Must-have tool #1: A sharpener
Joe Gamache, our expert
cutler, says there are hundreds
of devices, techniques
and theories about knife sharpening.
Some sharpening methods are
arcane; some ridiculously complicated.
Still others are only for those
obsessed with incredibly sharp edges,
and require investing a boatload of
money in gadgets.
But Joe has a quick, drop-dead simple
approach that he's been teaching
to amateurs for years. You'll only
need a couple of inexpensive sharpening
tools and a bit of practice. Master it
and you'll be amazed at how well your
knives perform and how much more
fun food prep, carving, slicing and
peeling can be. Or at least how much
Joe suggests either of two choices for a
sharpener: a V-sharpener or, if you're a
more serious cutler, a stick sharpener.
Each has two sharpening surfaces, one
for roughing out an edge and the other
for the final edge. Both styles are easy
to use. But the stick sharpener will
probably last your entire life. And
with that style you'll look pretty
impressive when your guests watch
you sharpen your knife before carving
up the roast.
A stick sharpener comes with
a pair of fine ceramic sticks and
a carbide notch for roughing (Photo 1). To
use it, simply hold the knife edge
down while you drag it across and
down the stick surfaces. Shown is
Smith's 3-in-1 Sharpener ($20),
one of Joe's favorites.
A V-sharpener has two pairs of cutting
edges in a V-configuration (Photo 2). One
side is made from carbide for roughing
out an edge and the other has
ceramic material for fine-tuning the
edge. The “V” grinds both sides of
the knife at once. This Wusthof two-stage
sharpener costs $20.
Meet the Pro! Joe Gamache
Joe has sharpened well
over 1million knives in the
past 20 years. And believe
it or not, he's only needed
16 stitches. That's less
than a stitch a year! He'll
show you how to safely
achieve sharp edges without
any trips to the ER.
Joe says, “To get and keep your knives sharp
and true, you'll absolutely need two
tools: a sharpener and a steel.”
Must-have tool #2: A steel
A steel is the shorthand term for a steel
rod used to straighten knife edges.
Any decent knife set includes one, but
few people know exactly what it does,
much less how to properly use it.
If you don't have a steel, go buy one
for about $20. Joe will show
you how to use it to
sharp edge. Don't waste your money
getting a diamond-coated surface.
You don't need it.
All the sharpening tools you'll need are
available anywhere knives are sold. Go online
and search for specific products or generic
tool names. Or just visit Joe's store at eversharpknives.com.
3 Steps to sharp
Go for good enough—
Super-sharp edges are great—at first.
Then the razor edge quickly dulls.
That's because an edge that sharp is
necessarily very thin, and it bends and
dulls easily because there's not
enough metal to support it. A knife
food is sharp
tomato test (below) will tell
you when a
knife is ready
for food prep.
Follow Photos 1 – 3 for the 3-step sharpening process. After sharpening and before any food
prep, wipe off the blade with a cloth to
remove any metal filings.
Joe says, “Don't strive
When to take
your knives to a pro
If you follow Joe's instructions and
still can't get a good edge, chances are
your knives have been abused to the
point that they need a pro's touch to
restore the edge. You can do it yourself,
but it takes expensive electric
tools or a lot of tricky manual grinding
on a stone. But for well under $10 per
knife, a sharpening shop can bring
your edges to better-than-new condition.
Then you'll be able to keep them
that way using Joe's techniques.
Search online for “knife sharpening”
your city and
find a local
give up on
have a chip or notch in the blade. A
pro can grind out any imperfections
and reshape the edge. Yes, you'll have
a slightly narrower blade, but you
won't even notice.
Joe says, “If you cook five
meals a week,
take your knives
to a pro for a
tune-up once or
twice a year.”
Use a steel—often!
Steeling restores the edge
Chefs and meat cutters frequently pause and
“steel” their cutting edges. Steeling doesn't
sharpen an edge; it straightens it. That's necessary
because the thin edge actually bends or
warps while you're cutting. If you could see
the edge under a microscope, it would look
wavy, and it would feel dull while cutting.
Steeling the knife straightens out all those
waves to restore a straight, even cutting edge.
So when your knife begins to seem dull, don't
sharpen it—steel it first. Every time you grab
a knife for the first
time to begin cutting,
steel it before you
even get started. But
it's important to do it
right or you'll just
make the edge worse. And don't act like one
of the Iron Chefs on TV and do it all up in the
air—you'll eventually wind up in the ER. Rest
the end of the steel on a cutting board and do
your steeling the safer and more accurate way.
It's very important that you steel at an angle
between 20 and 30 degrees. Photo 1 shows you
how to figure that out.
If your knife isn't restored by steeling, you
may need to hit the fine ceramic stone a few
times. You should rarely need the coarse
notch after your knife is properly sharpened.
That is, unless you've wrecked the edge by
cutting on a too-hard surface or trying to hog
your way through a bone. If that's the case,
you'll have to hit the coarse and then the fine.
Joe says, “The steel
keeps a knife
The Purpose of Steeling
Photo A shows what your knife edge looks like
after a dinner's worth of cutting—all
bent and wavy.“
Photo B shows what your knife edge looks like after steeling. The
edge is straight and
ready for cutting again.”
Back to Top
The tomato test for sharpness
Joe says, “Tomato skins
are the perfect
way to test for
If you can slice
through a tomato
skin without having
to saw your way
through or poke a starter hole with the knife
tip, you have a sharp edge that's ready for
Photo courtesy of Getty/PhotodiscAcidic foods promote corrosion
Cutting-Edge Tips From Joe
Drag the tip of your knife across your cutting board.
If the surface doesn't scratch, it's too hard and it'll
dull your knife in no time. Some plastics and certainly
glass and laminate surfaces won't pass the test,
even if they're called “cutting boards” on the label.
Rinse knives after cutting acidic foods like citrus fruits or
pickled goods. Acid promotes corrosion right at the cutting
edge, even with stainless steel. Dry them right afterward.
Don't ever throw
knives in a dishwasher.
handles will get
ruined, and even
blades will corrode
and get dull.
Instead, wash your
knives by hand and
dry them off right away.
Protect the edges:
Don't just toss unprotected knives
into a drawer. Either use a knife block or
stow them away with blade protectors.
Simple cardboard sheaths held together
with duct tape will do the job.
They'll dull even a high-quality knife.
Don't ever use a cheap electric knife
sharpener, especially the ones found on
electric can openers. They'll do more
harm than good. If you love gadgets,
spend at least $125 for a decent electric
sharpener. (You'll still have to steel your
knives, by the way.)
“I sharpen all knives the same way—
hunting knives, fillet knives, what ever.
Keep a mini sharpener
in your tackle box
and use the same
Editor's Note:Check out Joe's store at
information on mail-order
sharpening, tools and
more. These guys really
know their stuff!
Photo courtesy of WengerSwiss Army Giant
Field Editors Talk Knives
Our Field Editors use (and abuse)
knives for everything, everywhere.
Here are a few of their comments:
I love my Tormek T-7
system ($600 at
tormek.com). It's very
easy to get an extremely
sharp edge on knives,
and especially woodworking
[Editor's note: We
received four endorsements
of this sharpener,
but $600? Yikes!]
Being a former Marine, I think the best
and most reliable knife is the Ka-Bar knife
(kabar.com). I bought one at the local
army surplus store. Make sure it isn't a
replica and you'll have a tough knife that
works for everything.
I know exactly where
my beloved Schrade
pocket knife has been
for the past 20 years,
even though I haven't
seen it once in that
time. The kitchen pipes
were freezing at a customer's
the pipes were impossible
to get at from the
inside, I opened up the
wall, did some foam
insulating, and then
replaced the sheathing,
siding and trim. I also
touched up all the
paint. Guess what got
left inside the wall?
For the ultimate Swiss Army knife, check out the
Swiss Army Giant ($1,000 at swissknifeshop.com).
It has all 87 implements! I can't imagine trying to
hold it while using any of them, however.