GIMME SHELTER- Dispel dull: Keep kitchen knives sharp

Monique Moshier
Owner, Happy Cook, 977-2665

Q: My knives will hardly cut a cucumber anymore. Should I just replace them, or can I sharpen them myself? Are there any tricks for keeping them sharp longer?

A: High quality knives can be sharpened over and over again for a lifetime. On the other hand, less expensive knives may withstand recurrent sharpening and frequent use for only about ten years at most. Either way, have your knives professionally sharpened every two to five years.

If you do decide to replace them, look for a quality, hand-forged set with a lifetime warranty. They will "hold an edge" (i.e. stay sharp) longer between sharpenings and last forever. 

To test whether your knives need to be sharpened, try cutting a piece of regular weight paper. A sharp knife will move through the paper effortlessly. Note, however, that knives are not really intended to cut paper, and could be slightly dulled by this test. You should be able to feel with a finger– very carefully!– whether a knife is sharp. 

You'll find various types of knife sharpeners for sale. The most common devices are sharpening stones or steels, but they're difficult to use correctly and should probably not be attempted by the layperson. Electric sharpeners are fabulous, but cost $100 or more. I recommend a "pull-through" sharpener. This type of device has a set angle at which to sharpen the knife, so it's very effective and simple to use. The highest quality sharpeners have diamond grinding material; they sharpen knives quickly and with the best possible edge.

Your sharpener will have two grinding stages, coarse and fine. Run your knife through the coarse stage first, perhaps 20 times if you haven't sharpened recently. Once the knife feels nearly sharp, draw it through the fine course only three to four times, even if it was very dull.

Aim to sharpen your knives at least once a week if you use them daily. Never run knives through the dishwasher, even if they're dishwasher safe, because detergent will dull them. Store knives in some kind of organizer, so they don't get nicked by other silverware. 

Finally, always use a wooden cutting board rather than a glass or hard plastic one, as soft cutting surfaces are much gentler on knives. 

Monique Moshier