If you've ever watched a professional cooking show, then you've probably seen a talented chef show off their knife skills. But before that, they are usually running a knife along a long metal, or ceramic rod. This kitchen tool is called a honing steel, honing rod, or sharpening steel, and it's used to hone knife blades – not sharpen them.
What's the Difference Between Honing and Sharpening?
Honing and sharpening are both important steps in maintaining the sharp edge of your kitchen knives, but they're quite different.
During the course of putting normal wear and tear on a knife, its blade eventually gets bent out of shape. Even if you can't see the damage with your naked eye, the steel knife blade will eventually develop dents and dings in its normally smooth edge, preventing the blade from cutting properly.
The process of honing a knife on a honing rod smooths and realigns the blade's edge without removing material. In its essence, honing a knife restores its blade to its original smooth, straight form.
Knife sharpening is the process of using a sharpening stone, whetstone, or electric knife sharpener to remove steel from a dull knife blade to create a newly revealed, sharp edge.
When to Hone and When to Sharpen Your Knives
Sharp knives are easier and safer to use. How often should blades be honed and sharpened to keep them in top shape?
Properly cared for knives should be regularly honed and less frequently sharpened. You can hone your kitchen knives as often as you like. Some chefs prefer to hone their knives before each use.
Since it removes material from your knives, sharpening should only occur when truly needed. Knives should be sharpened when honing no longer seems to restore a blade's sharp edge. Typically, knives need to be sharpened a few times throughout the year (more or less frequently, depending on how much you use them).
You can test your blades’ sharpness by slicing through a tomato or a piece of paper (while holding it in the air). A sharp knife will cut right through the paper. It will slice through the tomato's delicate skin with so little pressure that the fruit won't be squashed or damaged.
How to Care for Your Kitchen Knives
When you invest in a quality set of kitchen knives, it's important to protect and care for them. Before sharpening your blades, look into different knife sharpeners, including electric sharpeners, manual sharpeners, and whetstones, to determine the best choice for your blades. If you prefer, you can have them professionally sharpened instead.
In addition to regular honing and sharpening, you should also store knives properly. If your knives don't come with protective sleeves, procure a smart storage solution like a magnetic wall strip, a cork-lined knife block, or a cork-lined drawer insert.
Knives should also never be used on top of hard, abrasive surfaces, as this will damage their blades. To protect your knives, keep a self-healing, wooden butcher's block in the kitchen. To preserve the beauty and integrity of your knives, wash them with mild soap and water and dry immediately after use.
With proper care, honing, and sharpening, a high-quality knife set can last you a lifetime. So, shop and sharpen wisely in order to keep your knives sharp!