How to Sharpen Serrated Knives: 5 Tips + 3 Mistakes Everyone Makes
Sharpen Your Knives at the Chop of a Hat
Serrated knives are perfect for cutting bread, tomatoes, meat, etc. Some knife owners assume that when their blades become dull, there's nothing they can do. That's not true, however. Serrated knives can be sharpened at home just as easily as flat-edged knives. You might even have the materials in your drawer already.
Are you interested in learning how to sharpen serrated knives? In this guide, we'll explore how to sharpen a knife, some common mistakes to avoid, and what are the sharpest, highest quality knives on the market.
How to Sharpen Serrated Knives Step by Step
Before getting started, it's a wise idea to have a clean workspace free of any clutter. You can lay your knives on a towel or cutting board. Be sure to have some vegetables or bread handy to test your knife. You might consider clamping your knife in a vice grip for safety reasons, so it doesn't slip in the sharpening process.
This will also make it easier and faster to sharpen. In any case, be sure to have a first aid kit on hand since you are working with sensitive materials. If you're working with an especially large or sharp blade, consider having a helping hand to hold the knife steady and prevent any damage to either you or the blade itself.
1. Choose the right equipment
The first step in learning how to sharpen serrated knives is to begin by examining your knives. Find the scalloped edge, and determine how wide these serrations, or "gullets" are. This will determine the size of sharpening steel you'll need. You might need multiple rods if your knives have different size gullets. For the majority of serrated knives, however, you'll like to be able to use just one standard rod.
Please note that flat files, as well as edge sharpeners, won't work for serrated knives. If you're willing to invest a little for the long run, consider buying a V-shape knife sharpener apparatus, including rods attached securely to a wooden base. These work great for a large variety of knives.
2. Find the beveled edge
Like your standard flat-edged knife, you'll only want to sharpen the beveled side of the knife. To find the beveled edge, look for the side that most prominently features the serrations. It should appear like a small scallop, with a flat edge to each one. The reverse should appear completely flat, with very little evidence of the serrations.
Never sharpen the wrong side of the knife. It will damage it. After you've found the beveled edge, you can begin to pull the sharpening iron across.
3. Determine the correct angle to sharpen
Sharpening sounds easy in theory, but you may have a hard time positioning the knife and the sharpening iron. A great idea is to have a vice grip handy to clamp the knife while you pull the iron across. Or, if it works better for you, you can clamp the iron down (like in a v-sharpener) and pull the knife across that way.
However you do it, be sure to follow the proper angle so as not to damage the serrations. To do this, follow the general angle of the gullet, which can be anywhere from 10-30 degrees. Suppose you're having a difficult time determining the right angle. In that case, it may be easier to clamp the knife and pull the rod upwards and downwards.
4. Change tools for different sized gullets or straight edges
Serrated knives are unique for their variety of serration types, sizes, and flat edges--all on the same blade. This is what makes it such a clean-cutting, strong knife. Your serrated knife may have different size serrations, in which you'll need to change the diameter of your rod.
Straight edges, common in steak knives, can be sharpened with a rod or with a flat edge sharpener. If you're unsure how to sharpen your particular knife, try asking a knife expert! They can sharpen it for you or guide you before you attempt it yourself. Remember, measure twice, cut once.
5. File away any burrs and test
During the sharpening process, you'll notice tiny metal wisps on the back of the blade. These are called burrs, and like sawdust in woodworking, they're evidence that you've shaved metal off the blade. Feeling for burrs periodically is an excellent way to gauge how much metal you're firing off. If you feel a lot of burrs, you could potentially be weakening your blade.
After you're satisfied with your sharpening, you can use a file to remove these burrs and create a smooth, polished experience. Lastly, have some vegetables or bread nearby to test your knife. If you think you could improve it more, clean it off and begin again. It's best to work slowly and methodically.
3 Pitfalls to Be Aware of Before Sharpening Serrated Knife
Serrated knives may take a little practice before you feel comfortable with it. Before sharpening that prized knife in your drawer, practice on an old steak knife. It's easy to remove too much metal and create a stress point in the blade, which can cause it to snap. But it can also create an unsightly appearance and ruin the serrations. To avoid doing damage to your knife (and yourself), be sure to avoid these three beginner mistakes.
1. You may need to secure the knife in a vice grip
Finding the right way to hold the knife and sharpening the iron can be a little tricky. One common complaint is that the knife or iron slips out of place. This is where a minor inconvenience can turn into a major mistake.
Prevent accidents by securing the knife in a vice grip or your iron into a sharpening apparatus. If you do try to sharpen by hand, have a steady workspace where you can anchor your tools.
2. Never wash your knife in the dishwasher
Don't let all your hard work wash down the drain! A common beginner mistake is to put hand-sharpened knives in the dishwasher. It won't precisely ruin your knife right away. Still, it will deteriorate your serrations over time and create a dull, worthless edge. In addition, the moisture and high heat level can crack any organic materials on your knife, like a wood handle or insignia. Always rinse your knives; never throw them in the dishwasher.
3. Check your progress often to avoid removing too much metal
Once you've filed too much away, there's no going back. When working with metal, you have a lot of room to work with before you end up filing too much. But if you're using a diamond file, it can come off a lot quicker than anticipated. Pause frequently to run your fingers along the non-beveled side of the blade. You use the burrs forming after each pass as a gauge for how much metal is being removed.
Test your knife frequently as well, so you know when to stop filing. Once you've reached the perfect balance, you can file those burrs away. Even if your knife withstands over sharpening, you can severely limit its lifespan and the number of times it can be sharpened again before breaking.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Store My Serrated Knife?
Storing your knife properly is half the battle when it comes to sharpening a serrated knife. Knife blocks are a standard kitchen counter resident but aren't exactly ideal. The wood can lock in moisture, and standing the knives vertically in a box can cause damage (if they even fit, to begin with).
Some professional chefs have heavy-duty bags made to store their knives safely. But if you want the easiest (and most ideal) way to store your knives, get a magnetic strip. It keeps the knives safe against the wall, secured by the non-beveled side.
Can I Pay an Expert to Sharpen My Knife?
When in doubt, contact the experts. The experts, in this case, are your average metal working tradesmen who have grindstones and more specialized equipment. If you're nervous about sharpening a serrated blade, you can rely on them to have all the proper-sized rods and tools. They frequently sharpen knives for restaurants and kitchens, and it's usually relatively low cost as well.
If you've attempted to sharpen your knife on your own and it's damaged beyond all repair, consider taking it to a smith. They might be able to save it, which is helpful considering how expensive knives are. If it's beyond repair, perhaps they could remove the serrations to make a flat edge or create new serrations altogether.
How Do I Avoid Injuring Myself During Sharpening?
To avoid injuring yourself, move slowly and methodically. Work in a well-lit environment. If you're working with a smaller knife, you might consider investing in a magnifying lens or light. Leather or chain mail gloves make it more difficult to maneuver the knife, but help tremendously when it comes to safety.
You might be sure you won't lose a finger while sharpening. Still, most injuries are cuts and gashes that can easily be infected. Always have a first aid kit nearby that includes gauze.
What Brand is the Best for Long Lasting, Serrated Knives?
Of course, the best way to keep your knife sharp is to have a high-quality one from the get-go! Not all knives are alike, and some brands distinguish themselves from others. One great pick is the iMarku 10-inch serrated bread knife. This is a stunning blade made with German stainless steel and a unique serration pattern specifically designed for cutting bread and other thick crusted materials.
It comes with a storage case and is easy to sharpen, although you won't have to do that for a very long time. The iMarku classic bread knife measures 15" from tip to handle, made from stunningly aged pakawood.
When to Choose Serrated vs Non-Serrated
In some ways, serrated knives are underrated by knife and metalworking enthusiasts. Their blades are specifically engineered to cut cleanly and with precision. However, straight-edged blades have a sort of magic to them, which tends to attract more chefs. No matter how sharp you make a straight-edged blade, it still can't slice through thick crusts and tough meats as gracefully as a serrated knife.
One customer of imarku's bread knives said that this was "the knife that changed everything for me." It's true -- you can have a hundred straight-edged blades, but finding that one perfect serrated blade will completely transform your cuisine.
In general, serrated knives are ideal for cutting through any material that has a tough outer layer of skin, but a soft interior. This could include bread, tomatoes, onions (be warned that the serrations will cause it to release more of the chemical that makes your eyes burn), peppers, potatoes, zucchini, squash, roasts, steak, brisket, and more.
You'll find that some serrated knives have one half that is flat-edged, which makes them great for multipurpose use. Some prefer these knives to eat steak, as the more delicate straight edge cuts better with the grain, but the serrated edge can help cleanly slice through tougher areas.
No Cuts, No Glory
In learning how to sharpen serrated knives, it's crucial to exercise equal parts patience and caution. Knives aren't just a utility; they're an art form that has survived thousands of years. Use your instinct to perfect your blade. And if you do mess up, try not to worry about it. An experienced metalsmith can help buff out those cosmetic imperfections.
Some people avoid trying to sharpen their serrated knives altogether, fearing that the process is too complicated. In actuality, it's quite simple. Follow along the existing gullets to help restore your knife to its original condition. Once you've tested your work, you'll experience that immeasurable feeling of satisfaction and self-reliance.