One of the most embarrassing experiences that I’ve encountered when I first got into BBQ and home cooking was actually at a knife store.
What happened is that I went in and asked for a sharpening tool. The owner then showed me one of those manual knife sharpeners — a whetstone. I told him that wasn’t the right one because I wanted the sword-looking thingy that I saw on TV.
He insisted that it wasn’t correct. He then explained what I was referring to is indeed a honing steel. As it turned out, he was right (who am I kidding? He owns the shop after all).
A honing steel is far from a knife sharpener. But more honing means that you will have to sharpen your knife less frequently.
In this article, you and I will explore the differences between these two tools, with a focus on the honing steel. I’ll also touch on how your knives get dull and how to tell if they’re sharp. At the end, I’ll then show you how to shop for the best honing steel that is right for you.
In A Hurry? Our Recommendations For The Best Honing Steel
- Stainless Steel
Notice: The links above will direct you to either Amazon, BBQ Guys or Home Depot for more details and the latest information on the products.
The Best Honing Steel In Stainless Steel
Utopia Kitchen Honing Steel 12-inch Sharpening Rod
Whether you’re left- or right-handed, this Utopia Kitchen honing steel has a sturdy yet comfortable handle that fits most hands. It’s made from slip-resistant rubber that offers you a stable control during use.
It also has a large enough crossguard to keep your hand and fingers safe. With an additional hanging ring attached to the back of the handle, you can hang this steel anywhere you want.
The rod itself is made of carbon steel that is coated with a nickel-chrome compound. That keeps the steel in good shape for a long time and prevents any potential rusting that might occur. Furthermore, the rod is smooth all the way, which means the edge of the blade won’t get damaged when honing.
The Utopia Kitchen honing steel is available in 10” and 12”. It’s suitable for all types of knife, whether kitchen, sporting or even pocket knives. The only downside is the lack of protection at the pointy end of the steel. It can be hard on the working surface when executing the vertical honing technique.
- Available in two lengths
- Big handguard to protect your fingers
- Hanging ring at the back of the handle
- Ergonomic handle has some weight to it, giving you a good control over the steel
- Made from carbon steel with nickel-chrome coating
- Pointy end of the steel can be tough on the working surface
Winware 12″ Stainless Steel Sharpening Steel
Unlike the Utopia Kitchen honing rod, this Winware has a ridged shaft. This is to ensure an uniform hone for larger and harder knives. However, softer and smaller knives might suffer from that.
At the time of this writing, the Winware is only available in 12” long. It features a non-slip plastic handle. The handle is thick enough to provide you a firm grip while in use. There is also a hook at the end that is strong enough to support the 14-ounce weight of the rod.
Similar to any honing steels, the Winware also has a handguard to protect your hand. Overall, this honing steel is decently good. It’s made from harder steel, so it works well with harder knives, such as the Japanese ones.
- Solid and non-slip handle
- Hanging ring and hand-guard
- Best honing steel for Japanese knives
- Only available in 12” at the time of this writing
- No rubber protection at the tip of the steel
- Ridged surface might not be ideal for softer knives
The Top Rated Ceramic Honing Steel
DMT CS2 12-inch Ceramic Steel Sharpener
The shaft of the DMT CS2 12-inch isn’t made entirely from ceramic. It’s an aluminum base with a ceramic outer layer.
This actually reduces the overall weight of the honing rod tremendously. Weighing at 8.2 ounces or half a pound, this steel is extremely lightweight. As a result, it’s easy to hold it in both vertical and horizontal honing positions. That means it’s a good option for both amateur and expert chefs alike.
Another thing we like about it is the handguard. It has this Plus sign design, which makes it hard for the steel to roll away when you put it on the table. It’s also large enough that you don’t hit your fingers while honing away.
We also dig the handle. It’s made from a black composite material, with a robust design. In fact, the handle really makes the honing steel look more like a sword. And of course, it does have a builtin hanging ring just in case.
All in all, we really think this is the best ceramic honing rod. Hands down! It’s well-made with a smart and attractive design. What not to like about that!
- Practical Plus sign handguard design
- Looks more like a sword than a honing steel
- Solid handle
- Perfect option for both beginners and experts
- Ceramic might break if not handled properly
Messermeister 12-inch Ceramic Rod Honing
The first impression about this Messermeister ceramic rod is that it has a nice weight to it. This gives you stability when controlling the tool. However, the ceramic is fragile so be careful not to drop it.
One cool thing about ceramic honing steel is that it not only realigns your knife but also sharpens it a bit. This Messermeister rod is no exception.
It also has a decent handle, with a soft grip that doesn’t compromise control and a proper guard to protect your hand during use. Furthermore, the handle does feature an additional hook at the back so you can hang the rod if needed.
The Messermeister honing steel is also easy to clean. With a damp cloth, simply wipe off the metal buildup and you’re good to go. Available only in 12”, the steel is a must in your kitchen, especially if you have any Japanese knives that have the hardness of 60 Rockwell and above.
- Nice weight for proper stable control
- Will sharpen your knife slightly
- Easy to clean
- Soft and secure grip with protective crossguard
- Works well with hard Japanese knives
- Only available in 12” long
The Best Diamond Honing Rod
Messermeister 800 Grit Diamond Sharpener Honing Rod
One thing that we like about the Messermeister diamond honing steel is the oval shape of the shaft. You can use its wide edge for any large honing surface you want. Whereas the narrow side edges are for scalloped areas such as on a serrated brisket knife.
The shaft is covered in 800 grit diamond dust, which means it also sharpens your knives a little along with pushing the edge back to the center. Keep in mind that this diamond steel is fairly abrasive so only a few strokes on both sides and you’re ready to rock n roll.
It has everything that a decent honing steel would have. A nice and comfortable handle with a hook ring in the back and a handguard in the front. One thing that makes this steel stand out is the protective tip at the end of the shaft. This is there to lessen the damage that the rod may do to whatever surfaces it’s on.
The Messermeister diamond steel is available in 10” and 12” long. It’s lightweight and a perfect option for anybody who wants to invest in proper tools to extend the life of their knives.
- Wide and narrow edges of the steel shaft are suitable for different types of knife
- Also sharpen your knives slightly
- Available in two sizes
- Fairly abrasive diamond dust
Wusthof 4483 10″ Wide Diamond Sharpening Steel
Coated with diamond dust, the Wusthof rod not only hones your knife but also sharpens it a bit. Not as much as a proper sharpener but better than a ceramic honing steel. Even better when this steel also has a fine grit dust so you don’t have to worry about finishing the edge with anything else.
This diamond steel has a non-slip handle that can fit nice and snug in your hand. In the back, there is a sturdy hook for you to hang the hone wherever you want. It’s also easy to clean with a damp cloth. Available in 10” long, the Wutshof comes with a lifetime warranty.
If you have an expensive knife set and want to care for it properly, this Wusthof honing steel should be on your radar. It’ll get the job done and also buy you some time before you actually have to sharpen your knives.
- Fine grit diamond dust
- Prolong time before you have to sharpen your knives
- Non-slip handle with hook
- Only in 10”
- More expensive
- No protective tip at the end of the rod
How To Tell If Your Knife Is Sharp?
A sharp knife is important to any chef, whether amateur or professional. Knowing when it’s getting dull and in need of some upkeep is also equally important. It ensures that you slice through food with safety and confidence.
My favorite way to tell if your knife is sharp is to cut a piece of paper while holding it up in the air. If it goes through like a hot knife through butter, then you don’t need to do anything at all.
There are also other methods. Bob Kramer, a well-known blade smith, will show you in the video here.
How Do Knives Get Dull?
Depending on how often you use your knife, there are two possible outcomes.
First, the sharp edge gets dulled away, in which, obviously, you need to sharpen it with a knife sharpener.
Second, the sharp edge gets pushed to one side, which makes the knife’s alignment out of whack. And even if the edge is still sharp, the incorrect alignment still prevents the knife from chopping properly. Understand that this happens at a microscopic level so you barely notice it.
With this second scenario, you don’t need a knife sharpener. What you need is a honing steel.
What Does A Honing Steel Do & How Often To Hone?
A honing steel is a long and thin rod, with a handle on one end. It sometimes has a hanging ring attached to the handle. Between the handle and the rod, there’s also a crossguard that protects your fingers when in use.
What a honing steel does is to realign the sharp edge of a knife. It doesn’t actually sharpen the knife but because the edge is pushed back to the right alignment, the knife seems to be sharper. Depending on the types of material used in the rod (more on this later), it can shave off a tiny amount of metal from the knife. But most honing rods won’t do that.
The more you use your knife, the more often you should hone it. Some chefs recommend doing that before (or after) each use. But as soon as you feel that your knife is getting a bit dull, you should definitely give it a quick hone.
Is Honing A Knife The Same As Sharpening?
No, they aren’t the same thing. Let me explain.
You see, the edge of your knife will eventually wear away regardless of what you do to care for it. As this happens, honing is less effective. This is when you need to sharpen the knife.
Keep in mind that sharpening will take a good amount of metal off your knife. In fact, if you sharpen the knife too often, it will reduce the lifespan of it. So, it’s best to hone the knife as much as you can before you absolutely have to sharpen it.
A good rule of thumb for sharpening is a few times a year. It can be done on a whetstone, water stone, or an eclectic knife sharpener. It will create a brand new edge for the knife. Don’t forget to wipe it clean thereafter to ensure that the metal residue is completely gone.
How Do You Use A Honing Steel?
There are two ways to use a honing steel – vertical and horizontal.
The vertical method is more suitable for beginners since it’s safer and more easy to control both the steel and knife.
To begin, hold the steel vertically against a stable working surface. Next, place the knife against the steel at about 15 – 20 degree angle. Then run the knife across the length of the steel until the tip of both tools meet while keeping that same angle. Do the same for the other side of the knife and repeat the process for about 5 – 8 strokes each side.
The horizontal method is pretty much identical to the first one, except you hold the knife and steel horizontally. This is actually more difficult to control but faster and doesn’t require a working surface. We’d recommend this technique for more advanced chefs who already have some decent knife skills.
If you want a more detailed tutorial with pictures for both methods, the amazing J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats can show you in this article.
Want a video instead? We’ve also included a YouTube video from Ethan Chlebowski. In it, he also goes through all the basics of a honing steel that we’ve already covered so far. A nice little recap before moving on to the next section.
What Makes A Good Honing Steel?
Types Of Honing Steel
There are three types of honing steel – stainless steel, ceramic, and diamond. Let’s start with stainless steel.
Stainless steel. This is the most common honing steel. You will notice that the shaft is either ridged or smooth. It’s also magnetized to keep the metal dust from falling into your food.
Steel honing rods work for most knives. They won’t remove any material off the knives at all, making them a good option for daily use.
It’s also important to keep in mind that you shouldn’t pick a steel rod that is softer than your knife’s metal. Harder metal is more breakable, therefore the steel might end up damaging the knife.
Ceramic. For ceramic honing steels, the rod is usually white. When honing, it actually removes a small amount of material off the knife. That’s why you will often see grey lines on the white rod.
Because of that, ceramic honing rods do sharpen the knife to a small extent. They’re a good choice for those that don’t want to do the real knife sharpening too often. Keep in mind that ceramic is fragile so handle it with care.
Diamond. This type of honing steel actually takes off the most amount of metal from the knife. They’re coated with abrasive diamond dust. And they’re usually flatter and harder than the other two.
Unlike the steel rod, the diamond shaft isn’t a great option for daily use. But it’s better than the ceramic rod in the sense that you can prolong the time before the actual sharpening. That’s because the diamond steel sharpens the knife more than the ceramic one.
Honing steels come in many lengths, from 3” up to 14”. And that’s just the shaft itself and not including the handle.
As a rule, a honing steel should be at least as long as the knife’s blade. You can still hone a knife with a shorter steel, but that’s just a bit awkward and extra work.
For most knives, a 12” works the best. It gives you enough room to hone your knives without damaging the working surface underneath when using the vertical method.
Look for a handle with a solid yet comfortable grip, preferably an ergonomic one. It should also be non-slip. That way, it’s safer for you and your knives when honing with the steel.
A good honing steel should have a crossguard that is wide enough to protect your hand. A hanging ring in the back of the handle is also nice in case you want to hang the steel somewhere.
I hope that you understand the distinctions between a honing steel and a knife sharpener. Depending on the type, some honing steels can actually sharpen your knives but not by much. Keep in mind that the more you hone your knives, the less you have to sharpen them.
Always ensure that your knives are sharp. If you feel that they’re getting a bit dull, give them a quick hone right away. Also remember to be extra careful around knives. Use them properly and don’t play around with them.
If you enjoy this best honing steel article, please consider sharing it with your friends and family, especially if they’re knife fanatics. As always, if you have any questions about the article, don’t hesitate to let us know.
Have a good one!