The Care and Maintenance of Knives

It is knife week here at The Kitchen Hacker, and we are continuing our theme right through the week.  You have spent good money buying some quality knives, even know a few cuts you can make with them, now lets talk about storage and taking care of this investment so you can have years of great use ahead.

Storing your knives can be just as important of a decision as it was to buy them in the first place.  You have to balance your needs with practicality and functionality all at the same time.  Throwing the knives in a drawer is just a bad idea.  Not only is it very unsafe, it also will put the edges in contact with things it has no business touching, causing nicks and dullness to say the least.

I always recommend a block of some sort, and the one I am enamoured by these days is the Kapoosh block.  It has charmed me because it is free-formed by long “bristles” and they can actually be removed to be washed!  What a great device.  I can fit 12, yes, twelve, knives in my block from my 10 inch down to paring knives.  The free form factor allows me to keep my knives organized by how I use them, not just where they fit!

I also am a fan of the under cabinet mounted block, and when counter space was at a premium, I found this to be a great way to keep 8 knives handy.

The Kapoosh Block The Wusthof Cabinet Undermount

Buy at Amazon

Buy At Amazon

Even the drawer inserts seem like a good idea, but frankly, I don’t have a drawer to spare, so I have no experience with this particular configuration.  Lastly, I am not a fan of the magnetic holders you can mount to a wall.  I don’t have any children, but it just does not seem safe.  I have seen these also fail, and with some knives they might not even stick to the magnet.  It might look good, but save it for the screwdrivers and wrenches in the garage in my opinion.

Cleaning of a knife should be done immediately after use.  Rinse it off, scrub it down and wipe it dry.  Leaving a knife to drain or air dry, in my experience, leads to either discoloration at best, and rusting spots at worst.  If this is what you can see on a visual level, imagine what is happening to that edge on a microscopic level. (More on that in a minute.)

What you don’t want to do, is to put them in a dishwasher.  This is one of the fastest ways to dull a knife, and again, it can be unsafe depending on where the knife goes or ends during the wash cycle.  I have even seen the handles on some knives melt from getting too warm as a result.

Fist, there are two parts to sharpening knives.  If you want a more in depth look at this, I will do a video later, until then, search the interwebs and will find many resources.  The two parts of keeping an edge on a knife are listed below and we will explore them separately.

If you learn one thing from this, PLEASE do not put your knives through the grinder on the back of your can opener ever again.  That will shorten the lives of your knifes dramatically.  If you have any quality knives it will put the wrong bevel on the edges to boot.

A Tri-Stone : Buy at Amazon

Sharpening – This is the act of rubbing a knife edge against a coarse stone and it removes material while working the edges into a point.  Generally a knife will go through two or three levels of coarseness of the stones until it is finished.  A quick rundown of the procedure:

  1. Start with a perfectly clean knife so nothing will gum up the stone.
  2. Set the stone on the coarsest side and lightly lubricate with Mineral Oil only.  Do not use an animal or plant oil, ever.
  3. Holding the knife at a 20-22 degree angle, rake it from tip to tail accross the stone, pulling towards you.  About 3-4 passes each side.
  4. Repeat this on the other one or two coarseness of stone going to medium next, then on to the finer in the end.
  5. Next you will wipe off the knife and clean it again to remove oils.
  6. Now you need to Hone the blade ……

A Honing Steel - Buy at Amazon

Honing – The sharpening steel, sharpening stick, sharpening rod, Butcher’s Steel, or chef’s steel are all the same thing, a Honing Steel.  This is typically a rod around 10-12 inches long and has a ribbed or rough surface to it with a handle at the end.

Most people think this is sharpening a knife.  It is not.  This is just fine tuning the knife.  If you put your edge of a knife under a microscope you would see that it has a grain that the actual sharpening has put on the edge.  After use you will see those lines might not line up exactly, and you will see burrs develop.  What honing the knife on steel does is bring all those grains back into alignment, which is why the knife feels sharp again.

I always hone my knife before I use it after washing it.  It only takes a few seconds and it helps the knife work at peak efficiency.  If you are finding that after honing the knife it is still not sharp enough, then you need to put it on a stone and sharpen it.

  1. Start by holding the steel in your weak hand (if you are right handed, use your left…)
  2. Place the knife edge, starting at the heel at the tip of the steel.
  3. Keep your knife at a 22 degree angle.  (this is half of a 45 degree angle if this helps you think of it.)
  4. Draw the knife down the steel, making sure it travels the full length of the blade, and stays at the angle.  This is all done by a wrist motion, and the hand holding the steel stays steady.
  5. Repeat this about 3 times (licks) on each side, and the knife is ready to use.

A Henckels knife roll - Amazon

You can also count this as an alternate method to storage, and what knives of mine are not in a block, are stored in my roll.  Simply put a roll is exactly what it sounds like, that is a piece of leather or vinyl that has pockets for knives, and rolls up to hold them securely.

I add one extra thing to my roll and that is an edge protector to put on the knife edges.  These come in all manner of shape and sizes to fit every knife you may have.  Try not to think of the cardboard sleeve as a replacement for the rigid plastic these are made from.  It may be a good stop-gap measure until you find one to fit.

Knife Edge Savers - Amazon

You may be tempted to put these on and let them float around in a drawer loose, but again I would caution you against this.  The plastic, while very good, is not perfect and can slide off, negating the whole purpose and now you have a dangerous situation yet again.

Whatever you choose, protect your investment, and keep it safe as well.  If you travel with knives like a catering gig, buy a locking case.  Heck, get a cheap tool box with a lock.  The thing about owning pieces of quality, is someone always wants it.  I have lost 3 knives this way, and I miss every one of them.

Happy Slicing!

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2 Responses to The Care and Maintenance of Knives

  1. Pingback: Video – How to Use a Steel | The Kitchen Hacker

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