Honing steels are a vital and all too often underused tool of the kitchen.
Commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as sharpening steels, honing steels help to keep your knives well maintained, so they can last significantly longer.
Honing steels feel so robust that it’s easy to think they will last forever, but will your steel eventually wear out?
Honing steels can wear out but most will last decades in the home kitchen. For professional kitchens, a honing steel may need to be replaced every 5 to 10 years as they are used much more frequently.
Looking for a new honing steel?
I recommend the Wüsthof 10 Inch. You can view it on Amazon here (opens new tab).
What is a honing steel?
A honing steel is a thin steel rod, around 12 inches in length, with a handle at one end and a tapered, rounded end to the steel at the other. The steel cylinder is ridged and coarse.
They are commonly referred to as sharpening steels, but the fact is that honing steels do not sharpen your knife. A sharpening steel is a different tool for a different purpose.
To check how long sharpening steels last, refer to my article on that topic here (opens new tab).
Look at a knife under a microscope and you’ll see that the blade edge is made up of a tiny row of little teeth like a miniature saw. When you use your knife these little teeth fold over and so the blade goes out of alignment, this is pretty much impossible to prevent. This misalignment won’t always be visible to the naked eye, but it is there and it really can affect the performance of your knife quite dramatically if not treated.
Honing steels are used to realign these teeth, not to actually sharpen the blade, although the end effect is that the knife is more effective and feels sharper.
Do honing steels wear out?
You should be using a honing steel quite regularly on your knives, at least after every few uses of a knife.
So it’s natural to wonder, how long a honing steel will last?
Thankfully a quality honing steel won’t need to be replaced very often at all.
Honing steels aren’t flimsy pieces of kit. It’s a rock-solid piece of steel, after all, so replacing your honing steel is never going to be a very regular occurrence at all.
Although they should be used frequently, you only need around 6 brushes of the knife per use in order to realign the blade. If you find you are needing more than that when you use your honing steel then your knife probably needs sharpening instead.
If you’re using a good quality honing steel for regular home use it will last for decades. You may never need to replace your honing steel.
However; there will, of course, be cheaper steels that do wear out quicker. Or maybe you’ve bought a second-hand one, who knows how old it is or how much use it has had?
To know when your honing steel is becoming less effective, run a fingernail along the steel. If you can clearly feel the grooves of the steel then it’s still in good order if you can’t feel them and the rod is starting to feel smooth, then you’re going to need a new one.
The general reality is that a honing steel will need to see many, many years of frequent use before it starts to wear out.
So the best thing to do in the long term is to get yourself a good quality honing steel and hold onto that thing forever!
How often should you use a honing steel
Often, people simply do not use their honing steel nearly as frequently as they should do.
Many chefs recommend using a steel after every use of the knife. But we don’t all work in professional kitchens.
A honing steel should be used around every 3 uses of your knife.
Most people only use a honing steel when their knife is feeling really blunt. This is a bit like waiting for your car to break down before checking the oil.
Regular maintenance will make your knife last way longer.
So remember to use your honing steel frequently, a well-maintained knife can make cooking a joy. A poorly maintained knife can make it a chore!
My best honing steel recommendation
If your honing steel had become smooth it might be time to replace it.
A good honing steel will last for decades. That’s why I would always recommend you invest in one of decent quality.
A poor quality honing rod runs the risk of damaging your knife, so if you choose a quality honing rod then there’s a good chance your knives will last longer too.
This 10-inch honing rod from Wüsthof is the only steel you will ever need.
Wüsthof are renowned for their high-quality western knives, so this is the perfect kitchen partner.