How to Maintain a Knife

Knife and Cutting Board
Photo by FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

A great knife needs the maintenance to match. With proper care, a top quality knife can last a lifetime. Neglected, though, and you may as well just get cheap, supermarket kitchen knives every couple of months for the rest of your life. Or throw money directly into a fire.

So which sounds better: a top quality tool that you can use for years to come, or cheap hunks of steel that are only a couple grades above tinfoil? Yeah. I thought so.

There are a few basic steps to caring for a good chef knife, and while they seem like common sense, it’s amazing how rarely these basic steps aren’t followed.

Storage – Knives should be stored properly, both for safety and maintenance. One option is to place the knives on a magnetic strip on the wall, keeping them secure and out of the reach of young children. Alternatively, a butcher’s block on the counter also works.

If you have to put your knife in a drawer, be sure to buy a protective sleeve for it. This will prevent the knife from being damaged in the drawer, and it keeps searching fingers in one piece.

Hand Wash – All premium chef knives are advertised as “dishwasher safe.” Don’t do it! I did that once to a sous-chef’s knives when I was working as a dishwasher. Between curses, he made it clear that it’s very bad for the knives, especially the handles.

It’s best to wash your knife in warm soapy water (carefully!), and then immediately dry it and put it away. Avoid using steel wool or abrasive scrubs.  A sponge or rag is best to maintain the scratch-free, pristine surface of your knife, or a scrub brush for safety.

Honing and Sharpening – These are two things often confused by people just getting their first high quality chef knife. Honing refers to the regular practice of straightening and refining the edge. No metal is taken off. Sharpening refers to some amount of the metal being filed away, leaving a sharper edge behind.

Honing is best accomplished with a steel, a long rod with an abrasive surface. The blade of the knife is drawn against the steel, correcting accumulated imperfections before they become serious. Even the best knives need honing weekly or daily, depending on use.

Sharpening uses a whetstone or a specialized machine, but good knives that are well maintained don’t need as much sharpening. Many cooks – both amateur and professional – use professional sharpening services instead of risking damaging their knives.

Your top knife deserves your attention, especially if you’re willing to invest in a good one. At a very minimum follow these three steps to properly care for your kitchen knives. By properly caring for a good knife, it will provide a lifetime of quality performance in your kitchen.

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