Knife Sharpening – How To Use A Sharpening Steel

by Richard on June 13, 2011

Knife Sharpening


When it comes to cooking and using knives on a daily basis one of the things that needs to be done from time to time is knife sharpening. Between the times when the culinary professional or gourmet home chef will perform knife sharpening they will tune their knives up on a sharpening steel or “Honing Rod” or “Butchers Steel” or today it’s just called a “Steel.” Well, the fact of the matter is that when you are “Steeling” a knife you are not “Sharpening” your knife. When using a steel, you are merely “honing” or tuning up your knife edge. What you are really doing is taking a knife edge that is bending or rolling over to one side or the other and “truing” that edge by making it stand up straight again. The bad part about “Sharpening” or “Honing” your knives on a steel is that in most cases it is done incorrectly. In fact it’s even done incorrectly by many of the celebrity chefs out there that are just stroking their knives on a steel at high velocity and then telling you that this is how you sharpen a knife. This is just plain wrong. To use the steel incorrectly is one of the best ways to trash your quality knifes edge! There is a correct way to “Steel” a knife and we will discuss it here.

Let me first say again that “Steeling” a knife is not sharpening a knife. To sharpen a knife is to remove steel from the knifes edge in order to make it thinner. The thinner the knifes edge the sharper the knife is! Now, when you “Steel” a knife on a “Butcher’s steel” or steel that has corrugated lines in it you are taking minute levels of filings from the knife, but this does not constitute “Sharpening”, this constitutes “honing” if you are holding the knife against the steel at the correct angle and you are using the right amount of pressure on the steel. If you hold the blade to high to the angle of the knife you will deform the blade and most likely rip steel out of it. If you hold the blade to low to the angle on the steel you will not “hone” anything and most likely scar up the profile face of your blade. How many times have you seen a chef or cook that has a knife that is all scratched up on both full surfaces of the blade? Most likely incorrect “Steeling” technique. So lets take a look at how to use a “Honing Steel” correctly.

Honing Steel Types:

Honing Steel

Standard Honing Steel

Your standard honing steel in made of case hardened steels like stainless and tool grade steels depending on which is the country of origin and they come with Rockwell hardnesses ranging from RC. 58 to Rc. 65 or even more in some cases. This type of steel is either corrugated or smooth on the surface and each type produced a different kind of edge quality. The corrugated version commonly referred to as a Butcher’s steel create more pronounced micro serrations on the primary cutting edge of your knife and the smooth steel creates a much finer micro serration.

 Diamond Steel

Diamond Steel

The standard diamond steel for knife sharpening is made of a rod of nickel or harder steel and is impregnated with industrial diamonds of  industrial zircon stones that are mono surfaced meaning just one surface versus inferior diamond products that are made with poly surfaces which means many surfaced and is much harder on your knives and removes much to much steel. The diamond style sharpening rod not only hones your blade but actually accomplishes the task of metal removal which is the definition of sharpening. The diamond knife sharpening rod will allow you to thin your blade to the desired thickness and desired angle and then you can micro bevel the blade with a ceramic sharpening rod. Since this type of rod uses diamonds you don’t have to worry about what the hardness of your knife is because the diamond is the hardest substance known to man and this type of rod will cut any steel known to man.

ceramic sharpening rod

ceramic sharpening rod

A ceramic sharpening rod will allow you to take your knife sharpening or honing to another level by polishing out the fine micro scratches that the prior rod put on your cutting edge. Micro beveling means that your edge will get thinner and sharper using a ceramic sharpening rod after using a honing steel which will give you better cutting performance. Some ceramic rods  are made of a resin based ceramic much like a Japanese water stone is resin based synthetic ceramic. Some of the newer ceramic sharpening rods are made of alumina ceramic which is an unbreakable synthetic ceramic rod. Ceramic rods can come in many grit strengths from standard 1200 grit to as high as 8000 grit to allow for different levels of micro bevels.

Stay tuned for Part 1 of how to keep your knife sharp with a honing steel.

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