The knife is the prized jewel of the kitchen. For a chef, knife skills are as important as those needed to drive a car to work. With many of us investing in high-quality knives to elevate our cooking skills, a question often remains: Is Professional Knife Sharpening Worth It?
After all, a dulled blade is an ineffective blade. But is it worth shelling out the extra money to have your knives professionally sharpened?
In this guide, we explore the differences between regular ‘at home’ sharpening, and why hiring a pro to hand-sharpen your blades might make a lot of sense.
Can You Get Good Results Sharpening Your Knife at Home?
Yes. But you can also get really bad results sharpening your knives at home as well. From poorly sharpened blades to even damaging the edge or causing unnecessary wear on your knives, sharpening at home might not be ideal for those who haven’t mastered the craft.
On the other hand, taking the time to learn how to properly sharpen and hone your blades is a worthwhile effort, and a task (although time-consuming) that can be quite rewarding.
If you’d like to start down this path, we suggest the Japanese waterstone.
But this guide isn’t about teaching you how to master the art (and it is an artform) of sharpening kitchen blades. It's about whether or not paying for professional knife sharpening is actually worth your hard-earned dollars.
The Benefits of Professional Knife Sharpening
It takes years and thousands of hours of practice to master the craft of sharpening blades by hand. A professional can accurately assess the angle (bevel) of your blade’s edge and re-create it with astonishing accuracy and precision.
Most Japanese and Japanese Styled blades sport a 15-degree bevel, while their American and European counterparts tend to feature a 20-degree bevel. However, this can vary slightly from brand to brand or style to style, and matching the proper bevel to the blade is an imperative step in fine-tuning its sharpness.
As an amateur, getting this wrong can end up really damaging the blade and making restoring it to its former razor-sharp glory a serious challenge.
Sharpened: the right way
Most amateur chefs don’t have a good grasp of the physics and engineering of a knife. Sure, they know the basics, but a lot of cooks think that a knife needs to be sharpened to cut like a straight razor, cutting with the push of a stroke.
In reality, a properly sharpened blade should cut best with a slicing motion, expertly honed to a fine edge that has just enough roughness of texture to grip and ‘bite’ the food item, allowing it to actually sink into the cut.
The Subtleties of The Blade
Every blade is unique, with subtleties that can influence how the blade should be sharpened. From the correct tools to the method and technique employed, each blade requires a custom-tailored approach to achieve optimal results.
Factors that Impact How a Blade Should Be Sharpened Include:
- European, American or Japanese styled blade
- Type of knife (chef’s knife, meat cleaver, paring knife, etc.)
- Whether the blade is made from a carbon or stainless steel
- The blend of carbon
- How the knife is used most often (personal preference)
Unlike honing, sharpening a blade is a destructive process that can reduce the longevity of a knife. When carried out by armatures…or worse, a generic electric powered knife sharpener, it can take years of life off the blade.
A professional, by contrast, will ensure that the absolute minimal amount of metal is lost/spent in the sharpening process, prolonging the life of the blade and its’ shape, form and performance.
A Wetter Whetstone
Although you can certainly purchase a whetstone for use at home (and you probably should), the whetstones used by professionals have one key difference: they are always kept wet while in use.
By keeping the whetstone properly lubricated through the sharpening process, it prevents the blade’s metal from overheating. This preserves the blade’s temper. If the blade gets too hot when sharpened, it can cause it to become brittle and vulnerable to damage.
How to Find a Knife Sharpening Pro
Here are a few tips on finding a pro to sharpen your prized set of kitchen knives:
- Local cookware shops often have in-house services or referrals
- Local chef’s clubs often have the inside scoop
- Online searches often yield surprisingly good results (be sure to check the reviews)
- Blacksmithing shops and businesses are often a great place to ask about services
How Much Does Professional Knife Sharpening Cost?
Here’s the best news of all…professional knife sharpening is usually really affordable. On average you might expect to pay between $1.50-$2.25 per inch of blade. A small price to pay for perfection.
How Often Should You Get Your Knives Sharpened?
This depends on a few factors, such as how frequently they are used, how hard you are on them when they are used, what you use them for, and so on. That said, generally speaking, most pro chefs suggest sharpening every 3 months for blades that are moderately used, and once every 6-12 months for those blades that don’t get a lot of use.
Another metric to go by is a sharpening for every 300 or so meals prepped.
Is Professional Knife Sharpening Worth It: The final verdict
Although you can certainly sharpen knives at home, for those blades which are most important to you, professional sharpening offers a lot of benefits. From increasing the lifespan of your blade, to enhancing its performance (and perhaps your own culinary skills), shelling out a few bucks a couple of times a year is well worth the price.