How to Hone Your Knives to Keep Them Sharper For Longer, According to Pros

Before you go straight to sharpening, consider honing first.

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Honing Knives
Food & Wine/Dana Fouchia.

There is perhaps no greater tool in a chef’s toolbox than a knife. John Somerall, a chef, recipe tester, knife expert, and Food & Wine's Editorial Project Manager of Research and Testing, agrees:  “One of the most important tools a cook can own is a quality set of knives. For me, my knives are extensions of my fingers — or even of me. They are the primary tool I use for preparing foods and through that become a medium for communication.”

But as knives withstand daily use, they wear at different rates and degrees. If it feels like your blade is sharp but has lost some of its precision, you might try gently honing your knife before jumping into sharpening.  

Sharpening Versus Honing

What is the difference between sharpening and honing? These terms seem interchangeable if you’re not more familiar with the nuances of knives and sharpening. “Sharpening is removing material from each side of the cutting edge,” says Geoff Feder of Feder Knives, a blacksmith working out of New York’s Hudson Valley who makes custom knives. “The burr does the cutting. When you hone a knife, you’re aligning the burr to keep it straight; this is pivotal to sharpness and cutting performance.” 

According to Feder, honing rods are made from various materials, with steel and ceramics being the most common. They aren’t meant to remove material from the edge. Instead, they align the little fibers or wire edge that helps make the cutting edge sharp. 

Equipment You’ll Need

The Cooks Standard Professional Ceramic Rod is one of our favorite honing tools, and this one is affordable and versatile. Feder finds ceramic honing rods a great tool when you need a quick tune-up: “They take off a little material and refine and align the wire edge.”

Cooks Standard Professional Ceramic Rod Knife Sharpening


How to Hone Your Knives

According to Feder, the biggest mistake with honing rods is that most chefs vigorously rub them together on one small part of the blade. When honing and aligning, it’s important to address the cutting edge evenly for the entirety of the knife’s length.

  1. Drag your knife across the rod, applying light pressure. The trick here is to maintain a consistent twenty-degree angle.

  2. Repeat. After you sharpen one side of the blade, align the blade's edge on the opposing side and repeat the smooth dragging motion.

  3. Wash your knife carefully. You don’t want steel shavings clinging to the edge that could catch on your skin or fall into food. 

Best Practices for Daily Knife Use

Use the correct cutting board

Your cutting board is likely the thing most responsible for dulling your knives — more so than the produce or meat you’re cutting. Glass cutting boards are a big no-no for a bunch of reasons, and ruining your knives is chief among them. Bamboo boards are also too hard on blades. 

“I prefer softer plastic cutting boards with plenty of give,” recommends Somerall.

Know which foods can harm your knives

“Carbon Steel is very different from stainless steel,” says Feder. “Carbon has nothing to protect it from acidity. Over time, exposure will cause the knife to develop a patina, and it will ultimately rust from water, acidic food, or even humidity. Stainless steel has chromium in it that resists oxidation and rust. So, when your knife is carbon steel, wash it with gentle soap and water and hand dry it. Stainless steel can rust, but not as easily.”

Clean them properly

“Don’t put your knives in the dishwasher,” says Feder. “The knife can rattle around and ruin the edge, and the detergent can ruin the handle or even the adhesive connecting the handle to the blade. Hand wash and dry only,” he urges. 

Our Expertise

Christa Glennie has been a freelance writer and food editor for nearly 20 years. She is also the author of two cookbooks and specializes in food and drink trends, agriculture, the regional foodways of Western New York, and the restaurant business. For this piece, she spoke to two knife experts about how to use honing tools and gathered their best knife-care advice.

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