Updated on December 19th, 2017
Do you know the difference between honing and sharpening your kitchen knives? Have you heard the term honing and wondered what the difference is? It’s an important distinction and one that you should not overlook when it comes to maintaining your kitchen knives. Nothing is more important in the kitchen than making sure your knives stay sharp. Dull kitchen knives lead to accidents.
Keeping your kitchen knives sharp takes knowledge and a little bit of practice, but it doesn’t have to be hard. You can find the best knife sharpeners on our post here, or you can buy an electric knife sharpener to make the job easy, if you don’t want to manually sharpen your knives, but no matter what, the job should be done regularly.
One of the most important things to know about keeping your knives sharp is the difference between honing vs sharpening. If you don’t already know, read on to find out more about the difference.
What is Honing?
The bevel of a knife is where the blade comes to a sharp point. Over time, with regular chopping and cutting, the bevel can start to bend ever so slightly. You may not even be able to see it. But they way you can tell is that the sharp edge just doesn’t seem to be cutting as well any more. Using a honing steel (also called a honing rod or a sharpening rod), you can right the edge so that it is straight again. It may be necessary to hone your knife every day, if you’re using them frequently. Honing will cut down on the number of times the knife needs to be sharpened.
If you didn’t know to regularly hone your knives, you might have thought they were getting dull frequently, and maybe you’ve even been sharpening them more often than is necessary. Sharpening leads to a quicker degradation of your knife, because every time you sharpen a blade, you remove microscopic amounts of metal. Over time, the knife will lose a more significant amount of metal.
This is why honing your knives regularly is important. Regularly means once for every 3-4 hours worth of cutting you use it for. That could mean every day for you, or it could me once a week. If you do it right, a finely honed blade will be more consistently sharp and useful, and you’ll save the extra time it takes to sharpen it.
How to Hone a Knife
Now that you know the difference between honing and sharpening a knife, you need to learn how to properly hone a knife at home using a honing rod. If you’ve bought a knife set, it often will come one, but it won’t necessarily be the best honing steel. You want to check to make sure it’s a good one before you use it. There are many different kinds of honing rods, from ceramic honing rods to diamond honing rods. We’ll go over which one is best in a minute. First let’s go over how to hone a knife.
- Hold the handle of your honing rod in your non-dominant hand, pointing the steel straight down with the tip on a secure work surface.
- Hold the knife in your other hand and rest the heel of the blade at a 20-degree angle to the steel.
- In a fluid motion, gently pull the knife down and toward you until the point of the knife is at the bottom of the steel. Apply only light pressure as you slide the knife along the honing rod.
- Hone the blade 4-6 times on each side, moving the knife only in one direction, from heel to point.
For those of you who are visual learners and need to see this in action to really understand it, here is a video by RealSimple.com with a really great explanation of how to hone a knife using a honing steel.
How to Choose the Best Honing Steel
As mentioned, there are many different types of honing steel you can buy, and you want to make sure you have the right one for your knives. Some of the most popular are a steel sharpening rod, a ceramic sharpening rod and a diamond sharpening rod. But what are the differences and which one should you buy?
Steel honing rod
First of all, it’s important that the honing rod is harder than your knife. Using a typical steel honing rod, like the one that likely came with your knife set, might not be the best thing for your knife. Steel rods are often softer than high-end knives. They are certainly softer than any Japanese knife that uses carbon steel. A steel rod can put micro-tears in the knife that will force you to sharpen it more often and might leave it duller than you started with.
Ceramic honing rod
A ceramic honing rod is much stronger than a steel rod and can hone the blade without removing much, if any, of the metal, especially because it has a fine grit that will be easy on you high-end knives. Ceramic sharpening rods are also often less expensive than the other options. Just be sure you don’t drop it, because it might break.
Diamond honing rod
While diamond abrasives are usually the best material for a manual or electric knife sharpener, it’s not a great options for a honing rod. Diamond is very hard and will remove more of the knife’s metal than you want for something you’re planning to do on a regular basis. I wouldn’t choose a diamond honing rod as part of my regular honing tools. Save it for difficult knives, or for providing more of a sharpening affect.
Care and Maintenance for a Honing Rod
You might find that over time the honing rod builds up a layer of metal particles, especially ceramic knife sharpening rods. You’ll want to get a special eraser to clean the rod, every once in a while, when you notice the build up getting bad. Clean the ceramic rod with the eraser, wash and dry it and it’ll be just as good as new again.
Sharpening Your Knives
Now that you know the difference between honing vs sharpening your kitchen knives, we’ll discuss a little more in depth about the second part of the equation, sharpening your knives.
As you already know, it’s very important to keep your kitchen knives sharp. But you don’t want to over sharpen them and risk ruining them, or making them even more dull than they were. If you are regularly honing your knives, as we’ve already discussed, you will only need to sharpen them once every 2-3 months, depending on usage. If you are really using your knives heavily, they may need to be sharpened more frequently, but for the typical home chef, once every 3 months is plenty
There are a few different ways you can sharpen your knives. A lot of people don’t like manual or electric sharpeners because they can easily damage your knives. I think that without proper use any method of knife sharpening can ruin your knives. Whichever method you use, you should be sure you know how to properly do it before starting out, or use low-end knives only until you learn the proper techniques.
Best Knife Sharpening Options
- You can use a manual knife sharpener, like the Chef’s Choice 4643, which relies on you to run the blade through the angled guides with the appropriate pressure.
- If you want to make the job easier, you could use an electric knife sharpener, like the Chef’s Choice 1520, that gives the option of sharpening either a 15 or 20-degree angle blade (which will cover most any Western or Asian knife). You still have to run the blade through the machine guides, but the work is done for you.
- Knife purists believe that the only real way to sharpen your knives is with a whetstone. While using a knife sharpening stone is perhaps the ultimate way to sharpen kitchen knives, it takes skills, practice, and patience.
How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives
Since there are so many different methods for sharpening kitchen knives, we won’t go into full detail on separately in this post. In another post, we’ll address all of the methods for sharpening your kitchen knives. The basic steps for sharpening your knives is to choose a method, be it manual, electric or stone, and follow the instructions carefully for each. Although it’s not especially difficult to sharpen knives, it is important to do it correctly or you risk damaging the blade.
With each method, the general practice is to run the blade along the sharpening tool at a specific angle until the edge has been set properly. For manual and electric knife sharpeners, all that takes is running the knife through the guides with slight pressure, a couple of times. Most of these sharpeners also include a honing slot where you can straighten and polish the blade as a final step. If using a sharpening stone, you will need to hold the blade at the proper angle (be it 15 or 20 degrees) to the stone and then draw the blade down the stone from base to point, just as you would with a honing rod.
Now you know the difference of honing vs sharpening and you’re ready to take great care of your kitchen knives. Come back often for more information on handling and caring for your kitchen knives.
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