Kitchen knives can become blunt after repeated use, and this bluntness is often due to edges of the blade going out of the original alignment. The edges of the knives can be brought back to their original position through honing with a honing steel.
A honing steel is a metal rod that can be as long as your arm and is used to bring back knives to their original condition. This steel does not sharpen the knife but helps realign the edges of the knife so that the knife regains its original ability to cut.
Sharpeners of knives, on the other hand, will actually grind of metal and to create a renewed edge. In both cases, the end result is the same. It leads to a knife that is sharper and able to perform the cutting actions required in a kitchen. The act of honing is non-destructive, while sharpening can actually reduce the knife dimensionally.
Honing is a way of maintaining a knife and must be performed at frequent intervals. Sharpening of a knife must be carried out as little as possible, and after you have sharpened a knife two or three times, its cutting edges, which have been specially treated, will be lost, and the knife is then only fit to be replaced. Honing of a knife can be continued as long as the edge is not worn down. At this stage, the knife will require sharpening.
The steel which is at the edge of the knife and is used for cutting is always very thin, and it is this quality that enables it to cut into vegetables, fruit or meat. When seen microscopically, the edge of a knife looks like ragged teeth. This thin edge leaves it vulnerable to stresses, and the teeth can be dented or bent out of place when the knife comes up against bone, a pit or touches the cutting board.
The sharp edge of the knife is still present, but because the teeth are bent to one side or have been rolled over, the knife is no more able to cut as cleanly as before. It is then necessary to realign the blade edge by straightening it or honing it.
Honing is carried out by the use of the honing steel, whose job it is to bring the edges back to their previous position or alignment. Honing steels are made of steel that is grooved so that it has a rough and abrasive surface. The steel needs to be harder than the steel that is there in the knife. Honing steel can also be made of ceramic, which is a more expensive material. You can also get some steels that have a coating of diamond dust, and these are sharpening steels.
Honing of a knife has to be done at the right angle, and you must be careful not to exert too much of pressure. The honing steel must be held at an angle while its tip rests on any hard surface. Each side of the knife must be swiped not more than five to ten times.
Start honing at the base of the knife and as you continue the downward motion, let the knife come towards you so that by the time you reach the end of the long honing steel, it is the tip of the knife that is being worked on. You can then swipe the other side of the knife, similarly. During every honing operation, swipe the knife five to ten times for each side, and no more.
Test the knife for sharpness, and if you find you need to hone it further, you are probably not doing it correctly, or the knife edges have deteriorated and may need sharpening.
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