Updated: March 31, 2021

How to Sharpen a Knife with a Rod

Knives should be sharp because their main purpose is cutting or slicing. A new knife will be razor-sharp but after a couple of months of use, it could begin to get dull at the edges. Why does this happen? Well constantly hitting the knife on items makes microscopic pieces of its blade bend to the sides. At this rate, it becomes more difficult to cut through food items. It has become dull.

Many experts recommend sharpening the knife edges with a sharpening steel. This device is also called a honing rod. It is a metal rod that comes with some knife sets. Many people argue that it does not sharpen but hones the knife edges. Sweeping your knife blade along the honing rod can reduce the need to sharpen it often. This article will show in simple steps how to sharpen a knife with a rod.

What is a Honing Rod?

A honing rod is a kitchen tool. It resembles a small sword with blunt edges. It is often held with a handle and made from steel, diamond-coated steel, or ceramic. These tools are used to straighten knife edges when dragged gently along the rod. It is a lot different from other sharpening tools like a whetstone.

Honing basically realigns the bladeís microscopic teeth. However, it does not remove the steel completely to build a new edge as sharpeners do. Honing is a lot less intense and it can be done frequently. Sharpening a knife by all the different means removes some parts of the blade. This is why sharpening is not recommended more than twice a year depending on the level of use.

How to Sharpen a Knife with a Rod

Here is a step-by-step process to sharpen your knife with a rod. For the process, you need a clear surface. The kitchen counter should be sufficient.

Step 1: Hold the Honing Rod Vertically.

rod vertical

Vertical is the only safe way to use it. Ensure that the tip is planted firmly on the counter. Put the blade’s heel against the top part of the steel and ensure that the blade tip points slightly upward. A 15-degree angle is ideal in this case.

This vertical grip is the best because it makes the process easier for newbies. Simply hold the honing rod’s handle and plant the tip on the counter.

Step 2: Slide the Blade Down the Rod

slide knife down rod

 

During this process, maintain light pressure on the blade. Continue at the 15-degree angle between your rod and the blade. Slide the blade down the rod’s length straight or in a sweeping motion. Each time, pull the knife closer to your body. This allows the middle part of the blade to touch the rod in the middle.

The pressure should remain light as you draw the knife up and down the rod. Use the full length of the rod to ensure that it sharpens every angle. Also, try to maintain a constant angle.

Step 3: Make Sure You Reach the Blade Tip

reach the knife tip

Finish the process by passing the blade’s tip over the lower part of the steel. Don’t forget to repeat the same process on the second side of the blade. For each side of the knife’s blade, four or five strokes should be able to realign the edge.

Check out the whole process in this video:

How Often Should You Sharpen or Hone Your Knife?

Now that you know how to sharpen your knife with a rod, how often should you break out your honing skills? Knives need to be sharpened once in a few months or a year, depending on the usage.

Experts recommend sharpening the knives professionally every one to two years. However, honing steels are better for constant use to carve a straight edge on the blade. Honing is ideal in between sharpening professionally to keep the blade in peak condition. It also does not subject it to degradation as sharpening does.

Since sharpening the blade removes some parts of the metal, sharpening often will damage the knife within a short time. For honing, there isn’t any official rule as to when you should hone your knife and how often it should be. Experts recommend doing it after or before each use. However, it may be a bit excessive. After using it for a while, it may be ideal to hone it.

Another consideration is the type and quality of the knife. The way it is used is also a crucial point to consider. For instance, knives used to chop vegetables may suffer more wear and tear than ones used to slice tender steak. So all this should be put into consideration to ensure that the knife is properly maintained.

What is the Ideal Honing Rod Steel Length?

When choosing a honing rod, the most important criteria to consider is the length of the rod. When the steel is longer, it presents more runway to pull the blade along. For smaller or shorter knives like paring knives, this may not be a problem. However, with long knives like slicers and chef’s knives, it is an entirely different ball game.

The ideal length of the honing rod should be 12 inches and above. Note that the 12 inches do not include the handle of the honing rod. It is for the steel alone. This long rod will make it easier to hone vertically if you choose the method. It will help prevent the knife from touching the surface below.

Other longer and larger knives may also require longer honing steel. For knives with more than 10 inches, you should find even longer steel. For general knives, 12 inches should do the trick.

Also, when you want to purchase a honing rod, the handle should be considered. It is essential to always have a firm grip on the rod to prevent slipping. When it slips during the honing process, it could damage the knife and injure the owner.

Search for an ergonomic handle with a grip that fits the hand comfortably. Non-slip material for the body is also ideal. Some also come with a guard that protects the hand during honing.

Types of Honing Rods

There are at least three types of honing rods. They are distinguished by the material used in making them. The rods include:

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel honing rods are quite popular. It is the most traditional, oldest, and most common. Most times, stainless steel honing rods come with kitchen knife sets. They can come with fine ridges on their edges or perfectly smooth. The smooth ones are benign but the ridges roughen up the blade while it realigns.

The roughing-up from the ridges makes the edge cut more aggressively for some time. However, it is not good for continuous use because it could wear out the edges quicker. This is why experts do not recommend it. when the ridges are coarse, the knife would be exposed to more wear and tear.

The completely smooth hone is superior as it is non-destructive. However, it may still not be the choice of experts because it does not work well on Japanese knives.

Ceramic 

The ceramic honing rods are made from ceramic as the name implies. They can rub off some metal from the edge of the knives during the honing process. The particles can be seen by the ordinary eye as grey streaks on the rod. This implies that this rod has some sharpening effect. However, it is still not as harsh as a sharpener. It cannot do any serious damage to the blade. With it, you may not need to sharpen so often. The only con is that ceramic is brittle. This means it can break if the user isn’t careful.

Diamond 

The third honing rod option is diamond rods. They are called diamond steels and have an abrasive diamond coating. This means that it can remove large amounts of metal when the blade is honed. Diamond-coated rods are not ideal for daily honing. However, they can be used occasionally and it could buy you time before having to sharpen.

What is The Ideal Sharpening Angle?

To sharpen a knife, you need a good angle to provide a razor-sharp edge. It is also essential to prevent a dull edge immediately after use. The best angle to sharpen knives is 15 to 20 degrees. It produces a clean-cut and retains the durability of the knife despite constant use.

Some Asian-style knives are honed to 17 degrees and this makes them sharper than knives from other regions. However, most western style knives are sharpened at 20 degrees and the reason for this is that Asian food is softer and the knife does not need to cut through tough food so it can be sharper. Western food is not as soft so it requires a not-so-sharp blade.

Sharpening a knife at any angle lower than 17 degrees can make them really sharp. The problem with this method is that they will dull quicker than usual.

In the same vein, if you sharpen at an angle above 22 degrees, the knife will not be as sharp as required but the edge will surely last longer.

Why A Dull Knife Is Dangerous

Some people believe that a dull knife is safer to use but this is not true. There are so many things that could go wrong with a dull knife. For one, dull knives are slippery. While using them, you could cut your hand by mistake. To prevent a kitchen accident, you should avoid a dull knife.

With a dull knife, you need to be more diligent. It will require using more pressure to chop anything, even tender food items. When you apply so much pressure on the knife, it could lead to an accident. This is why experts do not recommend using dull knives in the kitchen.

Pointy knives that cut products without a hassle are easier to control. A dull knife is a lot more difficult to control. It takes time to cut and could make the items you are cutting rough. Sharp knives use edge geometry for a clean-cut while dull knives need force. Sharp knives glide through while dull knives are less user-friendly and clumsier.

Dull knives are also more prone to accidents because the blade bends to the sides when it cannot cut things properly. When you apply more force on the items, it continues to bend further. This makes it more dangerous to use because it can easily cut your finger.

Cuts from sharp knives also heal faster than dull knives. Dull knives can make wider cuts within the skin. It could be sharper as well. Sharp knives may make a slimmer cut that heals quickly. When the cut is wider, it takes more time for the skin and tissues to repair themselves. It is not safe to use a dull knife.

Top Knife Safety Tips

Always keep your knife clean and dry when you are done with it. Some people make the mistake of stowing the exposed knife in a drawer with other kitchen utensils. This is unsafe because you are at risk of cutting yourself on the blade while searching for other items.

It is ideal to use a different storage method to solve this problem. You can get a magnetic strip to attach the knives to the wall. This way, you can always see them and pick them when necessary without the risk of hurting yourself. However, some believe that it is not the best method of storage since the knives can fly down with a strong enough bump.

If you are not satisfied with this storage method, you can try out wooden knife blocks. However, you need to ensure that the knives are placed upside down and not with the sharp edges faces up. People who are not chefs or owners of several knives may also not see the need to use this storage method. If you fall into this category, then you can opt for a plastic knife guard. You can slip it over your knife blade and store it wherever you want. It will not cut you or anyone else in the kitchen.

Final Thoughts

Your knife needs to be maintained to keep it in optimum condition. One way to do this is to hone the blade. This process is completely different from sharpening and is a better option to keep it sharp enough for daily use. While honing, be sure to use the right angle and honing rod material to prevent damage to the knife and even an injury. Doing this will keep your knife in good condition for a long time.

Jeremy Dodd
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