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Sharpening Serrated Knives

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2011

Our favorite manual and electric knife sharpeners restore hair-splitting sharpness to dull blades with just a few strokes, but until recently we’d never tested either manufacturer’s claim that the tools work equally well with serrated blades.

Generally speaking, serrated edges don’t need to be honed and sharpened nearly as often as smooth blades; because their pointed teeth do most of the work and the finer scallop-shaped serrations follow the points through the food, the edges endure less friction and degrade more slowly. And as for serrated-specific sharpeners, we’ve previously found them disappointing and recommended that serrated knives be sharpened by a professional. But we were curious about how these knives would fare in a traditional sharpener, so we gathered half a dozen pointed-, scalloped-, and saw toothed-edge knives that were too dull to slice through a loaf of crusty bread or a ripe tomato and ran them through a series of sharpening tests.

Alas, our Rolls-Royce of electric sharpeners—the Chef’sChoice 130 Professional Sharpening Station ($149.95)—didn’t cut it; after the manufacturer-prescribed 10 strokes, the edge improved only marginally. But our favorite manual sharpener, the AccuSharp Knife and Tool Sharpener ($9.49), restored an edge that sliced through crusty bread and cleaved juicy tomatoes with ease. Why the sharp difference? It came down to mechanics. With the electric sharpener, two spinning wheels sharpen merely the edges and tips of the serrated knives, not the valleys between these tips. The manual tool, by contrast, allows the V-shaped tungsten carbide to ride up and down the different serrations (pointed, scalloped, and saw toothed), sharpening not only the edges and tips, but the deep valleys too. That being the case, we’ll skip the pricey professional job and grab the AccuSharp from the tool drawer.