How To Use A Knife Sharpener (With Videos)

The best way to sharpen a kitchen knife is by using a whetstone, but this can be time-consuming and requires some skill and practice.

Electric and manual sharpeners take the guesswork out of the sharpening process and leave less room for error than a whetstone or sharpening rod.

Although the process is much simplified when using an electric knife sharpener or handheld knife sharpener, you must still ensure you’re using the correct method to get the best out of either device.

Here, we talk you through the different qualities of an electric or manual sharpener and explain how to use each one.

What You Will Need

  • Power socket (for electric sharpener)
  • Knife sharpener
  • Clean towel
  • Sink

How To Use A Handheld Knife Sharpener

Check your instruction manual before use to ensure that your handheld sharpener is compatible with the knife you want to sharpen; some may not work on ceramic or serrated knives.

For those 2, check out our detailed guides on:

Your model will most likely have only one or two slots. Each slot will be labeled either according to coarseness or numbered. You will need to start with the coarsest slot first.

  1. Give your knife a brief wash in warm, soapy water and dry thoroughly with a clean towel to ensure the surface is primed for sharpening.
  2. Place your handheld sharpener on a flat surface, (instructions may differ if not a countertop model sharpener) holding it in place with your non-dominant hand.
  3. Place your blade in the coarsest slot first, inserting the portion nearest the handle. The sharpener will automatically ensure the edge is positioned at the correct angle.
  4. Make sure that the bottom edge of the blade is pressed down firmly as far as possible, this ensures it is close to the sharpening wheels.
  5. Pull the knife towards you through the slot, maintaining slight downwards pressure. Continue sliding it through all the way to the tip. Ensure you only pull the knife towards you in one direction; sawing the blade back and forth could cause damage to the edge.
  6. If there is only one slot, repeat the above step 5 times.
  7. If you have further slots, repeat the movement two or three times before moving through each one – don’t skip any slots.
  8. When finished, wash the knife again to remove any metal shavings, dry and store safely.

How To Use An Electric Knife Sharpener

Check your instruction manual before using to ensure that your electric knife sharpener is compatible with the knife you want to sharpen; some may not work on ceramic or serrated knives.

Most electric sharpeners have two or more slots. Each slot will be labeled either according to coarseness or numbered. You will need to start with the coarsest slot first.

  1. Give your knife a brief wash in warm, soapy water and dry thoroughly with a clean towel to ensure the surface is primed for sharpening.
  2. Plug your electric sharpener into the socket and turn it on.
  3. Insert the blade’s heel (the part of the blade closest to the handle) into the coarsest slot, ensuring it is pushed down far enough to firmly make contact with the sharpening wheels. The sharpener will automatically set the correct angle for your edge.
  4. At a moderate pace, pull the blade towards you along the length of the knife until you reach the tip. Ensure you only pull the knife towards you in one direction; sawing the blade back and forth could cause damage to the edge.
  5. Repeat this movement times in the same slot.
  6. Move onto the next slot and pull the blade through two times.
  7. Continue through all the slots.
  8. When finished, wash the knife again to remove any metal shavings, dry and store safely.

Difference Between Knife Sharpeners

Both electric and manual knife sharpeners have one set angle, so you can’t adjust your knife to get a finer edge as you would be able to with a whetstone. However, the angle will generally be between 15 and 20 degrees, which is still an acutely sharp angle appropriate for most good kitchen knives.

Electric Knife Sharpeners

An electric sharpener is usually a large, rectangular box that has at least two slots, more often three. Each slot has a different grit level, from coarsest to finest.

Lower grit numbers remove more material from the blade and are used for repairing chips and nicks and bringing an edge back to a very dull blade. Higher grit numbers are used to refine and finish the blade’s edge.

Within the slots, there are stones which are spun by a an electricity-powered wheel.

An electric sharpener gets the job done faster than a pull-through sharpener, requiring only one or two passes through each slot.

However, this method provides very little control; you are reliant on the machine to control pressure and speed. Some professional knife sharpeners refuse to use an electric sharpener, believing that they are too powerful and can damage the blade.

Electric sharpeners are a great choice if you want something foolproof and fast.

They tend to be more costly than manual sharpeners and take up a lot more space, so may not be ideal if you have a small kitchen or would like something portable.

Handheld Knife Sharpeners

Also known as manual or pull through knife sharpeners, these generally only have one or two slots. The first slot is designed to quickly restore your blade’s edge, and the second is to create a finer finish.

If you are after a sharpener that you can take wherever you go, these are a great pick – they are much more compact than electric sharpeners and don’t require electricity, so can be used anywhere.

Handheld sharpeners come in a variety of designs. Either you will secure the sharpener on a flat surface and draw the knife through the slots, or hold the knife steady while sliding the sharpener along the blade.

Choose a pull through knife sharpener if you prefer a little more control when sharpening; you can adjust the pressure and speed at which you pull the knife through the wheels more readily than with an electric model.

If kitchen space is limited, or your budget is tight, grab yourself one of these cheaper, more compact models, which are ideal for regularly touching up the edge of your blade between full sharpenings.

Final Thoughts

A well-honed kitchen knife is one of your most important kitchen implements. If you’ve made the investment in a quality knife, you should also invest in the time, energy, and tools to keep it functioning at its best.

Even the highest-quality knives will become dull over time and require regular sharpening to remain safe and effective.

Bear in mind that some of these sharpeners may not work on larger knives, serrated knives, single-sided blades or ceramic knives. Make sure you consult the sharpener’s instruction manual before use to avoid damaging your precious kitchen knives.

If working with a whetstone is outside of your comfort zone, a quality electric or manual sharpener will give you a good edge in a short time.

While you may not end up with a professional quality edge, these devices will restore your blade to a standard perfect for routine kitchen tasks.

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