The first rule of knife safety in the kitchen is that you ALWAYS should be cutting with a sharp knife. Cutting with a dull knife is much more dangerous, as you have to put a significantly larger force on the knife in order to cut, often resulting in slips and cuts. Another reason to use a sharp knife is that if you work frequently in the kitchen, you will cause muscle and bone soreness and irritation by using a dull knife for long periods of time.
Solve the Dull Problem
Fortunately, there are 2 ways to keep your knives functional: honing and sharpening. There are lots of misconceptions out there about this process; most people assume that when they mindlessly rub a knife against a steel honing rod that they’re sharpening their knife. This is NOT the case.
Honing: Sometimes the edge of the blade of a knife can become warped, affecting a knife’s ability to cut. This can be fixed by honing the knife. There is a proper way to do this:
Put a cloth or paper towel on a flat surface and stand the honing rod (a steel or ceramic rod, in most cases) straight down. You can hold it away from you in the air if you wish, but this is harder and less effective.
Hold the blade of the knife perpendicular to the honing rod gently and tilt it upwards halfway so that it forms a 45 degree angle with the rod.
Tilt the blade halfway again so that it forms a 22 degree angle with the honing rod.
Gently move the point of contact down the knife and the honing rod, starting at the heel of the knife and ending at the tip. It’s almost like you’re trying to cut a very thin slice off the honing rod. (See video below for details on the motion)
Do this 4-5 times for each side, then 1-2 for each side again.
Honing only straightens the edge of the blade if warped. It does nothing to sharpen the blade itself. Eventually, the blade will wear and no amount of honing will improve the knife’s performance. This is the time to get your knife sharpened.
What About Sharpening?
Sharpening a knife is not something you can do yourself; it takes expensive specialized equipment and years of training to do well. Take your knives to be sharpened professionally about once each year.