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Apr 14, 2008 03:50 PM

How do I sharpen a sharpening steel?

OK, maybe this is the dumbest post of the new millenium but do sharpening steels wear out to the point that they no longer perform? I have a Henkels that used to have finely rifled ridges and did a great job. After 18 years, its pretty smooth and with not much improvement to the knives after sharpening (I know, technique a topic for another post). So, do these get chucked or can they be revitalized?

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  1. A steel with grooves is a file. They wear out, it's the nature of files. Toss it.

    1. Take a bar towel and wet it. Apply a liberal amount of Kosher salt. Wrap it around the steel and polish the steel with the salt. You will suprised how much crud comes out. Some times you can revitalize a steel like this. It's worth a try! ;)

      6 Replies
      1. re: Docsknotinn

        Try cleaning it per the above post - the description is spot-on, but if its smooth, time for a new one. And although you reference technique, etc. call it a honing steel.. helps cut down on the perception of its being a sharpening tool.

        1. re: grant.cook

          If it's got ridges, it's a file. It removes metal from the knife. That makes it a sharpening tool.

          1. re: dscheidt

            True, you can use a steel to try to put a new edge on a knife... Doesn't mean its well suited for what has to get done, or the only tool (or service - I send mine out couple of times a year) that you need to be able to access to keep your knives in good shape. The point is many home chefs run their blades over the steel a few times and think that's all it takes... then they injure themselves with a dull edge that they have to use too much force with..

            1. re: dscheidt

              No - actually a knife honing steel, the kind that comes with virtually any and all knife block sets, is not meant for sharpening. It's meant to realign or "hone" the edge of the knife so that the edge is once again a focused point. It does not remove metal in any noticeable amount to be referred to as truly sharpening.

              Sharpening is removing metal.

              Honing is realigning the edge.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                If it's got ridges in it, it's a file. It removes metal. It may, or may not, also serve to burnish the edge, which is the point of a steel. Every steel I've seen included in a set of knives has been of the file type. There do exist actual steels, which are simply a smooth round or oval rod of hardened steel, often coated in hard chrome. These work the way you've been told a steel does; one with ridges doesn't. It removes metal, along with plastically deforming the edge.

                Now, most ridged steels are very ineffective at removing metal, and would take ages to actually sharpen a dull knife. But they will, eventually, if used with the correct technique.

                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  Actually those common grooved steels are quite aggressive at removing metal. They are in fact a file. A smooth steel will realign an edge but even a smooth steel has some abrasiveness. In a home kitchen or even a professional kitchen it is important to keep the edge sharp. You can sharpen an edge to be super sharp, very polished, strong and can push cut through a rope but will not cut a tomato due to the soft squishy nature of the tomato. For some jobs there needs to be some toothiness to the edge. When you sharpen even with stones you will get fine scratches in the edge. The finer the grit the finer the scratches but these act like micro serrations. A little bit is desirable in general kitchen work. German steel is softer than Japanese as a rule and so there will be more deformity in the edge and steeling is advisable on occasion but don't think that it's just aligning the edge it not.

          2. Clean using the towel and salt method or using a piece of butcher twine on a regular basis. Yes, dsheldt, if it has ridges it is a file, and yes if you have the patience of Job and correct technique you can technically sharpen a knife with a steel, or you could go for the whole hog and grab this puppy it is one of the finest sharpening systems out there, and then finish it off with the steel, which, although technically a file, should be used strictly for honing the edge.