I recently had the chance to attend the USPCA conference in Texas, which in itself is a great opportunity to connect with fellow chefs from across the country and sharpen my skills with lectures and demonstrations from experts.
One of the classes I attended was a knife sharpening class. Dominique of Star Knife Sharpening in San Antonio was our local knife expert and shared with us different types of knives and the proper techniques and angles needed to maintain a great edge. After all a sharp knife is a safe knife and works best when properly sharpened.
First lesson - Honing vs Sharpening. Most of us use a steel or stone to hone our knives. This means we merely take off the ragged edges caused by use. This helps our knives cut as opposed to ripping our foods as we use them.
Sharpening actually reshapes and fine tunes the blade. If you are using one of the electric type sharpeners, the key is to use only the weight of the knife, do not push down! This swill damage the blade. Best bet - find an expert to sharpen your knives. Ask questions - this person should know at what angle your knife should be sharpened. Most knives are in the 22-25 degree range. German knives have an edge on both sides - typically 17 degrees primary (cutting side) and 22 degrees secondary (backside). A Japanese knife - completely different. Many Japanese knives are only sharp on one side, and have a 14 degree bevel. Some have an 80/20 ratio meaning they are sharp on both sides, but not evenly. A German knife is more of a 50/50 ratio.
Knives will vary widely in quality, cutting, and maintenance. Some tips for picking a great knife:
A little video of proper knife sharpening skills is attached. Enjoy and good cooking!