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How to Use a Pull-Through Knife Sharpener: Step-By-Step Instructions

Luckily, none of us rely on a super-sharp sword to protect kings or castles any longer. For the most part, we just want to keep our knives sharp to make smooth, easy cuts through a perfectly ripe tomato, finely chop a bunch of fresh herbs, or carve a roast or holiday turkey without creating a shredded mess.

Most kitchen accidents happen when using a dull knife that forces you to push hard on the blade or slips off the food you’re working on instead of making smooth, reliable cuts with very little effort.

Keeping your kitchen safe means investing in an easy-to-use, reliable, and long-lasting sharpener that can handle all the knives in your kitchen (and maybe even some that live in the garage or shed). As any chef will tell you, a dull knife that requires pressure to make a cut or cuts unevenly along the length of the blade is much more dangerous than a knife with a really sharp blade.

Safety First

Take the time to find a single sharpening tool that can handle any of the knives in your collection and let you quickly learn to put a reliable, sharp edge on any blade when needed. The last thing any of us need is another collection of hyper-specialized kitchen clutter that keeps us from opening that drawer next to the sink.

Types of Sharpeners

We’ve taken a look at the various knife sharpeners available on Amazon, ranging from sharpening stones and honing rods and electric rotary grinders to sharpening systems and manual pull-through knife sharpeners. While each of the options has its benefits for specific users or levels of expertise, we found the pull-through models are the best buy in terms of convenience, speed, and ease of use for the average kitchen cook.

What Is A Pull-through Knife Sharpener?

handheld knife sharpener

A handheld, pull-through knife sharpener consists of an upright stand or a handled horizontal tool that holds from one to four abrasive rods set into precisely angled sharpening slots. In a multi-slot model, those can range from sharpening (coarsest abrasive), to polishing, to honing, each of which refines the edge of your blades in specific ways.

A few pull-through models include a sharpener for your scissors, which have a different edge profile that makes them unsuitable for sharpening using a pull-through sharpener’s knife sharpening slots. Believe us, there’s nothing more satisfying than discovering that your scissors just slide through paper and cloth again, long after you’ve forgotten what they were like when you bought them!

A good-quality manual knife sharpener will have a solid no-slip handle and carefully engineered slot or slots for your knife’s particular angle. Each of the slots holds a different abrasive sharpening surface made of ceramic, metal, or a combination of materials. Some pull-through sharpeners handle both western-style and Asian-style knives by adding separate slots for the different blade angles. Some models have an adjustment wheel that lets you change the angle for a particular sharpening slot. Others can only sharpen one type of blade, so be careful to select the right sharpener for your knife collection.

The Right Angle

That’s important because different knife styles use different angles. Western-style knives from manufacturers like Wusthof, Victorinox, or Henkel typically use a blade angle of 20 - 25 degrees, while knives made to a more traditionally Asian pattern, like the classic santoku design, use a blade angle of 15 degrees. It is essential to match the blade angle to the sharpener’s angle guide, or you’ll end up with a knife that won’t get sharp at all or one that is dull again after just a couple of uses.

With a pull-through sharpener, you do the physical work of grinding off the metal since there isn’t an electric motor spinning the abrasive material against the steel. The basic process is the same with all pull-through sharpeners – you place the blade in the sharpening slot and pull it towards you applying slight pressure. The abrasive grinds off the tiny nicks and flat spots on the metal blade that happen as you use the knife, giving it a straight edge, and restores the blade’s original angle.

What to Look For in a Pull-Through Sharpener

Important features include a sturdy no-slip base, a comfortable handle that keeps your fingers protected from the blade, and clearly marked sharpening slots for multiple stages of sharpening. Sharpeners that include various types of abrasives in multiple slots let you sharpen, polish, and hone a blade using the same tool. Others sharpen and polish, requiring a separate ceramic or steel honing rod for the finishing process.

You should also choose a pull through knife sharpener that keeps the user and your kitchen surfaces safe from an accidental slip. Handheld options need a finger guard, which looks like a soft plastic or firm rubber strap to prevent dragging a wayward digit over the honed edge. Others rely on a suction cup, allowing you to secure the sharpener to a countertop, which keeps the unit steady. If you keep the sharpener attached to the counter, check the suction before use. Moisture or accidental bumping can break the seal.

How To Use A Pull Through Knife Sharpener

plastic knife sharpener

When you get your new sharpener, it’s a good idea to practice first on a less-expensive knife, just to get the feel for how the blade travels across the abrasive and the motion of your arm as you draw the blade through the slot.

The basic steps are the same, whatever model you choose.

  1. Test the blade by slicing through a sheet of paper or trying to cut a tomato
  2. Choose the right angle and coarse or fine setting for the type of blade and how dull it is
  3. Place the “heel” of the blade closest to the handle into the Coarse sharpening slot
  4. Pull the blade smoothly across the abrasive apply gentle pressure
  5. If the blade is curved, adjust as you go to keep the metal even against the abrasive
  6. When your blade is nicely sharpened, run it across the Fine setting a couple of times to give the edge a perfect finish.
  7. Rinse your knife and wipe the blade clean and dry.

Test Your Edge

There are a few ways to safely test your knife’s sharpness. First off, DON’T run your thumb down the blade. Even if most of the blade is dull, some sharp edges could cut you, possibly badly. Instead of damaging your skin, use a sheet of paper, a ripe tomato, or an unpeeled onion. A sharp knife will cut cleanly through any of those.

If you need to put an edge on your knife, you’ll be able to tell because the blade will jerk as it cuts the paper, squish the tomato instead of giving you a nice thin slice for your sandwich, and it may not make it through the onion skin at all. Instead, because you are pushing instead of slicing, your knife will slip off the onion, bang off the cutting board, and threaten your fingers. When any of those happen, it’s time to put your new pull-through sharpener to work!

Sharpening Your Blade

To start, you’ll place the sharpener firmly on a non-slippery surface that is at a comfortable countertop height. Holding the sharpener handle firmly, place the heel of the knife – the part of the blade closest to the handle – into the angled slot. Then, using a steady motion, pull the blade towards you. Pull it all the way through, right to the tip, and then out.

It is important to make sure you keep the blade pressed evenly into the slot as it pulls through. To get a clean, consistent edge, you want the edge and the angle to be precise from heel to tip so the knife cuts smoothly and cleanly.

For a straight blade, that just means keeping it flat as you pull back. If the blade you are sharpening has any sort of curve to it, however, you will need to carefully change the angle of the blade as it travels through the slot to keep the blade firmly against the abrasive surface. Take a look at the blade now, and you’ll see a line of clean, shiny metal where the abrasives have taken away part of the dull or nicked metal.

Repeat, Then Rinse

Repeat the process a few times and then test the blade again, using the same method as before. After just a little bit of practice, you’ll get the feel for it, and sharpening your knives with your pull-through sharpener will become an easy and natural movement.

Soon you won’t need to test as much. You’ll be able to tell when a knife has gotten extra dull and needs a few extra pulls through the sharpener or if it just needs a couple of quick runs across the abrasive to get it back in top shape. Most knives will take a nice sharp edge after about 6 pulls.

Then, rinse the blade and dry it completely. It’s a good idea to always wash and dry your kitchen knives and put them away immediately after use. You’ll avoid tiny rust spots that dull blades and keep your work area safe. And never put a quality kitchen knife in the dishwasher.

Our Favorite Pull-through Knife Sharpener

RAZORSHARP Knife Sharpener

After checking out many pull-through knife sharpeners across a variety of sources and consulting customer reviews, we highly recommend the RAZORSHARP Knife Sharpener.

The RAZORSHARP pull-through knife sharpener gave us the best combination of price, effective sharpening, and ease of use. The solid plastic casing and handle resist cuts and nicks.

It was very easy to figure out how to use the sharpener, and it felt stable and safe to use even for someone who's never tried to sharpen a knife. And, because the RAZORSHARP includes an adjustment wheel, we were confident we had the right angle for our blade.

The blade moved smoothly and easily across even the coarse (Sharpen) abrasive tips and it took very little effort to draw the knife through the sharpener. At the same time, we could see and hear the abrasive doing its work. RAZORSHARP uses high-quality, long-lasting diamond and ceramic abrasives on its sharpening tips. And, as a bonus, the RAZORSHARP also includes an abrasive slot for sharpening scissors, which have a very different blade angle compared to knives.

But don’t just take our word for it. For a full run-down on what makes the RAZORSHARP pull-through knife sharpener our top pick, check out this full review.

Commonly Asked Questions About Pull-through Knife Sharpeners

Why Is A Manual Pull-through Knife Sharpener Better Than An Electric One?

Electric knife sharpeners are efficient, and they are fast. But that comes at a price: the life of your blade. Electric sharpeners take much more metal off your knives every time you sharpen them. Good knives should last a long time. You’ll replace them a lot quicker if you use an electric unit instead of a high-quality manual pull-through sharpener.

Can I Use A Pull-through Sharpener With Any Blade?

As long as you have a quality sharpener with the correct angle on the abrasive sharpening tips, you can get a nice sharp edge on any 2-sided blade. Some specialized one-sided blades – such as the Japanese Yanagiba and Deba knives – can’t be sharpened with a pull-through.

Will My Pull-through Knife Sharpener Wear Out?

With high-quality sharpeners using abrasive materials like ceramics and diamond rods which are harder than the steel they sharpen, it is unlikely that you’ll need to replace your pull-through knife sharpener any time soon. When you notice a build up of black or gray dust on the abrasive sharpening points, use a stiff brush and water to clean off the metal shavings and keep your edges in top shape.

How Many Times Do I Need To Pull the Knife Through the Sharpener?

The exact number of times to pull your knife through the sharpener depends on how dull the blade is. Start by pulling your knife through the sharpener three to six times. Using the sharpener regularly will keep the blade safe. If you cut your hand while preparing food, a sharp knife causes less damage than a dull one.

For most dull knives, this number is sufficient to get a sharp edge. However, if your blade is very dull, you may need to pull it through a few more times. If you are unsure whether you have given your knife a sharp enough edge, try one of the testing methods mentioned above in the section called "Test Your Edge."