Keeping your knives in top condition is critical. You would never expect a dentist to repair your teeth with badly maintained tools, and so it is for a chef or home cook.
Keeping your knife sharp makes your job much easier and more enjoyable. You can easily make very small cuts when needed, you can cut with ease because the knife will just slip right through the food with little to no pressure, and because it’s well maintained, you run a lower risk of cutting yourself. A sharp knife, is a safer knife.
Now I realize that may sound a little odd. After all, we have all been taught that knives are dangerous because they are sharp. But it’s just the opposite when you are cutting. Most accidents will happen because you had to exert too much pressure to get your knife to cut. They slip and wobble when dull, so keeping it sharp will make your job very easy, and therefor much safer. Of course, a knife is always dangerous and you always run the risk of cutting yourself. But that risk is reduced with a properly sharpened knife.
Is honing the same thing as sharpening?
In a word, no.
As you’ll see in the video here, honing is a very different process from sharpening. But to understand it, you have to understand what happens to the blade of a knife while cutting.
When you cut, you slowly and microscopically bend the very sharpest tip of the blade. You can’t see it, but you can sure feel it. The tip of the blade will actually bend to the side, sort of like the hook of a candy cane. Honing essentially straightens that out again and maintains the sharp edge. Honing is something you can do daily if needed. You can and should do it often to maintain your blade. If you use your knives a lot, at most, you can probably go 2 days without honing. But most chef’s I have met will hone their knives after almost every job unless the blade truly doesn’t need it.
This translates to home use as well. The more you chop, the more you hone. They go hand in hand. And once you get a feel for what honing does, you will WANT to hone your blade regularly. I promise. It just makes life easier.
Sharpening does something very different.
Sharpening actually removes part of the blade which is why you only want to do it maybe 2 times a year if you use your knives a lot. You are actually reducing the size of your blade when you sharpen it.
So you may be wondering, why not skip sharpening your knife all together? Why not just hone all the time?
Well, eventually, honing won’t be quite enough. It is truly a home maintenance thing, whereas sharpening is a professional maintenance thing. You want both. Not one or the other.
Simply put, honing will maintain the sharpening you have had done so you don’t need to sharpen nearly as often, therefore extending the overall life span of your knife.
Want to see it in action?
Check out this video I did while honing my chef’s knife. And remember, when you do this, you want a 20 degree slant. That’s about the same thing as putting one of those folding matchbooks against your steel and then laying your knife against that.