Honing Rods. Honing Steel. Sharpening Steel. It Comes In Many Names, But No Matter What You Call It This Tool Is One Of The Most Important And Misunderstood Pieces In The Kitchen.
Whether it’s in your knife block or you saw Gordon Ramsay using it on TV, you’ve probably seen a honing rod. While it’s a ubiquitous piece of kit in the kitchen, it’s a bit of an enigma. Many think that this long steel rod is meant to sharpen your knives, but that’s not the case. Beyond that, contemporary rods are made from materials other than stainless steel like ceramic and diamond-coated steel.
It isn’t known when honing steels were first invented, but there are records from the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire making honing steels in Sheffield, UK as far back as the early 1600’s.
With such a long history of use by knife owners, it’s important to know what a honing rod is, how to use it, and how to find the right one for you.
What Is A Honing Rod?
While many people call it a sharpening rod, a honing rod or steel hones your blade rather than sharpens it. With regular use, your knives will start to lose their edge. Standard wear and tear such as cutting through fibrous meats or knicking the cutting board will eventually bend your knife’s edge at the microscopic level.
By using your honing rod, you fix those small deformations to keep your knife’s edge like new. It’s important to note that you’re not removing material like you do when sharpening on a stone. A honing rod won’t help you if a knife has a totally blunt edge.
The best way to think about it is that your honing steel should be used a few times a week, or even daily, while a proper sharpening of your knives should be done once or twice a year.
Honing Rod Vs. Kitchen Sharpener
Traditional honing steel will help keep your knives sharper longer. Newer honing rods made from ceramic and diamond-coated steel do remove a minimal amount of steel when honing, usually tiny bits hanging onto your blade by a thread. No matter what material rod you use, it is healthier for your knives to use them regularly to maintain the edge for as long as possible.
By contrast, knife sharpeners work by removing material to completely reset and give your knives a fresh, new edge. Whether it’s a classic whetstone or a more modern countertop pull-through sharpener, the mechanics are still the same. Your knife will have a fresh edge but slightly less material than before sharpening. This is why fully sharpening your knives shouldn’t happen as regularly as honing or you’ll soon have no knife blade left.
How To Hone
Honing is a relatively simple process. It’s just important to remember to take your time so you don’t slice your hand open. And contrary to what you see on TV when the chefs whiz the knife up and down the rod, you want to go slow.
1. Press your rod into a towel on the countertop
The first thing you’ll want to do is get a solid grip on the rod’s handle and press the tip into a towel or a folded-up paper towel on the countertop. That both holds the rod secure from sliding on the counter and also catches any microscopic bits of metal that might come off.
2. Angle your knife edge against the rod between 20-25 degrees
Most knives will have an edge beveled to somewhere between 20-25 degrees so it’s important to hone at the same angle to maintain the edge. A good way to think about it is tilt the knife 45 degrees from the rod, split the distance to the rod, and place the knife against your honing rod.
3. Slowly and firmly pull both sides of the blade against the rod to hone it.
A slow, consistent speed and pressure are all you’re looking for to get a good hone. I like to do 10 passes on each side of the knife a few times a week to maintain the edge. Take your time with it. It’ll only take a minute or two, and you’ll have a well-honed knife ready to slice as you expect it to.
Popular YouTuber Ethan Chlebowski goes in-depth on honing and how to hone to keep your knives fit for daily use.
Five Best Honing Rods
- Wusthof 9-Inch Honing Steel
- Zwilling 12-Inch Professional Oval Sharpening Steel
- JB Prince Mac Black Ceramic Honing Rod With Grooves 10.5-Inch
- Opinel 10-Inch Diamond Steel Sharpening Rod
Wusthof 9-Inch Honing Steel
A classic honing steel by any measure, the Wusthof 9-inch steel is a great, affordable honing rod to have in your kitchen. Made of stainless steel, this is everything you want from a honing rod. It’s light and tough and made by a company with more than two centuries of history making knives.
A strong, robust honing rod is what every knife owner should be looking for, and this one checks the boxes.
Zwilling 12-Inch Professional Oval Sharpening Steel
Sometimes you just need something a little bigger and heartier. This steel from Zwilling is up to the task. Its oval shape and longer length make it great for bigger knives. The chrome-plated steel is hard enough to hone most types of steel with ease and is easy to clean.
The loop at the end lets you hang it up easily too. Weighing in at just under a pound, don’t let that fool you. This is a heavyweight rod that will withstand years of use in your kitchen.
JB Prince Mac Black Ceramic Honing Rod With Grooves 10.5-Inch
With a fine 1200 grit, this ceramic rod from JB Prince is incredibly hard and durable. Its black ceramic coating is harder than both white ceramic and steel, and it’s also resistant to breaking so it can handle whatever you throw at it. Since it’s ceramic, it has the benefit of being completely rust-resistant, unlike traditional steel rods.
Most knife blocks that come with a honing rod will have a steel varietal, but looking beyond the block can lead you to quality rods like this one that can last a lifetime.
Opinel 10-Inch Diamond Steel Sharpening Rod
When it comes to rods that also sharpen, you can’t go better than diamond steel. This Opinel rod has a coating embedded with diamonds that sharpens as it hones. It’s good for both kitchen and pocket knives so you sharpen your EDC with it as well.
With a beechwood handle, and weighing 21 ounces, this rod feels good in the hand and will leave a pristine edge on your knives. Worth the price in every way for the discerning knife owner.
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