The deeper you get into a pastime or hobby, the more specialized gear you start to accumulate.
While outsiders may see it as an obsession, it’s really about trying to enhance your enjoyment of the hobby and get the most out of it you can. It’s no different whether you’re a scrapbooker, a gardener, or a barbecuer.
For the latter group, that may mean acquiring a smoker in addition to a grill, picking up a remote-sensing thermometer, or buying specialized knives for carving, slicing, and butchering.
Of course, all that extra gear needs to be taken care of, which puts you in the position of buying more gear to maintain your other gear. Personally, I don’t see a problem with that.
In between sharpening, you will find it necessary to hone your blades. Honing is one of the secrets to a perfect knife-edge, so you should try to pick up the best honing steel you can afford.
In the rest of this article, we’ll explore the world of honing steels (or sharpening steels) – what they are; why you need one; and how to use it.
We’ll also discuss what to look for in a honing steel and make a few recommendations as to which steels are worth your money.
So, ready to look at some cutting-edge technology?
At a Glance: Our 4 Choices for Best Honing Steel to Feature in This Article
- Wusthof 10-Inch Diamond Sharpening Steel
- Utopia Kitchen 12 Inch Steel Knife Sharpening Rod
- Green Elephant 11″ Ceramic Knife Sharpening Rod
- Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Pro S 12-Inch Honing Steel
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon.
Contents - Click to Jump to Section
What is a Honing Steel?
A honing steel is a device for the maintenance of knife blades.
Typically, it looks like a long, thin, metal rod with a handle at one end. Many high-end knife sets include a honing steel, or one can be purchased separately to match your knife set if that matters to you.
What is a Honing Steel Used For?
Although the terms ‘sharpening steel’ and ‘honing steel’ are used interchangeably (and I won’t try to upset convention for the sake of this article), the former is rather a misnomer.
Ok, if you want to go all word nerd, yes, the dictionary defines honing as, “to sharpen or smooth with a whetstone.” In practice though, honing is used to describe the finishing touches wherein something already sharp is brought to an even finer edge.
A sharpener grinds away major imperfections and folds on the edge of the blade and reestablishes the bevels.
Honing is a more subtle process meant to prevent minor issues from becoming major ones. The primary purpose for honing is to set a bent edge true again.
When and How Often Should You Hone a Knife?
Honing is something you can do between sharpenings to keep it in peak condition without subjecting it to the rigors of a full sharpening.
Sharpening takes metal off the blade and sharpening too often will shorten the life of your knife.
There’s no rule as to how often you should hone your knife. Some chefs will hone after (or before) each use, but this may not be necessary. Every other or every few uses may be sufficient.
This will vary depending on the quality of the knife and the way in which it’s used. As you might imagine, a knife that chops hard vegetables on a cutting board is going to suffer more wear than one that is occasionally called upon to slice a tender steak.
How To Tell if a Knife Needs Sharpening, Not Honing
Honing should be the go-to process any time you feel your knife is not performing its best. If you’re noticeably struggling to make your cuts where once the knife would do the job with ease, it’s time to hone.
Complete the honing process and then try cutting again, or give it the paper test.
If the slice still isn’t clean, it’s time to sharpen. Again, not immediately going right to the sharpener will extend the life of your knife – and if you have a good knife, that’s what you want to do!
Buying Advice to Find the Best Honing Steel
As with so many products, there are many options available of varying quality. Here are a few factors to consider when you’re sizing up your steel.
The length you choose should be based on the length of your knives. If you only have smaller knives, like paring knives and chef’s knives, you’ll only need a smaller hone. Somewhere from 8-9 inches will be plenty.
For longer knives, you’ll want a longer hone. It’s not that you can’t hone a long knife on a short hone, but it’s easier on a longer one.
A 10”-12” hone is a good size for most kitchen knives.
There are three main categories of honing steel:
- Stainless steel
Stainless steel hones are the most common. They are good, all-purpose hones suitable for most knives. They remove only microscopic amounts of metal and will straighten just about any kind of knife blade.
Ceramic hones are harder than stainless steel. They’ll take off a bit more metal with each pass than a steel hone, and will actually sharpen a blade slightly. This means fewer trips to the sharpener, and that’s not a bad thing. They’re a bit brittle (they are ceramic, after all!) so handle with a reasonable amount of care.
Diamond hones are the hardest of the bunch. They will remove a fair amount of metal, coming closer to a true sharpening than the other two types. For that reason, you shouldn’t use a diamond hone on a regular basis, or you’ll be defeating the life-extending benefits of honing.
They can be expensive but might be right for you if you don’t want to hone or sharpen often.
The handle is a very important part of a honing steel. It’s important to keep a firm grip on the hone to keep it from slipping. Slipping while honing could lead to damage, both to the knife and you!
Look for an ergonomic grip that will fit your hand comfortably, and one that’s made of a non-slip material, as well as having a ‘guard’ to protect your hand during honing.
Best Sharpening Steels – Product Round-up & Mini Reviews
After a while, all hones start to look the same. To save you the eyestrain and monotony, we’ve selected four different hones that we think are good choices.
Have a look at what we’ve got; one of these should be suitable for your needs.
Wusthof 4483 10-Inch Diamond Sharpening Steel
We don’t all have a lot of time to devote to an activity, even if we know it’s important.
Any device that can get the job done quickly and save time on necessary chores is something worth considering if you want to devote your precious time to more satisfying activities.
A hone that practically doubles as a sharpener touches all the bases, but it comes with a couple of caveats.
Although I said hones don’t sharpen, this one pretty much does. The diamond surface is so hard it removes small amounts of metal as the blade drags across it. It’s a fine grit, though; don’t worry about needing to break out the whetstone for finishing.
Wusthof has an excellent reputation in the knife and sharpening industry, so you can rest assured this is a high-quality product. It doesn’t come cheap, but when are diamonds ever a bargain?
The slip-resistant plastic handle will fit comfortably in your hand, and there’s even a convenient loop on the end if you want to hang your hone on a hook. (Say that five times fast!)
- Top-rated manufacturer
- Slip-resistant handle
- Diamond surface means less frequent honings
- Diamonds are less forgiving; more care is required
- More expensive than most hones
A diamond hone isn’t for everyone, but if you take your knives seriously, and you’d prefer to hone only occasionally and sharpen rarely, this might feel like hone sweet hone to you.
You can hone in on all the details right here:
Utopia Kitchen 10-Inch Steel Rod
If you’re a no-nonsense kind of person, you want the tools that get the job done. You don’t need bells and whistles, or complicated instructions. Still, that doesn’t mean you want cheap-and-nasty gear.
For you, the right choice might be a tried-and-true approach – proven technology, and decent craftsmanship.
This is a classic steel honing rod made of nickel-chrome plated carbon steel, and it’s not pretending to be anything it isn’t. It’s a good length for handling more ordinary kitchen knives, and the design is effective but standard.
I like the over-sized hand guard; there’s no way your hand is slipping past this thing and down into the danger zone. The rest of the handle is shaped appropriately for a stable and comfortable grip. A large ring is built-in for hanging up when not in use.
I do have some minor concerns about the pointed end. It’s great for holding it at an angle, or for anchoring into a soft surface. But be careful not to damage your counters, however, and keep a firm grip to avoid the bottom skittering away, if you’re using the point-down technique rather than holding it in the air.
- Large hand guard
- Use right- or left-handed
- Will stick to magnetic rack
- The pointed end could be hard on counters
- Weighs close to a pound
All available evidence indicates this is everything a basic honing steeling should be. For nearly all knife-honing needs, this will do the trick and may be the best honing steel for you.
For a whole bunch of sales copy, and some useful information, have a look at this:
Green Elephant 11-Inch Ceramic Rod
When you’re really into a lifestyle, activity, or hobby, you want to have a nice selection of the gear that goes along with it. Sometimes, though, that stuff can be over-priced and overkill.
If you don’t want the basics, but you also don’t feel the need to spend a fortune on things you may or may not get the full benefit from, there should be some mid-point that makes sense, shouldn’t there?
The Green Elephant 11-inch ceramic rod fills the gap between basic and extreme in the honing segment. The ceramic rod is hard enough to go beyond mere edge straightening and does a bit of restorative sharpening. Overall, though, it’s more forgiving than a diamond-coat.
At 11 inches long, it should handle even your longest knives with ease. Speaking of handles, it comes with an ergonomic plastic handle that should be easy and comfortable to hold. The handguard looks smaller than on some units I looked at, but will still do the job.
If you read the Buyer’s Guide section above, you already know that ceramic is more easily broken than steel. While that’s still true of the Green Elephant, it does have integrated shock-absorbing technology, and a plastic tip, to help protect the rod from drops and bumps.
- 1500 grit is perfect for finishing and just a hint of sharpening
- Impact resistant
- Long enough for almost any kitchen knife
- It’s still ceramic and needs special care
- Slightly less forgiving than steel
- More expensive than most steel rods
For going beyond just “routine” maintenance, a ceramic rod might be worth the investment – if you’re the type who likes nice things, and knows how to take care of them. (By that I mean you can’t toss this in a drawer!)
Used correctly and carefully, you could really improve the daily performance of your knives with this rod.
All the facts and figures are right here:
Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Pro S 12-Inch Hone
“Go big or go home” has become such a man-sized cliché I hate even to type it. However, there are situations in which bigger really is better.
For anyone with a serious collection of kitchen knives, and perhaps a machete or two in the shed, a standard-size hone just isn’t going to cut it, as it were.
Most kitchen knives are small enough to hone effectively on a 10-inch rod. In many cases, even 8 inches will suffice. There are some seriously long knives out there, however, and if you own any, you don’t want to mess around with a tiny hone. The Zwilling J.A. Henckels 12” is definitely worth a long look.
It’s a good, basic hone with all the features you should expect: a plastic handle shaped for gripping, a hanging loop, and a hand guard. Mind you, that guard looks a little smaller than most, though it’s quite decorative. The rod itself is made of carbonized, chrome-plated steel.
Zwilling J.A. Henckels is a very well known knife company, producing some very fine blades. (The weird logo with the stylized men may be familiar to you?)
If you already have a set, this will be a great addition. If you don’t, that’s ok; this is still an excellent hone no matter what knives you have.
- Highly reputable maker
- Long enough for any knife you’re likely to own
- The handle is very easy to grip
- Small handguard
- 18” long and weighs 1 pound – it may be too large for some people
This is a very good quality hone and will keep any knife in good shape between sharpenings. Be sure you really need a hone this long (and that you have a home for your hone) before you buy.
Product and ordering info is right here:
How to Use A Sharpening Steel
I won’t go into great detail about how to use a sharpening or honing steel here (but I will elsewhere!), but it is a topic worth covering.
Here’s a brief video for you to watch where you’ll see the technique applied.
Be A Man (or Woman) of Steel
Now that you know a thing or two about caring for your knives, you’re ready to be the honing hero of the household.
All joking aside, a well cared for blade will bring you years of enjoyment, and can really enhance your barbecue experience beyond the grill. It’s all part of expanding the hobby into a true lifestyle.
If you’ve got friends or relatives (or both!) who also love to barbecue be sure to tell them about us. You can share this article any way you like – email, social, fax, whatever. (If you actually fax an article to someone, we’d like to see that!)
As always, your thoughts on this, or any of our articles, either negative or positive, are welcome, so please do drop them in the comment section below. We’re all ears!
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Product image credits: © Amazon.com