How to Sharpen Henckels Kitchen Knives
In modern kitchens, we’re surrounded by labor-saving devices and technology to the extent that occasionally reverting to performing tasks without recourse to a digital “this” or an electronic “that” has an appeal. It brings us in touch with our forebears, and successfully completing the task may activate a glow of primordial satisfaction. We’ve done it all by ourselves, and not a plug or socket was used. Well done, us!
Of course, some kitchen functions lend themselves to the time-honored method: technology simply can’t improve on what’s always been at our disposal. Exhibit A: knife-sharpening. One of the enduring images of Stone Age man is the hunter/gatherer returning to the cave with the fruits of his (or, at a stretch, her!) efforts and sharpening his flint knife on a piece of a carefully selected block of stone before preparing the food.
Lots of cooks will still swear by using a roughly hewn piece of the whetstone, which will restore the edge to a knife dulled by usage. All of which is understandable, but there is a happy medium between primitivism and modernism. First, let’s select a knife that is to be found in kitchens the world over and then investigate how best to maintain it.
Many people know about chef’s knives (kitchen knives, cook’s knives: whatever your preferred term is) will tend towards German-made knives as their favorite and Henckels knives will figure on any list of the best of these. Zwilling J. A. Henckels have made knives since 1895, and whilst this particular model is actually manufactured in Spain, it conforms to the high standards we associate with Henckels.
It is made from high-quality German stainless steel with a tapered satin-finished 8-inch blade and has been a big seller since its introduction 20 years ago.
Just a quick word here about this company: their products are branded as Henckels or Zwilling with the distinction being Zwilling are always manufactured in Germany whereas many of the Henckels’ brands are, like this particular knife, made elsewhere. Whichever is the brand name, they represent quality.
When to Sharpen Knives and Do You Really Need To?
First, let’s deal with the “should you” question. A chef’s knife which has become dull is probably more dangerous than a razor-sharp one. More effort is needed to do the requisite cutting, and this opens up the possibility of the knife slipping with unfortunate consequences. A well-sharpened knife will get the job done faster and more efficiently. So, yes, you do really need to.
“When” is not so straightforward. Here, we also need to distinguish between two processes which are often referred to interchangeably. Sharpening a knife means shaving (or grinding) off some blades to restore the slicing capability and is best achieved by a whetstone or a sharpening machine. Honing is the process whereby the sharpened edge is maintained and realigned using a honing steel. Sharpening should not be required any more than once or twice annually, provided the blade is honed on a more regular basis.
It should also be borne in mind that German-manufactured knives tend to have a thicker blade and will be able to withstand more frequent sharpening/honing than Japanese-made knives, which traditionally have a thinner blade.
What to Use on a Henckels Knife
As you might expect from a company as renowned as Henckels, there are a number of Henckels products that can be used to prolong the life and performance of the knife. These can be broadly categorized into three types: sharpening stone, sharpening steel (or rod), or what can be termed a pull-through sharpener.
These were referred to earlier as the device which we might associate with Fred Flintstone and one which has stood the test of time. Whetstones are the correct terminology, although they are sometimes called water stones or sharpening stones. They are small slabs of stone with a particularly gritty surface and are even graded according to the level of grittiness.
We will resist falling into a forensic comparison of which gradation is best to use on a Henckels knife and be grateful that Zwilling has created a two-sided stone – the Zwilling TWIN Stone Pro 250 and 1000 Grain Whetstone – which addresses the user’s need for rough or preliminary knife-honing.
The stone is used by placing the knife at an angle against the surface and gliding it back and forth on the stone until the user is happy with the edge. There is no need to over-do the iterations: five or six strokes on both sides of the blade will be enough. Simply running a finger gently along the blade will be sufficient to determine whether the job has been completed.
Sharpening steel (or rod)
These devices are subject to interchangeable terminology; I will refer to them as sharpening steels – the Zwilling Sharpening Steel is a good model – and the best way to describe them is to envisage a rod made from steel (there; that was easy!). The technique is pretty similar to that used for the stone and probably looks less daunting to casual users. The rod should be held away from the user’s body, and the knife blade gently passed along the steel.
The user should finish the process with something of a flourish where the blade is glided against the steel in an arc movement. The steel used in this device is usually highly carbonized ridged steel with a more abrasive texture than would be the stainless steel norm. The concluding flourish aims to ensure that the edge of the blade keeps its tapered shape rather than being filed into a thin razor-like edge, which would leave it brittle and prone to breaking.
Using a pull-through sharpener takes us away from the more basic method of stones and rods. It is a small contraption (usually fashioned from plastic or steel) with a crevice where the blade of the knife is pulled (or run) between two ceramic or steel discs. The discs create friction which will sharpen the blade. A Zwilling Pro Knife Sharpener is a good example.
Often, and this is true of the Zwilling pull-through sharpeners, the device will have two such crevices where the circles will have differing levels of abrasiveness allowing the knife blade to be sharpened accordingly. This article does not intend to be hamstrung by semantics or the interchangeable terminology used when it comes to knives and their accessories, but the pull-through sharpener is often referred to as simply a knife sharpener!
The pull-through sharpener is very safe to use as the circular discs are not exposed and passing the knife blade through it and back about ten times should achieve the desired sharpness in a matter of seconds.
There is also the option of taking your knife to a professional sharpener but where’s the fun in that? By using one of the above options, you can maintain your Henckels carving knife to your preferred standard.