will slice through a sheet of paper.
Does your knife slice the paper fairly effortlessly? Then, then it’s sharp. If the paper bends or buckles or you have to saw through the paper like a piece of wood, it’s time to sharpen it before you hone it.
If your knife is sharp, then it really only needs a few swipes on the sharpening steel to hone it. I cringe a little when I see would-be chefs swiping their knife back and forth on the steel dozens of times.
All that really does is wear out the tines.
Think of the tines as little pieces of metal (which they are). Each time you swipe on a steel, it bends that metal a little bit.
What happens to any metal that gets feverously bent back and forth a bunch of times?
That’s right, it gets weak and will eventually break. So just a few swipes should be good if the knife is already sharp.
How often should you use a whetstone?
A whetstone is a form of sharpening stone, sometimes called a water stone.
Despite the name, a whetstone is used dry whereas a water stone is soaked in water before sharpening and a sharpening stone is sometimes doused in oil before sharpening.
The idea with oil and water is that it helps hold the grit of the stone in place allow the knife to be sharpened faster.
In my own experience, when I used to use oil, I found it sort of gummed up the stone and knife. So now I use a whetstone completely dry when I grind my knives. Or maybe just a spritz of water.
As with any sharpener, how often you need to sharpen it depends on how often you use it and what you’re cutting.
Professional chefs probably sharpen their knives with a whetstone a few times a month, honing on a steel almost daily. But for home cooks, using a whetstone a few times a year and a steel once or twice a month is probably all that’s needed to have consistently sharp knives.
What is the best knife sharpening method?
Ask 10 chefs what the “best” anything is and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.
Let’s start by reviewing the most common methods:
- Oil stone
- Water stone
- Diamond stone
- Electric sharpeners
- Handheld sharpeners
Also know that with the stones, there are different “grit” levels like with sandpaper.
Generally speaking, the heavier grit would be best used on really dull knives. The heavier grit will remove more metal than the finer grits, so a heavy grit is probably not ideal for really nice knives you sharpen regularly.
Renowned knife expert Bob Kramer recommends the following steps to first hone your knife:
- Test your knife pressure on a kitchen scale and find the amount of force it takes to get 4-6 lbs of pressure
- Press the steel down onto a cutting board
- Use a 10-15 degree angle for every swipe
- Pull the blade from heel to tip at an angle
- Repeat anywhere from 4-8 times, gradually reducing the pressure
Once your knife is properly honed, see how effortlessly it cuts a piece of paper or onion to determine if it truly needs to be sharpened. If it does, then proceed with these steps:
- Have 2 stones – one heavier grit and one lighter grit
- Start with the heavier grit
- Squirt a little water onto your water stone – if it soaks in, soak your stone underwater for 10 minutes
- Gently wipe a little bit of water onto a water stone with your fingertips
- Hold the knife in your primary hand, using the fingers of your other hand to press and apply pressure on the flat side of the blade
- Using the same 10-15 degree angle, pull the knife towards you from heel to tip in an arcing angle
- Use the same 4-6 lbs of pressure to start with, gradually moving to 2-3 lbs of pressure
- When you can feel the sharp wire edge of the blade, move to the finer grit stone for polishing your knife
- Repeat the steps with the finer grit stone
- Wipe your blade clean and rinse and dry your stones
Should you wash a knife after sharpening?
The stone likely has grime, sweat from your hands, and possibly a little food debris too. If you use an oil stone, then it’s got some layers of grease on it too.
So wash your newly sharpened knife well (and carefully) after every sharpening and ideally after every time you hone it also.
How often should I sharpen my WÜSTHOF knives?
WÜSTHOF knives, of course, are a high-end brand of kitchen knife.
While I would not, necessarily, say they are the best, they are undoubtedly the best-known of the better quality knife companies out there.
WÜSTHOF warns “It is also important not to over sharpen knives. Each time a knife is sharpened it will take off a small amount of steel from the blade. An over-sharpened knife will eventually lose the original, intended blade shape.”
They also recommend using a steel that has a higher Rockwell degree than the knife you are sharpening.
Rockwell refers to the hardness scale known as the Rockwell Hardness Scale (HRC). Somewhere between 55-60 is typical for a chef’s knife. A typical WÜSTHOF knife is around a 58 on the HRC, so naturally, you’ll want a steel that is in the 60s on the HRC.
By comparison, a lot of high-end Japanese knives are already 60 or above and have the precision of a surgeon’s knife.
WÜSTHOF also recommends only using the same brand sharpener as the brand of knife. So while I’m certain someone like master-bladesmith Bob Kramer would still recommend the steps I outlined above for a WÜSTHOF knife, to ensure you don’t void the warranty, it may be worth getting a WÜSTHOF sharpener.
So if you own a WÜSTHOF knife, especially since it’s at a great low price, why not get their Precision Edge Two-Stage Hand-Held Knife Sharpener?
You get 2 sharpeners for under 40 bucks, free shipping, and awesome reviews!
Can you sharpen a cheap knife?
The biggest difference between a quality chef’s knife and a cheap chef’s knife is how hard the steel is.
As I mentioned above, a quality chef’s knife is probably between 55-60 on the Rockwell Hardness Scale. A cheap knife, by comparison, might be as low as 54. I know 54 to 58 doesn’t sound like a big jump, but on the HRC when you’re talking chef’s knives, that can make all the difference.
There are 2 problems with knives that are made of soft steel:
- They lose their sharp edges much quicker
- The soft metal shavings break off more easily and can clog or gum up your sharpening stone
So can you sharpen a cheap knife? Yes, absolutely. You should always sharpen your knives because a dull knife is typically far more dangerous than a sharp one.
But know you’ll need to sharpen it more frequently and you’ll need to possibly scrub your stone with a soft-bristled brush after each sharpening. Using oil on your stone, in this case, might help keep your stone free of the tiny almost-microscopic metal shavings.
Did I cover everything you wanted to know about how often you should sharpen a chef’s knife?
In this article, I took a look at the world of chef’s knives and sharpening.
We explored a few different ways of sharpening and the difference between sharpening and honing. But we also looked at high-end knives and cheaper knives to see the different sharpening needs of each.
Specifically, we answered the question how often should you sharpen a chef’s knife?
That answer was, of course, it depends on how you use it and how often you use it. But for most casual home users, a few times a year, combined with regular honing on a steel should be just fine.
What’s your favorite brand of chef’s knife?
If you’re looking to buy any small kitchen appliance, don’t forget to check out my Recommended Products Page (click to see my page) which breaks down all my best picks by category.
I always hand-select items that I either own, have used, or have researched well to ensure they are great items. I also give not only top of the line as well as inexpensive alternatives so my choices work for any budget.