Today I hope to dispel a common kitchen myth, a culinary urban legend that misinformed cooks everywhere have taken to heart. Countless times I’ve witnessed cooks – beginners and experts alike – run their knives back and forth over a steel, a long, thin, metal rod usually with a plastic or rubber handle, thinking that they are in fact sharpening their blade and I can’t take it any longer. So, here goes. (Clearing throat).
Honing vs Sharpening
Running your knife over a honing steel does NOT sharpen your knife. There, I said it.
Sharpening a knife can only be accomplished by actually grinding or shaving off tiny bits of the blade’s metal, giving the blade a completely new edge. You need professional sharpening equipment or a whetstone, literally a piece of stone with a grainy surface that you wet before running the blade across it to sharpen a knife’s blade.
What your honing steel does is help keep the blade straight. Every time you cut, chop or slice, the blade of your knife is bent ever so slightly as a result of coming into contact with the food and your cutting board. The more you use your knife, the more tiny twists and turns for your blade. A honing steel literally moves your blade back into place. It straightens the blade, but doesn’t sharpen it.
Cooks are not totally to blame for buying into the confusion. I’ve seen many steels actually marketed as or called ‘sharpening steels.’ And according to logic and reason, what else would a sharpening steel do, but sharpen?
So remember, a steel by any name (sharpening, honing, etc.) will help maintain your blade’s straight edge, but it won’t sharpen it.
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I understand the difference, but when I hone my blade it does work better. I haven’t had a particular knife sharpened in a couple of years. If I don’t hone before use it does not slice well, if honed it works beautifully. Is it the straightening of the blade that makes it seem sharper? I can’t imagine how sharp the knife would be after having it sharpened.
I can’t simply go without leaving a comment. This post is a great read. One of the best honers in the market is the Le Beau sharpener and honer. It is a portable sharpener that can sharpen practically any type of blade. Like other handheld knife sharpeners, it is composed of nitride rods that do not strip the metal of your blade, making it a fantastic knife sharpening tool.
Great article. Thank you for explaining the difference between honing and sharpening knives. Just a question, when do you think is the right time to sharpen a knife and when to hone it?
Thank you! Honing should be done frequently, between every 2-4 uses. I recommend having your knives professionally sharpened twice a year.