How to Use a Sharpening Steel

Sharpening steels, or, more accurately, honing steels, often are included with good knife sets, but rarely come with instructions. However, with proper and frequent use, a steel will keep your knives sharp for much longer.


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    Remember that a honing steel will not sharpen a dull knife. Steels are maintenance tools used to help keep an already sharp blade from degrading. If your knives are dull, pitted, or you see visible nicks on the cutting edge, bring your blade to a professional for resharpening.
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    Hold your steel firmly in your hand, or hold it against a counter top. For safety reasons, the preferred method is to place the tip of the steel on a cutting board while you hold the steel vertically.
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    Place the bottom (heel) of the knife edge against the steel as if you were going to cut into it.
    • Position the knife (ideally), at a 22 degree angle. This angle is considered standard, although you can adjust this slightly to a lower angle for a sharper edge, or a higher angle for a more durable one.
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    Run the knife down the steel smoothly, as if you were whittling a stick. Pull the knife down and towards yourself, ending with the tip of the knife at the bottom of the steel. Maintain the same angle as you go, and pull your hand away from the steel gradually, so as to evenly hone from the blade base to tip.
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    Flip the knife and repeat the process, honing the other side.
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    Repeat 3–6 times per side. Check for sharpness and repeat if necessary. The quality, hardness and pre-existing condition of the blade will determine the ultimate number of strokes required.
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    Wipe the blade clean with a towel or paper towel. This is important to avoid adding any metal filings that may have been generated from honing into your recipe.


  • Wash your knives soon after use, and dry them immediately. Acidic or salty foods can damage blades, especially at the vulnerable, very thin edge. Wash by hand, even if your knives are dishwasher safe, once again, to avoid hitting other metal utensils and damaging the blade.
  • Use only metal honing steels. Ceramic or diamond-embedded ones are available, but they sharpen (as opposed to honing) the knife, which removes steel with each pass, and will reduce the life of your knives.
  • Hone your blade either before each use or after each washing.
  • Store your knives in a manner that will prevent the blades from hitting other metal objects (other knives, for example). Knife blocks are ideal for this.
  • Honing is not the same as sharpening. Honing a knife gently pushes the edge of the blade back to its proper position. Sharpening removes part of the metal, creating a whole new cutting edge.
  • Speed is not important. Use a slow motion until you are confident that you can hold your hand at the right angle and cover the length of the blade in one sweep.
  • Cut only on wood or plastic surfaces. Stone, glass, and tile are common kitchen surfaces that you might be tempted to cut on, but they will quickly dull your blade
  • Some professionals advocate making more than one pass per side at a time, or holding the steel differently. Feel free to try different techniques. They all work as long as they pay equal attention to each side of the blade and maintain a constant angle of the blade to the steel.
  • If your knives get dull (which they all, eventually do, even with good honing habits), get them sharpened again. There are home sharpening systems, but a professional sharpening service is probably your best bet.
  • Be sure your steel is long enough. A 12 inch (30.5 cm) knife can't be honed easily with an 8-inch steel.


  • Do not attempt to hone serrated blades.
  • As always, practice good safety technique when using cutlery.
  • Hold the steel with your hand well back on the handle. Most steels have a wide part that acts as a guard at the top of the handle. Avoid extending any part of your hand above this guard.

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Categories: Cooking Knives and Blades