A sharpening or honing steel is seen as a quick and easy way to keep your knife sharp for optimum performance. If a knife is very blunt or needs reshaping you may be better off using a whetstone.
Sharpening your knife with a sharpening steel is quick and easy. There are three main types available.
- Traditional chromium-plated stainless steel sharpening steel- Sharpening steels with a grooved chromium-plated surface give a fine re-sharpening result and are relatively immune to damage.
- Ceramic blade sharpening steel - Sharpening steels with a ceramic blade sharpen gently and carefully giving excellent results. The ceramic rod is however sensitive to shock and can be easily damaged.
- Diamond coated sharpening steel - Sharpening steels with a diamond coating give a particularly fine excellent re-sharpening result. The average life span is shorter, though, because the coating tends to wear after off over time.
How to use a sharpening steel
The most important element in using a sharpening steel is finding then keeping the right angle. The blade of your knife is generally somewhere between 35 and 40 degrees.
Certain Japanese knives have a smaller edge, making the knife sharper but making it more vulnerable to damage. Global knives for instance have a cutting angle of about 20 degrees, which makes them razor sharp.
It is very important to maintain the right edge when you use a sharpening steel. If the cutting angle is 40 degrees, as with most German knives, you should keep an angle of 20 degrees between the edge and the sharpening steel. If the angle is too small then you will scratch the blade and have no effect on sharpness. If the angle is too large, your knife will lose it's sharpness and will have to be reshaped using a whetstone.
Finding the right angle to use more a matter of feeling than science. To get this feeling, it's best to practice first on an old knife. Having found this angle it is important that you keep it.
1. Hold the steel in one hand and the knife in the other, place the heel of the blade (the cutting edge nearest the knife handle) near the tip of the sharpening steel. The cutting edge should be at an angle determined earlier (typically 20 degrees for German knives and less for Japanese knives).
2. Pull the cutting edge down across the sharpening still in a slight arc ensuring that you hold the same angle.
3. Repeat this action with the other side of the cutting edge on the other side of the steel.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 five to ten times or until no burrs remain on the edge, always alternating the left and right side of the cutting edge. Speed is not important, however it is very important to maintain the same angle and to sharpen the full length of the cutting edge each time.