Blades of glory

August 24, 2010

We all know from crappy holiday house kitchens that there’s nothing worse than a blunt chef’s knife – the kind you end up bludgeoning, rather than cutting, food with – and I take care to keep ours reasonably sharp. But the other day, as I end up doing only every few years, I had six of our knives professionally sharpened. Man oh man, what a difference.

Makes me realise that even using our nifty little Victorinox sharpener thing, which I have loved for its ease and relative efficiency, doesn’t really keep the knives in as good nick as I’d like. Before that I’ve used a whetstone, which works pretty well, but I have never mastered any skill at all with a steel. I seem to blunt the knife rather than sharpen it any time I’ve tried.

I see here that CHOICE tested knife sharpeners and ours came out somewhere in the middle, so I either need to learn how to properly use either a steel or our old stone (do they ever wear out? I’ve had mine for a thousand years) or get a new sharpener which I’m loath to do, especially after reading Fenella Souter’s  amusing and inspiring Good Weekend article on the movement towards eliminating waste and saving cash, prompted by these people and their passion for not being diddled.

I guess the other aspect of good knife care is storage – long gone are the days I kept knives in the drawer. We have one of those great wall magnet strips that the blades just stick to, and a few years ago were also given one of these cool knife blocks, where the fibre things just move to accommodate the knife.

And what about cleaning? I usually just chuck them in the dishwasher, though I’ve just now read elsewhere that it’s not good for knives – but does it do anything to damage the actual blade, or is it only to prevent damage to the wooden handles?

So what about you – how do you keep your knives pointy? Do you ever have them professionally sharpened, or are you a whiz with a steel? Any tips? And what are the essential knives? We have lots, but only because I was given a large set by generous friends for a big birthday years back. Otherwise, we would have only two in constant use – the big Furi chef’s knife and the beautiful little Wusthof given me by the Lunging Latino, which I believe is known as a ‘sandwich knife’. Go figure.

Now, while we’re on the topic of slicing and dicing, I was thrilled to be alerted to this very useful knife skills video on the ‘claw grip’ over at Beyond Salmon (thanks Daniel Koontz at Casual Kitchen) – it demonstrates very clearly how to hold a knife, the action needed, and most importantly, what your other hand should be doing.

So happy chopping, shuckers. And do tell me how you keep your blades in glorious condition, or any other sharp points we should be discussing!

PS: My knives were beautifully sharpened by the lovely folks at the new Chef and the Cook – check them out if you’re in the neighbourhood.


  1. A steel is only good to keep an edge. For my kitchen knives I use a cheap water stone to get the desired angle then a good water stone from evereten online to polish it. Using a truly sharp knife is of of the joys of cooking.

  2. Poh’s Kitchen recently featured a couple of lovely butchers who showed how easy it is (or appears to be) to sharpen a knife using a steel and a stone http://www.abc.net.au/tv/pohskitchen/stories/s2964677.htm


  3. I must be a real kitchen geek because I loved this post.

    We have a lot of crap knives and one super gorgeous one we bought in Japan before we left Tokyo. It’s fantastic. But in the last, what, 7 years we’ve never sharpened it. It’s still incredibly sharp but I suppose we really should sharpen the thing. Never thought of getting it done professionally. Duh. Great idea.

    And thanks the great video link. I think I need to go practice my claw grip…

  4. Love the video,”why do they call you Knuckles, Knuckles? Embarrassingly enough it was celery I was chopping when I chopped off the tip of a finger, an event so ouchie I had to be comforted by Jamie quoting Sylvia Plath in these pages.

    I covet your knife block Charlotte- is it angled on top or straight- needing more room above to draw a knife out?

    Re the magnetic strip arrangement I read elsewhere that knife blades on open display like that could be bad Feng Shui – leading to discord in the home. Are things even cosier since you got the block?

    I don’t put my knives in the dishwasher because I don’t like nasty surprises. But also heeding warnings – marking from sitting in water or detergent? Blunting by being jostled by less well bred implements? – what is a dishwasher but a very wet drawer?

    Am enjoying Furi knives- though I got a lemon- managed to crack the blade of a cook’s knife in two months of normal usage – yes, my marshmallow slice is famous – returned it to Myers who appeared to be completely unsurprised.

    • Yes, I had to return a Furi knife once too Julie. It was the big chef’s model as in Charlotte’s pic (which I think she bought after I’d raved about it but before trouble struck). The handle got a little hole in it – some kind of corrosion I think – and kept filling with water. Every time you used it, it’d drip into your hand, making very slippery, dangerous work of everything. They replaced it, no questions, and I haven’t had a problem with my new one since.

      • Interesting to hear that Stephanie- yes my replacement Furi knife is fine too. And so sleek- I love the sleekness and functionality of them- though retain a secret affection for on older small Furi knife, which has a warm touch black handle, not rubber or bakelite or soft,just very hand friendly.

        • HI gals – Jules, my knife block is angled – I never thought why that was till you pointed it out! And our Furi has never presented a problem, but interesting to hear they can turn out a dud now and then.

  5. I love the wall-mounted knife magnet too, Shuckin’ Charlotte, it’s one of the truly handy things in an otherwise crap kitchen full of hostile design flaws. I can report no negative consequences of the Feng Shui variety, and I also throw our knives in the dishwasher – although they are elevated and away from the riffraff – and so far, so good. The best of the bunch is a Global I bought Llew for Christmas a couple of years ago – it’s the business – but I know they all need sharpening, and am avoiding it out of fear of my own clumsiness. Blunter knives = safer digits, at least until I get my centre of gravity back.

    • I love the magnet too Di, though ever since Jules mentioned the bad feng shui I’ve looked at it askance. So far, so good in the harmony & good fortune dept though so maybe we’ve escaped the evil eye.

  6. I just took mu mum knife shopping cause I got to her place in Canberra and every knife was blunt and totally unusable! I dragged her through the shops and explained that she had to test the knives by holding them in her hand and feeling it;s weight. I think she thought I was a bit weird!

    I have a couple of furi’s, a global and a wusthof and my darling butcher used to sharpen them for me, and I have the diamond fingers sharperner that is use in between.

    Got to get to chef’s armoury and try one of their knife skills classes

  7. I’m told that the high heat in a dishwasher dulls the edge on knives. Then again, I’m a bit suspicious of dishwashers (came to them late), so I’d rather hand-wash everything anyway!

  8. I have two knife sharpeners, a Kuhn Ricon (spelling optional) gadget that you can get in a hardward store which I use every time I use a knife and a Chefs Choice which, I learned after I got it, was top rated by America’s Test Kitchen. I have a stone, but don’t know how to use it, and I wash all my knives by hand. They are about 20 years old and are still lovely. If the house caught on fire they aren’t something I’d try to save, but I’d miss them.

  9. Reemski, your mum is a lucky woman, even if she doesn’t know it. Now you just have to get down there and sharpen her knives every couple of months …

    And interesting about the dishwasher dulling the edge Adele – makes sense, because the makers of those fancy Scanpan type pots say the dishwasher removes any nice curing you build up on the pots and shouldn’t be used. Same effect I guess.

    Grad, I love the idea of saving knives from a fire. You’ve made me realise that after our paintings, the knives might very well be the next thing I would snatch up!

  10. The dishwasher is going to be really bad for your knife blades and probably bad for the handles in the long run. The chemicals in dishwasher powder and the high heat are strongly recommended against.

    I use a wet stone and steel, but find that a professional can do a job beyond anything I can attempt. The best edge I ever had on my knives was from an itinerant knife guy operating in a van based out of Austin, TX. His van was covered with sticker about the dangers of flouridated water and the like. I wish he’d come back to Mississippi.

    • He sounds an excellent knife-buddy, NMissC. And I have begun, since writing this post, simply wiping my blades and putting back in the block rather than dishwashering them. Thanks to all for advice.

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