By Chris Figge as told to Mary Reilly | Photographs by Georgia Teensma
No matter what’s on the menu, a knife is usually the first kitchen tool I reach for. A dull knife, however, can be a danger to your ingredients and to your fingers.
There are several ways to keep your knives in shape, and one of the easiest, most convenient, and least expensive is the use of a water or oil stone.
The first step is to lubricate the stone. If you want to use water, it’s easiest to soak the stone in water for five minutes before you start sharpening. If you want to use oil, make sure you are using a non-petroleum-based food-grade oil. Squirt or brush a layer of oil over the top of your stone. (The stone manufacturer may specify oil or water. If not, you may use either, but know that while you can oil a stone than has been used with water, you can’t do the reverse.)
Place the stone (coarse grit side up) on a dishtowel or mat so it doesn’t slide around while you’re sharpening.
With both hands, hold the knife on the spine (the dull edge). Use your index and middle fingers on the top side and your thumb underneath.
Hold the knife at a 22° angle and gently but firmly, push it away from you and across the stone—it should feel like you’re trying to scrape a thin layer off the top of the stone. Do not use a lot of pressure, the weight of your hands should be enough.
You can sharpen the entire length of the knife by sliding it sideways across the stone as you push forward. (You can also sharpen in sections the width of whetstone. As each section is sharpened, move to the next section, overlapping sections slightly.)
After 10–20 passes on one side of the knife, turn it over and repeat the process with the other side. When the edge is sharp, flip over the stone and repeat the process with the fine grit side of your stone. Stop when your knife is sharp.
To keep the edge sharp, use a steel. A steel does not sharpen a knife; it simply realigns the knife edge after it’s started to go dull. Working at a 22° angle, run your blade along your steel, gliding it down and across the steel to make contact with the entire edge of the knife. For best results, “steel” your knife each time you use it.
Store your sharp knives in a knife block, on a magnetic strip mounted to the wall, or in a knife roll. Never store knives loose in a drawer.
Chris Figge is an artisanal baker, practical joker, herbalist, and handyman. He co-founded The Haberdashery in March 2014 with wife, Melody.
Georgia Teensma (photographs) is a freelance photographer and a second-year student at Hampshire College.
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Thank you always to Ed Jones for the knives we used in this story.