Honing steels, often referred to as sharpening steels, are actually neither sharpening nor honing tools. They are, in fact, utensils used for realigning and smoothening the curled edges of knives.
Still, they are essential kitchen tools, especially among professional chefs, and ensure that the knives in the kitchen are sharp, straight-edges, and safe and efficient enough to use.
The honing rod is an affordable and easy-to-use kitchen tool that, when utilized properly, will prolong the longevity of your knives and will restore the fresh edges of knives, scissors, and other blades.
Read on to find out more about using honing steel for the best results.
The truth about honing steel
As we already mentioned, the fact that the honing steel is often advertised and referred to as a sharpening tool is a misconception that can lead users to disappointing results after buying and using one as a knife sharpener.
A knife’s cutting power relies on two factors – the straightness of its edge and its thinness.
The premium quality, professional kitchen knives are commonly made of high carbon steel and feature very thin and straight edges. This allows for easy, quick, and safe cutting of even the softest, toughest, and most stubborn foods, such as tomatoes or chicken cartilage.
The main downside of high carbon steel is that it is more fragile than other metals and materials used for making blades.
But whatever type of knives you prefer to use in the kitchen, even if they have very thin and sharp edges, chances are that their edges will start degrading over time. This includes curling and misalignments and even some chipping.
All of this leads to problems when using the knives, trouble cutting through different food products, and can lead to injuries during food prep.
By using a honing rod you can restore the alignment of the blade and smoothing out any dents or kinks.
Check our review for the best honing steels for your knives
What does honing steel do?
Traditional knife sharpeners have grinding surfaces that allow for rasping off some of the metal and thus thinning the edges of the knives. The problem is that when they are not used properly, you can do more damage to the knife rather than improving its sharpness and cutting power. The reason is that every knife has an edge with an angled grind, which can be thrown off when an unsuitable sharpener is used over and over again.
Honing steel, on the other hand, will help you ensure that the blade of your knife is realigned and that any microscopic dents or curves are smoothed out. This will make the edge straight but without damaging the blade due to removing some of its metal in the process. Once the blade is straightened and smoothened, there will be no more frustrating “catching” onto the food and a feeling of dullness when you use your knife.
What do I have to buy?
There are different types of honing steels being offered on the market. Even though they are called steels, some of them can be made from other materials too. The main types of honing steel include stainless steel, diamond, and ceramic.
The steel ones are more delicate and will not remove any of the metal from the blade, while some diamond and ceramic ones will remove microscopic parts of the metal and will have a more visible effect on the edge of the knife.
Stainless steel is the most common classic option if your knives are made of metal which is not harder than steel.
Ceramic steels do have a mild sharpening effect as they will remove microscopic parts of the metal of the blade, but they are still delicate enough for most knives.
Diamond steels are the most abrasive type, and as such, have the biggest sharpening effect but can damage delicate blades when overused.
The length of the honing steel you choose is an essential factor. Longer honing steels are more efficient for all types of knives, including ones with longer blades. The most recommended length of the honing steel rod is 12 inches without the handle. This is a universal length that will work well with most knives. And if you have very long-bladed knives, you may even want to opt for a longer honing rod.
Last but not least, you should choose steel which has an ergonomic handle and which is comfortable and safe to grip and use.
Everything necessary to hone a knife
If you want to hone your knife, all you will need is honing steel and a knife.
There is no need for oiling the blade prior to honing it, so simply buy suitable honing steel, and you can get started right away.
How to hone a knife with a steel
Here is how to properly and safely hone your knife with steel:
1. Brace the steel
Use your non-dominant hand to hold the steel vertically on top of a chopping board or another surface. Usually, honing steels will have rubberized or rounded tips, which will help you brace them securely.
2. Place the knife in the right position
Use your stronger dominant hand to hold the knife at about a 15-degree angle against the steel, and hold it as close to the handle as possible.
3. Start drawing the blade down gently
4. Gently and without applying too much pressure, start drawing the blade downward and away from the steel. Make sure that the edge of the knife runs down and alongside the steel, starting from the handle down to the tip. If you hear a gentle ring while you do it, then you are honing the blade properly. If the sound is harsher, then release some of the pressure on the knife. If there is no sound at all, try pressing the edge to the steel a little harder.
5. Switch to the other side
Once you are done with one side of the blade, flip the knife over to the other side and repeat the drawing process but on the other side of the blade.
Then switch back and do it again. Four to five strokes on each side should be enough for realigning your knife’s edge.
How to test the sharpness of your knife
The easiest way to test the sharpness of a knife is to perform the paper test.
Take a sheet of paper and hold it by one of its corners. Then try drawing the knife from the top to the bottom of the sheet of paper. If it goes through the paper easily with minimum pressure, then your knife is sharp.
If you have problems cutting through the paper, then you should probably hone the knife’s edge.
If the paper test still fails even after the honing, then your knife may need sharpening with a knife sharpener.
How often should knives be honed?
There is no one universal answer to this question. The frequency of the honing required depends on the type and quality of your knife, and how often you use it, and what you use it for.
Filleting knives will need less regular honing than cleavers which are used for tougher tasks such as cutting through cartilage and bones.
Lower quality blades also tend to require more frequent honing than higher quality ones because the former will lose their edge faster than the latter.
While some people believe that honing steels will sharpen the blades, they are actually more of tools for correcting the alignment of the edges and smoothening them gently.
Still, honing tools are highly efficient and easy-to-use tools that will allow you to improve the cutting power of your blades without grinding off metal as knife sharpeners do.
If you use suitable honing steel properly and as frequently as needed, you will ensure that the knives in your kitchen cut easily, quickly, and safely for a long time.