Sharpening steels are one of your most important utensils for maintaining your knives. As the name suggests sharpening steels will help you keep a knife sharp, and prevent it from wearing out.
But how about the other way round, if your steel prevents your knife from wearing out, how long does it take for your sharpening steel to wear out?
Diamond sharpening steels should last a very long time, maybe a decade or more, but will eventually deteriorate. Ceramic sharpening steels may never wear out but they do need to be stored carefully due to their brittle nature.
What is a sharpening steel?
Sharpening steels are used to remove a tiny layer of the blade edge, in order to expose a new and very sharp edge.
Sharpening steels are either a diamond impregnated sharpening or a ceramic sharpener.
Of course, a ceramic sharpener isn’t really a ‘steel’ but it’s the same idea i.e. a long ceramic rod.
A sharpening steel is not a honing steel
Ok, we need to get one thing straight before we continue here. A sharpening steel is not the same thing as a honing steel.
Unfortunately, these terms are often interchanged, and honing steels are almost always incorrectly referred to as sharpening steels.
A standard grooved metal rod is a honing steel, not a sharpening steel.
Honing a blade realign the blade edge to make it sharper.
Sharpening a blade actually strips a tiny edge of the blade away, revealing a new, and extremely sharp edge.
Therefore, sharpening steels need to be made of, or coated in, a material hard than the knife blade i.e. diamond and ceramic.
Honing a blade is a much more frequent process than sharpening a blade. If you want to understand how long it takes for a honing steel to wear out then check out our article here.
Here’s a great video which quickly explains the difference between the two:
How long do sharpening steels take to wear out?
So, sharpening steels are strictly for sharpening, not honing. You will need to hone your knives far more often than sharpening them.
It is best practice to hone your knife after every three uses at least.
Sharpening your knife however, can be done far less frequently. For general home use, you would easily be able to keep your knife sharpening to every six months, maybe even longer.
With this kind of usage, you can expect your sharpening steels to last a very long time, a decade or more should be no problem.
With such infrequent use, it actually what your sharpening steel endures when it isn’t being used which is most likely to reduce its lifespan.
Try and keep your sharpening steel away from other hard utensils if you can, maybe in its own container or cotton bag.
It’s not going to enjoy being smashed together in a drawer with all the other kitchen utensils every time it’s opened.
Will some steels last longer
There are two types of sharpening steels:-
Both types have the potential to last a very long time before wearing out; however, both have the potential to deteriorate.
Diamond sharpening steels will wear out over time. The rod is coated in an abrasive surface of fine diamond, think diamond dust. Over time these will become dislodged and eventually enough of the diamond surface will be removed to significantly decrease the effectiveness of the sharpening steel.
Ceramic sharpening steels will not wear out with normal use, in theory, you should happily be able to use a ceramic sharpener your whole life. However, although ceramic is extremely hard it is also very brittle, this leaves it susceptible to damage so it is extra important that you sore your ceramic sharpener carefully in its own case or a cotton bag.
How often should you use a sharpening steel
Sharpening steels do not need to be used particularly frequently.
You should hone your knives at least every three uses; however, you should only need to sharpen your knife every six to twelve months.
Consistent honing of your knives combined with periodic sharpening will massively expand the life of your knives and it makes using your knives much more enjoyable as they will always have a good sharp edge to work with.
How to clean a sharpening steel
Over time your sharpening steel will begin the clog up with small metal shards, the result of striping your knife blades.
You’ll need to keep your sharpening steel clean to maintain its effectiveness.
A simple way to do this is to rinse the steel under warm water, add a little dish soap and wipe down with a sponge.
If the sharpening steel is particularly clogged up then adding some vinegar to the cleaning process should help to remove the build-up.