Do You Push Or Pull When Sharpening A Knife?

July 22, 2022
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For Safety Reasons, Make Sure the Knife is Moving Away From Your Body as You Sharpen

Your knives are not as sharp as when they were brand new. And you’re not able to slice a chicken breast or fillet a fish with the same precision and technique as before. So you decide to buy a sharpening tool. But when you’re about to sharpen your knives, a question pops up: “do you push or pull when sharpening a knife?”

So that you can sharpen your knives safely and efficiently, we’re going to answer that question in detail for you. Keep reading.

So, Do You Push or Pull When Sharpening a Knife?

Pushing a knife across the preferred sharpening tool provides the safest, most reliable way to sharpen a knife. Pulling a knife toward a person’s body will sharpen the knife. However, this method presents an unnecessary risk in sweeping a sharp edge in the direction of your arms and torso.

Responsible home cooks should learn to master the skill of knife sharpening along with their signature recipes. There is a learning curve to this skill and several nuances to knife sharpening that we’re going to explain next. But one of the most important aspects of knife sharpening is to remember to always push the knife instead of pulling the blade toward the body. Photo of Sharpening a Knife on a sharpening stone

Push Away From Your Body When Sharpening a Knife on a Stone

Identifying the Knife Edge

Before diving into the world of knife sharpening tools, the first concept to learn is identifying the knife edge. Various knife edges exist, from a chisel edge to a convex edge or hollow edge. Most kitchen knives contain a V-edge. Knives with a V-edge come together at the end in a point, shaped like the letter V.

Along the side of the blade is a cliff, also called the primary bevel. This leading-edge provides the surface to be sharpened. Kitchen knives are typically sharpened to a precise edge angle between 17 and 20 degrees.

Types of Knife Sharpening Tools

Dull knives represent an unexpected kitchen risk for beginning cooks and home chefs alike. It may seem unlikely, but dull knives can be more dangerous than sharp knives.

Sharp knives reliably bite into the skin of the tomato or slab of meat being prepared. But dull knives require more pressure and repeated attempts to successfully dice or chop. This makes dull knives more unpredictable. Cooks injure themselves by leaning on a dull knife too much, causing cuts if the knife slips.

How Gordon Ramsay Sharpens Knives

A well-equipped kitchen requires a knife sharpening tool. Different varieties of knife sharpening tools offer a range of results and sharpening methods. Consider each type of knife sharpening instrument as a tool to improve a kitchen knife’s performance.

Sharpening Stone

Sharpening stones rank as the preferred method of knife sharpening across cultures and culinary disciplines. This tool is also called a whetstone. These stones measure about the size of a hand and are only a few inches across. Each whetstone comes with a different grain, like sandpaper.

Some whetstones require soaking before use, hence their name. Other modern whetstones called “splash-and-go” varieties require a quick sprinkling of water instead of a full soak.

Once the whetstone is prepared, push the knife’s edge against the sharpening stone at about a 20-degree angle. About 10 strokes sharpen an average knife, but more may be needed if the knife is very dull.

Pulling the knife during this process can work to sharpen a knife’s blade. However, the potential risk of drawing a knife toward the body presents more danger than necessary. It is recommended to push a knife when sharpening it.

Start with a coarse whetstone for very dull knives. Coarse sharpening stones contain a grittiness grade of less than 1,000. These very abrasive whetstones will remove significant amounts of the blade, so use wisely.

A medium-grit whetstone ranges between 1,000 to 3,000 grades. This variety of sharpening stones is recommended for the standard sharpening of kitchen knives for a home cook.

Choose a fine whetstone or sharpening stone for a precise finish to the blade. Finishing whetstones provide a grit grade ranging from 4,000 to 8,000. A finishing stone is recommended once the cook gets more comfortable with knife sharpening. Choose a sharpening stone for a chef-approved way to make knives perform like new.

Honing Tool

A honing tool, or honing steel, works side-by-side with a sharpening stone or other utensils. This tool resembles a sword, with a hilt at the base and a solid honing rod taking the place of the blade. Many popular knife blocks feature a built-in honing tool, but home cooks can feel intimidated brandishing this odd utensil.

Photo of a honing tool for knife sharpening

A Honing Tool for Sharpening Knives

The cook holds the honing tool upright with one hand and slides the knife along the rod to quickly fine-tune the knife’s blade. Only a few passes along the length of a honing tool are necessary to make the knife ready to bite into a potato or fresh fruit.

Honing a knife is not the same as sharpening it. The best way to think about this difference is filing vs. cutting fingernails. Filing fingernails smooths and removes ridges from the nails while offering a new edge for the fingernail at the end.

Cutting fingernails removes material and completely reshapes the entire nail. Think of honing like filing the knife and sharpening like cutting a new shape for the tool.

Electric Knife Sharpener

An electric knife sharpener provides a knife-sharpening tool with the lowest learning curve. This tool looks like the inside of a toaster. Two or three arcs of sharpening blades fixed to a base that rests on the kitchen counter. Each set of blades contains a label, including sharpening, honing, and polishing.

Plug in the electric knife sharpener and choose the mode needed. Simply place the knife within the arcs for a fast, reliable knife sharpening function performed at a consistent angle. This tool works great for multitasking cooks who don’t want to slow down and spend time using a whetstone. Unlike the similar manual pull-through sharpener, this kitchen tool sharpens at a precise angle every time.

Many distinguished chefs never recommend electric knife sharpeners. They claim this convenient tool removes too much metal from the blade. Fast-working electric knife sharpeners prematurely wear out the knife and reduce its usable life.

Electric knife sharpeners provide an efficient tool without the new skill mastery required with using a honing tool or sharpening stone. However, each cook must decide whether it is worth it to compromise the lifespan of their knife for the convenience of an electric knife sharpener.

Pull-Through Knife Sharpener

A manual pull-through knife sharpener provides an affordable and convenient option. This tool resembles the electric knife sharpener, with sets of three arcs containing the abrasive sharpening material. The cook draws the blade through these arcs a few times using a rapid arm motion. Several swipes quickly sharpen the edge.

Unlike an electric knife sharpener, the pull-through sharpener requires the cook to maintain a consistent 17 to 20-degree angle. While this budget-friendly option is fast and convenient, learning how to hold the knife properly requires a bit of knowledge and practice to master.

Costly blades, like Japanese knives, require the use of sharpening stones or other delicate techniques. An electric or pull-through knife sharpener may damage the precise performance of high-quality knives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Read on to learn more about common questions surrounding knife sharpening.

Can you over-sharpen a blade?

Yes! Oversharpened blades reflect a knife with a too-thin edge or ones with a thick, chunky wedge shape to the knife. This wide base prevents a smooth rocking motion while using the knife.

How often should you sharpen your knife?

Knives need sharpening only a few times a year. Choose to hone knives in between for periodic resharpening needs.

Are pull-through sharpeners bad for knives?

Pull-through sharpeners fail to protect knives from oversharpening and removing too much metal from the blade. Expensive knives used in a pull-through sharpener could lose years of practical use.

Should you wear a mask when sharpening knives?

Periodically sharpening knives does not require a mask or any other protective equipment. Those who continually use knife sharpening tools may wear protection. But very limited inhalation risk exists from sharpening a kitchen knife a few times annually.

What is the best angle for sharpening knives?

A 20-degree angle presents the best angle to sharpen an all-purpose kitchen knife. Any angle between 17 to 20 degrees will deliver a nice sharp blade.

What dulls a sharp knife?

Cutting a surface harder than the knife easily dulls the blade. Attempting to cut glass, ceramic, wood, or other materials will dull a sharp knife. Using a dishwasher or soaking knives in water harms a sharp blade. Storing knives loose in a drawer is unsafe for hands reaching into the drawer. This choice can also dull a knife’s edge as it bumps around in the drawer.

Can you sharpen a serrated knife?

Yes! A serrated knife stays sharper for longer than a non-serrated blade. This is helpful as sharpening a serrated knife is a tedious task. Each edge of these shark tooth-like knives must be individually sharpened.

Frank Salvatore

Hey there - I'm Frank Salvatore. I created this site as a comprehensive kitchen resource. You'll find everything you need to know about everything in your kitchen. From appliances to utensils and layout - it is covered on this site!

About Me
Frank Salvatore
I created this site as a comprehensive kitchen resource. You'll find everything you need to know about everything in your kitchen. From appliances to utensils and layout - it is covered on this site!
Learn More About Me
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