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Honing A Knife? Sharpening A Knife? What’s in a Name?

What’s the difference between honing and sharpening a knife?knife and honing steel

To the uninitiated it seems simple. If your knife is blunt sharpen it. However to the initiated this is way too simple.

Of course if your knife is dull it needs to be sharp, as nothing is worse than trying to prepare food with a dull knife.

However whilst lots of people understand the simple art of sharpening a pencil, sharpening a knife is a little more complex. Firstly lets examine the difference between sharpening and honing.

When you use a knife you push it against something, commonly some form of chopping board. When you do so the edge of the knife, which is very fine, gradually burs over, and bit by bit your knife becomes dull. You get frustrated.

In fact if you look at the edge of a knife under a microscope you’ll see that, contrary to what you might expect, the edge is actually quite ragged and composed of tiny teeth. It’s those tiny teeth which bend over and make your knife dull.
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Of course you can sharpen it, however often it’s not necessary to go through the whole sharpening process, honing is all that is necessary in most cases.
butchers steel

Commonly honing is done with a honing steel, which is a long implement with a handle, a guard to keep your knife away from your hand and a long steel rod. Often a honing steel (or what can be called a butchers steel) is confused as a knife sharpening tool, but it is not.

A honing steel is used to straighten up the cutting edge of the knife. This is “honing” as opposed to “sharpening”.

Honing removes very little metal from the tip of the blade, it simply hones up the edge. Watch a butcher working and you’ll see they have a honing steel close at hand and are constantly giving the knife a couple of swipes over the steel. They aren’t sharpening the knife, they’re honing it.

Sharpening a knife, on the other hand, is removing metal from the blade to create a new edge.

Of course there’s a certain amount of skill required when honing, it’s not something simple where you can just pick up the steel and get it done. It does require a certain amount of practice and technique, but that’s for another day.

Find some great honing (sharpening) steels here if you need one. And if you don’t have one you need one. 

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