One of the first things any chef learns is how to care for their knives, and the importance of having a nice sharp knife. Not only are you less likely to cut yourself, but the food you cook will be better quality with your more accurate and finer knife-work.
If you have spent good money investing in a Shun knife (or a set of these top quality blades), then you need to keep them in top condition. While a steel will not actually sharpen your knife (contrary to popular belief), it will hone your blade and keep it acting sharp for longer between sharpenings. There is a wide range of honing steels available though, and the prices can vary dramatically. We’ve put in the research, combined with years of our own experience with Shun knives, to tell you what you need to know and suggest the best steels for Shun knives.
What’s the difference?
Firstly, it is important you note that honing steels hone your blade, rather than sharpen them. They simply realign the microscopic edge of your blade making it act sharper for longer, but generally, you will still need to sharpen it depending on how often it is used. Honing steels are available in a few different materials.
Ceramics are the most effective but can be complicated to find the correct one. Ceramic steels with the correct hardness rating will not just hone but also sharpen by shaving away tiny particles of metal. This can be useful if you have good technique and do not already have a sharpening system.
The most common type of honing steel is, well, steel. Generally, steel steels are not that suitable for Japanese type knives. However, Shun knives use a slightly softer steel type, more similar to traditional European blades. Therefore, if it is good quality, a steel rod should work well with your Shun knives. Learn more about honing steels specifically designed for Japanese knives here.
Do I really need a honing steel?
Yes, you do. A steel (honing rod) will help keep your blades in top condition, ready to cut anything with precision. This isn’t just a safety thing, although a sharp knife is less likely to slip and cut you. Keeping your knives sharp will actually improve the quality of your food.
While regular sharpening is important, a steel will help realign the edge of the blade and keep it performing like it is brand new. If you choose a ceramic steel, then that will remove a little bit of the metal by shaving off burrs from the edge of the blade- not just honing but sharpening as well, making your life even easier.
Mac Knife Ceramic Honing Rod, 10-1/2-Inch, Black
Made with black ceramic with around a 2000 grit edge, this ceramic honing steel is a great choice for any knife. Black ceramic is a lot harder than the more common creamy colored ceramic, and so is even suitable for knives with a high score on the rockwell hardness scale, like most Japanese knives.
While it is ceramic, users say it doesn’t remove much, if any, material from the blade edge. That means this is much closer to a traditional steel made of steel, as it just hones rather than sharpens like stones or diamond coated steels will. The downside is that because it is ceramic, it is far more likely to break than other honing rods. Because of its high durability and hardness rating, this steel is useful for any knife, including the difficult to sharpen Japanese blades. If you treat it with respect and don’t drop it, this black ceramic honing rod will give you great results for years.
Shun DM0750 Honing Steel
Made by the well respected Shun company, this is a durable stain-resistant steel rod with protective finger guard and comfortable pakkawood handle. Shun products are made in Seki City, Japan, a place with a long history of renowned sword manufacturing. With its lifetime warranty, this steel will keep your Shun and other knives in razor-sharp condition.
At nine and a quarter inches in length, this is certainly not the longest steel available, which can make it awkward to use. However, it is a fantastic option for any knife up to around an eight and a half blade length. Because it is a steel honing rod, if you are using with Shun or other Japanese knives, be aware you will need to use a lower angle than if using with German or American steel blades. Usually, this is around 15-20 degrees, while closer to 30 degrees is better for the European style of steel. Don’t worry though, this Shun honing steel includes a flat angled feature that will act as a visual guide to help you get the correct 16.5-degree angle that is the best for Shun knives.
Keep your Shun the sharpest
If you’ve spent good money on a decent knife like a Shun, then you probably already know how important it is to keep your baby sharp both for safety and results. Using a honing steel between sharpenings will keep it in top condition, ready to slice through whatever challenges you have for it. Steels vary a lot in size, material, and of course price. For your money, we can recommend the Shun DM0750 steel as the best honing rod you can use for your Shun knives, as well as the rest of your collection. Keep sharp!
Image credit via Flickr Creative Commons: Matt F