Honing in on Truly Sharp Cutlery


| December/January 2005

  • Gary McLaughlin

Quality cutlery allows you to cut food more efficiently, attractively and safely. But no matter what quality of cutlery you use, allowing knives to become dull makes kitchen prep more difficult and potentially dangerous. Before you rush out to buy a knife sharpener, you need to understand the difference between sharpening and honing. Although you need to do both regularly, these two tasks require different tools.


For best results, have your knives professionally sharpened once every six to 12 months, depending upon how often you use them. A knife-sharpening expert can do this for you, using machinery too large and costly to keep in your home. Check the yellow pages in your area for a shop that sells knives and offers this service. Call gourmet kitchen and cutlery shops in your area; if they don’t sharpen knives, they can refer you to a skilled machinist who does. Sharpening fees often cost approximately $1 per knife.

In between professional sharpenings, you’ll need to hone your knives at least once a week. The more chopping and cooking you do, the more often you’ll need to hone the blades you use most frequently.


Honing maintains the edge of a sharpened knife once it has “turned” due to daily use. Most professional chefs use sharpening steels to maintain their knife edges. The steel should be at least two inches longer than your longest knife blade and you must hold the knife at a constant 15- to 25-degree angle, depending on the type of knife, as you move it from one side to the other across the steel in an arching motion.

This requires skill, and many home cooks have difficulty getting the angle right. As a result, they may dull or damage their knives, or fail to create a consistently sharp edge.

For ease and simplicity, you can buy a simple device that holds your knife at the precise angle, honing the blade in half the time required by conventional steeling. These easy-to-use tools require no special skills. They eliminate the uncertainty and inconsistency of using an unguided steel. They take up very little space and allow you to fine-tune knife blades within minutes. A good one will set you back less than $45.

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