Knives can cost you a pretty big chunk of money, so extending their life is what many people are striving to do. Knives can take a beating, so it might surprise you to hear that they are actually pretty fragile in the scheme of things. Here are some tips on how to treat your knife with the best care to extend its life, keep it sharper for longer, and not letting it rust or corrode.
Cleaning Your Knife
For starters, you should be cleaning your knife. People often hear the phrase that a dull knife is a dangerous knife, but a phrase that we less commonly hear is that a dirty knife is a dangerous knife. If you clean every part of your knife, it is going to last longer than if you just give it a quick wipe down. While cleaning your knife, I would recommend starting with the blade. For the most part, your knife is going to be made of a quality steel that is resistant to rusting or corroding easily. To wash the blade and handle, I would recommend using warm water and a mild dish detergent. To prevent scratching the blade, use a soft brush, such as a toothbrush, or a smooth sponge. I would not recommend using the tougher side of most kitchen sponges, because it could scratch your metal. The next step in cleaning your knife is removing any rust. If you are constantly maintaining your knife, this shouldn’t be a problem, but, if you do have rust, it is a pretty simple solution. Just get a rust remover, spray it on the rusty spot, and leave it on for a few minutes. For cleaning any of the nooks and crannies, a cotton swab or q-tip will work great. Another efficient way to get all of the dirt and dust out of the little areas is using a can of compressed air and spraying it into those spaces. To get all of the possible parts, it is a good idea to disassemble your knife. Don’t do this unless you are sure that you know what you are doing and you are going to know how to put it back together. During this whole process, don’t be scared to really soak your knife, but when you finish, make sure that all the parts get fully dry. You should especially be cleaning it if it comes in contact with salt water.
If you are working with a kitchen knife, the cleaning process is a little bit different. Some are dishwasher safe, but some are dishwasher tolerable. This means that while they can safely go in the dishwasher, they aren’t going to maintain their full capabilities if you do put them in. Really, it’s a good idea to always wash your kitchen knives by hand. They are prone to getting dinged during the washing cycle. Dishwashers can affect the metal in your blade and damage your knife handle material. Something to remember about kitchen knives is to not leave them in your sink. Because people are constantly putting dishes in the sink, your knives could get scratched up, or even bent or broken. Another thing to remember with your kitchen knives is to immediately dry them after washing. If you leave it to dry on a rack or in another place, it can start to grow mold and mildew. Since kitchen knives aren’t usually as intricate as tactical or everyday knives, you aren’t going to have to be as concerned about the tiny crevices.
If you have a custom knife, you are going to have to give it a little extra TLC during its cleaning process. You should hand wash the blade with a gentle soap and warm water and make sure that you rinse it well. The handle should be cleaned with a damp cloth. You can buff the handle with a soft, dry cloth.
Many knife companies sell maintenance kits which will have the exact tools that your knife needs to get the cleanest. These are worth the investment.
Lubricating Your Knife
Lubricating your knife does two main things. First, it oils the moving parts of your knife so that your knife can function smoothly. This means that opening and closing your knife will be smoother and swifter. The second main thing that it does is protect the steel and metal parts. This is because the oil helps water, dust, and dirt slide off and not get stuck to the parts. This will help your knife resist rusting and corrosion.
When lubricating your knife, you do not need too much oil, just a few drops onto the moving parts and then wipe the blade with any excess oil. You should be lubricating your knife after each cleaning. If you are using your knife daily, it would benefit you richly to lubricate your knife once a week.
Storing Your Knife
If you aren’t going to be using your knife for a long period of time, you should not be storing it in its sheath, especially if the sheath is leather. Sheaths collect moisture and the moisture gets stuck, putting your blade at a higher risk of rusting. When knives are stuck in a small area with moisture, the steel will also develop pits. All steels are subjectable to rusting and corrosion, even if they are a stainless steel, those steels are just less likely to rust. Knives should be kept in a consistent and dry environment or room.
If you are storing a culinary knife, you should not be storing them in a drawer with other utensils. In a drawer like that, the knife is prone to getting scratched or dented because everything is going to shift each time you open and close your drawer. However, if this is the only place you have to store your kitchen knives, consider using a plastic guard and then laying the knives side by side. You can find these plastic guards for around five dollars. Another great storing option for your kitchen knife is on a magnetic board. A knife block is also a good place to store them, however, you should look for a block that has horizontal slots, instead of the typical vertical ones. This is because you want your blade to be resting on its side, not on the cutting edges.
Cutting Properly with Your Knife
This section mostly pertains to kitchen knives. For starters, you should always be cutting on a countertop. When you cut directly onto your countertop, the surface is too hard for your blade. Whatever surface you are cutting on should be softer than your knife’s steel. Using a wood or plastic cutting board is going to be the easiest on your knife blade.
Second of all, the chopping motion, or the constant up and down, is going to dull your blades edge. If you rock or slide with your blade, keeping your blade in contact with the cutting board is going to benefit you the most. Every time your knife comes in contact with your cutting surface, no matter what it is, it is going to cause small burrs on the edge, dulling it. That is why you want to maintain contact with your board during the whole process.
Lastly, when you scrape your food off your cutting board, I would recommend using the spine of your knife instead of your blade.
This does slightly pertain to tactical knives though. Unless absolutely necessary, you should not pry or dig with your knife. You should also avoid using it as a can opener or a screwdriver. Really, most of the heavy duty work should be avoided with your knife unless necessary.
Honing Your Blade
For kitchen knives, you should be honing them regularly. To hone a knife does not actually sharpen your knife. When a knife edge gets dull, the edge has been misaligned, so even if it is still sharp, it won’t cut the food as properly as it once could have. A honing steel pushes the edge of the knife back to the center and straightens it. It corrects the edge of the blade without actually shaving any off. However, the knife will seem sharper because the blade has been realigned. Many professional chefs will hone their knife before every use to keep it in best possible condition.
Sharpening Your Blade
Everyone hears the phrase that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife and that phrase brings us to the last key aspect of caring for your knife. One of the most important aspects of caring for your knife is actually one aspect that many people view to be the hardest: Sharpening. A sharp knife should be able to slide right off the skin of an onion. Sharpening your knife does take practice and it will be difficult at the beginning. If you have a high quality steel, you are going to need a high quality sharpener to get the best possible result. To sharpen the knife, you need a sharpener that is harder and stronger than your knife blade because it needs to actually grind the blade down.
When searching for a good sharpener, find one that includes a rough stock removal surface or a diamond abrasive. It should also include a finishing surface that is made out of a hard stone or a ceramic abrasive that you will use for the last touches.
When sharpening your own blade, the most common and best angle is going to be 20 degrees. This can be done with a sharpening stone, but it is going to be a lot easier if you use an actual knife sharpener. Many people don’t enjoy using an electric sharpener because they strip away too much of its metal.
Sharpening your knife repairs the nicks and dings on a blades edge to let it properly cut. Sharpening is done less frequently than honing, really just a few times a year depending on how often the knife is actually being used.
If you are terrified of sharpening your own knife because you are afraid of damaging it, or if you just don’t want the hassle of learning how to sharpen your own knife, or if you just plainly don’t have the time to sharpen your own knife, there is absolutely no shame in sending it to a professional.
If you take care of your knife, they are going to take care of you back. Caring for your knife can seem like a time and energy consuming task, but in all actuality, it is very simple. You should always clean your knife—cleaning it is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of rusting or corrosion to your blade. By disassembling your knife, you are able to keep the innards clean, making your knife work as smoothly as possible. Second, you should be lubricating your knife. By keeping it oiled, the dirt, dust, and water is going to be more likely to slide right off. This helps to reduce the risk of rust and corrosion. It is not a bad idea to wipe down and oil your knife gently after each use, but you should certainly be oiling your knife after each cleaning. Thirdly, you should be storing your knife properly. It should not be stored for long periods of time in its sheath. Knives should also not be stored in utensil drawers along with other utensils and kitchen objects—the risk of damaging your blade increases greatly when stored in this way. Fourth, you should be cutting properly with your blade. Blades seem strong, especially when they are made out of high quality steel, but they are fragile. Treat them as such unless a situation arises where you can’t. Fifth, if you are a chef, you should be honing your knives to provide yourself with the best possible edge. You can hone before every single edge. Lastly, you should be keeping your blade sharp. You can do this by yourself or send it into a professional. By following these six steps, the lifetime of your blade will be significantly increased.