How to Maintain Your Kitchen Knives

With proper maintenance, a little care and some patience a quality set of kitchen knives can last well beyond our lives.  In this post I will share with you tricks, tips and even show you what will happen if you do not take care of your knives.  In a previous post, Finding the Right Kitchen Knives, I shared with readers some tips on finding a set of kitchen knives that will provide you with a lifetime of enjoyment.  In this post I will go over tips, tricks, debunk some myths and share plain common sense to make sure your investment is protected and functioning optimally.

The first thing I will mention falls into the common sense category, always use a cutting board if at all possible.  Sometimes you just can’t, cutting a large cut of meat, or whatever else may come along in your culinary travels that would prevent you from using a cutting board.  When choosing a cutting board always try to use, wood, plastic or rubber.  Using other types of cutting boards, such as glass, metal or marble can actually damage your knives in a very short period of time, this includes cutting on ceramic plates – don’t do it!  I had a roommate several years ago who refused to use a cutting board for whatever reason and he damaged one of my knives, below is a close up of the blade from the damage, this is VERY bad, you never want your knives to look like this.

Damaged Kitchen Knife Blade

As you can see there are several large and small pieces of the cutting edge missing, this was as a result of not using a cutting board,  instead the center metal portion of the kitchen sink as his cutting board – for your sake, for your knife’s sake please don’t do that!  The good news is the damage above can be fixed, though it should never have happened to begin with, more on the repair later in the article.

Another simple rule I like to adhere to, this is more of a cautionary measure, hand wash knives immediately after use.  Don’t leave them in the sink  and don’t put them in the dishwasher.  Knives are typically very easy and quick to wash by hand, so this is not a big time consuming task.  The reasons not to leave them laying around seem pretty obvious, first of all you are significantly more likely to have an accidental injury if they are just laying around, quality kitchen knives are razor sharp.  Secondly, there is a greater chance of damaging the knife itself if it’s laying around, something could fall on it and bend the blade or hit the blade and damage it similar to what you see above.  Bottom line, most quality knives are dishwasher safe, but I think it’s unwise to clean them that way.

Using a knife steel is one of the most misunderstood and incorrectly performed tasks in the culinary world.  It’s a very simple task to perform with 10 minutes of practice and is one of the best things you can do to maximize the lifespan of your knife’s edge.  Before I share the examples with you, please understand that a knife steel is not a blade sharpener as most people understand it, it is a blade “re-aligner” meaning it will keep your blade sharp, but it will not make a dull blade sharp.  The damaged blade above can not be fixed with a knife steel.  There are so many great examples online of how to use a knife steel I won’t bore you with it, but rather link you to it.  Here’s a fantastic write up on how to use a knife steel.  If you are more of a visual person here is one of my favorite blogging Chef’s, John Mitzewich, demonstrating how to use a steel and explaining visually what I mentioned above about it not sharpening the knife.

With a little practice you’ll become a whizz at using a steel and it’ll become a regular habit every time you use your knives, which is a good thing!  Because I used a steel since my knives were new, with the exception of the knife above none of my knives have ever needed to be sharpened, they are all still extremely sharp and after 6-7 years the most used knives are to the point that I am thinking about finally actually sharpening them.

Sharpening a knife requires a stone, in the world of fine kitchen knives that typically means a whetstone or oilstone, these are flat, typically rectangular stones that you would use dry or apply oil or water to depending on the type of stone.  This is one area that there is a huge range of variables on and there is no black and white answer, some stones are better with moisture others are better dry, some feel using a stone with a liquid lubricant can create an uneven edge because it suspends the fine blade particulate and creates uneven spots on the blades edge.  Which ever direction you go in, the process is very similar to using a knife steel, here’s a link to learn more about using a knife sharpening stone. This is one area you may want to pay a professional to sharpen them if you have any doubts, the good news is much like with using a knife steel with a little practice and patience you can get very good at this too.

The only other tips I have to maximize the life of your knives is to be gentle with them, they are tools that are designed to be used, but don’t confuse that with abusing them.  Don’t violently stab, or chop things chaotically, be graceful and calculated when cutting and you’ll become more efficient and effective with your knife skills.  With practice and time you’ll become faster and more confident.  Keep in mind the chef’s you see online cutting super fast probably cut more food in a day than the average at home chef does in several months.  Be safe, use your head and don’t be afraid to keep pushing the limits with your knife skills, it’s a very rewarding skill set.