Let’s get the most important misconception out of the way now.
The honing steels you see pictured above are not knife sharpeners.
Even though many manufacturers market them as sharpeners, honing steels serve a different purpose.
We’ll get stuck into the details soon, but for now, all you need to know is that for regular knife maintenance you use a honing steel to keep the microscopic edge of the knife in an upright position.
We’ve pulled together the best honing steels to fix your dull knives.
If you’re still confused about the difference between a sharpener and a honing steel, feel free to skip ahead.
1. Best Overall – Winware Stainless Steel Sharpening Steel, 12-Inch
If you aren’t currently using a honing steel then you don’t need to worry about getting an expensive diamond option.
This 12-inch stainless steel option will do the trick. If you have knives that are longer than 10 inches then upgrade to the 14-inch option.
The 14 inches option will be a little more versatile, just keep in mind that the handle measures 5 inches, so that will reach almost 20 inches in total and might not pack away easily.
It has a small hand guard to protect your fingers and help you keep a grip on the tool as you use it. The steel rod material is noteworthy and effective.
What we like:
- Anti-corrosive – you’ll never have to worry about this honing steel acquiring rust damage due to its stainless steel material. Stainless steel is durable and long-lasting and even if a little moisture remains on its length, it isn’t likely to corrode very easily.
- Hanging loop – this is attached to the end of the handle and is made of metal. It’s sturdy and capable of supporting the rod’s 13.6-ounce weight.
- Evenly-ridged surface – all along the rod length, you’ll notice the even nature of the ridges. You’ll be able to run your knife edge up and down the length and rest assured that the blade will be evenly-honed no matter how far down you ran the blade.
What we don’t like:
- Rough for fine-edge blades – the ridges work well for ensuring and even hone, but softer knives will suffer under their influence.
This is a great value steel that will do the job without breaking the bank.
Unless you are a professional it’ll be hard to notice much of a difference with more expensive options.
2. Runner up – DMT CS2 12-Inch Ceramic Steel
Some people don’t like ceramic or diamond steels because of the light sharpening effect they have. They also tend to suffer from the coating flaking and falling off.
Others love the sharpening effect, as it means you can go longer without getting your knives sharpened.
If you want to give a diamond honing steel a try, this is a good option.
It features a specifically-designed handguard and a durable plastic grip that keeps the rod in place even after heavy use.
Positioning this honing steel for optimal technique is even easier compared to other steels as a result.
What we like:
- Durable material – the steel part of the rod is made with a combination of ceramic and an aluminum base. It’ll last for several years even with consistent use, and the aluminum base prevents the rod from becoming too heavy.
- Handle guard – it’s easy to keep a grip on the plastic handle thanks to the ring just below the base. This can protect your hand from your knife slipping, as well.
- Hang ring – storing this honing steel is easy with the loop installed at the end of the plastic handle.
- No oil needed – some honing steels require that you use an oil to maintain them. This model can be used either dry or with water for easy cleaning.
- Lightweight – it’s only 8.2 ounces in total, so holding the rod in any position (vertical or horizontal) is easy for beginner and expert chefs alike.
What we don’t like:
- Small handle – although the presence of the guard is helpful, it limits the space you have to properly grip the handle. Those with larger hands may have difficulty maintaining a solid grip.
- Sometimes chips – while this honing steel is made of ceramic more durable than most of its type, it still chips after some use.
This honing steel is coated with an effective diamond dust layer that looks amazing and feels interesting to the touch.
Right off the bat, it’s great for honing your steel and sharpening it to some extent.
It’s also bolstered by an innovative shape to improve overall honing effectiveness.
This steel also has several user-friendly features like a handguard.
The lifetime warranty improves its value and show confidence from its manufacturer.
What we like:
- Oval shape – the specific oval shape improves your sharpening and honing efficiency. The sloped sides of the oval make dragging your knife over either side more effective for honing your edge.
- Ergonomic – the handle is specifically shaped for the palm of your hand. It’s comfortable to use even if your hand tends to cramp up after using tools for a little while.
- Lifetime warranty – you can safely by this honing steel with confidence thanks to the warranty. If the honing steel ever falters you can get it replaced by the manufacturer.
- Efficient material – the rod is made of diamond electroplating. It’s an extremely efficient and durable material that can quickly hone the edge of any knife. It’s also great for knives of variable hardness levels.
- Rubber seal at the end – this small attachment at the end of the rod can help you keep the honing steel balanced on a countertop or cutting board. You won’t need to worry about the rod slipping.
- Handguard – though not as big as the one offered by the DMT CS2 Honing Steel, this rod also has a protective guard to keep your hand safe from your knife.
What we don’t like:
- Diamond coating is lost quickly – the diamond surface is sometimes lost too quickly. You may need to replace this honing steel if you use it too frequently.
- Coating sometimes uneven – you may find that your knife catches on the oval side of the honing rod. If the diamond coating is packed in uneven patterns, it’s difficult to hone the entire edge properly.
4. Best budget honing steel – Utopia Kitchen 12-Inch Honing Steel
This affordable honing steel is made of a plated carbon steel material that’s designed to last through heavy use.
It features several additional perks to improve the experience of any chef.
These include a metal hanging the loop and a rubber tip to keep it from slipping.
The affordable asking price makes these features even more attractive.
You can select either a 10-inch or 12-inch length for this honing steel. This is a nice choice for those who have only smaller knives to hone, or who have shorter arms than average.
What we like:
- Nickel-chrome plating – this plating protects the cutting edge of your knife. It’ll stop it from accruing damage during the honing process.
- Carbon steel construction – carbon steel is durable and long-lasting. You’ll be able to use this honing steel for several years and still have it perform well.
- Ergonomic – like the Kota Japan honing steel, this rod has an ergonomic handle. It’s perfect for either right-handed or left-handed users.
- Rubber tip – this tip helps to keep the honing rod in place when you push it onto a countertop or cutting board.
- Handguard – this is positioned at the top of the handle to protect your hand from the edge of your knife.
- Metal loop – you can easily store this honing steel on any standard hook. The loop is strong enough to last for a long time.
- Lightweight – at only 1.6 ounces, this is one of the lightest honing steel tools you can find anywhere.
What we don’t like:
- Can catch knife edges – the honing surface of this rod isn’t as well-designed as others. Sometimes the edge of your knife can stop and start as you run it along the honing rod length.
What is a honing steel used for
Many manufacturers market their honing steels as sharpeners. But that’s not their primary purpose.
Rather than making the edge of a blade sharper, a honing steel can realign that edge so that it stands up straighter than before.
It’s a bit hard to understand because this all happens at a microscopic level.
The best explanation I’ve seen was from the folks over at seriouseats.com
“It helps to think of a blade’s beveled edge as a really pointy mohawk. When a blade is freshly sharpened, it’s like a perfect mohawk, the hair converging to a fine point, with the help of far too much gel. But with use, that pointy edge starts to flop over on itself, making it much less effectiveDaniel Gritzer – seriouseats.com
If you want to see this concept visually, check out this segment from Good Eats (The quality isn’t great but it shows you exactly what is going on).
With this mental image in mind, you should be able to see how having a straight edge can make the knife feel “sharper”.
The edge of any cutting blade is defined by its fine point, but that point will eventually start to fall to the side and lose its sharp shape. Although you can’t really see this when it comes to the edge of knives, it still happens.
The microscopic-sized point of your blades will begin to slouch as you use them. No matter how careful you are, all knives suffer from this effect eventually.
How to know when your knife needs honing
- You’ll also notice that your knife starts to catch on food
- Or you might require a little more power or a few more draws of the knife to fully cut something.
Now you know this may not be because of your blade’s sharpness but rather this “slumping” effect.
Think of a honing steel as a comb that pulls the edge of your knife back into an upright shape.
The honing steel brings the cutting edge up into a vertical orientation, allowing the knife to cut more smoothly than before.
Honing steels are simple rods that have ridges all along their lengths. The ridges are positioned such that they “guide” the blade back into an upright orientation when you slide the knife edge over them.
Sharpening vs honing
Sharpening is what happens when you shave off microscopic amounts of a blade edge and produce a finer point as a result.
Grinding down pieces of a knife can produce a sharper edge with an extremely fine wedge shape, which improves the cutting power of any bladed tool.
Sharpening is accomplished using tools like:
- electric knife sharpeners
- water stones
Honing doesn’t intentionally grind any part of the knife away. Very small amounts of the knife’s steel might be ground off as a result of the honing process.
But this is only a side effect of the honing tool pulling the knife edge into the proper orientation.
Honing steels are the best tools to use for this process. These are all similar, although there are a few different types of honing steels which use different materials. The materials can have different levels of results.
Different types of honing steels are:
- Steel/Stainless steel
How often should you hone and sharpen?
The short answer is you should hone your knives with a steel before each use, and then you’ll only need to get your knives sharpened every 3-12 months.
Let’s explore why.
Because honing doesn’t remove large amounts of knife steel when used, it’s acceptable to hone your knife frequently.
You’ve probably seen chefs on cooking shows hone their knife before every use.
It doesn’t hurt to hone your blade before each use as it doesn’t take too long and doesn’t remove any significant part of the blade.
We suggest making it a standard part of your kitchen prep routine is a great way to ensure that your knives are always performing at their best.
If you’re not as obsessive, you should feel free to use a honing steel when:
- your knife catches on food
- your knife faces more cutting resistance then you are used to
But if you’ve already honed your knife and its performance isn’t improving, it’s likely time to move on to sharpening.
Unlike honing, you should only ever sharpen a knife a few times a year, and possibly even less depending on how frequently you use it.
You should sharpen your knife:
- Every four to six months
- Whenever it gets dull from use
Sharpening your blades too much can cause the edge to continually degrade to a point of softness. Or, you might wear down enough of your blade that you end up making your knife too small over time.
To tell if your knife need to be sharpened, run the edge of your knife down your thumbnail, taking care not to cut yourself. If the knife doesn’t dig into your fingernail at all, it definitely needs to be sharpened.
Alternatively, press your knife down onto a piece of paper. If the knife cuts the paper without any slicing motion, it’s sharp enough.
Types of honing steel
Like diamond steels, ceramic honing steels shave off a small amount of metal from any knife they improve.
They don’t sharpen nearly as effectively as actual sharpening tools. But they can still keep your knife sharper than before between actual sharpening sessions.
In addition, ceramic honing steels aren’t quite as rough on your blade as diamond steels or sharpening tools.
You stand less of a chance of over sharpen your blade with a ceramic honing steel as a result.
Be careful when using a ceramic honing steel, as most of them are relatively brittle.
This is the most basic type of honing steel. Rods are usually long and thin and have the signature ridges mentioned above. Sometimes you can find stainless steel honing rods without these ridges if you desire.
Stainless steel is a great kitchen material because it’s hypoallergenic. It’s also extremely resistant to corrosive damage from rust.
Stainless steel rods will last for a long time and many of them are magnetized.
Magnetized rods are nice because they collect any microscopic pieces of steel that might come off your knife during honing. This stops those pieces from getting into your meal.
However, take care when using a stainless steel honing rod if your knives are made of harder metal. Harder metals are easier to break, so you might accidentally damage those knives with a stainless steel rod.
The magnetizing aspect of stainless steel rods also means that you will need to clean them more frequently than other types. Small shards of removed steel and pile up on your rod and damage the tool or reduce its effectiveness.
Diamond steel isn’t actually made entirely of diamond, although that would be quite a sight!
Instead, diamond steel honing rods are coated in diamond dust. As opposed to regular steel rods, diamond honing steels will shave off a small layer of your knife each time you use the tool, effectively sharpening it.
This is just because diamond is harder than steel, so even the toughest knives have to give way to diamond dust.
It’s something of a mix between a traditional honing steel and a sharpening whetstone. These types of honing steels should not be used every day but are instead best used for keeping your knife sharp between sharpening dates.
For instance, if you sharpen your knives in January and July, using a diamond steel honing rod would be acceptable every couple of months between those sharpening sessions.
What length honing steel to buy
A good rule of thumb is to always go two inches longer than the knife you are going to be honing.
For most knives, a 12-inch steel will do the trick.
How to use a honing steel
This is one of those things that is much easier to understand if you watch it done.
- To begin, hold your honing steel by the handle and put the tip to the table surface. It’s recommended that you use a cutting board as the surface beneath the honing steel for the duration of honing.
- Set the knife at the top of the honing steel at about a 15 to 20° angle.
- Pull the knife down the honing steel length all the way to the bottom. At the same time, pull your knife back while dragging it down. You should end up with the tip of the knife touching the honing steel near the bottom.
- Take the knife and place it on the other side of the honing steel. This should position the opposite side of the edge for the same process. Keep the 15 to 20° angle and proceed as described above.
Repeat this pattern and alternate which side of the knife you hone with each movement. You should end up with between 8 to 9 strokes on each side of the edge.
You can, alternatively, hold the honing steel out horizontally away from your torso and perform the same motions with your knife in this way.
You won’t need any space on a counter or cutting board, but it is a little more difficult to maintain control of the honing steel and knife.
After using your honing steel, it’s usually a good idea to clean it. This is important for any type of honing tool. But honing steel rods that have some kind of magnetizing power will often attract microscopic shards of your knives’ steel bits.
These small shards will stick to the honing rod and “gum up” its length.
Simply soak a small section of cleaning cloth with vinegar and run it down the length of your honing steel.
The cloth will come away with small gray smears if there are steel shards still on the honing rod. Do this once or twice until no more metal shards come away with the cloth.
Wrapping it up
While there are tons of great honing steel tools, there are few better than the DMT CS2 12-Inch Ceramic Steel. Its made with one of the best rod materials you can find that balances the honing potential of the best rods with some light sharpening capability.
It feels great in the hand and has a well-placed guard to keep your fingers from falling into the path of your knife as you hone.
Hopefully, we’ve provided some guidance in your search for the ideal honing steel for your kitchen cutlery. Don’t forget to clean your steel and good luck!