The Ultimate Guide To Honing Steel Knives
What Does "Honing" A Knife Mean, Anyway?If you’ve ever watched any cooking channel shows, then you’ve likely seen a top chef seductively swiping their knife over one of those long rods called a honing steel. What are they actually doing? If you thought they were sharpening their knife, you’d be wrong.
In fact, they are honing the edge of the knife. See, the edge of a knife is very thin and can get microscopic dents that put the edge out of alignment. When the edge is bent like this, it takes away from the sharpness and reduces the prowess of each cut. While you may think it's time to get your knife sharpened, all you really need to do is bend the edge back in shape with your honing steel!
Importance of Routine Knife Honing
Although sharpening your knife no doubt makes your blade sharper, it’s something that should be done much less frequently than honing. That’s because of the very nature of sharpening, which removes bits of steel each time the knife is run over the sharpener's surface.
"Sharpening a knife is like going to the dentist, where honing is like your everyday brushing routine."
Most knives are made from steel, and there is only a finite amount of it available to you. So, if you want your knives to last longer, you best pick up the habit of honing your knives regularly and sharpening them sparingly.
Honing, if you chose the right honing rod, can increase the life of your knife and give you more time in between sharpening sessions. In fact, a well honed knife is so important that most chefs won't even begin using their knife until they perform their routine knife honing.
How Often Should You Hone Your Knife
This really comes down to how often you use your knives.
Technically speaking, you should hone your knife once for every 2-3 hours of use. For many of us who are home cooks, this would likely mean honing your knife every 2 weeks. Ideally, you hone your knife before each use to get peak performance. But, you'll want to be wary about which honing rod material you chose, and we'll talk about that later.
If you're not sure when it's time to hone your knife, you can always use the Tomato Test. Nothing indicates that a knife's edge has seen its better days than trying to unsuccessfully slice through a tomato skin.
If your knife is better at making tomato sauce than tomato slices, it's time to break out the honing steel!
Different Types of Hones
Basically, a honing rod is just a long rod attached to a handle. These rods are typically made up of Steel, Diamond, or Ceramic.
It's goal is to realign the edge of your knife, restoring its cutting performance. They are often called honing steels, chef's steels, butcher's steels, sharpening rods and sharp sticks.
Let's see what each type of honing rod can do for your knife performance.
1. Steel Hones
The namesake of “Honing Steels”, is becoming more and more a thing of the past. You probably have had one in every house you've lived in, hiding in a drawer or patiently waiting to be pulled from the knife block.
While they are ubiquitous, that does not make them the best. A major drawback is that Steel Hones can often be made using softer Steel than their knife counterparts. When the Steel of the honing rod is softer than the knife it's being used to hone, you'll find it harder to straighten the edge of the blade, creating the need for more frequent honing.
Not to mention, if the softer steel honing rod gets chipped from harder steel knives during routine honing, this can in turn damage your blade when it passes over these dents or chips.
2. Diamond Hones
Diamond Hones or Diamond Steels are typically not rods, rather flat in shape. And they are literally coated with millions of diamond grains. Yup, it's pretty bling bling!
As you know from any chemistry class, diamonds are the hardest materials known to man. That means you won't have to worry about your high-end Japanese knives being harder than the honing rod.
While the material is obviously much harder than steel, and more than hard enough to hone your hardest Steel Knives, it has a very coarse surface.
That leads to the Diamond Steel shaving metal from your blade each time you hone your knife. Even though this can give you more time in between your sharpening sessions, you'll want to avoid using a Diamond Hone too often.
3/4. Ceramic Hones
Ceramic is far and away the premier honing material choice of top chefs and knife-smiths. With Ceramic, you get the best of both worlds - supreme hardness and very fine grit.
To start, Ceramic is one of the hardest materials known to man. While it's not hard like a diamond, it's hard enough that you needn’t worry about your high-end knives being harder than the ceramic. Your edge will be straight as an arrow by the time you're through.
Ceramic Honing Steels are also known to have a very fine grit that can straighten an edge while barely removing any steel. In addition, the fine grit of ceramic even acts as a means to sharpen the blade by leaving tiny scratches on the edge of the blade that enhances its cutting capabilities.
One drawback that people find with Ceramic Honing Rods is that they are prone to breaking if dropped. Yes, they are hard but fragile at the same time. Sounds odd, but it is how it is.
That's why Ceramic Sharpening Rods by Satori are so special. Using a patented manufacturing process, Satori Ceramic Honing Steels can withstand drops between 1-3 feet, a feat that other manufacturers have been hard pressed to replicate. Still, you should be cognizant of this when using your Ceramic Honing Rod, ensuring you don't drop it and that it's properly stored when not in use.
White vs. Black Ceramic Honing Steels
Ceramic Honing Steels range in grit depending on whether the rod is made from White or Black Ceramic. The higher the grit rating, the less steel will be removed from your knife during the honing process.
White Ceramic Hones typically have a medium-fine grit rating around 1500, with a hardness rating of 9 Mohs. This combination of medium grit and hardness is great for your standard knives around the house.
Black Ceramic Hones typically have a very fine grit rating of 2000, with a hardness rating of 8 Mohs. This is a unique combination which makes them the best honing steel for all knives, especially your high-end German and Japanese steel knives.
Either way, with Satori Ceramic Honing Steels you can feel confident to use them on a regular basis without withering away the steel from your knives.
Hardness Ratings For Steel Knives & Honing Steels
As we've already talked about, the hardness of your honing steel plays an integral role in how it performs with your knives. What you'll come to find is that the ubiquitous hardness rating scale used for knives is the Rockwell hardness or HRC.
First, let's take at typical HRC ratings:
Low Quality Kitchen Knives: 52-55 HRC
High Quality Kitchen Knives: 56-66 HRC
On the other hand, for products made with Ceramic and Diamond, the HRC hardness rating is not used. Rather, it's the Mohs hardness rating.
To simplify things, here's a general guide to Mohs ratings:
Steel: 4-4.5 Mohs
Hardened Steel: 7.5-8 Mohs
Ceramic (Zirconia): 8 Mohs
Diamond: 10 Mohs
As you can see, Ceramic and Diamond is much harder than all Steel. The thing to take into consideration is that even if you buy one of the highest end Steel Hones, it's probably going to be difficult to exceed the hardness rating of your steel knives. So, to err on the side of caution, Ceramic is the best material to use for your routing honing.
How Do Higher Hardness Ratings Impact Knives?
While harder steel knives are the better performing, longer lasting knives, there are pros and cons of Harder Steel Kitchen Knives. Here's a quick look to see what Hard knives mean to you.
Higher HRC Hardness
- Retains Edge Longer - Less frequent sharpening needed.
- Lower Toughness - More fragile, so they can chip more easily if used incorrectly. For example, cutting on a hard surface such as glass or cutting through bone.
Lower HRC Hardness
- Less Edge Retention - More frequent sharpening needed.
- Higher Toughness - Less fragile, so it's less prone to chipping.
Different Types of Knives
Typically speaking, the most popular knives are German and Japanese knives. They both have their own benefits and are both well revered for their unique performance.
1. German Knives
Like a good German meal, a good German knife is really the heavyweight of the knife industry.
They have a hardness rating between 56-58 HRC and are thicker, making them the choice for more of the tough tasks, like cutting meat with bones and hard vegetables. That said, they will need to be sharpened more than their Japanese counterpart.
The thing to keep in mind is that most German Knives have an edge with an angle of 20-22 degrees, which will be helpful in the How To Hone Your Knives section of this article.
2. Japanese Knives
On the other hand, Japanese knives are more lightweight and thinner but are quite harder than German Knives, with an HRC rating between 60-61.
As we already know, harder steel makes for a sharper edges, making Japanese Knives the premier choice for precision tasks like slicing and mincing. So, while they'll retain their sharp edge longer, you'll need to be especially careful as they are prone to chip when misused. For example, cutting through bone or using them on hard surfaces.
You'll also want to consider that typical Japanese Knives have an edge angle of 12-15 degrees.
Now, let's see how this will impact how you hone your knife.
How To Hone An Edge
While you may want to look like someone from Gordon Ramsey's Hell's Kitchen, the freehand honing method is generally ill advised. That's where you take your knife in one hand and honing steel in the other and swipe the blade along the hone in air. This is reserved for those with more advanced skill sets.
1. Start With The Best Form
With that said, it's time to grab the honing rod by the handle and put the tip of the rod on the surface of your counter top or cutting board. You want to make sure that there is a good amount of pressure applied on the tip of the honing steel so that it doesn't move when you are honing your knife.
If you're honing your knife on a smooth surface, you'll want to put a kitchen cloth underneath to prevent any sliding.
2. Keep The Angle Steady
Pay special attention here, as the angle is critical to straightening your blade. If the angle is too wide, you'll either roll or rip your edge. If it's too narrow, you could possibly scratch your knife.
While we did detail how typical Japanese knives have an edge between 12-17 degrees and German knives have an angle between 17-22 degrees, that's not necessarily something that everyone will know.
Chances are, if you're reading this article, you're not sure what angle you're working with. The best way to know is to check with the manufacturer of your knife. If you have no idea what name or model it is, a rule of thumb is that "most knives" have an edge of about 20 degrees.
Now, not everyone knows what a 20 degree angle is with a knife in one hand and a honing steel in the other.
So, if you're having trouble here, imagine that there was a matchbook between the edge of your knife and the honing steel. The tapered shape of the matchbook would just about make up that ideal 20 degree angle.
Hone Like A Tactician
Now that you know how to hold the honing steel and knife, and you're aware of the proper angle, it's time to hone the knife.
This is like the "wax on, wax off" stage.
1. Draw Heel to Tip, Slide Top to Bottom - Start with the heel of the edge pressed against the highest part of the rod. Remember to keep that 20 degree angle for the best results. (The heel is the part of the knife closest to the handle.)
Draw the knife into you and simultaneously slide the knife down the rod, finishing this stroke at the tip of the knife. You'll want to apply moderate pressure when making contact, but remember, this isn't a strongest man competition either.
2. Alternate Left and Right - While some knives have an edge on only one side, most have dual edges. So, you'll want to alternate this technique of drawing and sliding from the left edge to the right edge.
Do this about 5-10 times on both sides, and the edge of your knife will be nice and straight again!
Cleaning Your Honing Rod
The more you use your honing rod, the more particles will collect on it. To ensure that you're getting the most out of each hone, make sure you clean it after each use.
Some mild soap and warm water go a long way. Simply wet a cloth and wipe down the rod and let it dry. If you happen to find that your rod is getting scratch marks, which can certainly happen with Ceramic, don't worry! This is merely an aesthetic issue. To buff these scratches out, get yourself a magic eraser and it'll be back to new in no time.
And remember; always keep your ceramic honing steels in a safe place to prevent them from coming into contact with other hard surfaces. You don't want the ceramic to crack, as they're no use then. Satori Ceramic Sharpening Rods come with a Stainless Steel hanging loop and a Black Gift Case, giving you two great options to always safely store this iconic kitchen tool.
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