How to Use a Honing Rod

How to Use a Honing Rod

Honing and sharpening: Know the difference


These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they're actually different. Honing refers to the act of straightening a blade's existing edge. Over time, and through ordinary use, the edge of a knife blade will curve over itself slightly or bend out of its original position.




When you hone a knife, you coax its pointed surface slightly back into position. It's a gentle fix but when done often, can prevent more serious blade damage. The most common way to hone a knife is with a honing steel.  These inexpensive tools are essentially steel rods with a handle. The surface of the rod is coarse, and scraping a blade across the rod (at the proper angle), on both sides nudges (hones) its edge back in place.  




Sharpening is the practice of aggressively polishing a knife to reform its edge. You'll need to do this for very dull knives only. In the process, bits of metal are actually shaved away. That's why sharpening a metal blade calls for material harder than steel --- stone or ceramic. It's also why you should hone often but sharpen rarely.



Hone your knife


Using a steel properly though takes practice to get right, so don't be discouraged if your first results aren't obvious. Just follow these steps and you’ll be a pro in no time:


1. Hold the sharpening steel point-down on your work surface. Hold the handle of the honing steel in your non-dominant hand, so that it's protected by the guard at the top of the handle. Point the tip of the steel down onto a sturdy work surface. The honing steel should be completely vertical. The honing steel should be firmly pressed against the work surface so it won't slide when you begin honing the knife. (To prevent injury, keep the honing steel arm's length in front of you. Even if the honing steel slips, it will be far enough from you to prevent the knife blade from cutting you.)


2. Place the knife blade against the honing steel. Take the knife you want to hone and press the bottom (heel) of it against the top of the steel as if you were going to cut into it. Hold the knife at a 15- to 20-degree angle. You can adjust the degree to a lower angle for a sharper edge, or a higher angle for a more durable one. Like we said earlier practice makes perfect so don’t be afraid to try new things.  


3. Run the blade down the steel as you pull it toward you. Run the blade down the steel, applying only light pressure as you slowly and smoothly bring it toward you. Keep the knife at the same angle as you move the knife. The tip of the knife should now be at the base of the steel.


4. Run the other side of the knife down the steel. Follow the above step for the other side of the knife. Keep holding the honing steel vertically. To hone the other side of the knife, place the bottom (heel) of the blade on the other side of the steel near the top. Apply light pressure and bring the blade down the steel.


5. Proceed to hone each side of the blade about 5-10 times. (This may vary depending on how hard or dull the knife is.) You can either completely hone one side at a time or alternate them so long as you hone them the same number of times.


6. Wipe the blade clean with a soft cloth. Rinse the blade of the knife under running water and then dry the blade with a soft cloth. While honing shouldn't remove metal from the blade, microscopic metal filings might have come off the blade.


7. Test the sharpness of the knife. If your knives still won't cut through paper after you've used the honing steel, they may be too dull, pitted, or nicked. You can either continue to hone, use a whetstone stone (sharpening stone), electric knife sharpener, or have the knives professionally sharpened. 



Though a honing steel doesn’t actually sharpen your knife, it still plays an essential role in maintaining an effective blade. It’s important to check the sharpness of your knife often, by using the paper test, slice down through the paper with a knife. If the knife is sharp, it will easily and cleanly cut right through. If the knife is dull, it won't pass through the paper or it might tear it. Be sure to hone regularly, hone the knives as soon as they begin to feel a little dull or resist cutting. If you cook frequently, you might need to hone several times a day. You should also sharpen your knives once honing no longer improves your knives. You may need to sharpen the knives only once or twice a year. 



Be sure after putting all this time and effort into honing your knives that you take care of them. While many knives are sold as being dishwasher safe, never use the machine to wash your knives. Moisture can get into the handle and damage the knife. Instead, wash your knives in the sink and take care to avoid bumping the blade against other dishes. Hand washing your knife helps create a bond with your knife and prevents it from being damaged. Consider storing your knives in a knife block or on a magnetic knife rack as well. It's important to store the knives in a way that prevents the blades from knocking into other utensils. Protect the blades to keep the knives sharp.

Back to blog