Whether you’re shopping for your home kitchen or commercial kitchen, knowing what knife sharpener to use will help determine if your knife collection lasts a year or for many years to come. Besides, if you’re going to invest the money in building your knife collection, you owe it to yourself to learn a bit about keeping them sharp. Here’s a quick guide on the difference between knife sharpeners – including when you should be honing instead of sharpening.
First, Let’s Learn About Honing and Sharpening
There are 2 main ways to get a better edge on your knife: honing and sharpening. In most cases, you’ll simply hone the blade, not sharpen.
- Honing is realigning the blade; i.e. it’s taking an already sharp knife and straightening the edge.
- Sharpening is grinding down the metal of the blade to create a new edge. The more you sharpen a blade, the faster it wears away, because the metal is being worn away.
On to the Sharpeners
There are 4 main types of honing rods/sharpeners: sharpening steels, sharpening stones, manual knife sharpeners, and electric knife sharpeners.
It’s important to note that sharpening steels are actually honing rods. The industry term is sharpening steel, but this is simply a misnomer for what is actually a tool that is used for honing knife blades.
Sharpening steels are primarily used by Chefs before and after they use their knives. They help to hone the blade and give the perfect edge between cuts. The main difference in the type of sharpening steel to use is the cut type and blade shape.
- Cut Type. Depending on the cut type, you’ll get a lighter or heavier hone on your blades. For a lighter hone, choose a fine, smooth, or helical (a spiral cut on the rod) cut type. For a heavier hone, choose a combination, regular, or diamond cut type. For a look at the different cut types, take a look at these Victorinox sharpening steels.
- Blade Shape. Round blades (or rods) are the most common type of sharpening steel used in kitchens, because they’re super easy and fast to use. Oval blades (or rods) give a bigger surface area for honing, but may slow you up if the steel is turned slightly out of place.
- Material Type. Honing rods are commonly made of 3 different materials: steel, ceramic, and diamond (a steel rod with a diamond abrasive). By utilizing the ceramic and/or diamond rods, these materials are actually more abrasive than steel; so as you hone, you are slightly creating a new edge with minimal grind. Don’t think of it as sharpening, just a much more refined hone.
Also referred to as whetstones, sharpening stones are great for sharpening very dull knives. The knife’s blade edge should be perpendicular to your strokes, but can be put against the stone at different angles to really bring the blade to a new layer of metal. Sharpening stones are also great for sharpening other odd blades, like razors and scissors. For more on how to use a sharpening stone, check out this knife sharpening video.
- Pro Tip. Another good way to sharpen scissors is to cut through a few squares of some fine grit (finishing) sandpaper, ~240 or greater (the higher the number, the finer the grit). Treat this technique the same way you would a sharpening stone, by going through a couple levels of coarseness for more severe/dull jobs.
Manual knife sharpeners offer an easy way to get your blades sharp, but at a lower price point than their electric counterpart. Manual knife sharpeners are great for traveling Chefs as they’re easy to pack up and carry.
Electric knife sharpeners add convenience when it comes to knife sharpening, but some may say that they don’t allow for as much control as other manual methods and aren’t really designed for portable use.