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The best way to prolong the lifetime of your knives is by diligent care and maintenance. This means storing them safely and properly, as well as honing and sharpening them. It’s important to clarify that honing and sharpening are not the same. Honing your knife means using a long rod to straighten and align the blade back to its proper position. Sharpening is when you use steel to physically take small bits of metal off of your blade to create a fresh, sharpened blade. Honing can sometimes take a little bit of material off the blade, but for the most part, it’s intended to straighten the edge rather than to adjust the sharpness of the blade.
Picking out a honing rod that’s right for you and your knives depends on your budget, the quality of your knives, and how frequently you foresee yourself honing your knives. This is not a tool that you need to break the bank for in order to get a quality item.
Here are some of the best honing steels that you can buy.
Best Overall: Winware 12-Inch Stainless Steel Sharpening Steel
Available in sets
Plastic handle not super comfortable
The most common material for honing steels is stainless steel, and this 12-inch steel is a class option. This honing steel is also magnetized, which means it will hold on to any tiny bits of metal that may come loose from the blade after honing so you don’t have to worry about any of it getting in your food. It also means that you can store it easily on a magnetic strip or panel.
You can also opt to buy this steel in a set of 6 or 12 if you know that you can go through these quickly and you prefer to be cost-effective. With 12 inches of length, you have plenty of space to hone your longest blades. Reviewers rave not only about the quality and durability of this steel but also about how affordable it is.
Material: Stainless steel | Length: 12 inches | Weight: 0.85 pounds
Best Ceramic: Noble Home & Chef 11.5-Inch Professional Ceramic Honing Rod
Offers two grit levels
Hanging loop ideal for commercial kitchens
If you’re looking for a ceramic honing steel, this is a popular option. Built with high-quality Japanese ceramics, this 11.5-inch honing rod is durable, and it’s designed with plastic on either end, which is a great way to protect your knives from accidental damage. The rod is even designed with two different grit levels, so you can opt to hone at 2000 grit (ideal for super dull knives) or 3000 grit (more of a touch-up for an already sharp knife), depending on the side of the rod that you use.
The hanging loop also gives you an easy way to store and access the rod. Reviewers love the comfortable oval handle that allows for a firm grip and added safety/protection.
Material: Ceramic | Length: 11.5 inches | Weight: 11.3 ounces
Best Diamond: Messermeister 800 Grit 12-Inch Diamond Sharpening Rod
Low grit ideal for extremely dull knives
Narrow edge for honing serrated blades
Diamond coating eventually wears away
This diamond honing steel is available in both 10- or 12-inches, depending on the size of your knives and how much storage space you have to offer. The 800 grit diamond abrasive is a powerful way to hone your knives, but not so tough that it will damage them. There is even a narrow edge that allows you to carefully hone those tricky, serrated knives. The hanging ring allows for easy hanging storage.
This rod is also noticeably lighter than some of its counterparts, which makes it easy to hold if you prefer to hone by holding the rod instead of placing it on a counter. Some reviewers do make a note that the diamond coating can be prone to wearing away, so this may not be the best long-term option if you are honing very frequently.
Material: Diamond | Length: 10 inches, 12 inches | Weight: 8.1 ounces
Best for Japanese Knives: Shun Classic Combination Honing Steel
Protective against Japanese blades
Offers two different honing surfaces
Short in length
If you have Japanese blades in your kitchen, you definitely want to purchase from a brand that understands the materials of Japanese blades and makes a product that will help them rather than hurt them. This Shun honing steel offers two surfaces. One is a smooth surface for everyday, gentle care, and the second is a micro-ribbed surface, which is ideal for more invasive, weekly care.
With 9-inches of length, this rod is definitely shorter than others, but even if you have a 10-inch Japanese blade, you should still be able to sharpen it at this length. The PakkaWood handle creates a comfortable, secure grip and it has the same ebony finish matches as the Shun Classic series of knives if you want to match your knives with the honing steel.
Material: Stainless steel | Length: 9 inches | Weight: 0.51 pounds
Best Splurge: ZWILLING J.A. Henckels 12-Inch Double Cut Honing Steel
Extremely durable and effective
Plastic handle grip is safe
Doesn't come with instructions
This steel, which many reviewers point out is the top recommendation from America’s Test Kitchen, is a true fan favorite. The steel is double cut which means it offers two different grits. Though the handle is made of plastic, reviewers love the feel and confirm that it provides a safe, comfortable grip. While it is on the pricier side, this steel can hone your knife quickly, efficiently, and without damaging your blades in just a few quick passes. It will last a long time, so even though it is substantially more expensive than some of the other options, it’s definitely worthwhile if it is an accessory that you plan on using.
Material: Stainless steel | Length: 12 inches | Weight: 0.5 pounds
Best Budget: Allwin-Houseware 12-Inch Carbon Steel Knife Sharpening Steel
Durable and efficient
Plastic handle is cheap
This honing steel is extremely budget-friendly. Available in both 10- or 12-inch lengths, this rod is less than $15 and can hone a knife nearly as well as any of its competitors. The rod is made of carbon steel and plated with nickel chrome, which gives it a durable finish that won’t wear away. With two lengths available, you can choose a rod that suits your blades. The steel is also magnetized, which allows it to hold on to any stray metal bits and allows you to store it on a magnetized panel.
Given its affordable price, users are impressed with their purchase as well as the durability that the steel offers. Many reviewers use this every day and have not seen any poor results after heavy usage.
Material: Carbon steel | Length: 10 inches, 12 inches | Weight: 340 grams
What to Look for in a Honing Steel
The longer your steel is, the more surface area you’ll have to run your blade along when honing it. For a smaller blade, like a paring knife, this is inconsequential, however, if you have longer chef’s knives with 10-inch or longer blades, you’ll definitely need a steel with a comparable length. The ideal minimum length for any steel should be 12 inches (this doesn’t include the handle), but if you have longer blades, then you may want to consider something even longer than 12 inches. For the average home cook and average knife set, a 12-inch steel should do the trick.
Honing rods are made of different materials. There are stainless steel, ceramic, and diamond options. Stainless steel is the most common option as it’s affordable and extremely durable against any blade. Ceramic rods have the capability to take off a tiny amount of blade when you hone, giving them a slight sharpening effect, and you will see tiny white streaks on the ceramic after you use them. That said, ceramic is still gentle enough to the blade and won’t damage it while honing. Ceramic is a brittle material so these can break after time or heavy usage.
Diamond steels can be more abrasive than ceramic, which means that they likely can take off more from the blade than ceramic. While this can have a nice sharpening effect, it can also be detrimental to the blade if done too frequently or improperly. Diamond coatings are also known to wear away after heavy usage or time.
You can pay less than $10 for a honing rod or you can pay upwards of $50, so understanding what you want out of your rod before you buy one is important. If you are a person who religiously hones their knife between uses and will get a lot of use out of it, then it may be worth it to opt for something that’s higher quality and can hold up to daily or high-frequency honing. If you are buying a honing steel simply because you want to improve your knife care and establish better practice, it may be in your best interest to start with something more budget-friendly and see how you enjoy it and how often you use it.
What is the difference between a honing steel and a sharpening steel?
A common misconception is that a honing steel can sharpen the blades on your knives. This is not true. Honing steels are used to straighten the edge of your blade. It is not able to physically shave off some of the dull edges of your blade and sharpen it in the way that a sharpening steel can. After using a honing steel, the knife may seem sharper because the blade has been straightened and is fully aligned. Sharpening steels actually take tiny bits of the blade off to allow for a fresh, super sharp blade. You can hone your knife more regularly, but sharpening only needs to be done a few times each year.
How do you use a honing steel?
To use a honing steel, you can straighten your blade from many different angles and approaches. It’s common to hold the honing steel with one hand and have your knife in the other. Point the steel downward so that it is vertically touching a sturdy counter or surface. Then, using swift strokes and light pressure, run the blade of your knife down the steel at a 15-degree angle. You’ll want to pull the knife toward your body so that the whole blade makes contact with the steel. Ten passes per side of the blade are usually effective to straighten a blade.
How often should you hone a knife?
Unlike sharpening, which only needs to be done a few times per year (for the average home cook), you can hone your knife much more frequently. A good rule of thumb is to hone your blade every three uses or so. If you use your knife for longer stints of time, you may want to hone even more frequently.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Sara Tane is a private chef and food writer that has contributed to The Spruce Eats since October 2020. She is passionate about recipe development, home cooking, and kitchen appliances. She especially loves elaborate dinner parties, where a sharp, honed knife always comes in handy for serving up the main course.