If you want to always have sharp knives in your kitchen, it’s important to learn how to hone them. Besides avoiding damaging your knives by using them on hard surfaces or frozen foods, regularly honing them is the best way to keep them sharp. In fact, it’s crucial to hone them consistently, as honing is a sacred task that requires dedication. We’re not exaggerating when we say that honing is the most important thing you can do to maintain sharpness. And the best part is, it’s simple!

Type and Length of Hone

We highly recommend using a fine-grit ceramic rod as a honing steel. This type of rod is extremely hard, causing minimal damage to your knives, and is particularly suitable for German-style knives and many Japanese hybrids. We received this recommendation from a professional sharpener who trained under Bob Kramer of Kramer Knives fame, and it has also been endorsed by other sharpeners. Based on what we’ve learned, it appears to be the wisest choice, although it’s worth noting that most ceramic hones are prone to breaking if dropped.

When choosing a hone/steel, it’s important to consider its length. The general rule of thumb is that the ceramic part (excluding the handle) should be a few inches longer than your longest knife. This ensures ease of use. There are various brands and models of fine-grit ceramic rods available, but we can personally vouch for two high-quality options: the DMT CS2 12-Inch Ceramic Steel and the Messermeister 12-Inch Ceramic Rod. We own the DMT rod and have had the opportunity to handle the Messermeister as well. (See photo below for KKG’s DMT ceramic honing rod.)


When learning how to sharpen a knife, there are three important points to keep in mind:

1) Maintain the correct angle consistently. This will be explained shortly.
2) Apply gentle pressure, just slightly more than the weight of the knife itself.
3) Avoid excessive sharpening. Typically, 3 or 4 swipes per side are sufficient

It’s crucial to understand that honing a knife is different from sharpening. Sharpening actually grinds away metal to create a new edge, whereas honing, done with a hone or steel, is simply realigning the blade. For more information, refer to the article The Ultimate Guide to Honing Your Knives.

Honing Angle

The purpose of honing is to glide the hone along the knife at the exact angle it has been sharpened, which may vary depending on the knife’s design and the person who last sharpened it. Does it seem like a chaotic process? Not at all. This is because there exist well-established traditions and standards in place.

If you have a German-style knife, such as Henckels, Wusthof, or Sabatier, which are the most common types, there is no need to worry. Traditionally, German knives are manufactured with two even edges, both set at an angle of 20–22 degrees. However, it’s worth noting that standards have been changing recently, and in the past few years, both Henckels and Wusthof have started sharpening their knives at 14–15 degrees per side. Additionally, some professional sharpening services may go even further and sharpen the edges to sharper angles, as experienced with my personal sharpener in Seattle. Nonetheless, if you are unaware of these specific details, it is safe to assume that the knife has been sharpened at around 20 degrees. (Please note that the angle being referred to here is known as the “edge angle,” which represents the angle on only one side of the knife)

If you own a Japanese knife or a Japanese hybrid, it has undoubtedly undergone sharpening at a sharper angle, typically ranging from 11 to 15 degrees. Japanese knives are typically crafted from harder steel compared to German knives, enabling them to maintain a finer and more acute cutting edge.

However, things become even stranger when it comes to certain Japanese knives. These knives feature a chisel edge, also known as a flat ground edge, where only one side is sharpened instead of both. Some of them even have unequal edges, such as Mashiro knives which have a 20/80 ratio. If you’re unfamiliar with the 20/80 terminology, don’t worry because it’s likely you don’t own this type of knife.

If you happen to own these unique Japanese knives as well as German-styled knives, we suggest starting with the German ones when learning how to hone a knife. In fact, for many traditional-style Japanese knives, it’s generally best to avoid honing them with a steel (ceramic or otherwise) and instead use a waterstone.

Most hybrid Japanese brands like Global, MAC, and Shun follow the Western tradition of having evenly beveled edges on both sides, allowing them to be honed. However, they require a sharper angle for honing. It’s worth noting that Global’s sashimi knives are a notable exception as they have a chisel edge. Once again, it is essential to understand the specific edge of the knife you’re working with because honing at the wrong angle can further dull the edge rather than restoring its sharpness.

Honing Lesson

Here is a revised version of the content:

“There are various techniques people employ to sharpen their knives, some of which are quite flashy and showy. However, the technique we recommend is the safest and most reliable, especially for those of us who don’t sharpen knives frequently.

Here are the steps to follow:

1) Place a cutting board or a dish towel underneath the hone as a protective buffer. Stand the hone on your kitchen counter in a vertical position, with the ceramic tip resting on the counter. If you are right-handed, hold the hone with your left hand, or vice versa.

2) Now, let’s approximate the correct angle:

Tip 1: Hold the knife in your right hand and bring the blade close to the hone, maintaining a 90-degree angle (parallel to the counter, as if you’re going to slice the hone in two). Visualize this invisible 90-degree angle. Then, rotate the spine of the knife so that it now divides that imaginary 90-degree angle in half—this results in 45 degrees. Halve the angle once more, and you have 22.5 degrees. You can keep it at that angle or slightly adjust it to around 20 degrees if you prefer. This is the appropriate angle for honing a German knife.”

Please note that knife sharpening can be a delicate task, and it’s important to exercise caution and follow proper techniques to ensure safety and the best results.


Tip 2: Begin by folding a sheet of paper diagonally, creating a 45-degree angle. Then, fold this in half to achieve a 22.5-degree angle, resembling one half of a paper plane. Adjust the size by trimming it down until it can be comfortably held with one hand. Now, position your knife against the folded paper, ensuring a snug fit. For a sharper angle, particularly useful for Japanese knives, fold the paper once more to obtain an 11.25-degree angle. Slightly extend your knife outwards by 15 degrees to cheat the angle.

Initially, you might find the angles a bit unclear, but with practice, your ability to perceive them will improve.

3) To begin, position the knife at the correct angle with the heel (base) of the knife resting on the top of the hone. With gentle pressure, pull the knife towards you, allowing the blade to smoothly glide down the hone. Remember to apply very light pressure throughout the process. As the blade approaches the tip of the hone, ensure that you are at the tip of the knife. Be cautious not to exert excessive force; instead, rely on the weight of the knife with a slight additional pressure. It is important to note that you should avoid letting the tip of the knife slide off the edge of the hone. Try to stop the movement while the tip is still on the hone, as continued sliding off the edge may lead to the rounding of the tip over time. Personally, we are still working on mastering this technique.

4) Take the opposite side of the knife and place it on the hone. Initially, it might feel a bit awkward, but you’ll soon get the hang of it. Don’t worry about the speed; you can go as slow as you like since it doesn’t affect the quality, and nobody’s watching you!

5) Alternate between sides—swipe once on the first side and then once on the other side. Repeat this process around 2 or 3 times per side. If your knife was already in decent condition, it shouldn’t require much effort. Check if the edge has been restored and the knife is sharp again by trying to slice some paper. If it’s not sharp enough, perform a few more swipes.

6) If you notice that there’s minimal improvement even after performing 6 or 7 swipes per side, there are two possible reasons: a) you might not be honing at the correct angle, or b) the knife you’re working on is too damaged and needs to be sharpened. [There’s one more potential reason—c) you might not be applying enough pressure. However, we hesitate to mention it because we don’t want you to develop the habit of using excessive force.]

Angle Adjustments

Scenario 1: If the angle of your knife is too steep, too acute for the hone you’re using, you can spend hours honing without making any progress. The issue lies in the fact that the cutting edge of the knife is not making proper contact with the hone. Although the knife and hone are connected, they touch only at a steel rim that is millimeters away from the actual edge. To address this, slightly widen the angle by tilting the spine of the knife further out and away from the hone, and try again.

Scenario 2: Conversely, if your angle is too wide (which is even worse), you are actually making the knife duller instead of honing it. It’s similar to bending the steel on the edge as if you were chopping on a ceramic cutting board. In such cases, it’s crucial to stop immediately. Narrow the angle and attempt honing again.

When in doubt, always start with a steeper/smaller angle than you may think you need, and then gradually widen it if necessary. Adjusting in this manner won’t have any negative impact on the knife edge. On the other hand, following the opposite approach will unintentionally worsen the problem before improving it, which doesn’t make sense.

If, after adjusting the angle and applying slightly more pressure, you don’t observe any improvement in the sharpness of the knife edge, it’s time to stop honing. The edge of your knife is beyond repair and no amount of honing will restore it. The dullness is not merely due to temporary curling of the microscopic steel at the edge but rather because it has been completely worn down. (Refer to my article on “The Sharpening Cycle” for more information.) It’s now necessary to sharpen your knife. To be completely honest, you can somewhat revive a dead knife with a hone, but we don’t recommend it because it won’t last long, and it will also wear out your hone quickly.

Establish a Routine

How frequently should you engage in this seemingly silly ritual? Surprisingly, the ideal recommendation is to perform it every time you use a knife, especially during significant sessions like meal preparation. It may appear excessive at first, but you’ll be amazed at what you can train yourself to do and the resulting perpetual sharpness of your knife. Remember, it only takes 30 seconds.

From a technical standpoint, it’s better to hone your knife right before using it rather than afterward. The rationale behind this is that if a substantial amount of time passes between honing and usage, the knife’s edge may slightly revert and lose its sharpness. However, this isn’t a major issue. If honing it immediately before use becomes too bothersome, you can always do it later when you feel less rushed. The key is to simply do it!

Ironically, if you don’t hone your knife frequently, your technique won’t improve much, and each time you do it, it will take longer than necessary. On the other hand, the more you discipline yourself to hone regularly, the better and faster you’ll become at it, making it easier to incorporate into your routine. As a bare minimum (assuming you cook 3 or 4 times a week), you should hone your knife at least once a week. Anything less than that significantly diminishes the benefits of learning how to hone a knife. It will still be helpful, but you’ll find yourself needing to sharpen your knives sooner than required, unnecessarily depriving yourself of the advantages of working with sharp blades.

Once again, the main point is to take action! Make it a habit to hone your knife regularly.


Before we conclude, we want to emphasize the importance of storing your honing steel in a convenient and easily accessible location. Make sure it’s within reach and close to your knives, so you don’t have to struggle and search through cabinets, scattering utensils, whenever you need it. Keeping it handy will make your life easier and enable you to do what you need to do efficiently. If it doesn’t fit in your knife block (just like mine), consider storing it in a nearby drawer or hanging it on a hook where you can easily grab it.

The key here is to develop a simple and practical habit. By regularly honing your knives, you’ll always have sharp blades at your disposal. You might even become addicted to the satisfying experience. You’ll impress your friends as you effortlessly slice cucumbers paper-thin. Depending on factors such as how often you cook, how diligently you hone, and the quality of your knives, you may even go a year or longer without needing to sharpen them.

Invest in a hone today, and we assure you, you’ll never regret it!

The Knife Experts

The Knife Experts

Hi, we’re James and Luke, two Brooklyn-based chefs on a mission to help home cooks and aspiring chefs unleash their culinary potential through the mastery of kitchen knives. Join us on this journey.

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1 Comment

  1. […] WHAT IS HONING? Honing, also known as steeling, is a nondestructive method that realigns the tiny teeth comprising a knife’s edge. Over time and with improper use, these teeth can become misaligned, resulting in a duller knife. However, the knife is not actually dull; it simply requires honing. To learn more about honing, you can refer to our articles titled The Ultimate Guide to Honing Your Knives and How to Hone a Knife […]

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