What is a Honing Steel? (And NO it doesn’t Sharpen a Knife)
A honing steel is essentially a tool that is used to realign the edge of a knife blade. The actual definition of this tool is often misconstrued because it is also known as a sharpening blade, which implies a tool that can remove tiny shards of metal from a knife blade in order to make it sharper.
However, this is not the case with a honing steel. Although both honing and sharpening ultimately achieve the same result; a sharper blade. The methods they use to get there are very different. Honing is a maintenance task conducted regularly that is not destructive to the blade, whereas sharpening is destructive and should be done as little as possible.
Why are Honing Steels Needed?
The best quality kitchen knives will have a thin sharp edge which allows it to expertly slice through all manner of foods. However, this thin edge also means that the knife itself is susceptible to damage from seemingly harmless things, such as slamming against a cutting board.
Regular damage such as this will result in ridges forming on the delicate edge of the knife. This can actually cause the steel to become deformed and fold over itself and dull the knife edge to the point where it is almost useless. Although it will feel like the knife needs to be sharpened, it actually doesn’t. There isn’t any need to remove any of the metal, the knife edge itself just needs to be reshaped and this is where a honing steel comes in.
The honing steel is able to push up those parts of the blade that have been folded over, bending all the problem areas back into place, compressing the metal so that the ridges are removed and the edge itself is sharp again.
What Does a Honing Steel Look Like?
Most honing steels will look extremely similar; they will feature a long rounded handle so the user can grip the tool with ease. The rod itself is always long, with some Honing Rods reaching up to 30cm in length, and they typically come in three types; flat, oval, or round. The materials that a honing steel is made out of will be one of three; ceramic, diamond and of course steel.
✓ Steel Hones
This is the most traditional and the most common type. In most cases you will find that this kind of steel has fine ridges running along the length, but it is possible to find completely smooth versions also.
The completely smooth version is completely non-destructive whereas the ridged version will rough up the edge a bit whilst it realigns. This is not necessarily a bad thing though, as this will provide the knife with a much more aggressive cutting action.
✓ Diamond Hones
Diamond hones can perform excellently on literally any type of steel knife no matter how strong the blade. However, the main problem with using a Diamond hone is the varying abrasiveness. Small particles of diamond are added to the outside of the rod to provide a mild rough texture. However, the bigger the particles, the more abrasive the tool is. This is a problem because the abrasiveness then works more as a sharpening tool than it does as a honing tool and so can damage knives when used regularly.
It’s important not to use a diamond hone for regular maintenance, instead using it as a convenient and quick sharpening method in desperate times.
✓ Ceramic Hones
A ceramic hone is the best of both worlds. They are generally harder than a steel hone, but not quite as abrasive as a diamond hone. The hone will still probably remove some tiny particles of metal while it aligns but it is nothing to worry about.
How Do You Use a Honing Steel?
The blade that needs to be honed should be held at a 20 degree angle to the honing steel. The base of the honing steel should then be placed on the edge of the blade. The handle of the blade should be gripped in order to slide the blade itself down the steel in a diagonal motion.
The honing steel should always stay stationary. Repeat this sliding motion at least 5 times and then turn the blade over to complete the same procedure on the opposite side. If you want to sharpen your kitchen knife blade take a look at using a Whetstone.