How Often Should You Sharpen Japanese Knives?

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Japanese kitchen knives are a favorite of many world-renowned chefs from all corners of the globe.

They are sharp, ergonomically designed, and carry with them a rich tradition of bladesmiths that has been passed down from generation to generation.

And if this is your first time using a Japanese knife, you might be wondering if maintenance is different with these models.

A common question asked by people when they get their hands on one for the first time is, “how often should you sharpen Japanese knives?”.

Since traditional Japanese knives are only sharpened on one side, simple honing steel can’t be used on them, and as a result, they will need to be sharpened more regularly than Western-style blades.

There is no exact timetable for this, but it’s best to sharpen them before they get dull as sharpening a dull knife is a pretty tough task.

The best way to test if your knife needs sharpening is by running the paper test on it, and if it can’t slice through a piece of paper using minimal effort, it might be time to sharpen the knife.

In this article, we’ll be going over the basics of maintaining your Japanese kitchen knife, so if it’s your first time owning one of these tools, you’ve come to the right place.

Read on to learn more.

How Often Should You Sharpen Your Japanese Knives?

Japanese knives require more sharpening than Western-style ones.

This is because they are single-edged, which means that only one side is sharp, so you can’t use honing steel on it.

In fact, some sushi chefs out there are known to sharpen their knives at the end of every workday so that they will be sharp enough to handle the next day’s workload.

But of course, considering the heavy use that these knives get on a daily basis, it’s understandable that they are sharpened daily.

On top of that, it’s also best to make sure to sharpen the knife when it comes out of the box, to ensure that it has a sharp edge from the get-go.

So for regular everyday home cooks, you won’t have to sharpen them that often.

That being said, it’s always best to sharpen these knives before they get too dull.

If you sharpen a Japanese knife before it gets dull, it will only take about 5-10 minutes of your time, but if you wait for it to get dull, it will take out a significant chunk of your workday.

To test if your knife needs sharpening, hold a piece of paper between your fingers, and using minimal effort and only the weight of the knife, try to cut the paper.

If you make a clean slice with minimal effort, your knife is still good, but if you aren’t satisfied with the way it slices through or if it didn’t slice through at all, then it might be time to give it a sharpening.

How Do I Sharpen A Japanese Knife?

The only way to properly sharpen a Japanese knife is by using a whetstone.

And while it might seem intimidating at first, a whetstone is really the only way you can unlock a knife’s full potential.

To do this, you will need several whetstones, ideally a fine, medium, and coarse grit one.

You have to make sure to use the proper technique when working with whetstones, as if you get it wrong, you risk damaging your blade’s edge.

Make sure that you are sharpening at the right angle, which is anywhere between 15-20 degrees.

It’s best to sharpen the knife at the same angle it was sharpened to when you first got it, as this will ensure you maintain the edge properly.

On top of that, it’s also important to keep the angle consistent while you’re sharpening, as inconsistency is something that can cause your knife to get dull or it might even make the process much longer for you.

You also need to make sure to sharpen on a flat base, so that it will remain stable and it gives you clearance for your knuckles.

A stone base is most recommended for this process.

And before you start the process, make sure that your coarse and medium grit stones have been soaking in water for at least 10-15 minutes.

The fine grit stone should not be wetted beforehand and instead be splashed with water while you are sharpening.

Conclusion

Japanese knives are a joy to have in the kitchen.

They have incredibly ergonomic designs, razor-sharp edges, and can be just the right tool for a lot of different chefs out there.

That being said, they do require a fair amount of maintenance since honing steel can’t be used on these types of blades.

But if you’re willing to put in the work, these are some of the best blades you can have in your kitchen!

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My name is Andy Wang, and I'm a retired chef. I used to work at the City Vineyard restaurant in NYC. I also had a culinary degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. And this blog is where I share my love for knives and cooking with people like you.