You’ve probably heard about honing steels before—more simply known as steels. You might even have one stashed away in your knife block—that metal rod with a handle that came with your knife set that you’ve rarely, if ever, taken out and used on your kitchen knives. You might have seen a butcher use one, if not in real life, at least in movies. But what the heck are you supposed to do with it? Sharpen knife blades? Impress your guests? (Photo below: a DMT ceramic honing rod and Henckels traditional steel.)
In the kitchen-knife world, a flurry of confusion surrounds what a steel—or honing steel, or honing rod, or hone—actually is and does. For good reason. There are a lot of terms floating around out there for similar and not-so-similar tools. And sometimes what looks like the very same tool (no matter what you call it) will have two rather different functions. To top it off, many manufacturers seem to have taken a vow of secrecy and offer descriptions of their products that are cryptic at best. So if you’re looking for some clarity . . . read on.
Honing is non-destructive while sharpening is not.
The term steel traditionally refers to a metal rod about the length of your forearm you can stroke your kitchen knives with to bring back their sharpness. Notice I say, “bring back”, not simply “sharpen” because, traditionally, a honing steel functions differently than a sharpener. A steel simply realigns the edge of a knife blade while a sharpener grinds off metal to create a new edge. They both achieve the same end, a sharper knife—but accomplish it in different ways. Honing is non-destructive while sharpening is not. Honing is a maintenance task to be performed quite often while sharpening should be done as little as possible. You hone a knife until the edge finally gets so worn down that you need to sharpen it again.
What’s especially confusing is that what looks like the very same tool—a rod with a handle on it (aka a steel)—may be designed to either hone or sharpen, and sometimes do both. To understand this better, we need to take a quick close-up of a knife blade.
Dexas Jelli Board, 11 x 14-1/2-inch — Green, Red, Orange, Blue
Other than honing regularly, the best thing you can do to keep your kitchen knives sharp is to use the right kind of cutting board. (Wood and plastic are the best—read my in-depth article on Cutting Boards — Wood and Plastic.) Don’t let the fun colors fool you—these are high-quality polypropylene boards that are just the right density for kitchen knives. I’ve had my Dexas board for a decade and it still looks presentable. BUY NOW @ Amazon
Make the Bent Places Straight
As you might imagine, the steel at the cutting edge of a knife is very very thin. That’s one of the main qualities that enables it to cut. But it also makes it vulnerable to stresses it was not designed to handle. Like hitting a chicken bone. Scraping against a mango pit. Slamming into a cutting board. All of these events will cause the delicate edge of a knife (which on a microscopic level looks more like ragged teeth) to fold over in spots. The sharp edge will still be there, but portions of the blade will have been bent to the side or completely rolled over, so that the knife can’t cut as well anymore. It will feel duller. But it’s not, really. And it doesn’t need to be sharpened. (Photo below: an electron microscope photograph [600x] of a stainless steel blade sharpened at 220 grit.)
What’s needed is for those sections on the blade that have been temporarily folded over to be realigned and straightened. Enter—the Honing Steel. It pushes these problem areas back into place. All along the blade edge. Again and again. (It’s amazing how tough, yet elastic, steel can be.) Eventually, these sections (remember they’re like jagged teeth) begin to wear down or break off to the point they can no longer be refurbished and rehabilitated. A new edge needs to be ground—the knife needs to be sharpened. (See my illustration at the end of The Sharpening Cycle.)
Hypothetically, you could hone your kitchen knife with the edge of a steel letter opener—as long as the letter opener was made of a steel harder than what the knife was made of. Or you could use the back of a porcelain plate. (That’s actually a neat trick if you get stuck at your aunt’s carving turkey with a super-dull knife and nothing to tune it up with.) But what works best is to use a honing steel. It’s quick, it’s safe, and demands minimal skill and effort.
Types of Hones/Steels
Based on the material they’re made of, honing steels can be divided into three basic types—steel, diamond, and ceramic. (To be more accurate, diamond and most ceramic hones are layered substances on top of a steel core.)
Steel hones are the oldest, most traditional, and most common. They are the type that often comes with a kitchen knife set. They can either be perfectly smooth or have fine ridges running their length. The smooth kind is the most benign, while the ridged roughs up the knife edge a bit while it realigns. For a while at least, this roughing-up treatment lends the edge more tooth and will make it cut more aggressively. But it’s not long lasting and tends to wear the edge down faster. (The courser the ridges on the honing steel, the greater the knife wear.) Thus, this is not my favorite type of hone.
The totally smooth steel hone (which is virtually non-destructive) is much superior to the ridged, but is still not my first choice—one of the main reasons being that it cannot be used with a Japanese-made knife. The steel that Japanese knives are made of is harder and brittler than German (or Western) steel and will tend to chip on a steel hone. This is true for all steel hones that I’m aware of.
Oh, it may look like a honing steel because it’s in the shape of a rod, but it’s functioning more like a sharpener.Diamond hones have no problem with handling any kind of steel. German, Japanese, planet Mars—they work on them all. Diamond is hard. But the problem with using a diamond hone/steel for regular maintenance is that it’s not truly a honing steel. It’s a sharpener in disguise. Oh, it may look like a honing steel because it’s in the shape of a rod, but it’s functioning more like a sharpener. Granted, depending on how fine the grit is (and how hard you press), it will not be any way as wicked as a full-fledged sharpening stone. But still—odds are you will be sharpening as much as honing. Which is fine if your knife is beginning to get dull and you don’t have time to do a full-fledged sharpening session and you just want to give it a quick tune-up with a few light swipes. But it’s definitely not fine for regularly realigning your blade every other day. Keep that up and you’ll have no knife left. Please—never use a diamond steel/hone for regular maintenance.
Ceramic hones mix the best of both worlds. They’re harder than any kind of steel, so they can be used with Japanese knives, but they’re not too hard. (Ceramic is much less aggressive than diamond.) And they’re usually manufactured with a very fine grit (1000 and up) that, although slightly destructive, won’t unnecessarily wear a knife down. It will clean the edge up a touch while it realigns which is not a bad thing. Any of those microscopic teeth that have been weakened will be taken away leaving the edge stronger and able to stay sharp longer. Only a miniscule amount of metal will be lost (as long as you don’t bear down and try to use the honing rod as a sharpener).
The abrasion of a fine-grit ceramic is infinitely finer than the ridges of even the finest steel hone, so it will be much easier on your knives. This is why a number of my favorite professional knife sharpeners recommend a fine-grit ceramic as the ideal hone. I’ve been using one on my knives for over a year now since they last were sharpened and they all still slice through paper with ease. Hard to beat that! (Oh, there is one negative—if you drop a ceramic hone on a hard floor, it can break.)
I own the DMT and it works like a dream. The Messermeister I’ve handled, but not actually used—I bought it for friends as a wedding gift (along with a Shun knife, I’m not that cheap). One of the professional sharpening services I’ve used actually prefers it to the DMT.
Diamond Machining Technology [DMT] CS2 12-Inch Ceramic Steel
Messermeister 12-Inch Ceramic Rod
Please note: Both manufacturers make diamond and steel models as well, so be sure the honing steel you select is ceramic.
Length and Cleanup
There are two other simple, but important, details to be aware of regarding a honing steel: 1) make sure it’s the right length and, 2) keep it clean.
1) You want the length (not including the handle) to be 2-inches longer than the longest knife you intend to use it on. (Bread knives and other serrated knives don’t count because you can’t easily hone them.) You need the extra inches in order to comfortably run the entire edge of the knife down the hone in one complete swipe. So if your king-of-the-kitchen is a 10-inch chef’s knife, you should buy a hone with an 12-inch long shaft.
2) You must clean your honing steel. Otherwise, it will get clogged up with the super-fine metal particles from the knives you’re using it on. And it will gradually lose it’s effectiveness. After each honing session, give it a thorough wipe with a clean cloth. Then, every few weeks or so, scrub it in hot soapy water with a synthetic brush or scrub pad just the way you would a gourmet cooking pan. No steel wool or anything harsh that could scratch. (Some recommend using cleansing powder on ceramic hones, but I shy away from it because I’m worried the abrasiveness of the powder will wear down the surface.)
No matter how well you maintain your hone, it will wear out.Ceramic hones are bit more troublesome to keep clean because even if you scrub them regularly, the metal residue tends to build up a bit anyway turning them greyish. That said, my understanding is that because ceramic is usually such a fine grit in the first place, this thin, leftover build-up doesn’t impact much on the hone’s effectiveness. Nonetheless, if you wish to clean a ceramic rod more thoroughly (which I keep meaning to do, but haven’t gotten around to yet), the most effective solution seems to be using an erasure. Idahone (a well-known hone manufacturer) makes one specifically designed for this task and it’s supposed to work wonders. (It’s on my shopping list.)
Finally, be aware, no matter how well you maintain your hone, it will wear out. Depending on the brand/quality and how much and how hard you use it, it might only last 2 to 3 years. So don’t expect it to last the lifetime of your Henckels knives.
Global 3-Piece Prep Set
BUY NOW @ Sur La Table
This is one of my favorite knife sets because you’re not paying more for what you don’t really need. Three essential knives you will use every day from a first-class knifemaker. You can add on more as your chefdom grows!
Japanese Knives and Honing Steels
Word to the wise: Honing steels are primarily designed for maintaining Western-style knives made of Western-style (or German) steel. This type of steel is tough and pliable. If you own a Japanese knife, please do yourself a favor and do some research before you try honing it.
Western-styled Japanese knives (Global, Mashiro, MAC, etc.) can be honed, but only with a ceramic or diamond honing rod—never one made of steel (either ridged or smooth). Japanese steel is brittler than German-style steel and can chip. Only a ceramic or diamond hone (which are much harder and a finer grit) can handle this Japanese steel without damaging it.
Traditional Japanese knives you should be even more careful with. They should never be steeled/honed at all. Period. They should only be touched up with a waterstone—the same thing you should sharpen them with. This is the blessing and curse of Japanese knives—they’re super sharp, but they’re also more finicky. (Note: I’ve garnered this from research, not personal experience, since I do not currently own any traditional Japanese knives.)
Honing Steel Recap
1. Be clear about the difference between honing and sharpening. Honing realigns, sharpening grinds. For regular maintenance you want a steel that hones, not sharpens.
2. Of the three types of honing steels, I (and my sharpening professionals) recommend a fine-grit ceramic. It will be gentle on your knives while still cleaning them up a bit. And you can you use it on Western-style Japanese knives.
3. Make sure to buy a hone that’s 2-inches longer than the longest knife you will use it on. And keep it clean.
P.S. Make sure to check out Part Two, my follow-up article, titled: How to Hone (or Steel) a Knife.
I’ve recently bought a Shun 8 in. classic chef knife and was trying to decide on a honing steel when I came across this article. I have looked around after reading and am second guessing my honing choice. I hadn’t bought it yet, but was going to purchase Shun’s classic honing steel. The main reason I liked it was because it has an angle guide at the handle to position it correctly. My only issue now is that it is made of steel. I called Shun and they said it is okay on their knives. Would you still recommend a ceramic over their steel?
Excellent question, Ryan! A number of the major knife manufacturers still seem to favor a hone/steel made of steel. I’m not sure why. It might be that they know it will last longer — a ceramic hone will need to be replaced. And it may be that they are only positioned to manufacturer steel and entering the ceramic market is something they would rather not trouble with. Or, perhaps they honestly think steel is superior to ceramic. I have not yet had the opportunity to call a knife maker on this question and I, myself, would be curious to hear their response.
Nonetheless, here are two basic truths that may help light the way for you:
1) I’m pretty sure the Shun honing rod will work fine on your Shun knives and will not damage them.
2) I’m pretty sure that using a ceramic hone will be superior to using a steel one — because it’s my understanding that the ceramic material will not be as rough on your knife’s edge as steel. Especially since the Shun is made of Japanese steel which is harder, and brittler, than German steel. The ceramic will also clean up the edges a bit as it realigns. This is assuming you buy a ceramic with a fine grit like the ones I’ve recommend in the article above.
As far as the built-in angle guide is concerned, although it’s handy, it’s no big deal learning to visualize the correct angle yourself. And it doesn’t have to be perfect, there’s room for tolerance. Here’s what to do: Because the Shun is supposedly sharpened at 16 degrees, visualize (or actually use) a book of matches turned sidewise as your guide.
Lay the book (or imagine it) against your hone right side up, with the top of the matchbook (the widest part) on top, tapering down to the thinner side. This is about the angle you need. Capice?
I am happy to be proved wrong, but I can honestly say that if it were me, I would use a ceramic steel. And that is exactly what I do with my Shun chef knife. I have owned it for a couple of years, and although it’s not my only chef knife, the edge has held up very well. I have yet to get it sharpened and (after I’ve given it a few swipes on my hone) I can still push cut it through a sweet pepper with little resistance :)
The use of a matchbook as an angle guide for honing is also something Bob Kramer mentions (or did at one time—I haven’t looked recently on his website). I emailed him several years ago about the fact that the matchbook he (and you) used as an illustration was actually closer to 8 degrees (+/- 1 degree), not 16. It takes, not one, but two matchbooks to equal 16 degrees.
Thanks for a nice website!
Yes, now that I think about it, you’re probably right. A matchbook creates a steeper angle than 16 degrees. Although, like everything else, the matchbook makers may have slimmed matchbooks down over the years :)
But your comment touches on two facts about honing worth repeating—facts I’ve been advised about by expert professional sharpeners over the years:
1) your honing angle doesn’t need to be exact, there’s a healthy amount of leeway
2) better to start too steep (too sharp an angle) and widen it out, than too wide. Otherwise you risk doing just the opposite of what you intend—folding the edge and dulling the blade, instead of realigning and bringing it back.
This is Jake with A.G. Russell Knives, a knife company out of Arkansas. I CAN confirm that Ceramic Hone is much better than a regular Steel Hone. If you get a high grade alumina ceramic hone, you really shouldn’t ever need to replace it in a regular person’s lifetime – even at a knife company with high use it should last decades and decades.
You do need to clean the steel off of the surface to keep the sharpening surface fresh however. We highly recommend the erasers. We use an eraser made in Germany called the Rust Eraser. It’s designed for removing rust from a blade (but it can scratch), but we use it specifically for cleaning our ceramic rods. We don’t generally recommend washing your ceramic, it can push steel filings/dust deeper into the ceramic and it will then rust inside of it. Washing it with a Scotchbrite pad, comet, or steel wool IS still better than doing nothing and replacing it, but we do recommend the eraser, you can pick one up for $5 and your ceramic (if you get a good one, DMT is good), will last you a lifetime.
Ceramic is very brittle, and can chip and break easily, so you do need to store them carefully (and don’t drop them). We make a rod system similar to the Spyderco Sharpmaker with set angles which stores them safely inside a walnut wood block. Depending on the thickness of the ceramic, the rod can slowly bend over time with the pressures exerted on it – those would be the only reasons to have to replace one – in terms of sharpening they should last with proper cleaning.
Hope that helps!
Thanks, Jake! I really appreciate your thorough explanation of the best way to clean a ceramic hone.
Unfortunately, I don’t allow anybody (but myself) to leave links in my comments section. So anybody interested in the eraser you are recommending, is welcome to go to the A.G. Russell knives website and hunt it down ;)
There are many eraser brands out there, some may be better than others. Early on in my kitchen-knife journey, I was planning to buy one, but then opted for cleaning with a Scotch Pad and soap. But I have noticed that the Scotch pad only removes about 80 percent of the gray steel fillings. So, if you are correct, Jake, I have been grinding some of the fillings into the ceramic.
Time to try out an eraser!!
I use Wusthofs and just bought a 10″ chef knife that I’d like to maintain better. I was under the impression that ceramic honing rods take away some material so you’re (in a sense) sharpening when you use them rather than just realigning the edge. Is that what you meant by ceramic “cleaning up” while you hone?
I’m worried that I’ll be screwing up the edge with a ceramic if it’s taking away material. Is that a valid concern or am I being too cautious?
Don’t be such a worrywart :) Go buy a ceramic hone and start using it immediately. Read my article, How to Hone a Knife, and you will be well prepped. I’d also recommend reading The Sharpening Cycle and Knife Edges 101 which will help explain things more.
Yes, a ceramic hone will not only realign the edge, but remove some of the microscopically-sized saw teeth on the blade which have been severely bent — which is a good thing. But that’s very different than sharpening, which literally grinds them ALL off and then some, going back and forth between sides, to create a new primary bevel.
The two main things to be aware are: 1) learn and practice the correct angle (the angle the knife was sharpened at) and 2) don’t use too much pressure. You’re not grinding the edge down, you’re pushing it back into place. The more often you hone, the less you’ll need to think about whether you’re doing it right, and the longer your knives will stay sharp. Start NOW!
Hi there. I tried the ceramic rod and found to my tastes it’s more trouble than it is worth. It gets dirty and clogged so easily, chips easily, and creates a great deal of dust. To me, whatever small gain comes from it, is not worth it.
Thanks for sharing your experience with using a ceramic honing steel. I must admit I’m surprised to hear you’re so dissatisfied. I’ve been using my DMT ceramic very regularly for around four years and been very happy with it. It has kept my kitchen knives incredibly sharp. I have knives that haven’t been sharpened for three or more years that can still cut paper.* (I just went to the kitchen and tried it with two of them to double check. No prob.)
My sense is that it would not be possible to keep my knife edges that sharp with a regular steel hone which would 1) be rougher on them and wear down the edges more than necessary, and 2) not clean up the edges as well. This KKG video post demonstrates what I’m talking about: The Power of Honing a Knife
Now, I have noticed that 1) I need to scrub my ceramic hone regularly, to clean out the steel filings, maybe once a month, and that 2) the hone is turning much greyer, a sign it’s getting, as you say, “clogged up” with these metal filings. And it’s definitely not as abrasive as it was when I first bought it—I need to give my knives a few more swipes than I used to. Thus, within the next year, I’ll probably need to buy a new ceramic hone to replace my old one. But I have had this puppy for around four years and used it quite a bit.
The problems you describe make me wonder two things:
1) Do you have a lesser quality hone? Are you using either of the two brands I recommend on the KKG website? (See My Favorite Honing Steels. This is not to say these two hones are the finest ceramic hones on the market. But they are decent quality at an affordable price.)
2) Are you being too hard on your hone, pressing down too hard, and trying to sharpen, instead of simply hone, your knife edges? This would explain chipping the hone and getting it inordinately clogged up with metal filings.
I hope this helps you figure things out some. Please get back to me, I’d be curious to hear. . .
* Granted, these are knives that were sharpened by Seattle Knife Sharpening, my favorite professional sharpening service, and they have very very sharp edges and not the usual short-and-steep final bevel that most German knives possess. Seattle Sharpening eliminates that kind of bevel which prolongs the sharpitude.
(After looking over your site several times, I have decided to use your site for a second opinion referral, so to speak, for my customers as you have done a great job of covering the bases.)
I believe the original idea behind using a steel was to simply straighten out the bent edges of butcher’s knives, that were not that hard and seldom sharpened to much of a fine degree either, therefore only required a hardened and polished rod with a protected handle.
I demonstrate how to use a steel by choosing the correct edge angle and dragging the blade off of the steel so as to not fold the bent edge down over on to the blade but rather pull it out straight. Remember that if you raise the back of the blade too high, you are doing more harm than good.
I have an old German set at home, as well as some of my own. And if I can’t get the German blades to my shop for a proper sharpening, I will actually use the striated steel that came with the set to sharpen the dull blade—although it is only going to be a barely serviceable edge. However, I have refrained from using this on my own blades so far.
I also never put this striated steel to a sharpened knife as I don’t want to remove the fine edge. I will sometimes, however, instead of using a steel, use a cutting board to realign an edge if the knife is actually sharp. In my opinion, striated steels are really best used on soft knives and left off of the harder Shuns and other fine hard edges.
One of my tests to ensure I have properly heat-treated a blade is to sharpen it and run the side of the edge over a polished rod. I’ll use enough pressure to deflect the edge to determine whether or not the edge will flex and return, as it should, or whether it will either stay bent or chip, as it shouldn’t.
From this you might be able to visualize what could happen to a blade by steeling it. If the blade is really hard, it could chip with too much pressure. Especially with striations.
Ceramic steels are not normally used to realign an edge, but will cut a small amount of material and create a new edge. Ceramic steels will also remove the fine polished surface of a highly polished edge and make it bite into a tomato better as it now has some tooth than the highly polished edge had.
The ceramic steel can be cleaned by using comet and a brillo pad with good results.
Although the edge angles may be wrong for today’s purposes and blades, Spyderco has a ceramic sharpener, the Sharpmaker, that I have used and recommend for those who are looking for someway to maintain their knives between major sharpenings.
I don’t think that you can purchase a polished steel anymore and the striated ones are really not that good at restoring an edge that only needs a bit of straightening.
Perhaps the need for a steel has been outdated some by the innovation of the new and very hard blades of today, but the ceramic steel is very handy for touch ups in between sharpenings.
Thanks much, Lyle, for, as a highly experienced sharpener and bladesmith, sharing your take on steels!
For what it’s worth, I’ve found using a ceramic steel extremely effective for extending the life of any sharpened blade. I’ve used it on factory edges (which, as I’m sure you well know, are usually not that finely sharpened) and on super-finely sharpened edges produced by pros such as yourself. In both cases, the ceramic steel has kept the edges sharp for long periods of time—the more finely sharpened the blade, the longer the edge has lasted.
The DMT ceramic steel I’ve been using has a pretty fine grit (2200) which, I’m assuming, minimizes how much metal is taken away and allows it to operate similarly to a smooth metal steel (without striations). But I have found, after 3-4 years of heavy usage, that it’s getting clogged and “dirty” with steel filings. It still works, but doesn’t seem to be quite as effective as it used to be. This clogging up has happened in spite of the fact I scrub it (roughly) once a month with dishwashing soap and a Scotch-Brite scouring pad. Maybe I’ll try using Comet as you suggest. I’ve also been meaning to buy an erasure specifically designed for the task by Idahone. Anyway. . .regardless of cleaning, my instincts tell me that perhaps this hone has reached the end of its life :)
Use a Mr. Clean magic eraser—they work amazing for cleaning ceramic sharpeners. I’ve yet to see anyone else do it but me, but they work very well. Or you can dip it in acid over night. Be careful though it is very dangerous.
OK. . .I’ll give Mr. Clean a shot next cleaning! But forget about the acid :)
For more than fifty years, I have relied on an inherited Sheffield-made carving set that was originally a family wedding present in 1886. The blade responds well to its original steel. But after reading your comments on sharpening, I now wonder if I should consider something that removes metal (e.g. a diamond steel). I would be grateful for your advice.
Incidentally, the carbon steel blade bears a patina that seems to be miraculously rust proof!
Sounds like a beautiful set! Some comments and questions:
– The steel which came with your set (which I assume is made out of metal/steel), does it have any ridges or is it totally smooth? I’m guessing it’s smooth.
– Is the knife getting dull? Have you ever had it sharpened? If you’ve never had it sharpened and you hone it regularly and it’s still getting dull, then it can’t be honed back to life. It needs to be sharpened. Read The Sharpening Cycle.
– If you use a diamond steel on it, you will be for all practical purposes sharpening it, not honing it.
If it were me, I would probably have it sharpened by an expert professional sharpening service. And then I would buy a ceramic hone and use that to keep the edge fresh. If the steel that came with the set is totally smooth, then I might consider using this to hone some as well. But not if it has ridges!
Please read my articles for more help: Finding a Professional Sharpening Service and Reviews of Professional Sharpening Services. I would send your knife to either Seattle Knife Sharpening or one of the three services I mention in the comments at the end of Finding a . . .Service. I would send it insured both ways (I’ve never lost any knives in the mail) and I would explain to the sharpening service how special this knife is.
I suppose if you’re paranoid about shipping this knife anywhere, you could buy a diamond hone and lightly sharpen it yourself. But there’s no way you will match the quality of an expert sharpening service and odds are you will gradually wear off much more steel and thus greatly shorten the life of this lovely knife.
Hope this helps!
Best regards, KKG
P.S. Patina: Yes, this is what a patina does, it protects the surface of the blade. If you get it sharpened, don’t be surprised at how it looks when it returns. An eight of an inch or more of the steel on the edge will be shiny with the patina ground off. But it will come back. Buy some camellia oil to protect it in the meanwhile.
Bonkers the lot of you. Eight to ten adroit swipes of my inherited father’s (chef executif) 12-inch grooved steel sorts out sabatier, inox, ching chopper, carbon steel 80-year plus fillet, 12-inch Mondin carver. Never washed it. I don’t have to “slice” ripe tomatoes, just “chop”. Golden rule I’ve taught my children: never let your knife/chisel get anywhere near any other metal, and sharpen little but often. Thanks for the interesting dialogue.
Have you ever heard of “pickling” a smooth steel hone?
Used to work in a meatpacking plant in Seattle in the 1980’s where we, on average, processed 160 pigs an hour and needed every trick in the book to keep up with our knives!
We pickled the steels at home, overnight, in a tall, narrow-mouthed bottle with a small amount of cider vinegar at the bottom below the end of the steel. It left very small pits with a similar effect to the ceramic steels that were not readily available or reasonably priced at that time! Anyway, then you took a wet paper towel or rag and a small amount of scouring powder (Comet or Bonami) and removed the rust and cleaned your steel—just as you would time-to-time while using it, to remove grease from the meat that would accumulate!
If you already knew all this, sorry to belabor this comment!
No, I’ve never heard of “pickling” a smooth steel. Great trick. And, boy, does that prove vinegar is powerful stuff!
What a great site…love the Q&A here….knife edged (bevelled vs. not..PTEC vs. not etc) is intriguing to me.
I just bought an Idahone ceramic steel. Do I need that “eraser” or can I use some cleaner to remove the grit it leaves behind?
As per a sharpener, I just got the Chef’s Choice 4643 manual (my knives are German, none yet are Japanese). I was thinking of trying something else instead…Spyderco or other. Using a wet stone takes too long. I hear the electric ones take too much steel off the knives.
Glad KKG can be of service in learning more about the world of kitchen knives!
RE cleaning a ceramic steel
Believe it or not, I’ve been honing my knives for 8 years now and I still don’t own an eraser. I think the eraser works, but I doubt it works any better than regular hand cleaning. I simply load up with dishwashing soap a nylon scrubber (usually Scotch Brite)—the same kind you’d use for your stainless-steel pans—and scrub away with hot water. You can’t get rid of ALL the gray steel dust and shavings, but you can get most of them. And it will renew the grit of the ceramic steel. Just be careful stroking your steel when it’s not clean—because you can get a very fine metal splinter in your finger. It’s happened to me and it’s not pleasant and a bit weird because you can hardly see it. (You have to kind of flush it out by submerging your finger in warm water and shaking it around.)
RE Chef’s Choice 4643
Not my choice. See my recent answer to Lori E. at the end of the comments on the Wusthof Knives page where I cover my objections in depth.
RE hand sharpening
Hand sharpening is not my thing, so I can only give my impressions. Spyderco might be decent, but it wouldn’t be my choice. If I were to ever have the time to sharpen my own knives, I would either use the Edge Pro system or Japanese wet stones.
Never ever use the Chef Choice power sharpeners! Their diamond wheels take off too much metal.
My favorite solution for keeping my kitchen knives sharp is shipping my knives to a top-notch professional sharpening service and then honing regularly in-between.
My friend recently gave me a Dalstrong Gladiator chef knife. The 8” blade is made of German HC steel. I was shopping for a good honing steel to keep it sharp. It’s a good thing I read your article before I bought anything. I already have a honing steel that I want to buy on Amazon—the chromium-covered honing steel set from Chefast. The majority of the reviews are positive. But I want to know if you think this is a good choice for the type of knife I have?
You can use a metal hone on German knives. But Chefast sounds like a newbie company with no track record. Who knows?
I recommend a ceramic hone. It’s easier on the knife edges and will clean them up. It should keep your knife sharper for a longer time.
Please read my article on What’s a Honing Steel? for my recommendations :) You can add to my two recommended hones a few more: Idahone, Global, MAC. . .
I´m sorry if this seems like an obvious question, especially after reading the Q&A above…
I can´t shake the feeling that I would somehow not hone at the right angle, and that I would be better off if I got a smooth steel hone instead of a ceramic one, on account that the steel doesn´t shave anything off.
In other words, would I be on the safer side with a steel hone for daily/regular use?
BTW, the smooth steel hones seem to be much harder to find than the coarse ones. Why would that be if they “mistreat” the blade like you explained?
You might be over-thinking things. If I thought you’d be safer using a smooth steel hone, I would have recommended it :) I’m just sharing with my readers what was recommended to me by top-of-the line professional sharpeners.
1) That said, there are pros, and experienced kitchen knife users, that prefer a smooth steel hone over a ceramic. I think the main reason they prefer it, is not because they’re concerned about not properly matching the angle, but because they prefer a hone to be completely neutral and non-abrasive. Plus, they might prefer to be able to use more force without taking any steel bits off. And that’s fine. There’s often more than one way to accomplish the same thing in most human activities, right?
2) As long as you don’t use a whole lot of pressure, a fine-grained, ceramic hone is not going to take that much steel off anyway. It will simply whisk away micro-sized teeth that are bent and weak and getting in the way of quality cutting at the same time it realigns.
3) You have leeway in how well the honing angle matches the sharpened angle. It doesn’t need to perfectly match the edge angle to still realign the blade effectively.
Regarding why smooth steels are harder find than textured steels. My best guesses are:
1) Many consumers, or brands appealing to consumers, like the fact that a textured edge will more quickly rough up the cutting edge, making it more toothy and feel sharper.
2) It’s a little harder to properly realign an edge with a smooth steel than with a textured one.
3) It may be more expensive to manufacture a smooth steel hone. The hardness of the steel probably needs to be higher and it probably takes more work to make the surface perfectly smooth.
I hope this answers your concerns. If not, let me know :)
Thank you very much for your quick response!
I just ordered some Wüsthof knifes from the Classic and the Ikon series, and wanted to get to honing regularly right away. Your site definitely helps a lot to make an informed decision, so thank you again!
Thank you very much for your quick response!
I just ordered some Wüsthof knifes from the Classic and the Ikon series, and wanted to get to honing regularly right away. Your site definitely helps a lot to make an informed decision, so thank you again!