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How do you use a sharpening steel?

A sharpening steel is an elongated ceramic or diamond rod you can use to sharpen knives. If you don’t use your (kitchen)knives that often maintenance with a sharpening steel could already be enough. However, if you use your knives more often and want to end up with razor-sharp knives you should, in addition to using a sharpening steel, use sharpening stones.

How to use

Even though the goal you pursue is different, the way you use a sharpening steel is similar to using a honing steel.  First you need to select a steel that is longer than the longest knife you want to sharpen. The most stable option is placing the sharpening steel with the tip on the cutting board after which you move your knife alongside it from top to bottom. You start at the heel of the  knife and ‘cut’ towards the tip. The following pictures demonstrate this.

You often use a 15 degree angle for Japanese knives and a 20 degree angle for European knives. You determine this angle by first placing the knife square on the sharpening steel. The angle you have now is 90 degrees. Take half of that angle and afterwards half of that angle after which you are left with a 22.5 degree angle. The last couple degrees might be tricky but that is how you know if you have the right angle. At first it might be difficult to maintain this angle, but practice makes perfect. We do recommend you first try it a couple of times with an old or cheap knife.

Instead of ‘securing’ your sharpening steel on a cutting board you can also sharpen by feel.  You hold the sharpening steel horizontally and ‘cut’ away from you, once again from the heel of the knife towards the tip. There are professional chef’s – with years of experience – who use this method and we believe that it is definitely a great option after a little practice. However, the tip-on-the-cutting-board-method offers you a lot more stability and will therefore make it easier to maintain the right angle.

The use of a sharpening steel is demonstrated in the following video:

Sharpening steel: diamond or ceramics

You can choose between a ceramic or a diamond-coated sharpening steel. Diamond-coated sharpening steels are rock-solid which is great. As a result sharpening will be quick and you can tackle the toughest types of steel. The disadvantage, however, is that you remove a lot of material. Ceramic sharpening steels won’t remove as much material. However, working with a ceramic steel might be a little more time-consuming and you need to be very careful with ceramic material. If you drop it, it will undoubtedly break. Fortunately ceramic will help you sharpen most types of steel.

Sharpen your bread knife

Finally: we believe that there are sharpening methods that work better than sharpening with a sharpening steel. ‘Better’ in the sense that it will leave you with sharper results. For occasional maintenance, however, they are great. Another great advantage is that with sharpening steels you can sharpen serrated knives such as bread knives. This is not an option when you use sharpening stones or most (electric) sharpening systems. Do, however, make sure that the diameter of your sharpening steel is comparable to the size of the serrations. How you can easily sharpen bread knives is something we love to tell you more about in our ‘How-to’: sharpening a bread knife.

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