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How to Sharpen a Knife with a Honing Steel

While many may assume that the secret to a good knife is a fancy brand or beautiful design, in reality, it’s all about the blade. A knife blade that has been properly sharpened can change the outcome of your meal. A sharp knife will give you proper and even cuts, allowing the food to cook evenly, and dramatically affect the meal’s presentation.

In time, the edge of any knife will become dull. Each time the blade is pressed against a surface, whether a cutting board or a tomato, the blade becomes duller.

It’s no secret that a dull knife is much more dangerous than a sharp knife. Prone to slipping and twisting on the food, a dull knife can easily lead to injuries in the kitchen. Wounds from dull knives are even more severe than those caused by sharp knives, as they typically tear the skin rather than simply slice. These are the injuries that take longer to heal, potentially leaving you short-handed in the kitchen.

How often you’ll need to sharpen your knives varies, but in a professional environment, it can be weekly. In a busy commercial kitchen, it is essential to keep knives in good condition and sharp, for both meal quality and efficiency, as well as knife safety in the workplace. Even the best knives will dull over time, which means regular knife sharpening should be a priority. Unfortunately, few kitchens have the proper grinding equipment necessary or even know how to sharpen a knife properly.

There are several devices available to help with knife maintenance. The most common is called a Honing Steel or a Honing Rod. While this tool will not actually sharpen the knife, it will realign or hone the edge of the knife, which can fold over onto itself, creating a dull cutting surface on the blade.

While steels do not sharpen a knife and do not take the place of proper knife sharpening, they are still useful. Handy in a pinch when faced with a dull knife, a honing steel will give temporary new life to a dull knife. It is also a great way to get more use out of your knives between professional sharpenings as they can be utilized between heavy uses to lengthen the duration of the sharpness. Make no mistake, however, in a professional environment, proper knife sharpening at regular intervals is essential.

How to Sharpen a Knife with a Honing Steel

  • Step 1 – With your non-dominant hand, take hold of the steel’s handle with the opposite end pressed vertically into your working surface. Push down and apply force to keep it stable.
  • Step 2 – Hold the knife firmly in your dominant hand, with all your fingers wrapped around the handle.
  • Step 3 – Maintain pressure on the steel to keep it firmly in place. The best angle to hone a knife is 15-degrees. Position the knife at this angle, with one side of the knife lightly touching the top of the steel sharpener.
  • Step 4 – Gently slide the blade down the length of the steel in a sweeping motion, pulling the knife toward your body. Time the slide so that the middle of the knife’s blade is in contact with the middle of the steel, and the tip with the bottom, covering the entire length of the blade. Before you reach the bottom, bring the blade back up to the top, allowing the other side of the blade to make contact with the steel. To know if you are applying the correct, featherlike stroke, listen to the sound being made. Aim for a quiet ring, rather than a harsh rasping noise.
  • Step 5 – Continue sweeping and alternating back and forth so that both sides of the knife are even. In general, it should take five to ten strokes on each side to realign the blade’s edge. Once you have achieved the desired result, rinse the knife and dry with a towel to prevent any shavings from making their way into food.

While using a steel on your knives may help you to wring little more use out of them, it’s important to know that a honing steel does not actually sharpen the blade. If honing your knife with a steel does not produce the results you need, it’s time for a proper sharpening.

The best way to sharpen your knife blade is for it to be ground, and a steel cannot accomplish this. Both time consuming and something best left to knife sharpening experts, you may want to consider enlisting other sharpening solutions. A professional knife sharpening service or a knife exchange service are both great options for addressing your regular blade sharpening needs, ensuring your commercial kitchen functions as efficiently, effectively, and as safely as possible.  

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