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What is a Sharpening Steel?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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A sharpening steel is a piece of culinary equipment that is used to hone or align the edge of a knife blade or scissors, for more precise and faster cutting. It can often be found in professional and home kitchens, and allows a knife user to maintain the knife for higher precision and safer handling. The tool looks like a long metal stick, with grooves both lengthwise and perpendicularly across the shaft. A sharpening steel can be used as often as a knife is used, and only takes about a minute to properly hone an edge.

Despite the name of the tool, a sharpening steel does not actually sharpen the blade of a knife. Sharpening of a knife is done on a whetstone or grinding wheel, and actually reshapes the blade, removing the dull edge and providing a new sharp edge. A sharpening steel only works to realign or hone the edge, removing excess bits of metal and shifting parts of the edge that have become unaligned. The process is fairly simple and can be done quite quickly and easily.

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A sharpening steel should be held by the handle, with the tip pressed down onto a wooden cutting board or similarly stable surface. There is typically a hand guard to protect the hand of the user, but the knife should be held with the edge facing away from the handle and user anyway. The knife should be brought with the edge to be honed lightly against the steel at a 90° angle, or perpendicular to the shaft of the sharpening steel. This should be reduced by one half from the handle to become a 45° angle, then half again for a final angle of about 22.5° for optimal honing.

Once the knife is at the proper angle to the sharpening steel, it should be pulled backward up toward the handle while also being slid along the length of the blade. People new to using a sharpening steel for knife honing may need to practice the movement a few times for it to become natural, but it is not difficult to quickly get a feel for it. This should be done about ten times on one side of the blade, then switched to the other side and repeated ten more times for a finely honed edge.

Honing a knife can be done before or after using, and can be performed every time a knife is used. After honing, the blade should be rinsed with water and carefully dried, to ensure any stray metal shavings are washed off before using. Actual sharpening, using a grinding stone, is typically done by professionals and can be done as often as once a year to keep a knife blade sharp and reliable.

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