Staying sharp: How to Use a Honing Steel

Jason Webster
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A honing steel doesn’t sharpen your knives!

Unfortunately, most people don’t know the difference between sharpening and honing. Basically, a honing steel isn’t used to sharpen your knives. It is primarily used to realign your blade’s edge with its metal and straighten out any minor wear and tear.

Outdoor knives are used for a variety of heavy-duty purposes. So it’s not surprising when they become slightly dull and lose their sharpness and cutting ability.

Due to the nature of their daily work and extra use, outdoor knives need to be sharpened all the time. This is to ensure that they maintain their brightness and shine.

When they start to show signs of rust and stains, its time to buy a new one and sharpen the old one. However, when your knife becomes dull after use, do not worry. It can be easily fixed with a honing steel.

A honing steel does not use a sharpening stone. It simply realigns your knife’s edge.

Honing is what you do when the edge of your knife has become slightly bent, which makes it unrecognizable. This comes usually from cutting hard objects.

So why use a honing steel?

A steel is a somewhat advanced sharpening method. It’s for intermediate to experienced sharpeners only.

Before a honing steel, there was oil stones, liquid stones, and the most primitive, sharpening with stones. This method is suitable for smoothing your metal blade without removing any metal.

In the case of a honing steel, the process works by removing the small burrs on the cutting edge of your knife. This is done by using the honing steel to hone the blade until you get a sharp knife. You repeat until you don’t feel any burrs left on your blade. As easy as it sounds!

Actually, it takes patience and practice to get all that right.

How to Use a Honing Steel

Hone your knife in a diagonal, stroking motion and 30 degrees away from the cutting edge.

Hone both sides of your blade until you remove all of the burrs.

The honing motion should resemble a smooth saw motion.

Use continuous, smooth motions to hone your blade.

So what do I need to buy?

The first thing you're going to want to get is a Honing Steel.

What do I need to hone my knife?

There are two main things you need for knife honing: a sharpening steel and practice.

Most Japanese knives have a sharpening steel integrated into them, but western style knives do not. Instead, you will have to purchase a honing steel separately, which is a piece of polished steel that you can hold in your hand.

To hone your knife, you will simply glide the sharpening steel down the blade of your knife from the handle to the tip.

The honing steel actually draws the dull edge of your knife towards the sharp side; a process known as realigning the edge. The more you hone your knife, the sharper it will become.

After honing, check your knife tips to see if they have been realigned properly. The same check applies to your knife’s edge; if you are only sharpening one side, then the blade will not be equally sharpened.

In time, you should also notice that your knife is getting sharper quicker with each honing. If you keep on honing your knives, eventually they will increasingly take less and less time to get sharp and maintain their sharp condition.

Step by step guide to honing your knife with a steel

Keeping your kitchen knives sharp is one of the most understated tasks in the kitchen. If kept sharp, a knife can stay sharp for a long time. But the moment it is neglected, dullness will set in and slowly ruin the beautiful and long lasting benefits of properly maintained sharp kitchen knives.

So let’s start with making a few things clear about the honing steel. It’s not a knife sharpening tool and therefore cannot repair a dull knife. You should sharpen your knives with either a rough sharpener or a sharpening steel.

Second, you should not use a honing steel on serrated knives and pocket knives.

The 3rd mistake people make is that they try to use a steel against the purpose it is crafted for. The first and foremost purpose a steel is to maintain the edge of the sharp knife.

It doesn’t sharpen the knife, it just realigns the blade so that it remains strong and charges it with an electro-magnetic field. This prevents the edge from chipping or rolling over.

So that means you should not use a honing steel if your knife has already lost its sharpness and you are trying to get it back. You should sharpen your knives with a steel only after they get dull and you need to restore their sharpness.

1# Brace your steel

A honing steel is a crucial part of the upkeep of your blades. It removes the tiny burrs that develop on the sides of the blade as a result of everyday use.

To make the sharpening job more efficient and effective, you need to brace the steel against the rounded surface of the tip of your skate (Figure 1-1).

2# Position the knife

Gently lay the knife on the steel rod at a 20-degree angle. It should be perpendicular to the steel rod. It’s also important to keep the edge of the blade flush to the steel so that you do not damage the edge in the process.

The blade should be pointing straight up and down.

This might take a few tries to find the angle that works best for you.

3# Draw down

If you have an edge that dulls easily, uselessly flips or just isn’t very sharp, a honing steel is a must on your kitchen counter.

Unlike honing stones, honing steel doesn’t remove material from your knife, but instead, it straightens the edge by erosion of secondary edge due to a conditioning of the steel.

To draw down the honing steel, hold it at 20-degree angle. Then, use smooth, even motions while keeping the angle constant and sharpening the entire edge of the blade.

Check for sharpness by pulling the blade through the paper.

In the Wild, Survival Tools Are Everywhere.

What’s the first thing you need to build a shelter or start a fire? A sharp edge.

Honed tools keep us safe and protected in the wild and sharpened knives are a staple in our kitchens. A dull knife can be dangerous. Not only is it hard to wield, but it’s also more likely to slip and cut you.

Having a sharp blade is a fundamental tool when it comes to survival in the wild. Knives, in particular, are so useful that they are among the first things you should have in any wilderness survival kit.

4# Switch sides

When you are sharpening a knife, you are deliberately removing metal from the blade. Over time, as you sharpen the same side continuously, your blade will start to curve. The curve will be severe when you sharpen the same side for too long.

To maintain the angle, switch to the other side of the steel every few strokes.

Same applies to a honing steel. Always switch sides of the steel during honing to maintain the edge angle.

How do I know if my knife is sharp?

So how can you tell if your knife is sharp?

To find out, take a piece of paper and try to cut it in half. See how easy it is?

Try potato skin and an apple.

This is how your knife should feel when you are cutting food.

Now try cutting into the apple or potato manually.

How does it feel? Just about as hard you had to work to cut the paper, right?

This is how a knife becomes dull, by you exerting too much force on it.

Think of it this way, a sharp knife will slide through food as if it is on ice. If you tried cutting into the apple or potato the way your knife is now, you would need to chop it up instead of cutting it.

Think about cutting through an apple while it uses that as an opportunity to fly off to the other side of the room.

How often should I hone my knives?

You should hone your knives each time you notice them to be dull. When you initially purchase your knives, they’re probably sharp enough to cut through paper, but if these blades didn’t come with a honing steel, you should hone them right away.

The frequency of honing your knife depends on how much you use your knives. It might not be a bad idea to keep a honing steel on your fridge, making it a regular part of your knife sharpening routine.

If you do go a couple of days without sharpening your blades, you’ll notice some chipping and rusting. Your blade may even start to curl.

Depending on the use and the quality of the steel, your honing steel may begin losing its edge in six months to a year. When this happens, it’s time to look at some more drastic options like resharpening or replacing the honing steel.

The best ways to avoid having to replace your steel are to keep it sharp and clean and to use it regularly.

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Wrapping it up

Best Wood Pellets for Smoking

If you decide to add a wood pellet smoker to your grilling arsenal, you’re in for a treat. These smokers provide intensely wood-fired smoke flavor and nothing takes the place of an all-wood fire.

The smoking process also allows you to season your meat as it cooks, and wood-fired pellet smokers are easy to use and very consistent.

I personally enjoy mine for small meats, like fish, and for finishing cuts of pork. This is my favorite smoker and I use it almost weekly, sometimes twice a week for a quick meal.

As a griller, you can adapt most of the recommendations I make for smoking meats to grilling as well. It is just a matter of time and temperature.

All wood pellet smokers produce a high amount of ash. It will collect in the bottom of the oven, and you will want to remove it every few hours.

Keep a baster handy, so you can baste your meats in their own juices as they cook. I recommend adding wood pellets about every 30 minutes so that your smoker maintains a consistent heat.