"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Not the Sharpest Knife in the Drawer

by Julie on September 21, 2011

in Good Ideas Gone Bad

how to sharpen a chef's knife

Try this at home next time

For a bad home cook, I have a couple of bad ass knives. One, a Wusthof chef’s knife, was a birthday present to me a few years ago from my lovely ex. Another came down to me from a friend who is a much better cook and had several she no longer needed.

Here I must admit that I didn’t realize the importance of a well-made and sharp knife  in the ease of meal preparation until only a few years ago. Up until then I used any knife I could find, usually a dull steak knife, to cut everything from tomatoes to potatoes to meat.

It explains a lot. But I digress.

I wanted to take care of my handy and expensive knives. So I would run them across a “steel” whenever the blade got dull (usually when I’d squirt myself with tomato juice trying to slice a tomato) but I never knew if I was doing it right.

Several experienced cooks showed me how. But I always second guess myself. What do I know? I was probably doing it backwards. And indeed, the time came when it was obvious my knives needed to be professionally sharpened.

But where to go? I Googled “Knife sharpening” in my town, and came up with the name of a small business that contracted with Prep Kitchen Essentials in Seal Beach. I’ve taken a couple of cooking classes there, so off I dashed with my knives wrapped in newspaper. I had my two 8-inch chef’s knives, one smaller paring knife, and, included at the last minute because what the heck, two pairs of kitchen scissors, one so old and dull it would hardly cut open a plastic bag of frozen peas.

I felt virtuous and responsible. Look at me, taking care of my kitchen equipment. Just like someone who knows what she’s doing.

I returned later in the week and saw the bill. $48.

“Scissors cost $12 to sharpen,” the lady explained, no doubt reacting to my wide open mouth. “They have to be disassembled.”

I unhinged my scissors with a single twist. “You mean like this?”

“Well…Hmmm. Let me call the man to see what happened. This does seem rather high.”

It wasn’t just the cost of sharpening two pairs of scissors (note to self: check prices on these things before leaving cutlery for sharpening…I could buy a brand new pair of Wusthof kitchen scissors for $15.) The knife sharpening guy told the lady he had to grind down one of the other knives because it had been incorrectly sharpened etc. etc. etc.

I did not get a break on the bill. But they only get my money once. I won’t be back.

The worst thing? They’re not even all that sharp. Certainly not the scissors.

I ran into Mr. Carnivore not long after that. His son is a chef, and had just demonstrated to him how to use a sharpening steel the right way. “He holds it down on the counter like this,” he said. “And pulls the knife down along it like so.” (see illustration above)

I watched in silence. “I just spent $50 sharpening my knives and some kitchen scissors,” I said.

“I just sharpened all my knives for free,” he said.

Sigh. So much for feeling virtuous and responsible. Now I just feel ripped off and foolish.

Next time you hear me talking about sharpening my knives, feel free to throw one at me.

Oh, and look, right here on the Wusthof website: a guide to sharpening.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mr. Carnivore September 21, 2011 at 2:08 pm

I did indeed sharpen all my knives. Even an old Buck knife and a couple pocket knives too. I guess once I learned how to use the steel I went a little crazy. But beware… It takes a little practice to do so without slicing through a finger so exercise caution. What I hadn’t considered were my scissors. It just never occurred to me that I can dismantle them ::: Slaps self on forehead ::: So thanks for the tip. Looks like I’ll be sharpening those next.


Julie September 21, 2011 at 2:38 pm

GOOD! You can re-do my scissors for me…


Haylo September 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Look, Wusthof has a Diamond knife sharpener coated with up to 2 million industrial diamonds. I wonder if they have ruby handle knives to go along with that.

Silver lining on the sharpening thing: you’re educating us AND saving us money. Small comfort, I know. 🙂


Julie September 21, 2011 at 2:45 pm

*sniff* Thanks, Haylo! Good spin 🙂 I’m embracing it!


Peter B. September 21, 2011 at 5:17 pm

We have a set of Wusthof Classics that we bought when Mindy and I moved in together. I am a big advocate of the steel, although after 12 years I am going to dig the whetstone out one of these days. Anyway if you do it like the picture Julie posted, your fingers should be safely out of the way (although you might make a minor divot in your cutting board with the tip of your steel). Important tip: Don’t be afraid to really lean into it (making sure to keep your fingers out of harms way), especially if you knives are particularly dull.


Jamie September 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm

I can just imagine your face when they explained the complexities of scissor sharpening. Does the same technique work for lefties? I have two knives I can’t part with but most of the time I get new ones at Ross – even a really good one there is less than a Seal Beach reaming, I mean sharpening.


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