How To Sharpen Serrated Knives
5 Easy Methods Step-By-Step
By Bobby B. | Updated Feb. 2022 | Blog
It’s a common myth that serrated knives cannot be sharpened. This is just not true. There are actually several different ways to sharpen serrated knives. Admittedly, it’s not always an easy task. Cheap micro-serrated knives might not even be worth taking the time or buying the materials to sharpen them. These and other cheap knives are often considered “throw-away knives”, meaning once they become dull or damaged, it’s less expensive to replace them rather than repair them. And that’s okay. Most of us start off with this type of knife until we learn that buying cheap knives cost us more in the long run.
Learning how to sharpen serrated knives is just different than straight-edge knives. However, it’s not as complex as most think when they first start researching the topic. Due to the serrations on the blade edge, most of the blade doesn’t even make contact with a cutting board, extending the life of the blade anyway.
Combine this with a high-quality serrated bread knife that has a hardened steel blade and superior edge retention, and you should be able to go a long time before even needing to sharpen. However, once the blade does become dull, you’ll notice it no longer slicing cleanly through food. As this happens, the knife will start to rip or tear food on the cutting board.
We’re going to cover 3 different methods for sharpening a serrated knife. Each method varies slightly in both difficulty and the amount of time they take. Which you use will depend mostly on the condition of your knife, but also which tools you have around the house. We’ll discuss each option, starting with the most complex and ending with the easiest.
Note: Most serrated knives only have serrations on one side of the blade. The other side will be sharpened as a straight edge.
Serrated Side of Blade
Straight Side of Blade
Method 1: Ceramic Honing Steel
This is the easiest, but most time-consuming way to keep your serrated knife sharp. Fortunately, ceramic sharpening rods are inexpensive. They also yield the best results if your knife has gone a long time since it was last sharpened or if there are any bent points. Technically these ceramic rods are called a honing steel, despite often being made of ceramic. The ceramic rod is harder than the steel and will straighten out the scallops, making it seem sharper and cut more easily. Ceramic rods are very fine, usually around 1000 grit. Here are the steps, including links to the products we recommend using for this method.
1. Hold the serrated blade with the tip pointing away from your body. Lay the ceramic rod flush in each scallop (or serration) and try to match the angle of the serrated bevel as well as you can.
2. Gently and lightly, pull the rod through the scallop. Rather than running the rod back and forth in both directions, we recommend drawing the rod slowly away from the blade to protect your hands from the sharp edge of the knife.
3. Repeat Step 2 a few times for each serration. This is the time-consuming part of this method unfortunately. But stick with it and you’ll have better results than other methods.
4. We always recommend passing both sides the cutting edge over a leather strop after honing the edge to further polish the knife blade and remove the burr if any was left.
That’s all it takes to maintain a good sharp edge on both sides of your serrated knife. This process isn’t too difficult, but is time-consuming. It does do a good job of keeping your serrated knife sharp though. Technically, this is NOT sharpening the cutting edge of your knife at all. It’s actually honing your serrated knife, and it works as a great maintenance point between your more thorough sharpening occurrences. This straightens out the burr on the edge and makes it cut cleaner!
Sharpening vs. Honing
This is a subject that gets confused often. Knife sharpening can be done with diamond rod, or “sharpening steel”, where honing is often done with a ceramic honing steel like mentioned above to keep the edge straight and sharp.
A diamond sharpening steel should be used with caution as it will remove steel from your blade and give it a new edge. This difference between a honing rod and a sharpening steel is an important distinction. It’s not uncommon for home cooks to generically call both of these items a “sharpeneing rod”.
Method 2: Spyderco Sharpmaker
This method is similar to that of the ceramic sharpening rod above but uses a specific tool for sharpening all sorts of knives. While this tool is slightly more expensive than just a ceramic rod, the Spyderco Sharpmaker is still budget-friendly for most. It will also assist you with sharping all sorts of knives in your kitchen and workshop. For this reason, the Sharpmaker is a very popular tool among sportsmen and chefs alike.
1. Set the Sharpmaker tool up on a bench and place the triangular rods in their holders. Make sure to leave the point of the rod exposed on the serration side of the knife and a flat side exposed on the straight edge side of the knife.
2. Gently draw the knife down across the rods at a slight angle, several times on each side of the blade. You will move at a slower pace on the serrated side than you normally would with a straight-edge knife. Make sure to cover the entire length of the blade and “choke-up” on the knife and cover the blade in sections if you have to.
3. Continue with this process roughly 5-6 times on each side of the blade. On the serrated side of the blade, set the angle of the blade so that it matches the angle of the scallop. On the flat side, you’ll want to angle the blade just ever so slightly off of flat so that it will remove the burr, but does not scratch the surface on the backside of the knife.
4. Pass both sides of the serrated knife blade over a leather strop once you’re done sharpening the knife. This will further polish the blade and remove any fine burrs that were left.
That’s all it takes to get a good sharp edge on both sides of your serrated knife. This method is quicker than the first one and still does a pretty good job. The tool used costs a bit more than a ceramic rod, but is probably worth the money if you don’t already have a way to sharpen your bread knife and need to buy something anyway.
Notice: The first 2 methods are for longer-term sharpening and serrated knives that have become duller. On the other hand, the following methods do more to “maintain” a good sharp edge on the blade before it becomes too dull or damaged. These methods are great if you do them more often, and on a preventative schedule rather than waiting until you have an issue.
Method 3: Work Sharp's Knife and Tool
As mentioned above, starting with this method, we are merely polishing the serrated blade with more of a “maintenance” sharpening. For this reason, the only belt you’ll use on Work Sharp’s Knife and Tool Sharpener for serrated knives is the 6000 grit belt. Anything more coarse than this would have more effect on the serrations and wear them away. By using the fine grit belt, it gives your serrated knife a nice polish and keeps the edges sharp.
1. Read and follow the instructions that come with the knife and tool sharpener in case there are specifics about your knife that are different than this generic guide.
2. Install the 6000 grit belt on the sharpener.
3. Gently draw the flat (non-serrated) side of the blade across the belt. You can either just pull the knife across several times or you can go back and forth with the knife.
As mentioned above, this will give you a sharper blade edge, but it will not last as long as the first couple methods discussed on this page. This is a good, easy, quick method, but will not solve your problem if you have a very dull or damaged serrated knife.
Method 4: Electric Serrated Knife Sharpener
Using an electric knife sharpener on a serrated bread knife is much like the previous method. The major difference between that tool and one like the Chef’s Choice Trizor XV EdgeSelect is that it has built-in guides. This makes setting the angle of the kitchen knife super easy, but it also makes it less versatile. This is something you should consider when deciding which knife sharpener to purchase.
If you’ll only be using it to sharpen knives from your kitchen and everything you own uses the same edge angle, an electric knife sharpener is a great choice! Where it doesn’t make as much sense is when you want to cover all your kitchen knives, pocket knives, and the tools in your shed. That’s where the Knife and Tool Sharpener from Method 3 fits best.
1. Always read the instructions that are included so you know how to sharpen a serrated knife with your electric sharpener. In most cases with a 3-stage electric sharpener, you’ll just be using stage 3 (the finest grit). This stage only hones or polishes the blade’s edge, similar to what a leather strop would do.
Method 5: Knife Sharpening Without Tools
AKA…How NOT To Sharpen a Serrated Knife
Perhaps you’ve seen the so-called “hacks” on how to sharpen a serrated knife without tools (or any knife for that matter).
So, should you use a ceramic plate or coffee mug to sharpen your good knives? Clearly, the answer here is no. This is not an adequate way to sharpen any knife, certainly not one with a serrated blade.
Sharpening Serrated Knives: The Last Slice
There are obviously numerous ways to one can go about sharpening serrated knives. We just named 4 good ways (and one bad way) to do it. The purpose of this post was to acknowledge that while it’s not a well-understood subject by many, it’s not that difficult either. You just need to set aside a bit of time.
Like we always say, think of your knives as an investment. If you buy a solid knife made of high-quality materials from a top knife brand that has good craftsmanship it will last forever and stay sharper longer. When you do need to sharpen it, you’ll be in a better position to do that and the new, sharper edge will last longer also.
Please be careful sharpening any knife. It can be dangerous working around sharp blades. If you’re not sure about what you’re doing, please consider consulting a professional knife sharpening service prior to taking it on yourself.