Sometimes the best presents you get are the ones you buy yourself. Don't get me wrong - we received some great food-related stuff this Christmas, including a beautiful cookbook I received from my wife, a Wusthof chef's knife from my in-laws, a pizza stone/kit from my other in-laws, and some tasty treats and Guinness related items from my compatriot on this site, Meg. Most of these items they knew I wanted from remarks I'd made earlier in the year or because I put the item on my Amazon wishlist.
There was one item I didn't tell anyone I wanted, but that I went out and purchased for myself right after Christmas - an electric knife sharpener.
Now, I know a food geek like me should be able to use a stone to get a nice sharp edge on a blade, but frankly, I just don't have the knack. I can hone a blade just fine, but for sharpening, I need mechanical assistance.
There is a big difference between honing and sharpening. Sharpening a blade makes the edge of a blade a thinner wedge, better able to cut into and between surfaces. Now, a thin sharp blade means you've also got a weak edge to the blade, and after using a sharp blade for a while, the very thin edge will start to curl and make a J shape. Honing (which is what you see chefs do when they slide the blade along a steel) turns the J into a straight sharp line again- |.
The sharpening process with this machine is three step, with the first step being done only once per knife That's good because that step is the most nerve wracking. I started with a supermarket knife we'd purchased for maybe $8. The diamond grinder soon turned it into a razor sharp instument of dicing.
First you take the current edge off the knife. The slots that do this come with a plastic snap in protector so you know what you're doing when you use these slots. The blade is inserted in these slots and a grinding noise alerts you to the fact that your knife now has no edge to speak of.
Once the edge is taken off, the blade is drawn through the sharpening slots. A magnet holds the blade at the right angle, but you do have to apply some forward resistane while drawing the blade back to keep the knife going through slowly. If you hold it too loosely, the knife will be pushed through the sharpener very quickly, and will not be sharpened.
The third step is a honing step, very like the sharpening step, except that the blade is drawn through quickly in this step.
The result is a scary sharp knife. My wife was somewhat frightened by just how sharp all our knives were when I was done. I cut myself almost immediately while chopping because I wasn't respectful enough of the knife.
If you use one of these machines, I advise that you have a spare onion or two around to waste so you can see the "before" and "after" of the edge on your knives. Slicing a bit will also help to get the steel dust off the blade. Of course a quick wash after sharpening is in order
The Chef's Choice 110 sharpener was something like $80 at Bed Bath and Beyond, but I used a 20% off coupon after the fact and got $16 back. I won't use this often, but the pleasure of working with sharp knives makes it well worth the investment. If you don't want to spend that much on a unit yourself, see if you can get some friends to chip in and have a knife sharpening party.
I don't think I'd serve drinks.