So you just bought your first Japanese knife and you want to keep it looking and performing at its best. Depending on what knife you bought (double bevel, single bevel, carbon, stainless or semi-stainless), here are a few tips to keep you going in the right direction.
Before you start using your knife, it's a good idea to establish a few things; some are pretty obvious but others are not. All the tips and techniques here are from my own experience as a sharpener and cook, and from working with blacksmith and sharpeners in Japan. One of our main goals at Tosho Knife Arts is to educate knife users, and share our experiences.
Please feel free at anytime to contact us about any questions you may have.
Ok let's get started!
Steel: What type of steel is your knife made of, and does the steel and knife require any special care? For example, with fully carbon steel blades it's important after each use to fully clean and dry the knife, preventing any rust or pitting from forming on the blade.
Storage: Did the knife come with a saya or wood sheath to store and protect it? If not, do you have a place to keep it free from other knives and kitchen utensils? This will help protect the edge from unnecessary chips and/or dulling.
Designated Users: Is the knife yours alone to use or will there be others using it as well? If the knife is going to be shared, then it's a good idea to go over the proper use and care of the knife with everyone using it. This applies to pro kitchens as well as home cooks.
Cutting Boards: Now that you have a new knife, you're going to want to enjoy it fully! And it may be time to invest in a new cutting board. If you do need a new cutting board, make sure the material is wood or cork and the size of the board suits the size of your knife, the space you are working in/on, and the type of food you like to cook. Taking into consideration all these points will improve the entire experience of cooking and using of your knife. There's nothing more annoying than trying to cut squash on a small warped cutting board!!
Daily and Weekly Honing/Sharpening: To me, the most important thing in the daily use of a knife is keeping it sharp! It's important to set up some type of routine you can follow based on your time and skill level. It's easy to keep blades sharp or even sharper than when your bought it. Honing and sharpening don't have to be complicated or take hours to do; following a good routine taking into account steel type and use make a world of difference.
Let's go through each step of honing a knife with daily and weekly maintenance for home and professional cooks.
What you will need:
Depending on how much you use your knife, the steel it's made from, HRC (rockwell hardness), types of forging and quenching and what type of surface you are cutting on will usually determine how often you need to actually go to a wet stone. Other things like what you are cutting and your cutting technique can also be a factor in how long your edge lasts.
The tools you will need are:
A honing leather that is on a flat surface like wood or glass.
A fine wet stone or finishing/polishing stone corresponding to the type of steel the knife is made from and its HRC. It's also a good idea to have a medium grit stone as well like a 1000 grit or 1500 grit.
And one of the most important things you will need is a diamond lapping or flattening plate at 120-140grit, to keep the stones flat, this can't be stressed more. Keep your stones flat!!!!!!
Felt, newspaper or soft wood for burr removal (we will talk about this in more detail but from experience, nothing works better than felt).
Other items you will need would include, a stand to put the stone on while sharpening. This could be an actual stand made for sharpening or a 2x4 or piece of wood that will raise the stone to a comfortable height for sharpening, or a sink bridge made of wood or steel, but even with a sink bridge it's nice to have the stone on a stand on your sink bridge.
Clean towels reserved only for sharpening.
Watering bottle or spray bottle to keep the stones wet.
Paper to test your edge before and after honing to give you a reference point as to how sharpe or dull your edge was before honing and the level of sharpness you achieved after honing.
A good light source to see what you are doing.
Some type of container to keep your sharpening and honing tools in - to protect and keep them all clean and organized, and also to soak the stones in before sharpening.
A clean level surface to sharpen on, something stable that won't move or rock back and forth
Here is a honing video to help you understand how to use the honing leather on your kitchen knife.
DO: KEEP YOUR KNIFE DRY Leaving your blade wet with water or acid can build rust and degrade the edge of your blade. Be sure to wipe it clean and dry in between uses.
DON'T: CUT FROZEN FOOD Although Japanese steel is incredibly hard, it's not meant to come into contact with frozen solids. Know your knife and it's purpose, and avoid hacking into ice, bones, and other frozen foods or risk cracking the blade's edge.
DO: HONE YOUR KNIFE REGULARLY While honing doesn't remove metal, it does realign the apex of your blade keeping the edge sharp. We suggest using a leather strop for greater quality and accuracy.
DON'T: USE GLASS OR HARD PLASTIC CUTTING BOARDS Stick to wood or cork instead. The hard surfaces of glass and dense plastics can crack your knifes blade.
DO: KEEP YOUR BLADE COVERED Keeping your knife in a sheath is not only the safest way to store it, but it will prevent your blade from being nicked by other utensils and surfaces.
DON'T: PUT YOUR KNIFE IN THE DISHWASHER Between the prolonged exposure to extreme heat, the harsh chemicals found is most dishwashing detergents, and the risk of water logging your wooden handle - putting your knife in the dishwasher is a recipe for disaster. We recommend using a mild soap and gentle cloth when cleaning your knife.