So I thought if I, someone who cares about these things, have been neglectful on the knife front, maybe you could use a little reminder, too.
But let’s go over the logistics. That metal stick that came with your knife set, which you’re supposed to use every time you use a knife, but don’t? That’s not what you use for sharpening your knife. That’s for honing—keeping the microscopic teeth on the blade aligned. And yes, you should use it every time you take out your knife. But honing will not always do the trick. When you find that an onion slides around or smushes, rather than being sliced through cleanly; when you have to saw through cooked meat; or when other vegetables that you know should theoretically yield to a sharp knife instead cut with jaggedy edges, it’s time for a real sharpening.
I don’t know what the real knife experts think of this device, but I have found it works pretty great on my santoku. (That said, if I had a very valuable santoku knife, I would probably get a lesson from a professional on how to sharpen it.) You slide the knife, from tip to tip and with a nice amount of pressure, a few times through the coarse side, then switch to the fine side. Wipe off that blade when you’re done—you don’t want any of those microscopic teeth dislodging in, say, your chopped salad.
There is a way to sharpen Western-style knives at home, but I am not going to tell you what it is. This is because I learned how to do it in cooking school, and even with a demonstration and regular practice, I am not sure I do it the right way. It’s a real skill. So unless you, too, have received a lesson, I will tell you to save yourself from destroying your good knives, and ask around in your town—at restaurant supply stores, at better restaurants, I’ve even heard garden centers will do it (they often have sharpening equipment for hedge clippers). If you still have one of those old-fashioned sharpening trucks jingling around your neighborhood, seize the moment when you hear that jingle (although I recommend running out of the house to catch him first, and THEN bringing him out your knives, to avoid terrorizing your neighbors). And if you have a friend in the food business, or know someone who’s handy with knives, ask him or her to teach you to do it yourself—the way that I won’t tell you definitely requires an in-person tutorial.