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Honing steels are important to anyone that wants to keep their knives sharp. A question many people ask is – do honing steels wear out?
It is useful to understand why you need to use a honing steel at all and what it does to your knife. There is a vast difference between honing the cutting edge of a knife and sharpening the cutting edge of a knife. They may sound the same thing, but they are not.
When viewed through a microscope, the edge of a knife has microscopic peaks and valleys, akin to an ultra-fine serrated knife. It is these ultra-fine teeth that cause the knife to cut easily. The finer the teeth, the sharper the knife.
A honing steel is considered a consumable product used in the maintenance of a knife. As with al consumables, honing steels will wear out. The rate at which the honing steel wears to the point it is no longer useable depends entirely on how frequently they are used (or abused).
Eventually, during use, these fine teeth will bend, and/or some will break off, thus causing the knife edge to become dull. Running the cutting edge of a knife over honing steel, known also as a honing rod, is not intended to remove these teeth.
Honing with steel may remove a tiny amount of steel from the edge, but its main purpose is to simply realign the teeth that have bent a bit then the knife is ready to go.
Ultimately when the teeth are all too far gone to be realigned, then the edge must be resharpened. This sharpening action entails the significant removal of material using a series of ever finer abrasive options (e.g., using varying grades of whetstone) to re-cut a fine-toothed edge.
Keeping your blade sharp by regular honing makes the blade’s sharp edge hold for longer. As a knife gets dull, so increased pressure is used to try and cut with it. This simply puts more strain on the cutting edge, causing the fine teeth to become disabled even more quickly.
Whistling the blade up on a honing steel hardly removes any material, realigns the toothed cutting edge, and the now sharp edge reduces your cutting pressure.
Keeping this edge honed on a continuous basis ultimately increases the time span between complete resharpening, thereby extending the knife’s overall lifespan.
The increased lifespan of a knife may have a negligible effect in the home kitchen, but in a professional environment, it would be a significant advantage.
Whatever your situation, if you use a knife regularly, it is rather nice to have one that does the job, so it needs to be kept sharp. For this reason, we will explore some of the options and advantages of utilizing honing steels. It also could save you time and money.
If you are interested in checking out the best kitchen knives, we recommend buying knives made by the Wüsthof company. You can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
Do Honing Steels Wear Out?
The simple answer here is yes; they can eventually wear out. Whilst, in all probability, a decent honing steel in the home will last a lifetime or more, this is not necessarily so in a busy professional kitchen where the steel will be employed several times daily.
Honing steels are made of a much harder steel alloy than the knife blades that they work on. In the steel industry, the hardness of steel is measured using the Rockwell Hardness Scale (HRC), and this is so with knives and honing steels.
As a guideline, a correctly hardened knife blade would measure in the region of 58 to 60 on the Rockwell Scale. To give you a better idea of this scale, 55 to 56 Rockwell would be considered too soft for a decent knife blade.
A 62 would be very hard and will provide a long-lasting edge, but the knife would be quite brittle. Many of the finest Japanese knives are made to around 62 Rockwell but don’t drop them on the floor.
Honing steels run out at about 65 Rockwell; thus, they can dress the “softer” knife steels that they come into contact with. This contact will restore the knife’s sharp cutting edge, but the continual rubbing of the two metals against each other will ultimately wear both.
The softer steel will just be worn away quicker. Of course, the eternal enemies, rust and chipping through misuse, will further compound this problem.
TIP: Are you looking to buy a new whetstone? Check out our recommendations (we personally use the first three ones):
Our PRO choice whetstones combo (Amazon links):
- Fixing stone: Whetstone SHAPTON Ceramic KUROMAKU #320
- Sharpening stone: Suehiro CERAX soaking whetstone: Medium #1000
- Finishing stone: Whetstone SHAPTON Ceramic KUROMAKU #5000
Our budget choice (Amazon link): Sharp Pebble Extra Large Sharpening Stone Set
Do Diamond Honing Steels Wear Out?
A Diamond honing steel is essentially a steel rod coated with an abrasive made from very fine industrial-quality diamonds. This diamond coating is permanently fixed to the steel with an adhesive. Given the fact that diamond is the hardest substance known to man, it easily overcomes a dull knife edge.
A diamond-coated honing steel is more aggressive than a standard honing steel, so it brings a blade back to sharp very quickly.
As the diamond honing steel is used, the tiny little diamond bits eventually get dislodged and/or have the sharp edges knocked off them. So, yes, they can wear out. This will take some time, but eventually, the rod loses its effectiveness and must be discarded.
TIP: All knives, including kitchen knives, wear out with use and sharpening. How do you know it is time to replace your kitchen knives? Find out in our article below!
5 Signs You Need to Replace Your Kitchen Knife + How Often
Can You Ruin a Knife-Honing Steel?
A honing steel is simply a very fine metal file with a handle. Instead of having teeth like a file, though, they have striations running down the length of the rod. It is these striations that rub up against the knife blade realigning wayward teeth on the knife’s edge.
They are quite tough little tools to have around, and you would have to try really hard to damage one. You are most unlikely to damage one in normal use, i.e., by honing your knife edges back to sharp.
Modern quality Honing steels are often made from a Chrome Vanadium steel alloy that is rust-resistant. The accent is on “rust-resistant,” not “rustproof.” A knife kept under poor storage conditions could develop rust, and that will do the fine cutting striations on the honing steel no good at all.
Older honing steels, many of them heirlooms made long before stainless steel was discovered, are prone to rust, and they will be easily damaged by corrosion if not cared for. Washing, wiping, and drying, followed by a light oil, will do the trick there.
WÜSTHOF of Germany makes top-quality honing steels with a hardness running out at 65 on the Rockwell scale.
Do Knife Sharpening Steels Get Dull?
Knife-sharpening steels, or rather honing steels as they are correctly known, are pretty tough and long-lasting. They are of a much harder material than the knives they address, so when used correctly, it is the knife steel that gives way first.
The honing action involves the rubbing of the two pieces of steel against each other. Whilst the knife gives way because it is a softer steel, time on duty will eventually dull the honing steel as well.
How Long Will a Honing Steel Last?
It is only possible to generalize on the longevity of a honing steel. Many of us are probably still using honing steels that our grandparents or even great-grandparents used to whistle up the edge of their carving knives before getting stuck into the Sunday roast. That could make the steel 100 years old or more, and it still could be going strong.
A honing steel in daily use in a professional kitchen will be a different story. It is quite possible that it will be used by several chefs or assistants several times per day. Naturally, this high usage rate will shorten the lifespan of the steel.
Quality will also be a factor. A cheaper, poorly hardened honing steel would wear out far quicker than better-quality steel.
Remember, you are rubbing two pieces of steel against each other, so both will wear; the harder one will have a slower rate of wear. The softer steel of a knife blade will be a little easier on a hard honing steel, but if the honing steel is rubbish, well, its fate is sealed, and you will be replacing it sooner than you think.
TIP: Sharpening a knife with a serrated requires specialized sharpening tools and techniques. Read how to sharpen a serrated-edge knife and the tools needed in our article below!
DIY Guide: Sharpening A Serrated Knife With & Without Stone
Ceramic Honing Rods
No article on sharpening steels can be complete without mention of the hi-tec honing rods made from ceramics.
With a hardness second only to diamond, they are long-lasting and highly effective as a honing tool for knives. Particularly, they are superb for maintaining the edge on those super sharp, super hard Japanese-style knives.
The downside of ceramic rods is that they are very brittle, although technology is working on improving that. A good start to making it more robust has been the inclusion of a steel rod in the center during manufacture. Drop one on the floor, and you will have lots of little unusable ceramic bits and pieces.
The ceramic rods provided by some companies are of exceptional quality, and as a bonus, they have a unique little setup on the handle.
The hilt on one side is shaped at a 15-degree angle, which helps you to set the correct edge angle for sharpening Japanese-style knives. The opposite side is set at 22 degrees which is the correct angle to address the edge on Western-type chef’s knives.
Honing steels come in every shape and size; some are quite coarse, some are fine, some are made of steel, some are diamond coated, and some are made from ceramics. Honing the edge of your knife blade must be a routine part of your knife maintenance schedule.
Kept sharp, the knife is easier to use; less force means a lower wear rate and consequently longer spaces between aggressive resharpening events. But, as always, take care when using sharp cutty things. Don’t get careless and cut yourself!
TIP: Sharpening and honing are two different processes in sharpening a knife. Find out which one comes first in our article below!
Sharpen Or Hone A Knife: What Comes First?