Why can't I keep my knives sharp anymore?

11
10
Joined Aug 28, 2010
4 yrs ago I got 3 Wusthof knives. They stayed sharp for 2 yrs without needing to be sharpened. I would hone them about once a month. I use them daily a great deal. When they finally needed sharpening, I did some reading and saw where it was suggested that you should hone them at least every other use, if not with every use. So that's what I started doing. I had them professionally sharpened and at the same time I bought a new cutting board (bamboo). The sharp edge lasted barely a month. I have had them sharpened 2 more times, again with the same results. The guy that sharpened them the first time just ran them through an electric sharpener a few times. Heck I could have done that! So when the edge didn't last I assumed it was because they just weren't done right. So the next time, I shopped around and found someone that did it by hand, and it sounded like he knew what he was doing. So finally here are my questions: What is the best cutting board to use (I need another one). Should I use a sharpening steel, or stick with the honing one? Am I honing too often? From what I have read recently, I do think I have been using too much pressure. Could I be using a wrong technique when cutting/slicing? There is nothing more frustrating than a dull knife, plz help! And to think I can remember as a teenager cutting vegies ALL day long for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with a steak knife :)
 
8,550
211
Joined Feb 13, 2008
The best thing would be if you learn to sharpen yourself.  We can talk about the right way for you if you like.  Some are inexpensive, some are easy, some work better than others.  As you said, you can draw a knife through a machine sharpener as well as anyone else.  For that matter, you can rub one on a couple of stones as well as anyone else but that will take some practice.

At this stage of the game, your knives may need to be thinned.  Progressive sharpenings move the edge to a thicker part of the knife, and the bevel angles tend to become more obtuse.  Thinning grinds away some thickness and allows you to restore the old bevel angles.  File that under "good to know," for now.

There are other possibilities as well, but without handling the knife myself I can't diagnose the problem for sure.  Bad sharpening -- even by pros -- could be a part of it.  Considering how little sharpening you've had done, your knives are far from worn out. More than likely the problem is a combination of not enough sharpening and bad honing on your part. 

You should use a rod hone frequently and with very little pressure.  There's no right set schedule, you use it when needed.  In the case of a Wusthof chef's knife that's going to be something like every other meal.  If you're serious about getting the best performance from your Wusties, you may want to replace your hone.  If you want to learn more about steeling, read this

Bamboo boards are very hard.  Partly it's the hard, springy nature of the bamboo itself; but mostly it's all those glued seams.  Hard glue is... well... hard.  This tends to bend your blades slightly at the very edge making them seem dull.  It's called burring, and is something to which Wusthof steel is very susceptible.  The answer is to use your steel, and to change boards to a good hardwood board. 

FWIW, bamboo is not wood, but grass.  It's not good, but not the end of the world either.  Bamboo is down the list from good hardwood and Sani-Tuff (which I don't recommend), and about equal to composition.  It's better for your knives than any plastic I know of, and much better than glass or stone.  

There are a variety of excellent boards from which to choose; but "excellent" and "inexpensive" seldom go together.  We should talk about budget and size, before getting specific about boards.  Regarding size, get the biggest board which will fit in your space and which you can afford.

Edge grain boards are better than long grain (aka side grain), better enough to be worth the substantial price difference, but not enough better to break the bank. 

Just to ballpark you on prices, you might want to Google "Boos cutting boards."  Boos is an excellent brand, and the prices are representative of the quality level.  We have two boards, one an 18 x 3 Boos end-grain, maple, round "Chinese," the other an 18 x 24 x 2 Boardsmith, end grain, mahogany rectangle.  While they're great for us, they may not be right for you. 

That's a start on the subject.  What are your thoughts so far?

BDL
 
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11
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Joined Aug 28, 2010
My thoughts so far... That I am frustrated. But let's start with the board. As I recall, my other boards have been hardwood so I am sure that has played a role. My entire counter-top/prep area is 15 X 19. My current board is 15 X 21 so it hangs over the edge a bit but it's no big deal. I really think I need one that has "legs" with feet because my counter is right next to the sink, and since I am using the board (and the sink) most of the day, it is wet more than dry most of the time. Thus my frequent need for boards. The cost really isn't a factor though I am not out to spend money just for the sake of doing so. I don't care what name is on the side and I don't care what it looks like as long as it is durable and wont dull my knives. I did look up the Boos and found a 15 X 20 cherry wood with the feet. All the sites I saw had it from $170-$200 except for one that had it listed at $125 which makes me a little leery. OK so go with an end grain, softer hardwood. Fantastic one down :)
The best thing would be if you learn to sharpen yourself. We can talk about the right way for you if you like.
I am afraid the right way for me wouldn't be the right way for my knives. Even in my complete ignorance in the art of sharpening, I feel that bad sharpening would be an insult to fine steel. I love watching someone sharpen a knife that really knows what they are doing. It's like watching a musician play a fine instrument. With that being said, the only way I would be comfortable doing it myself is to go all out and learn everything and become a "master" at it. Sadly I lack the patience to do that and I don't trust the machines. I don't mind paying someone to do it for me, the problem is I am never in the same place for more than 4-6 months at a time. It's hard finding the right person. I suppose if I ever do find the perfect person I can ship them to him a few times a year to do it. I wonder if I would suffer from Knife Separation Anxiety :)

BDL thank you for all the time and effort you put into every response you offer us. You are appreciated!
 
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Joined Jan 5, 2021
My thoughts so far... That I am frustrated. But let's start with the board. As I recall, my other boards have been hardwood so I am sure that has played a role. My entire counter-top/prep area is 15 X 19. My current board is 15 X 21 so it hangs over the edge a bit but it's no big deal. I really think I need one that has "legs" with feet because my counter is right next to the sink, and since I am using the board (and the sink) most of the day, it is wet more than dry most of the time. Thus my frequent need for boards. The cost really isn't a factor though I am not out to spend money just for the sake of doing so. I don't care what name is on the side and I don't care what it looks like as long as it is durable and wont dull my knives. I did look up the Boos and found a 15 X 20 cherry wood with the feet. All the sites I saw had it from $170-$200 except for one that had it listed at $125 which makes me a little leery. OK so go with an end grain, softer hardwood. Fantastic one down :)

I am afraid the right way for me wouldn't be the right way for my knives. Even in my complete ignorance in the art of sharpening, I feel that bad sharpening would be an insult to fine steel. I love watching someone sharpen a knife that really knows what they are doing. It's like watching a musician play a fine instrument. With that being said, the only way I would be comfortable doing it myself is to go all out and learn everything and become a "master" at it. Sadly I lack the patience to do that and I don't trust the machines. I don't mind paying someone to do it for me, the problem is I am never in the same place for more than 4-6 months at a time. It's hard finding the right person. I suppose if I ever do find the perfect person I can ship them to him a few times a year to do it. I wonder if I would suffer from Knife Separation Anxiety :)

BDL thank you for all the time and effort you put into every response you offer us. You are appreciated!
If you can't be satisfied by a machine and don't want to learn how to sharpen then as you said find a pro. By the way, your knife should be sharpened at least every time per week, which is why the edge is being lost. You could try pull-through sharpeners(A 20-degree would probably work fine on your Wusthofs) which are pretty easy. By the way, if you do change your mind try a Work Sharp belt sharpener. Yes, it is a machine but it's got great reviews and works really well. Lots of whetstones have angle guides so you could try using one at first and slowly getting used to it, too
 
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Joined Nov 18, 2010
First have them thinned. If only the edge got restored, they become very thick behind the edge, requiring more and more force to get through food and causing the board contact to be more violent, resulting in a poor edge retention, and so on. Send them out.
 
1,290
817
Joined Mar 1, 2017
4 yrs ago I got 3 Wusthof knives. They stayed sharp for 2 yrs without needing to be sharpened. I would hone them about once a month. I use them daily a great deal. When they finally needed sharpening, I did some reading and saw where it was suggested that you should hone them at least every other use, if not with every use. So that's what I started doing. I had them professionally sharpened and at the same time I bought a new cutting board (bamboo). The sharp edge lasted barely a month. I have had them sharpened 2 more times, again with the same results. The guy that sharpened them the first time just ran them through an electric sharpener a few times. Heck I could have done that! So when the edge didn't last I assumed it was because they just weren't done right. So the next time, I shopped around and found someone that did it by hand, and it sounded like he knew what he was doing. So finally here are my questions: What is the best cutting board to use (I need another one). Should I use a sharpening steel, or stick with the honing one? Am I honing too often? From what I have read recently, I do think I have been using too much pressure. Could I be using a wrong technique when cutting/slicing? There is nothing more frustrating than a dull knife, plz help! And to think I can remember as a teenager cutting vegies ALL day long for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners with a steak knife :)
There is nothing out of the ordinary going on here. Chances are that your issues are the result of human error rather than a problem with your knives. The first step is to examine your honing steel. This piece of equipment is often the most overlooked and undervalued component of any knife set. Your knife's edge is as only as good as your honing steel. Check it out. Is it worn? Can you feel the honing steel gripping the blade? Are you using it properly? If your honing steel is worn or of poor quality, that could be a large part of the issue. You may wish to invest in a quality honing rod if you don't have one or if your current honing steel needs to be replaced.

I will answer your questions as presented:

1. What is the best cutting board to use? Wood cutting boards are your best option. Research the various properties associated with each species of wood and decide which one best suits your needs. Stay away from stone, glass or plastic board as they can damage your knives. Plastic board can also develop cuts and grooves that will be a safe haven for bacteria.

2. Should I use a sharpening steel or stick with the honing one? There is a difference between sharpening and honing. Sharpening restores the edge of the blade by removing metal from the blade. Under typical conditions, a home cook may have to sharpen their knives at most, twice a year. A professional chef, on the other hand, who uses the knife far more than a home cook, may need to sharpen their knives 2 or 3 times per month. Since sharpening removes metal from the blade, by definition, that means sharpening reduces the life of the knife. What benuser benuser says is correct. However, I would like to add that for a home cook to reach the point where their knife has become too thick behind the blade would require a lot of sharpening, years worth, in fact, before a home cook's knife had that problem.

Honing, on the other hand, restores the blade's edge without removing metal. The difference between the two is that a knife only needs to be sharpened when the edge can no longer be restored because the metal at the edge has worn out and has begun to nick and chip. You can run your finger carefully along the edge and feel the nicks and burrs. This is an indicator that its time to sharpen the knife. When the knife is sharpened, metal is removed from the edge and along with it, the nicks and burrs leaving behind a clean, sharp edge. An experienced knife sharpener will remove as little metal as possible to restore the knife's edge and sharpen the knife according to its specific bevel. But, that's another matter.

How honing works is that when a knife becomes dull, the edge of the blade curls like a "J". The honing steel passes over the edge and bends the curled metal back to the "V" shape, thus restoring the knife's edge without removing metal. Its always good practice to use honing steel before every use. Hence, the importance of a good honing rod.

With all of this said, your best options are: 1) Invest in a good honing rod and learn how to use it properly; and 2) invest in and learn how to use sharpening stones. They are not complicated and you can teach yourself how to use them in about an hour. With minimal practice, you can use them effectively. There are countless videos on social media that can teach you how to use them. I would recommend staying away from mechanical sharpeners. They remove far too much metal than necessary and can easily damage the blade. With sharpening stones, you really have to go well out of your way to damage your knife which makes them ideal for beginners and are preferred by most pros.

3. Am I honing too often? There's no such thing, unless your honing rod is poor quality or worn out. I also neglected to mention that you should stay away from diamond honing steel. Like mechanical sharpeners, they remove metal from your blade with each use and can damage your knives.

4. Could I be using a wrong technique when cutting/slicing? That is entirely possible. Using a knife improperly or outside the scope of its intended uses can ruin its edge and/or damage the blade. For instance, chopping on a stone or glass cutting board can ruin a knife's edge or using the knife to cut through hard items such as bone or frozen ingredients. A good component of knife skills is knowing which knife to use for certain tasks. There are knives out there that are work horses designed to perform a variety of tasks such as a "chef's knife." Others are designed to perform more specific tasks such as a filet or pairing knife. If a knife that is properly sharpened, it will literally do most of the work for you. You will not need to press very hard or struggle to make your cuts. There are many quality videos that you can find on YouTube that can help you learn some good knife techniques.

I hope this helps. Good luck. :)
 
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Joined Jun 7, 2021
My thoughts so far... That I am frustrated. But let's start with the board. As I recall, my other boards have been hardwood so I am sure that has played a role. My entire counter-top/prep area is 15 X 19. My current board is 15 X 21 so it hangs over the edge a bit but it's no big deal. I really think I need one that has "legs" with feet because my counter is right next to the sink, and since I am using the board (and the sink) most of the day, it is wet more than dry most of the time. Thus my frequent need for boards. The cost really isn't a factor though I am not out to spend money just for the sake of doing so. I don't care what name is on the side and I don't care what it looks like as long as it is durable and wont dull my knives. I did look up the Boos and found a 15 X 20 cherry wood with the feet. All the sites I saw had it from $170-$200 except for one that had it listed at $125 which makes me a little leery. OK so go with an end grain, softer hardwood. Fantastic one down :)

I am afraid the right way for me wouldn't be the right way for my knives. Even in my complete ignorance in the art of sharpening, I feel that bad sharpening would be an insult to fine steel. I love watching someone sharpen a knife that really knows what they are doing. It's like watching a musician play a fine instrument. With that being said, the only way I would be comfortable doing it myself is to go all out and learn everything and become a "master" at it. Sadly I lack the patience to do that and I don't trust the machines. I don't mind paying someone to do it for me, the problem is I am never in the same place for more than 4-6 months at a time. It's hard finding the right person. I suppose if I ever do find the perfect person I can ship them to him a few times a year to do it. I wonder if I would suffer from Knife Separation Anxiety :)

BDL thank you for all the time and effort you put into every response you offer us. You are appreciated!
BDL was spot on with his advice, including thinning the blade, and a burr created on the knife edge. For sharpening, there is a power sharpener - Work Sharp, that is very easy to use, and makes obtaining a keen edge nearly foolproof. It creates a convex edge profile, which is the strongest profile. It resists burring deformation while in use. There are numerous Youtube videos showing the operation, and features of this product. The Ken Onion version was developed with the assistance of famed knife maker, Ken Onion.

I steel my chef's knife before, and after each meal. I also place my knives edge-side up in the knife block, so as not to drag the edge across the inside wood of the block jupon insertion, or removal. I have only had to actually sharpen my daily use chef's knife about 5 times since I obtained it in 20003.

I hope this has been helpful.

Seeeeya; Chief Longwind of the North
 
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