We’ve all seen honing steels in use, even if we didn’t realise at the time what they were. A honing steel is a metal rod with a handle, and you’ve probably seen someone on TV running the edge of a knife along one and looking terribly impressive.
But what is it they’re actually doing?
Well, the first thing to note is that a honing steel isn’t sharpening the knife. Instead, it’s restoring the blade to its former sharpness by realigning any bent portions of the cutting edge.
Honing doesn’t remove any steel, whereas a sharpener does. Hence, honing should be carried out at regular intervals, whereas sharpening is something you only want to do when the edge has got worn down and can’t be honed back into good shape.
The video below gives a good run-through of how to use a honing steel:
Types of hones
There are three main types of hones that you’re likely to come across: steel, diamond and ceramic. Steel hones are the most common and quite often come bundled with a knife set. Of the steel hones, there are two main types: rough and smooth. The smooth type is my preferred option: it does a nice job of honing the blade without excessive wear. The rough steel hones will certainly realign the edge, but they also tend to wear it down too.
Diamond hones sound like a good option (hey, diamond! right?), but they tend to be a little too aggressive and often end up sharpening the blade rather than just aligning it. They cost a good bit more than steel hones, but in my opinion don’t necessarily do a better job. Just stick to the cheaper option.
Ceramic hones, while also pricey, are a better choice. They’re harder than steel, but less abrasive than the diamond versions. Importantly, if you’re a fan of Japanese knives, ceramic hones are generally suitable for use with the Western style of Japanese knives. (Traditional Japanese knives should not be used with any kind of hone – they should only be realigned using a waterstone.)
Dos and Don’ts
Don’t confuse honing and sharpening. Honing realigns, sharpening grinds steel away.
Do hone regularly.
Don’t sharpen regularly.
Do get a ceramic hone, if you can afford one.
Don’t get a hone that’s too small for your knife. Make sure it’s at least two inches longer than the longest knife you’ll use it on.
Do keep your hone clean. It’ll clog up with super-fine steel particles and lose effectiveness, if you don’t wipe it down after use.
This chromed plated steel hone from the iconic Swiss manufacturer has their patented Fibrox handle for ease of grip. The 10-inch length is perfect for most people, and there’s the usual Victorinox lifetime warranty against manufacturing defects to give you a little piece of mind.
If you’re after top quality, then you won’t be disappointed by this Messermeister ceramic hone. Available in both 10-inch and 12-inch versions, it does an amazing job of restoring the edge to your treasured blades. A step-up from steel hones, this ceramic rod will perform great service for years – just beware not to let it fall on the floor or you’ll watch it shatter into a thousand pieces!