One fine day, you notice that your knife looks really dull and could use some tough sharpening. So you rummage through a couple of storage tools to see what's available and find a knife sharpener stick.
After spending some time sharpening the knife, you notice that no sharp edge seems to form at all. Moreover, the dullness becomes worse, and now there are even a few nicks on the blade. As a result, you might blame the sharpening stick for its poor quality, which is not entirely wrong.
But it’s also possible that you might've just used it the wrong way! The applied pressure, angle, and movement can certainly cause more dullness and nicks. The truth is, a sharpener stick doesn't really sharpen a knife. Instead, it serves as a honing tool to achieve a sharp blade edge.
A sharpening stick (also called a honing rod) is a piece of steel that aligns or corrects the knife's edge instead of sharpening it. It smoothens the edge so that it can return to its original condition. Honing rods are usually made of steel, diamond-coated steel, or ceramic sharpening sticks.
You usually use it in a downward motion, dragging the knife's edge from tip to the heel. Calling it a "pole sharpener" or a "sharpening steel" gives a wrong impression of the tool. It doesn't make new, sharp blade edges. But since it's a part of the sharpening process, most people tend to ignore the difference and call it a sharpening tool.
To clear the misconception, here's the difference between sharpening and honing. As previously mentioned, honing realigns a knife's edge that has gone out of shape. If a blade gets a sharper edge, the honing stage helps maintain that sharpness. Unlike sharpening, this is done more often, typically before using the knife.
On the other hand, sharpening is a process in which you shave off bits of the blade's material to produce a new and sharper edge. In the honing process, you don't have to shave blade parts. Additionally, sharpening is done less frequently than honing, depending on how often you use the knife and how long it can retain a sharp edge.
Sharpening Stick vs. Stone
Because of the honing stick confusion, people tend to compare it to a sharpening stone and see which sharpens the blade better. But instead of comparing the two, you can use them both for separate reasons—honing steel and sharpening stone are used in two important stages when sharpening a knife.
Instead of "sharpening steel vs. sharpening stone," it should be "honing steel and sharpening stone." The honing rod realigns the edge while the stone removes the old, dull steel to replace it with a new edge.
Let's say you used a serrated knife all day to cut, slice, and chop various foods. With much use, the serrations have begun to fold in different directions, looking out of line. This is where the honing rod comes in handy: it realigns the serrations and gives a sharp feel to the blade.
Technically, it doesn't sharpen the blade, but it gives that impression, confusing people. When the knife starts to get dull (metal fatigue), you must use a sharpening stone.
Now that you understand when and when not to use a knife honing rod, it's time to learn how to use it properly. This is important because the wrong movement, angle, or pressure can worsen the condition of your knife. Take notes of the following tips below.
Picture this: the blade drags along the honing steel from heel to tip. Next, hold the knife handle with one hand and have the steel in the other to cross paths. You should be holding the blade horizontally and the honing steel vertically.
Now, get the proper angle for honing. Place the heel against the top of the rod and point the knife a little upward. Set the blade to a 15-degree (for thinner knives) or 20-degree (for thicker knives) angle away from the honing rod.
Once you get the correct angle, slide the knife down the steel with a sweeping left and right motion. With light to medium pressure, keep the movement about four to five times (on each side of the blade) and ensure that the entire edge touches the honing steel.
In honing, accuracy matters more than speed. Doing it in a rush only leads to worse knife issues, so take your time keeping a consistent angle and motion. Afterward, wash and dry the blade to get rid of a few material shavings (if any).
A honing stick is a maintenance tool, not a kitchen knife sharpener. Instead of comparing it with sharpening tools, consider it an important part of the sharpening process. Moreover, you may use it more often than a sharpening stone or electric sharpener. We hope your knife is exceptionally honed and sharpened with this helpful guide!