General purpose stainless steel knives are fine for home use, but professional chefs and cooking enthusiasts prefer high-performance, super-sharp carbon steel knives. Stainless steel will get the job done, but carbon steel knives will get it done with more precision. Before you buy, be aware that superior knives require special care.
Japanese Water Stones
Japanese water stones are considered to be one of the best means for sharpening carbon steel knives. They can be expensive and difficult to find, but they provide the sharpest edge. The fine particles must be lubricated with water before use to avoiding damaging these stones. They are available in a range of grit ratings; the finer the grit, the sharper the edge.
Reconstituted water stones are widely available and their fine grit also provides a razor-sharp edge. Other options include synthetic stones made from aluminum oxide, and diamond stones which incorporate tiny man-made diamond particles in the stone to aid in sharpening steel. As with Japanese water stones, these abrasives are available with grit ratings of super fine, fine, medium, or coarse which will produce different results depending on the thickness of the knife and the degree of sharpness desired. Some should be lubricated with water, others with oil. Be sure to read the manufacturer's directions to avoid damaging the stone.
Things to Consider
It takes some skill and practice to use sharpening stones but they should be used regularly to maintain sharpness. Not all knives need to be razor sharp, depending on their intended use. For example, hard foods like raw vegetables that will be sliced require a different degree of sharpness than foods that have softer textures. The softness of a carbon steel knife's edge causes it to dull more quickly than stainless steel. These knives require careful maintenance as they are prone to staining, rusting, and pitting.
- Photo Credit steel kitchen knives image by Warren Millar from Fotolia.com
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