Sharpening kitchen knives is a skill that’s fairly easy to learn, and one you’ll never regret acquiring. I sharpen mine on a steel at least once a week, and do more intensive sharpening once a month or so, as needed. It’s easy to know when a knife needs to be sharpened: it requires more pressure when slicing. A really sharp knife glides through ingredients without crushing them. For home cooks, the basic sharpening tools are a steel (despite the name, they’re not necessarily made of steel), which you should use frequently because it helps to keep a blade sharp, and a stone (often called a whetstone), which hones a dull blade. When using either tool, you need to know your knife. First off, what material is it made from? Most kitchen knives tend to be made of carbon steel, stainless steel or carbonstainless steel. (There are knives made from other alloys and composites but they’re less common, and can be extremely expensive. Knives with ceramic blades need to be re-sharpened with special machines.) Carbon steel is soft, so it dulls fairly quickly, but it’s easy to sharpen. Like other carbon-steel implements, these knives can react when used on acidic ingredients (such as lemons), and they rust easily. After washing a carbon-steel knife – by hand, never in a dishwasher (that goes for all kitchen knives) – dry it immediately. Stainless steel is a hard metal, so the knife holds its edge, but it’s difficult to sharpen using home tools; the occasional professional sharpen should suffice. A carbonstainless composite is the best of both worlds – it keeps its edge well and is easy to sharpen. Then, you need to know the angle of the cutting edge. Knives are often divided broadly into two categories: Europeanstyle and Japanese-style, although both can be made anywhere. Traditional Japanese blades are sharpened only on one side of the edge, so you need to buy the right one depending on whether you’re left- or right-handed. Single-edged Japanese knives should be sharpened only on the sharp side. European-style knives – which are also made in Japan – are sharp on both sides of the blade, which comes to a V-like point along its entire length. Depending on the manufacturer, European blades can be sharpened to a relatively wide or a relatively narrow angle; the former yields a knife that’s sturdy, but not quite as sharp as one honed to an acute angle, which, because it’s thinner, is more fragile. You should sharpen European-style knives at the same angle the manufacturer put on the blade; if you use a wider angle, you’re actually making the edge duller, rather than sharper. Sharpening stones have two sides, each with a different level of coarseness: the rougher side is for sharpening the knife edge while the finer side smooths it out. Don’t use the stone too much because, especially with the coarse side, each swipe across it scrapes off a minute amount of metal. Depending on the stone (and personal preference), it can be soaked in water or rubbed with oil. When using a stone, place it on a folded-up damp kitchen towel, to keep it from moving as you draw the knife across it. Sharpening steels can be metal or ceramic, be ridged or smooth, and some have fine diamond dust that works as a slight abrasive. Buy the longest steel you can handle easily. You need to listen as you draw the knife across the steel or stone – it makes a certain sound depending on the angle at which you’re sharpening it. After you sharpen the blade on one side, turn it over to sharpen the other. The sounds should be identical. If not, it means you’re sharpening each side at a different angle. If you’re investing in expensive knives, you should talk to the producer or vendor about the best way to sharpen them – they might advise using a specific type of stone or steel. Of course, you can also use a machine – electric or manual implements that you draw the blade through, which sharpen it on rotating stones set to precise angles. The best of these have a several-step process – the first acts as a roughly textured stone, the subsequent ones refine and smooth the metal. The really good ones can be expensive, though, and if you use one meant for European knives on a Japanese blade (or vice versa), or one set for a wide-angle blade on a narrow-edged knife (or vice versa), you can ruin an edge. Truc (tryk): noun, masculine, trick, gimmick, device. A French word for a chef's secret.