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Best honing steel for Japanese knives

A good knife is essential for Japanese cooking
A good knife is essential for Japanese cooking

A Japanese chef knife is an investment, providing you with a fantastic experience while cooking. Like any investment, however, you need to look after it and keep it in good shape. This is where honing steels come in, for re-aligning the edge between uses.

Aside from not smashing your knife against metal, ceramic, frozen food or leaving it in a dirty pile of dishes, a honing steel is a great way to keep your Japanese knife sharp.

While many people will tell you to never think of using a honing steel on a Japanese knife, that isn’t entirely true. It is important, however, that you pick a honing rod suitably designed for use with Japanese knives, as the type of steel used is different to German or American blades, but more on that later.

We’ve put in the research to provide the information you need to make an informed decision before purchasing a honing rod for your Japanese knives. Plus a few suggestions for the best options. After all, a sharp knife is a safe knife!

What type of honing steel is best for a Japanese knife?

There are two general rules to consider when buying a honing steel for use with any knife. Firstly, it is important that the rod is longer than the knife you plan to use it with. Usually, an inch or two is plenty of excess length. This will let you hone your knife with far greater ease, and also with a higher level of accuracy and safety- giving you better results and a sharper knife.

The other important consideration when purchasing a honing steel are the properties of what it is made from. It’s vital that the metal, ceramic, or other material is harder than the knife it is being used with. If the honing steel is softer then you will actually end up damaging your knife.

How does honing steel work?

All good chefs know a sharp knife is a safe knife
All good chefs know a sharp knife is a safe knife

A honing steel works by aligning the edge of the blade, while sharpening stones are generally what you need to actually sharpen the knife by removing material. Many people say that due to the high hardness rating of the steel used in most Japanese knives that you should never use a honing steel. However, if the honing rod is made of a tougher material than the blade, then it is a useful tool to have and will not damage your knife.

Japanese blades often rate high on the Rockwell hardness scale. So the only type of honing steel that is suitable is not actually steel at all, but the ceramic type of honing rods. Be aware though, that most of these will also act slightly like using a whetstone, and will actually remove microscopic particles from the blade while using it. This means they will actually sharpen your knife a little bit as well as re-aligning the edge and removing burrs.

Why buy a honing rod for my Japanese knife?

It’s a classic saying in professional kitchens that a sharp knife is a safe knife. If your knife isn’t sharp then not only will the quality of the food you cut be less, but you are also increasing the risk of the blade slipping and hurting yourself.

While it is very important to use a set of sharpening whetstones from time to time to keep that edge razor sharp like new, a honing steel is also important. It is impractical to pull out a set of pre-soaked stones and run a few passes as often as necessary. Overuse of these stones will also wear down your blade faster than using a steel to keep it sharp. Using a honing steel is easy to learn, fast, and an efficient way to keep your Japanese knives’ blades in optimal condition.

Best honing steels for Japanese Knives

Messermeister Ceramic Rod Knife Sharpener, 12-Inch

This industrial strength ceramic honing steel has a  1200 grit rating. It will remove tiny amounts of metal dust as well as realign the edge of your knife. This means it actually sharpens to a certain extent, allowing you to wait even longer between needing to sharpen on stones.

This model has received great reviews and is recommended by many professional chefs, as well as countless home cooks. Like all ceramic rods, this model will break if you are not careful and you drop it. However, it is a tougher strength than many ceramic steels, and if cared for properly it will last for decades of use.

See the Messermeister Ceramic Rod Knife Sharpener, 12-Inch at Amazon

Mac Knife Ceramic Honing Rod, 10.5-Inch, Black

Mac Knife Ceramic Honing Rod, 10-1/2-Inch, Black Black ceramic is harder than the traditional white/cream colored ceramic. This makes it perfect for knives with a high score on the Rockwell hardness scale, like most Japanese knives. It has a 2000 grit edge, and will not remove material from your knife. It will just hone and realign your blade’s edge, and not sharpen it like stones or diamond coated products will.

At 10.5-inches, this rod isn’t the longest steel available, but it is suitable for most knives up to around 9-inches in blade length. While not the cheapest model available, if care is taken to neither drop or bang it, this very hard ceramic honing rod will last for decades of use. It is wonderfully designed, especially for use with Japanese knives which generally have a very hard steel type. And many chefs regularly recommend it as the only honing steel suitable for Japanese blades.

See the Mac Knife Ceramic Honing Rod, 10.5-Inch, Black at Amazon

Best honing steel for use with Japanese Knives

Japanese knives differ from most western style chef knives as they tend to have a much harder type of steel in their blades. This can make it difficult to find a suitable honing steel because if the steel isn’t harder than the blade, it can actually damage the knife. After much research, we recommend the Mac Knife Ceramic Honing Rod for use with Japanese knives. Stay sharp people!

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Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Neil C and Tommy G


Bubbly Chef author

I'm Hayley. I'm the bubbly chef because food is always a celebration! I love wine, holidays and tasty food. It's so much fun to get together with friends over good food & drink. Whether it be at home or out on the town, you'll find me taking notes in the kitchen!