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Stainless steel revolutionized the knife world by bringing rust and wear resistance to knives that are unprecedented in knives made from high-carbon steel. However, this new alloy brought with it some challenges, such as sharpening the knives. Stainless steel knives quickly gained the reputation of being difficult to sharpen. Our DIY guide will help you restore the edge on your stainless steel blade!
The best way to sharpen a stainless steel knife is on diamond stones. The industrial diamonds cut the stainless steel quicker and more effectively than other abrasives. Stainless steel knives can also be sharpened on whetstones, but your grit selection should be more aggressive for the first stone.
Practically every household uses a stainless steel knife of some sort in the kitchen. This steel is one of the most sought-after materials in knife construction due to the increased lifespan of these knives. These steels’ corrosion resistance, stain resistance, and wear resistance have also resulted in challenges to sharpen these knives. We will explore why stainless steel has this challenge and the best way to sharpen these knives.
If you are interested in checking out the best stainless steel knives we recommend and use you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Can a Stainless Steel Knife Be Sharpened?
Many people mistakenly assume that because a stainless steel knife is more difficult to sharpen, it cannot be sharpened. Some people even believe that stainless steel does not require sharpening due to the higher wear resistance of the material.
Stainless steel can be sharpened and often requires more frequent honing than high carbon steel knives. This is because stainless steel is softer than high carbon steel, and the edge is more likely to roll over, making the knife dull quicker.
So, if stainless steel is softer than high-carbon steel, why does it have a reputation of being more difficult to sharpen? The answer to this question is in the composition of the stainless steel alloy and the properties each imparts to the steel.
What Makes Stainless Steel Stainless?
The main components added to steel to make it stainless are chromium, nickel, and molybdenum. Chromium must be included to make up a minimum of 11% of the metal composition for the steel to be called stainless steel.
The characteristics of chromium, nickel, and molybdenum in the alloy resist corrosion and wear and resist staining from use when cutting acidic or alkaline foods, which typically stain the surface of other knives. Thus, stainless steel knives will not develop a patina over time.
Chromium offers rust resistance because it develops a passive film over the material, making it resistant to corrosion and staining. This film is also self-healing, which increases the material’s wear resistance.
Nickel is added to a minimum of 8% of the total metal composition, and the addition of molybdenum improves resistance to pitting corrosion.
Why Are Stainless Steel Knives Hard to Sharpen?
None of the metals added to the alloy to create stainless steel add an increased hardness to the metal, so why is stainless steel more difficult to sharpen than other knives made from other steel?
The increased wear-resistance of stainless steel is the characteristic that makes these knives more difficult to sharpen. Sharpening a knife essentially wears the steel away on the knife edge to produce a keen edge. Stainless steel resists this intentional wear, making it difficult to sharpen.
Stainless steel is not harder than other steel, but this resistance to wear makes the sharpening process more difficult. It takes longer and normally requires more aggressive abrasives to sharpen than high-carbon steel knives.
Vanadium is a metal that is often added to modern stainless steel, which further increases the wear-resistance of the stainless steel but increases the hardness level of some stainless steel to be almost comparable to that of high carbon steel.
Thus, stainless steel knives can be sharpened; it simply takes a little longer and a different strategy to get the desired result than with knives made from other steel.
What Is the Best Way to Sharpen Stainless Steel Knives?
Given the increased difficulty in sharpening stainless steel, you may wonder what the best and most effective method is to achieve a sharp edge on your stainless steel blade.
You can use any method to sharpen a stainless steel blade that you would normally use to sharpen any other knife. These methods can range from silicon carbide sandpaper to whetstones, but the most effective sharpening method is using diamond stones to sharpen stainless steel.
The fact that stainless steel is difficult to sharpen does not mean that standard knife sharpening methods won’t work on stainless steel knives. It just means you need to approach the sharpening process a little differently.
Diamond stones are not so much stones but rather rigid base plates with industrial diamonds bonded to the surface as the abrasive material. Since diamonds are one of the hardest and toughest substances known to man, stainless steel is easily cut by the diamond abrasive.
The main problem with diamond stones is the relatively higher cost of these stones compared to other sharpening mediums. This makes it less likely that a household will readily have diamond stones to sharpen knives.
So what does this mean for sharpening your stainless steel knives? If you are a home user who does not want to purchase expensive diamond stones for sharpening, what options do you have to sharpen stainless steel knives at home?
TIP: Elmax steel is one of the most popular stainless steel. This steel is often compared with maxamet steel that is high carbon steel. Find out differences between elmax and maxamet steel in the article below:
How To Properly Sharpen A Stainless Steel Knife At Home
The positive news is that you do not have to rush out and buy expensive diamond stones to sharpen your stainless steel knives.
Diamond stones may be the most effective and efficient way of sharpening stainless steel knives, but as we have previously mentioned, this does not make other sharpening methods ineffective or obsolete for sharpening these knives.
Other typical knife sharpening methods such as whetstones, electric sharpeners, or even sandpaper will get the sharpening job done on stainless steel knives.
If you are seeking a good all-around sharpening method that can be used on high carbon steel knives and stainless steel knives, whetstones are a good option.
Whetstones are affordable and versatile, able to sharpen a wide range of knives, including extremely hard Japanese kitchen knives.
While electric knife sharpeners are not suitable for Japanese kitchen knives, they are another possible sharpening solution for most other western-style knives, including stainless steel knives.
How To Sharpen A Stainless Steel Knife With A Whetstone
Whetstone sharpening is effective, but it is one of the more difficult sharpening methods to master. Mastering whetstone sharpening takes time, practice, and perseverance to get the techniques right to properly sharpen a knife.
To sharpen a stainless steel knife on a whetstone, start with a more aggressive grit than you would normally choose for a high-carbon steel knife. Use the same techniques to maintain the right angle for the edge and progress through grit levels for the desired finish.
The first aspect of whetstone sharpening that will differ between carbon steel and stainless steel knife sharpening is the grit selection.
Due to the wear resistance of stainless steel, your first go-to grit for the sharpening task on stainless steel should be more aggressive than what you would choose for different steel.
For example, if you are doing a basic touch-up resharpening on a high carbon steel knife, you would typically start with an 800-grit stone, progress to a 1000-grit and then a 3000-grit stone, and finish with a strop.
For performing the same sharpening task on a stainless steel knife, you would start with a more aggressive 600-grit stone. This will cut the stainless steel more effectively than an 800-grit stone to quickly refurbish the edge on the knife.
After the 600-grit stone, progress to the 800-grit and then the 1000-grit, and finally finish on a strop with a little rubbing compound to polish the edge.
TIP: Are you looking to buy a new whetstone? Check out our recommendations (we personally use the first three ones):
Our PRO choice whetstones combo (Amazon links):
- Fixing stone: Whetstone SHAPTON Ceramic KUROMAKU #320
- Sharpening stone: Suehiro CERAX soaking whetstone: Medium #1000
- Finishing stone: Whetstone SHAPTON Ceramic KUROMAKU #5000
Our budget choice (Amazon link): Sharp Pebble Extra Large Sharpening Stone Set
The technique for sharpening a stainless steel knife of whetstones would be exactly the same. Work on maintaining the correct angle of the knife edge to the stone. Work one side of the blade on the stone till a burr develops.
Once the burr has developed across the entire length of the blade, turn the knife over and work the opposite side of the knife on the stone.
Once the burr has developed on the second side, change to the next grit of whetstone and repeat the process. After the final stone, there will still be a burr on the blade’s edge.
Passing the knife over a leather strop loaded with a fine-grit rubbing compound will remove the burr and polish the edge to the final sharpness.
TIP: Sharpening and honing are two knife sharpening terms that fall into this grey area of lack of understanding. Check out simple explanation and main differences between these two sharpening terms.
Sharpening A Stainless Steel Knife With An Electric Sharpener
Most modern electric knife sharpeners are capable of sharpening stainless steel knives since most household knives are made from this material.
Some electric sharpeners are made with diamond abrasives specifically to cater to the sharpening of stainless steel knives.
Other electric knife sharpeners have silicon carbide abrasives that are also tough enough to sharpen the wear-resistant stainless steel.
As with any sharpening method, the sharpening angle is important to maintain the correct angle for the knife’s sharp edge. Sharpening a knife using the incorrect angle can potentially ruin the knife, requiring major work to restore the cutting edge.
Some electric sharpeners have a range of set angles for sharpening. You need to ensure that one of these set angles matches the correct angle for your particular knife.
Other electric knife sharpeners have adjustable angles for sharpening. These types are generally more versatile due to the variety of knife edge angles they can sharpen.
Most electric knife sharpeners are pull-through sharpeners where the heel of the knife blade is placed in the sharpener, and the blade is pulled through the sharpener toward the tip of the blade.
Most electric sharpeners will have a sharpening option and a honing or polishing option. After passing the knife through the sharpening section of the electric sharpener, you will need to pass the stainless steel knife through the honing section as well.
This fine-tunes the edge to remove the final burr and polish the secondary bevel. On some electric sharpeners, the abrasive on the honing section is ceramic rather than diamond or silicon carbide abrasives.
If you prefer an electric sharpener, choose a high-quality sharpener since a cheap electric sharpener can do more damage to the edge of your knife than good.
TIP: Electric knife sharpeners are becoming more and more popular. But do they ruin your knives? Find out the answer in the article below:
Can You Sharpen A Stainless Steel Knife With A Honing Rod?
Honing a knife makes it sharp, but it is a completely different process from sharpening a knife. Honing removes very little material from the knife’s edge since this is not the purpose of a honing rod.
A honing rod can sharpen a stainless steel knife if honing is all the blade needs. Honing a knife is not the same process as sharpening but is used to re-establish the keenness of an already sharp knife. Honing rods realign the rolled-over cutting edge of a knife.
Some honing rods have abrasives at a very high grit to polish the cutting edge, but it is not required for a honing rod.
The purpose of a honing rod is to realign or straighten the cutting edge of an already sharp knife. When a knife is used, the thin steel on the cutting edge can roll over or deform, reducing the keenness of the edge.
When the knife’s edge is passed over the hard material of a honing rod, the thin material on the knife’s edge is straightened, bringing it back into alignment with the knife’s spine. This restores the sharpness of the edge.
Honing can be performed more frequently than sharpening because it does not remove much metal from the knife’s edge. Honing is, thus, less detrimental to the life of the knife than the process of sharpening.
Stainless steel is a modern alloy that has changed how we use and maintain knives. They are generally considered to be maintenance-free, other than sharpening. They do not need special care to prevent rust or corrosion.
Stainless steel knives are more difficult to sharpen than high-carbon steel knives due to the high wear-resistance of stainless steel. However, they are not impossible to sharpen, even with sharpening tools you have at home.
The benefits of stainless steel far outweigh the relatively minor difficulty of a little extra work to sharpen the blade!
TIP: Sharpening stainless steel knives can be done by both, manual and electric sharpeners. The professional knife sharpeners prefer manual sharpeners. Check out the complete comparison of manual and electric sharpeners in the article below: