What a Professional Knife Sharpener Wants You To Know

Not feeling confident about sharpening your knife at home? We give you permission to take the job to a professional, here's why.

A knife being sharpened on a belt with sparks flying
Photo: Courtesy of Northside Cutlery

When you wield a sharp knife in the kitchen, any prep job feels easy. But attempting those same tasks with a dull knife is more like playing a dangerous game of chance. A dull knife slips over food or requires you to exert more pressure, putting your fingers at risk. It makes sense then, to keep your knives sharp, but what if you don't know how to sharpen them yourself? Yes, you can rely on the internet for advice and tutorials, but it might be time for some expert help. We asked Kevin Silverman, a professional knife sharpener and co-owner of Northside Cutlery in Chicago why you should take your knives to be sharpened by a professional.

Having a Professional Sharpen Your Knife Is Not a Sign of Weakness

There is absolutely no shame in having someone else sharpen your knife. In fact, some restaurant kitchens have professional knife sharpeners come to their kitchens weekly to sharpen their steel. If professional chefs need this service, then it makes sense that you might too. Silverman compares it to any other service you seek out — the dry cleaner, the shoe repair person, the mechanic, you trust those people to do that work because they're experienced in their trade. The same is true of the professional knife sharpener.

Why You Should Get Your Knives Sharpened by a Professional

  1. Sharpening a knife takes skill and practice. If you've ever tried to learn how to sharpen a knife on your own then you know the frustration that comes with it. Whetstones are an accessible way to sharpen knives, but using them properly requires plenty of practice. And electric or pull-through sharpeners can actually be worse for your knife, says Silverman, "leaving waves and chips, ending up with more damage." It can take years to master the skill, so even if you choose to learn to do it yourself, have a professional on standby to sharpen your knife until you feel confident doing it yourself.
  2. A professional can identify and fix problems. Knife blades get dull, but they can also chip. Any damage done to a blade can be hard to repair on your own. A skilled knife sharpener can spot problems you don't see too. And they have the tools to fix and repair them.
  3. Professionally sharpening knives can extend their life. An expert can prolong the life of your knife by removing the bare minimum of the metal required to sharpen it. That's why Silverman approaches sharpening from a perspective of preservation. "It's fairly easy, especially starting out, to over-sharpen and remove too much metal. I try and leave as much as I can so that the knife lasts the longest!" Though preservation is the goal, he admits that any sharpening (whether done at home or professionally) will remove metal, but a professional can likely stretch the life of your knife a bit longer.
  4. You'll gain a new friend in food. Your local knife sharpening guru likely knows about more than just knives. Many get into knife sharpening because they started their career working in kitchens. This makes them a wealth of culinary knowledge. Befriend them, and they'll share their kitchen tips and tricks when it comes to not just knives, but food prep and cooking. And who knows, maybe they can help you score a reservation to that new restaurant you've been dying to try.
  5. A professional can answer your questions. A video or online tutorial about knife sharpening is nice, but it won't answer your questions. The person who runs the knife sharpening business can and will. They'll possibly even teach you basics about knife sharpening so that you can get by at home when you're in between sharpening sessions. And remember, they're people too — Silverman likens his position in the community to that of a neighborhood barber, saying he's part best friend and part therapist. So you can get your knife sharpened and seek advice on your dating life.

Tips for Your First Trip to a Professional

Finally, Silverman has tips before you make your first trip to the knife sharpener:

  • Bring your knives wrapped. This makes it safer for you and the knife sharpener. Keep it simple, a kitchen or hand towel works well, but so do paper towels or a clean t-shirt.
  • Bring your knives clean. They love their job, but they didn't sign on to do your dishes. Make sure your knives are washed, that's just being respectful. Also, some places will charge you a cleaning fee if you bring in a dirty knife.

Looking for a professional in your area? Silverman recommends these businesses:

And if you don't have a professional in your area, we have you covered. We rounded up a list of the best at-home sharpeners.

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