As a beginner who starts to prepare meals in the kitchen, this is one of the most common questions to ask:
To push or to pull when sharpening a knife?
Apply forces when pushing the knife away while the cutting edge is facing yourself (edge trailing stroke) is recommended. Pulling the knife towards yourself while the cutting edge is facing your side (edge leading stroke) is not recommended because it is generally harder to handle and more dangerous.
Some of the similar questions that are often asked in different words: Push or pull, forward or backward, away or towards when we sharpen a knife? In fact, there are better terms that describe the stroking motion while sharpening the knife: edge trailing or edge leading. The push or pull motion of sharpening the knife does not matter until you describe which side of the knife you are sharpening and what direction the knife is going.
Edge Trailing Stroke
An Edge trailing stroke is when the cutting edge is behind the spine on the abrasive medium when you make a stroke. The sharpening knife motion is pushing the knife away from your body while the cutting edge is facing you. Most people apply force on the whetstone when they perform the edge trailing stroke. Edge trailing stroke is recommended as it gives better handling of the knife and is safer since the knife is stroking away from yourself.
Edge Leading Stroke
Edge leading stroke is when sharpening a knife with the cutting edge going directly into the abrasive medium as you make a stroke. This sharpening knife motion is pulling the knife towards your direction when the cutting edge is facing towards yourself. It is not recommended to apply strong forces when making an edge leading stroke because it could get the knife cutting into the whetstone. It is also more dangerous to apply forces when the knife is pulling in your direction.
What is the best knife sharpening method for beginners?
While most knife sharpening masters are recommending to hold the knife at 45 degrees and start stroking the knife by push and pull motion, it is still considered a dangerous motion as it might slice your own finger, especially for beginners. It requires experience and practice before one can actually master the skill of holding on the knife firmly while performing the pull and push motion. While maintaining the sharpening angle of the knife is one of the key skills for the task, the pull and push motion often leads to a change of the sharpening angle which is difficult to master for beginners.
In this article, we are suggesting a slightly different stroke of knife sharpening using a whetstone, the edge parallel stroke.
Edge Parallel Stroke
The edge parallel stroke is to sharpen the knife in a motion parallel to the cutting edge of the knife. Not only that it is easier to maintain the sharpening angle of the knife, it is also a lot safer than the push and pull method. The edge parallel stroke is recommended for beginners.
Tips for Knife Sharpening Beginners
Anatomy of a kitchen knife
If you have no idea what is the spine or edge of a knife, here is a quick guide on the anatomy of a kitchen knife:
Use water to soften the matrix of whetstone
Use water when sharpening a knife with a whetstone. It helps to soften the matrix of the whetstone and allow new abrasive to be exposed as the knife is sharpened. Generally, there are two types of whetstone: Soaking and Non-soaking (splash-and-go) whetstone.
How to determine if the whetstone is soaking or non-soaking / splash-and-go whetstone? Splash some water onto the surface of the whetstone, if the water is soaked into the whetstone immediately, it is a soaking whetstone; if the water sits on the surface of the whetstone, it is a non-soaking or splash-and-go whetstone. Another way to tell what kind of whetstone you have is to prepare a bucket of water and soak the whetstone into it, if air bubbles begin to form around, it is a soaking whetstone; if very few or no air bubbles forming after a while, it is a non-soaking or splash-and-go whetstone.
Maintain a consistent pressure and sharpening angle
Sharpening a knife is essentially about reshaping the cutting edge of the knife into a sharp apex. To effectively sharpening a knife, both pressure applied and the sharpening angle (between knife and whetstone) need to be consistent. Consistent pressure and sharpening angle will help to create an even sharpening effect on the cutting edge.
How many strokes/passes to sharpen knife?
Generally speaking, if the knife is not very dull, about 10 strokes on each side of the blade at a consistent sharpening angle with light pressure should be sufficient. You can always test the burr of the sharpening edge by feeling the edge. A burr is the deformation of metal at the apex of the cutting edge that forms when the knife is effectively sharpened. You can always test the sharpened knife with a paper test or on your next cutting process when you prepare ingredients for the next meal.
How long does it takes to sharpen a knife?
The time needed to sharpen a knife depends on the condition of the knife (how sharp it is), the material of the knife (how hard is the knife), the material of the abrasive (how hard is the whetstone), and the knife sharpening skills. Ideally, you should always maintain and sharpen your knife when it is still relatively sharp. If the knife is still relatively sharp, you will only need about 5 mins to sharpen the knife. For an edge-damaged or truly dull knife, you will need significantly more time.
Coarse or fine whetstone grit to sharpen a knife?
To sharpen a very dull knife, start with the coarser grit whetstone and then finish it with a finer grit whetstone. The coarser the whetstone, the more abrasive it is and thus the faster it cuts into the knife. Although coarser whetstone cuts faster, it also leaves behind a coarser cutting edge. Finer whetstone produces finer and sharper cutting edge. However, finer whetstone cuts slower than a coarser whetstone.
A whetstone grit refers to the coarseness of that particular stone. The lower its grade, the coarser the stone. In general, whetstone grit grade can be classified into three categories.
Coarse whetstones have a grit grade number of less than 1000. Such stones should not be utilized for any general sharpening due to their abrasiveness, unless, the knives are extremely dull.
Medium whetstones have a grit range between 1000 to 3000. Whetstones of 3000 grit grade are recommended for regular sharpening of a kitchen knife.
Finishing whetstones have a grit grade between 4000 to 8000. It is recommended to use a 6000 grit whetstone for the finishing of a kitchen knife.
Check out our article if you are looking for a guide to the type of kitchen knives.