How to Care for and Maintain Your Favorite Knives

Written by by Eliot Smith of Patron Saint of Knives
Updated September 23, 2014
The steel does not take metal off your knife or change the basic edge you already have, rather it simply aligns the thin delicate edge into a straight and useful tool, says Smith. (Photo courtesy of Patron Saint of Knives)

There are other ways to keep your knives sharp than continual sharpening. This guide will let you know how to take care of your knives and extend their life.

As a professional knife sharpener, I get two questions more often than anything else: are my knives worth sharpening and how often should I sharpen my knives?

For the first question, my answer is if you use it, it should be sharp. If the knife is comfortable in your hand and you take any pleasure from using it, then is should have the respect of being sharp and cared for.

The second question is more complicated. It’s an odd question, like someone asking how often they should cut their hair or how often they should get their suit pressed. The simple answer is when they need it. The more useful answer is that it all depends on how you take care of your knives.

Don’t sharpen your knives too often

If you care for your knives and treat them with respect, it could anywhere from every six months to a year between sharpenings. Personally, as a craftsman who takes pride in his work, I would prefer to see the customer less often over a longer period of time.

You see, every professional sharpening takes a little life off your knife. The sharpening process takes off just a tiny bit metal, but done too often it slowly wears away the knife and you are left with a long thin filet knife when you really needed and good solid chef’s knife.

How to use a steel

Taking care of your knife starts with the proper use of a steel, which is generally a much misunderstood and regularly abused instrument. The steel does not take metal off your knife or change the basic edge you already have, rather it simply aligns the thin delicate edge into a straight and useful tool.

In the day-to-day normal use of your knife, you will hit hard objects: plates, bone, tile counter tops. This will dent and roll the sharp edge of your knife, creating tiny dull spots on the blade. These compound and eventually your knife become useless and you need to have it re-sharpened.

A gentle and regular use of a honing steel will push those rolled dented spots back up into a more or less straight line and greatly extend the life of the knife. To use a steel properly, forget every movie or television example you have ever seen with the wild exuberant flashing of steel and knife and follow these simple instructions.

Hold the steel firmly in your weak hand, point down as if you were preparing to stab the table with it. Place the tip firmly on a folded dish towel and hold it straight up and down. Then, take the knife to be honed in your dominant hand and lay the heel of the blade against the steel with the spine barely touching the hand guard of the steel.

Now gently, as if you were slicing off a long thin piece of the steel, draw the knife back and towards you several times on each side of the blade.

Other than that, the way to maintain super sharp cutting edges is to protect and care for you knife. I have added some hints and tips that should keep you slicing more smoothly and more safely.

Simple tips for maintaining your knives

  * Don't put good knives in the dishwasher. They bang around and get dull. Plus, if they have wood handles, it will ruin them.

  * Don't cut anything on ceramic, metal, marble, glass, or tile. Use a wood or plastic cutting board.

  * Don't just leave them in a utility drawer, you'll get cut and they'll get dull.

  * Once sharp, don't leave them in the sink, particularly under water. That's a place where people often get cut.

  * If you put them in a dish drainer, make sure they are point down and not leaning against metal or other utensils.

  * When possible, just wipe your knives down and store them somewhere safe; a wood block or a magnetic wall rack are both perfect.

  * Don't whack bones with a thin sharp blade. That's not what they're made for.

  * Never use your knife to pry open lids, open cans or loosen screws.

No matter what you do, eventually you will need to visit a professional knife sharpener. It might be six months or it might be years. When you do, check references and ask to see examples. If you are uncertain, start with a couple of your less prized utensils and see what kind of job they do. A true craftsman understands your relationship with your knives and will treat every knife with respect and care regardless of brand or cost.

About this Experts Contributor: Eliot Smith is a Master Knife Sharpener with Patron Saint of Knives, which provides professional knife sharpening services in Vancouver, Washington. You can follow this contributor on Twitter @Sharpening_101.

As of September 23, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.