9 Ways You Might Be Ruining Your Knives

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With knife safety, there's never a dull moment. [Photographs: J. Kenji López-Alt]

So you've got yourself a shiny new chef's knife. That razor-sharp factory edge is so pretty, you're hesitant to even touch it. But a knife unused is like a guitar un-plucked. An ear of corn un-shucked. A drill bit un-chucked. A dodgeball un-ducked. A Game of Thrones character un-... you get the idea.

Knives are made to be used, so use them. But, if you want to keep that blade shiny and sharp for as long as possible, here are nine things you should never do with your knife. When it comes to knife safety, there's never a dull moment.

#1: Using It on Glass or Stone

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You hear that clink, clink, scchrrrrrk, tink noise as your knife blade touches down on that glass or marble cutting board? It may seem like the sound of metal against glass, but really it's the sound of your knife screaming out in agony as you not-so-slowly grind its life down.

Make sure to use a wood or plastic cutting board to keep your knife blade sharp for a long time.

Frankly, I don't know why anyone even makes glass or marble cutting boards. Would that their businesses join the countless knife blades they've already sent to an early grave.

#2: Letting It Clatter Around a Drawer

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Putting your knife in a drawer with other loose tools is a great way to get nicks and dings on it, not to mention a great way to slice your finger when you dig around in that drawer for the handle.

A countertop knife block works if you're short on drawer space, though I prefer using an in-drawer organizer to keep my knives stable and protected. At the very least, get yourself a set of plastic knife protectors to keep those blades (and your fingers) safe as they clatter around.

#3: Leaving It in the Sink

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Sinks are made of metal or ceramic. Sinks are slippery and smooth. Sinks are often filled with soap suds and plates. A knife in a sink is going to slide around, bang into the walls, or, worse, get hidden under soap bubbles and dirty dishes, where it'll lie in wait until an unsuspecting hand reaches down for it. Never leave your knife in the sink after using it.

#4: Putting It in the Dishwasher

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Whether it's on the rack or in the utensil caddy, there's no good place for a knife in the dishwasher. The high-pressure water spray will inevitably bump it around, causing it to bang against the rack and dulling its blade. Always wash your knives by hand.

And what's that? You want to rinse it and leave it out to dry? Well...

#5: Storing It Wet or Leaving It in a Drying Rack

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If you've got a dedicated space to place your knife after rinsing it, where it will dry without danger of knocking into other utensils or scraping against the edge of a rack, and if you've got a set of perfectly maintained stainless steel blades that run no risk of rusting, then I suppose you can rinse your knives and let them air-dry.

But the reality, most likely, is that your knife is going to bang against other things, and the microscopic scratches and pits in the surface are going to turn into macroscopic scratches and pits as rust eats away at them.

The moral of the last three rules is this: Always wash your knife by hand, and always dry it with a towel immediately after washing it.

#6: Scraping It Across Your Cutting Board

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I get it. It's an easy habit to fall into. You've just finished chopping an onion, and it's scattered all over the board. You want to put it into a neat little pile, so you scrape it all together with the edge of the knife. The problem is, the edge of a knife blade is quite strong when pressed straight up and down, but can bend easily when pushed from side to side. Scraping up food with the knife perpendicular to the board will throw the edge of the blade out of alignment, dulling it.

If you must move or pick up food on your cutting board, hold your knife blade at a very sharp angle—almost parallel to the cutting board—before gently sliding it, or use the back (dull) side of the blade. Better yet, get yourself a bench scraper, a tool that's specifically designed for the task (and one that I use every single time I cook).

#7: Using It Dull

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A dull knife will require more pressure to get through your food. More pressure means a higher chance of slipping and accidentally cutting yourself. More pressure also means that any accidents are likely to be much worse than the small nick you'd get from a sharp knife that's used gently. Make sure you keep your knives sharp at all times, for utility and safety.

There are two ways that knives dull. Day to day, the blade edge will get pushed slightly out of alignment—it will resemble a wavy line instead of a straight edge. This misalignment is too small to see with the naked eye, but you'll feel it as your knife blade drags. Running it over a honing steel each time you use it will knock those wavy lines straight again.

Apart from that daily misalignment, over time, a knife's edge will also wear down little by little, to the point where a honing steel won't be able to help it. That's when you'll need to either sharpen it yourself on a whetstone (I use a medium-grit and a fine-grit stone for most of my knives) or take it to get professionally sharpened. With normal use, once a year or so should suffice.

#8: Leaving It Too Close to the Counter Edge

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Nothing makes my eye twitch more than seeing the handle of a sharp knife hanging over the edge of a counter, where someone can accidentally brush against it and send the knife toppling down.* Sure, someone might lose a toe, but, more importantly, that knife might lose a tip!

* A hot pot handle hanging over the edge of the stove is a close second.

By the way, never, ever try to catch a blade as it's falling. Get far away from it, and wait for it to come to rest before picking it up.

#9: Using It for Non-Knife Tasks

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More than one cook in the Serious Eats kitchen (including me) has admitted to using a knife for things other than its intended purpose at one time or another, but it's a habit we should all try to break.

Your kitchen knife is not a box cutter. It's not a screwdriver. It's not a can opener. Don't use it as one.