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Knife Tune-Up: How to Use a Honing Steel

By Cook's Illustrated Published July 2017

Instead of sharpening a knife, a honing steel "trues" the edge of a slightly dulled blade. So how do you use it effectively?

A honing steel (also referred to as a sharpening steel, though that’s a misnomer), the handled metal rod sold with most knife sets, doesn’t really sharpen a knife. Instead, it “trues” the edge of a slightly dulled blade. Over time, the sharp cutting edge of a knife blade can turn to the side, making the blade seem dull. A knife that feels dull may need only a few light strokes across a honing steel to correct its edge and restore its sharpness without the need to run it through a sharpener. The honing process is also faster than sharpening a knife (about 1 minute to hone versus 5 minutes to sharpen) and doesn’t remove metal from the blade.

To know if you need to hone or sharpen your knife, perform a paper test: Simply hold a single sheet of newspaper, place the blade against the top edge at an angle, and slice outward. If the knife catches at the paper, try honing the knife (see steps below) before testing again. If the knife still fails, sharpen it.

1. Place tip of honing steel on counter and place heel of blade against top of steel, pointing knife tip slightly upward. Hold blade at 15-degree angle away from steel.

2. Maintaining light, consistent pressure and 15-degree angle between knife blade and honing steel, slide blade down length of steel in sweeping motion, pulling knife toward your body so that entire edge of blade makes contact with steel.

3. Repeat this motion on other side of blade. Four or five strokes on each side of blade (total of eight to 10 alternating passes) should realign edge.

The Paper Test