A sharp knife not only performs better than a blunt one – it is also safer because it requires less pressure when cutting and is less likely to slip or twist in your hand. There are a number of steps you can take to keep your knives in optimum condition.
Correct storage is important. The ideal is probably a knife block which can be kept out on the kitchen work surface and will keep the blades well protected. Alternatively you could choose a wall mounted magnetic knife rack. If you do this the handles should always be placed uppermost and you should be sure to position the rack well away from areas where the knives could be accidentally knocked and end up on the floor – or even in someone’s foot! Another alternative is an in-drawer knife organiser such as those made by Wusthof or Robert Welch. The main thing to avoid is just shoving your knives into a drawer to rattle around against each other and any other cutlery that you may have in there. This can be quite dangerous when searching for the knife you need and will also result in the blades deteriorating fairly rapidly. If you do need to store knives like this invest in a relatively inexpensive blade guard which will save both your fingers and the blades from damage.
To keep knife blades in optimum condition it is a good idea to get into the habit of giving them a few strokes on a sharpening steel every time you use them. The steel should always be longer than the knife blade and needs to be of a material which is harder than the blade that it is sharpening which is why some steels are coated with industrial diamonds. To use the steel hold it in your left hand and the knife in your right (or vice versa if you are left handed), then guide the blade with light pressure across the steel at an angle of about 20 degrees for a European style knife or 15 degrees for a Japanese style knife. Then repeat this holding the other side of the blade against the other side of the steel. Repeat this 6 to 8 times by which time the blade should be honed. If you are not happy using a steel you can use a pull through sharpener with crossed steel rods which replicate the correct angle of a steel
If your knife blade has lost its sharp edge altogether it will need more than maintenance work on it and for this you can use a pull through sharpener with ceramic wheels.
Finally it is important to bear in mind the chopping surface that you use when preparing food. Wooden or polyethylene boards are ideal as they have the right amount of ‘give’ in them to avoid damaging the blade. Plates, glass boards, granite work surfaces are all too hard and can quickly damage the cutting edge of the knife.