Today I thought I would talk about a little problem that many folks that carry and/or use knives in their homes seem to have all over the country. That little problem is serrated knives. We all own them in one form or another like a serrated survival pocket knife or serrated bread knife or even a serrated carving knife. There is an issue that arises for many people that own serrated knives. That issue is how to properly sharpen a serrated knife? The question of the ages for the modern knife owner. In this post, I am going to address this issue and when I am done with it you will know how to sharpen your serrated knives.
For the most part, your serrated kitchen or pocket knife will stay sharp longer than your straight edge pocket or kitchen knives will and they will even cut when the serrations are getting dull. As the scallops and teeth of a serrated knife get dull the quality of the cuts that you once got will slowly degrade into tearing, pulling and shredding of the item that you are cutting. When this tearing/shredding effect starts to happen then it is time to sharpen your knives.
For many people the chore of sharpening knives is time-consuming and for many, it is a daunting chore. The fact of the matter is that sharpening serrated knives for many is more problematic than sharpening standard straight edges. Proper care and maintenance of serrated knives will keep those scallops cutting cleanly for a long time. Have no doubt though; these serrated knives do need a greater level of experience to sharpen properly. Another thing to consider is that serrated knife blades take longer to sharpen than their plain edged counterparts.
As I said earlier serrated knives can and do stay sharper longer than plain edged knives and because of this it will take longer for a serrated blade to become dull, and this is even true for combination bladed pocket and kitchen knives. The “teeth” of a serrated blade “bite” or start the cutting process first and then the scallops of the blade follow through to complete the cut. The “teeth” take most of the cutting pressure and the scallops take the least amount of cutting pressure. Because the scallops take the least amount of cutting pressure they stay sharper longer.
Now let’s talk about how to sharpen your serrated knives. In order to do this, you will need to obtain the correct type of sharpener designed for sharpening these types of blades. There are many on the market made by many manufacturers that are specific to the chore. Some are good, and in my humble opinion, some are just plain old bad. Some of the types of serrated knife sharpeners are the “draw through” type. (I personally do not care for “draw” or “pull” through sharpeners)Then there are the sharpening rods that come both in standard and tapered versions and made of different materials from carbide to diamond coated. There are specialized serrated sharpening stones that are textured to accept the scallops of serrated knives. Many of the sharpening rods or sticks come in a triangular shape to work on the scallops between the teeth of the knife. The “rat tail” type of file or sharpener is tapered in order to naturally fit the diameter of the scallops of the blade. The one thing to keep in mind when wanting to sharpen serrated knives is that as with sharpening plain edges you will have to take the same considerations with serrated knife edges and that means that you will need to choose the correct sharpener and what materials you want that sharpener to be made of.
Many of the sharpeners that you would use to sharpen a serrated knife can be used to sharpen plain edged knives as well and you can get pocket-sized sharpeners for serrated knives and combo edged knives to carry with you for daily honing and sharpening of your daily carry knife.
When it is time to sharpen your knife whether it is a plain edge or a serrated edge one of the things to keep in mind is the angle that you will use to sharpen your knife. It does not make any difference what type of sharpener you use, keep the angle in mind. Most of the time when sharpening combo edged blades the serrated portion of the blade in the majority of cases will be of the same angle as the plain edged section of the blade. This means that when sharpening the serrated section of a combo edge it should be kept at the same angle as the plain edge section of the blade as well. Now there are many sharpeners out there that are referred to as “guided” sharpeners like the Lansky Sharpening Systems. This type of system will maintain the proper edge angle as you sharpen your knives and you can get stones or diamonds that are triangular in shape to sharpen your serrations at the correct angle with the Lansky System too!
Many people that I have met and many people that call themselves “professional knife sharpeners” for a living have sharpened serrated knives by either drawing the back/flat side of the knife across a bench stone, and in many cases I have seen them sharpened by drawing the back/flat side of the serrated knife across a sanding belt. This is not the correct way to sharpen this kind of knife. I order to sharpen the scalloped part of a serrated knife you can use the serrated sharpening stone or diamond from something like the Lansky System and work it into the scallops in a perpendicular movement to the cutting edge one scallop at a time. You can also do the same thing using one of the many diamond or ceramic files or tapered “rat tail” files and move them in the same perpendicular fashion to the cutting edge of the scallops.
Remember, you have to take your time and sharpen one scallop and one tooth at a time before moving to the next one. When you are done you should be able to feel a “burr” on the flat side of the knife. Many will tell you to lightly grind that burr off. I do not do this and I tell others not to do this. I have a small piece of 2X4 wood and I then lightly draw the serrated blade across a corner of the 2X4 to remove the burr this is also the way many people who sharpen Japanese kitchen knives do it as well. You can also take a hand held ceramic rod and start at the top of the rod and work your way down to remove the burr and polish the flat of the blade. When you “grind” you are removing metal and when you use a ceramic rod you are taking much, much less metal from the blade. I do it this way for the longevity of the blade.
Here is another way to sharpen a serrated knife really quick that I use all the time. Take corrugated sharpening steel and then take your serrated knife and start at the bottom of the steel at the handguard and take the very tip of the serrated knife and stroke the blade across and up the steel holding the blade at your chosen angle. Don’t just put the flat of the blade flat on the steel. Put the flat to the steel flat and then raise it up to your desired angle. If you know what 20 degrees looks like when sharpening on a flat stone then you should know what 20 degrees look like against the sharpening steel. Then after 10, 20, 30 reverse strokes up the steel the burr will be raised on the flat of the blade and I lop it off on the 2X4 and then a few strokes on the ceramic rod to polish the flat and I am good to go!