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Nerdy Science in the Kitchen

The Honing Steel or Sharpening Steel



Sharpening Steel or Honing Rod, That Is The Question…

The sharpening steel is also called a sharpening stick, sharpening rod, butcher’s steel, chef’s steel, and honing steel. Honing steel or honing rod is a more accurate description versus sharpening rod or stick. But what is it to hone a knife?

When you sharpen your knife, you are actually removing fatigued material and uncovering a fresh beveled edge. However, after time, the entire length of the knife blade becomes slightly bent, out of alignment, due to microscopic fibers bending down on the blade.

This happens as a result of normal use, not through any fault or lack of skill. One reason your knife never seems to get sharp is because of this misalignment – the sharp edge has been pushed off to the side. The honing steel, used properly, will realign the sharpened edge so that it is facing in the right direction. Each type of knife has a specific angle is should be sharpened. Use this guide to to learn more about knife sharpening angles.

Honing rods are made of steel and can come coated in ceramic or diamond in addition to steel. The steel and ceramic honing rods may have longitudinal ridges, whereas the diamond coated steels are smooth but will be embedded with abrasive diamond particles. Ceramic rods create a more polished edge and diamond rods simply speed up the already speedy process.

Wusthof 10 inch sharpening steel

The Wusthof sharpening steel is magnetic so that any metal fibers released from your blade will not contaminate your kitchen. A comfortable slip resistant handle, and loop for hanging for easy storage finish off this great addition to your kitchen.

Shun Classic Combination Honing Steel Knife Sharpener

The Shun honing steel has two sides for honing the blade and two sides for polishing. The handle is a beautiful black laminated PakkaWood for comfort and ease of handling.

If you watch cooking programs on TV, you have probably noticed the phenomenal speed with which the chef uses his or her honing steel. They move their knife along its length with such uncanny speed you may wonder how they do it without lopping off pieces and parts of their body. You might even feel intimidated asking yourself “how will I EVER learn how to do that?”.

You are not expected to. The chef only does it because she has done it for so long that she doesn’t know that she is doing it and it might even be a bit of a nervous habit (or showing off). The safest way for you to hone is to use the “Butcher’s Method” –

• Point the narrow end down on a cutting board. Position the heel (thickest part of the blade before the handle) of your knife somewhere between 15 and 20 degrees near the handle of the steel.

• Swipe the blade down one side of the steel, pulling the knife toward you at the same time so that every part of the blade—from heel to tip—runs along the steel.

• Repeat on the opposite side of the steel.

• Continue going back and forth a few a few more times. It is not necessary to do this the seemingly endless number of times they do it on TV.

• Speed is not important when using the steel, accuracy, on the other hand, is!

Looking for something to sharpen? I’ve found the best oyster knives for shucking oysters.

The steel must be used often! Ideally, it should be used before each use of the knife. Your actions should be soft, without great pressure of the blade against the shaft. The movement is one of wrist action, with limited movement of the arm.

According to the Smico Inc. knife website, there are different grades available for steels, from a standard cut used daily for kitchen work, to a smooth cut used on the boning lines of meat packers, where finer flesh are cut and blades are thin.

Whether you call it a sharpening steel or a honing rod, frequent, proper and safe use of the device will ensure that your knife is reliable for many years to come.

For honing steels tailored for Japanese knives, see this article. If the thought of continually manually honing your knife sounds a bit intimidating, or if you knives just need more of an actual sharpening than honing check out these great electric knife sharpening options.

Kitchen Professor author
About the Author: Alexis DeAnda

Alexis DeAnda is a food fanatic, library card user, and cast iron hunter, in that order. She has been cooking for anyone that will taste it ever since her mom let her make doughnuts on Saturday mornings at the age of 7.

1 thought on “The Honing Steel or Sharpening Steel”

  1. I have always been taught by a chef with the title “Le Maitre” that the reason the steel is magnetised is to align the metal fragments on the edge of the blade into North and South poles. By gently stroking the blade down the steel it magnetises the edge of the blade to create the razor like sharpness. Bo-one seems to know this and use your explanation of hygiene – I don’t think so.


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