honing steel vs sharpening steel

Honing Steel vs. Sharpening Steel

By Bobby B.  |  January 5, 2021  | Blog

Most home chefs don’t even know there’s a difference between a honing steel and sharpening steel.  There is, and it’s very important to understand.  If you use them incorrectly, you could be shortening the lifespan of your favorite kitchen knives.  On this page we’ve decided to tackle the the very important topic of helping you understand why you’d use a honing steel vs. a sharpening steel, and when you should do the opposite.

Honing Steel

A honing steel is a maintenance item.  Its function is to keep a sharp knife sharp.  The terminology of the word “sharpen” is often misused when it comes to knives.  A honing steel DOES NOT sharpen knives!

During use, a knife’s blade rolls over a bit on a microscopic level.  This is not something you can see, but it makes the blade feel like it’s no longer sharp when you’re cutting.  By honing the knife with a ceramic or steel honing rod, you are straightening out the blade so it feels sharp again.  

To keep a super sharp knife in the kitchen, it’s recommended that you hone a blade often.  Some do it after every use, but we believe every 90-120 minutes of use is sufficient.  This will help maintain the blade and makes using your knives easier. 

How To Pick a Honing Steel

if you purchase a new kitchen knife set, many of them include a honing steel as a bonus.  Just check the specs first as many of them call it a sharpening steel or sharpening rod, but it’s actually a honing steel.  If you don’t already have one with your knife block, here are some things to consider when buying one.


You always want your honing steel to be at least as long as your longest knife blade.  This means that you can hone all of your knives in a single pass.  This will help ensure a consistant edge on the knives throughout the entire length of the blade. 


Honing steels coming in two basic materials, steel and ceramic.  Steel hones have been around the longest and they’re also the most common.  This is likely what came in your knife set.  They are a bit more abrasive than a ceramic hone. Ceramic has a much finer grit (usually around 1000 grit) and therefore is less destructive on your blades. 

Due to the brittle nature of the blade steel used on Japanese knives, ceramic hones should be used in place of steel ones.  The downside to a ceramic hone however, is that if they are dropped, they can easily break.

Our Favorite Honing Steel

There are tons of great honing steels out there.  We prefer the ceramic hones for the reasons mentioned above.  If you don’t already have one in your knife set, consider this one from Messermeister.

Messermeister honing steel

12-inch Honing Steel – Check Price at Amazon

Sharpening Steel

By contrast, a sharpening steel does actually sharpen a knife’s blade.  sharpening steels are made more abrasively, and they actually remove material.

This gives the knife a new edge all together, and often you’ll even be able to see the difference.  Actual sharpening of knives doesn’t really need to take place that often.  Of course it depends on how much you use your knives, but most home chefs will only need to do this about once annually, honing the knife in between to maintain the sharp edge.  

How To Pick a Sharpening Steel

Because a sharpening steel actually removes metal from the blade, and they aren’t needed often, it’s not something that’s often included with a knife set.  You’ll need to seek one out and purchase it separately in most cases.


The length of a sharpening steel can be detrmined using the exact same criteria as that of a honing steel.  You basically just want the sharpening rod to be longer than the length of your longest blade.


As mentioned above, sharpening steels are more abrasive than honing rods.  The most commonly used material in a sharpening rod is diamond steel to remove material.

Our Favorite Honing Steel

Again, there’s no real rocket-science to manufacturing sharpening steels, but our favorite is the matching set to the honing rod we recommended above from Messermeister.  They look the same, but this one has an 800-grit diamond steel surface.

Messermeister sharpening steel

12-inch Sharpening Steel – Check Price at Amazon

Honing Steel vs. Sharpening Steel

Here’s a great video by our friends over at Wusthof, explaining some more about the differences, but also how to use a honing steel and sharpening rod.  This is great for making sure you’re using the right techniques and not damaging the blades on your good kitchen knives!

Which Do You Need: Honing or Sharpening Steel?

Both steels, honing and sharpening, treat your knives differently.  Everyone should have a honing steel in order to continually maintain the sharp edge on each of their knives.  This will ensure they’re always sharp, ready to use, and taken care of. 

Each home should also have a way to periodically sharpen their kitchen knives.  How you decide to do that is up to the individual.  There’s nothing wrong with a sharpening steel, but there are also other, more effective ways to sharpen knives.  These include electric knife sharpeners, whetstones, or shipping your knives off to a professional knife sharpener.   

Curious about sharpening serrated knives?  It’s actually not as difficult as it sounds.  Check out the post below to learn more…

link to how to sharpen serrated knives