How to Use a Honing Steel

Contrary to popular belief, a honing steel is not a sharpener; it does, however, help maintain the sharpness of your knife from everyday wear and tear.

Sharpening with a honing steel

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Purchasing a honing steel goes a long way in the world of knife maintenance. Honing is a process that realigns the blade's edge using a sturdy rod called a honing steel. The natural wear-and-tear of the knife causes microscopic “teeth” the blade's edge to bend or misalign. Honing steels help put these bent serrations back in place. 

We recommend honing your knife at least a few times a week if you cook regularly, and many chefs hone each time they enter the kitchen. With a proper honing technique, you will only have to sharpen your knife a couple of times a year. Keeping your knife sharp mitigates the likelihood of injury from a dull knife. 

Knife and honing steel

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What Type of Honing Steel Should I Purchase?

Honing steels can be made of different materials and sizes. When purchasing a honing steel, consider the following:

  • Material: Steels come in diamond, ceramic, and stainless steel. Typically, diamond steels are the most abrasive and don't work well on harder Japanese knives. Ceramic and stainless honing steels are both good options – be sure to check what works best for the particular knife you have. Do note that some Japanese knives require distinct, special care in maintaining sharpness and may not be the best fit for a honing device. 
  • Length: The ideal length for a honing steel is about 12 inches. At a minimum, you want the steel to be at least 2 inches longer than your longest knife for ease of use and lower risk of injury. 

How to Use a Honing Steel (Step-by-Step Instructions)

Many chefs and home cooks experienced in honing will freehand the process, holding the honing rod in the air while they pull the knife across in quick strokes. However, you can also place the rod perpendicular to a countertop for more control. During the honing process, make sure to use a firm, even, moderate pressure. 

1. Grip the honing rod: Place the honing rod perpendicular to a table or countertop, with the handle facing upwards. Grip the handle firmly with your non-dominant hand. 

2. Place your knife at 15 to 20-degree angle: With your dominant hand, firmly place the heel of the knife at the top of the rod at a 15 to 20-degree angle (the angle may differ depending on the type of knife you have). These angle guides can help you more precisely maintain the right angle. 

How to use a honing steel or rod

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3. Pull the knife downward: Pull the knife downward (maintaining the same angle) while moving the length of the knife from heel to tip. In other words, the heel of the knife will start at the top of the rod, and you will finish with the tip at the bottom. Another way to visualize the process is to imagine that you are slicing a piece of steel off with your knife.

How to use a honing steel on kitchen knives

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4. Flip the knife and repeat: Repeat steps 1 to 3 with the other side of the knife on the opposite side of the honing rod. Repeat these strokes about 6 to 8 times on each side until your knife feels sharp again.

How to hone a knife with a steel rod

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5. Test: To test the result, you should be able to easily slice a tomato with little resistance. If your knife still feels dull, you may need to sharpen it.

Flip the knife and hone on the other side

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Alternatively, you can freehand the process by holding the rod in the air and drawing the knife from heel to tip above and below the rod (to hone the other side of the knife). Make sure to maintain that 15 to 20-degree angle the whole time.

If you're having trouble visualizing this process, take a look at this video on How to Use a Honing Steel

Wipe off honing steel after using it

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How To Care for a Honing Steel

Wipe your honing steel with a dry cloth after each use. For a deeper clean, use a wet cloth to remove any debris.