Looking to keep her knives in top condition, Memphis caller Gail Black asked for advice on the best style of honing rod—stainless steel, ceramic or diamond?
Over time, normal use causes the blades of kitchen knives to curl and flatten (at a microscopic level) and eventually feel blunt. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to sharpen, a process that removes metal from the blade. Instead, the blade should be honed, which straightens it. This is done with a honing rod (also called a steel), a thin rod fashioned from a material hard enough to straighten the blade edge. Traditional honing rods are made from steel and may be smooth, ridged or ovoid (a design that offers more surface area). They tend to last a lifetime, but aren’t as effective with knives made from harder steels. Diamond rods are steel rods coated in diamond dust. They are the hardest of any option, and because of this they sharpen a bit as they hone, but the diamond coating eventually wears off. Ceramic honing rods can be smooth or textured, the latter subtly sharpening as they hone. Ceramic rods can break if dropped, but otherwise last indefinitely—making them our top choice. We like the ceramic honing rod from Work Sharp, which features guides built into the handle, taking all the guesswork out of identifying the blade’s angle. To use a honing rod, hold it vertically, resting its tip on a cutting board or countertop. With the knife blade facing away from you and applying light, even pressure, gently glide each side of the blade along the rod at a 17- to 20-degree angle. The motion should be smooth and controlled, starting from the heel of the blade and ending at the tip. Repeat, aiming for around 5 to 10 strokes per side, or until the edge is sufficiently honed. Routine honing extends a blade’s edge between sharpenings; we recommend honing at least once a week.