How to Sharpen a Japanese Chef's Knife

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We've known Chef Timmy for years — he's generously cooked the turkeys at Huckberry Thanksgivings, kept us stuffed on camping trips up the coast, and taught us just about everything we know around the kitchen. So, when we started carrying The Bunka Knife and Sharpening Kit — there was only one person to call to teach us how to use it.


The Bunka Knife is handmade to be one of the most precise and versatile tools in your kitchen. 

 The asymmetrical Rosewood handle is ideal for right-handed use, and built to last longer than more common Magnolia handles.

 The blade is hand-forged by a master Japanese blacksmith from ZDP-189 steel — known for its edge retention and corrosion resistance.

 The Kuro-uchi finishing leaves the top side of the blade with a dark patina from the hand-forging process, and provides a protective coating.

1. Soak the Stone

First, it's important to soak the whetstone before you begin sharpening. You'll want to keep it submerged for at least 15 minutes, or until the bubbles stop surfacing.

The water cuts down on the friction that's created when you drag the blade across the surface of the stone. Too much heat will damage the structure of the steel, so water helps keep that to a minimum.

2. Add the Guide Clip

Next, attach the guide clip. This will help provide a consistent angle while sharpening. Once it's clipped onto the dull side of the blade, you're ready to begin.

This guide clip is set to 16 degrees, which is a much smaller angle than used on comparable German knives. Since the hardened steel of Japanese knives is thinner, it can be sharpened at a tighter angle, which makes for a razor-sharp blade. 

3. Using Different Grits

The grit of sharpening stones mirror the grits of sandpaper (the smaller the number, the coarser the grit). The Bunka Knife comes with a  that's 3,000 grit on one side and 1,000 on the other. You want to start with the coarser of the two — in this case, the 1,000.

First, position the sharpening stone vertically in front of you. Place the heel of your knife on the far edge of the stone, holding the handle firmly. Put your fingers on the side of the blade, and keep the guide flush on the stone to maintain the correct angle. Using even pressure, slowly push the knife over the length of the stone.

Repeat on the opposite side of the knife the same amount of times as the first side. After a few passes, repeat the sharpening process with the finer grit — in this case, the 3,000.

Timmy's Tips for Keeping Your Knife Sharp

 Always use a wooden or plastic cutting board.

 Never soak them — these metals hold up to a lot but soaking
can still cause corrosion.

 Always wash separately in hot water and hand-dry with a damp cloth after every use.

 Don’t store among other flatware. Always use a knife guard or sheath.
Make sure it's completely dry before applying the guard or sheath.

• Don’t over-sharpen (If you're using the knife every day then sharpening once a month should do the trick). Use a honing rod (I suggest ceramic) to re-align the blade. 

4. Just Add Water

Throughout the sharpening process, if you notice the stone is starting to feel dry, just add a bit of water to keep things moving smoothly. Remember, the key is to reduce the heat caused by friction on the blade as much as possible. 

5. Finish with Leather Strop

Finally, use the leather strop to remove the burr (the rough area of the blade that's formed throughout the sharpening process). It's important to push away from the strop, as the blade will easily cut through the soft leather surface. 

6. Put It To Good Use

The Bunka Knife is built for the tasks we're faced with most often in a home kitchen. It's angled so that chopped ingredients fall away from the hand, while still long enough to cut a piece of meat or fish in a single stroke.

But no matter what knife you're using, it's important to keep your edges well-maintained. Not only is a sharp blade safer than a dull one (it's not as likely to catch on something or slip), it also causes less damage to the cells of the ingredients you're cutting — making for tastier meals in the long run.

Photos: Bryson Malone

Special Thanks to Chef Timmy and SharpEdge Knives

Thomas McDermott