I wrote up the following notes on knife storage, care, and use for a relative of mine and thought some here may also find it useful.
There are three basic ways to store a knife: (a) in a wooden knife block; (b) on a knife magnet attached to the wall; and (c) in a specially designed storage unit that fits inside a drawer. The aim of all three methods is to prevent the knife edge from being knocked, nicked, or scratched. To some extent, each also reduces the chance of a clumsy friend or neighbor accidentally stabbing him- or herself.
The main disadvantages of the wooden block are that they can be expensive and, eventually, you may own more knives than can fit in the block. The block also takes up space on the counter. Be sure the knife is completely dry before putting it into the block.
The wall magnet is the most inexpensive storage solution. Although you can only fit about 5-7 knifes on a magnet, you can attach multiple magnets to the wall to store more knifes. You don’t need to worry about a knife falling off the magnet, though sometimes our round sharpening steel slips a little bit.
The in-drawer knife storage units are the safest way to prevent children from accessing the knives, since you can put a child-proof lock on the drawer.
The knife needs to be sharpened once or twice per year to rebuild the edge. A dull knife requires more downward force and, as a result, may be more dangerous than a sharp knife. The best way to sharpen a knife is to bring it to a professional sharpener. Kitchen/restaurant supply stores and cutlery stores may do sharpening in-house for a few dollars per knife while you wait. Our go-to place is Northwestern Cutlery in Chicago (think Ace Hardware for chefs). If there isn’t a place that sharpens on-site in your area, you may find a store that sends the knives out, which costs more and leaves you without your knife for a week or two.
The alternative to having the knives professionally sharpened is to do it yourself, either with a sharpening stone or with a specially-designed sharpening system. We avoid these for two reasons: unless you really know what you are doing, you won’t get the knife as sharp as the professional and you are just as likely to scratch the knife.
3. Maintaining the knife edge between sharpenings:
Two things happen when you use the knife: the edge becomes dull. Your annual or semi-annual sharpenings are meant to correct this. The second thing that happens is that the edge bends a little bit and needs to be straightened. This is what your sharpening steel is for (despite its name, it really is a straightening device, not a sharpening device.) It is best to use the steel after each use of the knife, typically just after you clean and dry it.
To use the steel, hold the steel in one hand and the knife in the other. Line up the bottom edge of the knife (where the handle ends and the knife begins) and the top of the steel. Position the knife at a 22.5 degree angle (precision is crucial so get out your protractor or compass) with the steel and slowly pull the knife down the steel, so when you get to the bottom of the steel you’ve also gotten to the top edge of the knife. (Don’t do it like Gordon Ramsey on Kitchen Nightmares or you’ll likely cut off the top of your thumb.) Do this about 10 times on each side of the knife. It’s a good idea to alternate sides, or do something like 5 strokes on one side, then 5 strokes on the other side, then 3 and 3, and 2 and 2. See Alton Brown at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hKXQHGwzAw
4. Cleaning the knife:
After using the knife, it should be cleaned using a sponge and regular dishwashing soap. For difficult cleaning jobs, try “Bar Keepers Friend” which can be found in the kitchen cleaner aisle at your local Target, grocery store, or Home Depot. Expect a 300% markup on the stuff at a fancy kitchenware store.
Be sure to dry the knife immediately after washing it, otherwise it may pick up water stains. Do not leave the dirty knife sitting in the sink since it may get knocked around.
The manufacturer says that the knife is dishwasher safe, but this just means that the handle won’t melt in the dishwasher. It is better to avoid using the dishwasher because it is easy for the knife to fall or slide into something else, scratching the knife or chipping the edge.
5. Using the knife: the cutting board.
To properly use the knife, you need a good cutting board. The board should be large enough to give you enough room to work. It should also be heavy enough that it won’t move when you are cutting on it (you may want to put a slightly wet towel or shelf lining under the board to keep it more secure). The two basic board materials are wood and hard plastic. Do not use glass boards. Plastic can go in the dishwasher and for this reason some people think it is safer than wood. A wood board that is washed with hot, soapy water is, in fact, just as safe (but of course cannot go in the dishwasher).
In addition to two large wood boards and a very large plastic Oxo board (that has rubber edges to keep it from moving around), we also have a variety of flexible cutting boards and smaller plastic boards. These are useful for quickly cutting small things, but you cannot get the most out of the knife on these types of boards. Buy these to complement a main board, not as a substitute for one.
6. Additional resources:
A good knife is a waste of money (and much more dangerous) if it isn’t used properly. Invest a little time in learning how to properly cut, slice, dice, etc. One excellent resource is Jacques Pepin’s books, television shows, and website (http://www.jacquespepin.net
and then click on Tips and Techniques). A second good resource is Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode called “Pantry Raid II: Seeing Red” (transcript and recipes at http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/Season2/EA1B12.htm
). Finally, there is an on-line knife skills class at eGullet: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=25958