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Just like no piano can go years without tuning, and no glasses stay clean without a good wipe, not even the best knife stays sharp forever. If you’re meeting resistance when you go to slice through a tomato or plum, your knife isn’t sharp enough—and you’re not getting the most out of your tool.
If you refuse to sharpen your knives yourself (because, yes, it’s a chore), you can pay a professional to do it for you—but this should be a yearly occurrence, not a monthly one. Unlike honing, sharpening removes metal from your knife to create a new edge. The blade gets smaller and smaller each time it’s sharpened, and professionals are likely to remove more from the edge than you would at home (like a haircut versus a trim). Sending your knives away too often can actually decrease their lifespan.
For an at-home solution, most experts tout a whetstone as the best knife sharpener. (We like the Togiharu Two-Sided 1000/4000 Sharpening Stone, which works with any style knife and comes with a coarse and a fine side.) To use a whetstone, also called a sharpening stone or a water stone, you’ll soak the stone, then drag your knife gently across its surface at a particular angle depending on your knife; if your stone has two sides (or you have multiple stones!), use the coarser one first, to remove the most material, and the finer one second, to smooth and polish the edge. If you’re not confident that you can nail the angle yourself, some companies even sell sharpening guide rails to ensure you get it right. Yes, using a whetstone takes time and practice—but there are plenty of YouTube videos that can walk you through the process.
If “learn to use a whetstone” isn’t anywhere on your to-do list, however, a manual pull-through sharpener is better than nothing. The issue with most pull-through sharpeners is that the angles are already set—you can’t use the same machine to sharpen both Japanese-style and Western knives. It’s also easy to remove more material than you intended and, over time, the mechanics in the sharpener can bend and break, leaving your knife with a really gnarly edge. (Electric sharpeners, though very fast and convenient, provide even less control than manual pull-throughs; don’t risk it with a knife you want to have forever.)
Check with the manufacturer to see if they sell a manual pull-through specifically for your brand of knife (I’ve had a great experience using the Miyabi 2-Stage Handheld Knife Sharpener with my Miyabi knives, for example) and, if not, ask for a recommendation.
Of course, the more expensive your knife, the more care you’ll want to take with sharpening. After you’ve mastered the art of sharpening with your least-precious knife, you’ll feel more confident taking a prized blade to the whetstone. Unless you’re prepping like a line cook, you probably won’t have to sharpen your knives more than two to four times a year. And once your knife cuts through onions and tomatoes like butter and breaks down bunches of herbs and scallions without leaving any annoying pieces attached, you’ll see that it was all worth it.