How to Use a Knife Sharpener Rod

“A kitchen without a knife is not a kitchen.”

-Iron Chef Masahoru Morimoto

This ca be no further from the truth! Added to this is the reality that not only does a kitchen need a knife. It also needs a sharp knife! Indeed, there is nothing more convenient to use than a newly purchased knife that can sink its blade into anything it is supposed to cut. Unfortunately, due to constant use, knives do tend to become dull. Blame it on microscopic changes that can affect the edges of the blade which ultimately decrease the blade’s sharpness. This problem, however, does not come without a solution. Besides a knife, the next best friend of a cook is a knife sharpening rod, otherwise known as a honing rod. These usually come with knife sets and are meant to restore the knife’s blades to its original form – if not as close to its original form.

For those just starting out, you may want to know more about the use of knife sharpening rods and how they can keep your knives in their best shape.

What are knife sharpening rods and are they really necessary?

Knife sharpening rods are also called “sharpening steels” or “honing rods”. While their names may be associated with the word “sharpen”, they do not necessarily sharpen the knife’s blade. Knives usually lose their sharpness due to changes on the blade’s edge resulting from constant use. What these rods do is that they smoothen these edges and correct any minor nicks or bends in order to restore the smoothness of the blade.

After using your knife for quite some time, they may start to feel dull and inefficient. This is the time when you should start passing your knife through a sharpening rod in order to restore the blade’s smoothness. This will definitely be most noticeable when you start using your knife on tough meat or hard-to-cut ingredients.

When should you start using a sharpening rod?
A simple test to use to know if you need to use a sharpening rod is the paper test. With the paper test, you simply have to hold the knife upright while running it upward against the paper. Your knife should be able to go through the paper smoothly. If the knife can’t run smoothly against the paper, then you should try running the knife through a sharpening rod a couple of times. Repeat the paper test until you see the knife running smoothly against the paper.

So how do you use a sharpening rod?
There are many methods that you will be able to read about from books or even online. Some might prove to be challenging since they ask that you draw the knife towards your body. There is an easier and much safer way though of doing so.

1. Get your knife sharpening rod and place it on a work surface. Make sure that the rod is facing downward. Hold the rod by its handle, making sure that your hand is protected by the guard at the top of the handle. Angle the sharpening rod, making sure that it is pointed towards the work surface. Make sure that it is stable and that it doesn’t slip during sharpening.

2. As you hold the rod, make sure that there is a space between you and the rod that is at least an arm’s length. This is to prevent any injury that may happen during the sharpening process.

3. Get the knife that you plan to sharpen and start positioning it against the sharpening rod. Make sure that the knife blade is positioned near the handle of the sharpening rod.

4. Fix your knife making sure that the knife is tilted at a 15-degree angle. The angle, however, can be adjusted in order for you to achieve the blade edge that you would like to have. As a rule, a wider angle makes for a thicker edge. A smaller angle formed between the blade and the sharpening rod makes for a sharper blade.

5. Start sliding the blade against the rod by pulling the knife towards you. Do this in a slow, smooth pulling action. Only light pressure should be used while doing this procedure. Make sure that this action is done slowly to prevent accidents from happening. Do this for around five to ten times.

6. After finishing on one side of the knife, repeat the same procedure on the other side.

When the whole procedure is finished, clean the knife by washing it under running water. Dry the knife after using a soft, clean piece of cloth. This is to make sure that any microscopic debris that comes off during honing is removed from the knife’s blade before the knife is once again put to use.

Test the knife using the paper test after using the sharpening rod. If you are still not able to use the knife against a piece of paper, then it might be because the knife has already some major defects, like nicks or deformed areas, that will require professional sharpening.

What other things do you need to know about using a sharpening rod?
When buying a sharpening rod, make sure that it isn’t shorter than the knife that you plan to hone. It should be of the same length, if not slightly longer than the knife you have.

Always store your knife sharpening rod in a place that is within easy reach. This is for you to be able to get hold of the rod, even in the middle of cooking when you need it. Knife blades can easily be malformed when cut through different surfaces. If something doesn’t feel right, have the knife blade run through the sharpening rod using a couple of strokes so you won’t have to sharpen the knife using a whetstone.

A common mistake for many is to use heavy pressure when honing a knife. Actually, honing your knife involves very little pressure. To know if you are using the right amount of pressure, listen to the sound the blade makes as it goes through the rod. It should be a quiet sound and not a raspy one. A raspy sound usually indicates heavy pressure during honing and should be avoided. Angle your knife at 15 degrees since this is the most ideal angle for honing your knife.

What are the advantages of using a sharpening rod?
You may think that owning a sharpening rod in your kitchen isn’t an “investment” when, in fact, it is.
1. Sharpening rods can actually save you time and money since you are spared of the extra expenses of having to bring your knife to a professional for honing services. You also are spared some time and effort of having to bring your knife to some other place just to get the job done.

2. Using a sharpening rod is easy and uncomplicated. It takes just a few easy steps your knife to maintain its sharp edge.

3. Using a sharpening rod helps extend your knife’s life so you can use it for many years. Maintaining your knife through honing keeps your knife’s blade in the same condition as when you first purchased it.

Knives may seem to be quite simple kitchen tools and indeed, they are. They are one of the most useful tools to have as well. Like any other tool though, knives need to be maintained so they can be used for a long time. Having a sharpening rod in your home is the best way to do this. Keeping one in your home will be a big help in the long run.

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