How to Hand Sharpen a Knife With a Butcher's Steel

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A butcher's steel isn't used to sharpen a knife but rather to true, or hone, the blade immediately after the knife has been sharpened on a sharpening stone. When performed correctly, truing perfects and smooths out irregularities and keep the knife's edge in alignment. Steels come with coarse, medium or fine grains. Although traditionally made from hard steel, glass, ceramic and diamond-dust coated versions are also used. All steels are designed with a guard or hilt between the handle and steel to protect you from an accident. When using one, it should be held with your thumb and fingers safely behind the guard.

  • Allow yourself plenty of workspace and stand with your weight evenly distributed.

  • Hold the steel and the knife away from your body. Make sure your thumb and fingers are safely behind the steel's guard.

  • Hold the steel in one hand and the knife in the other. Start with the knife held nearly vertically, with the heel of the blade resting on the inner side of the steel at a 20-degree angle.

  • Draw the blade along the entire length of the steel, rotating your wrist to bring the blade down in a smooth arc so that the entire length passes along the steel. Pass the blade along the steel lightly and evenly without pressing down or grinding. This is critical in preventing the knife from slipping and causing an injury when too much pressure is applied.

  • Keep the blade in contact with the steel until the very tip of the blade so it is evenly honed. Avoid striking the steel guard with the knife tip.

  • Return the blade to a nearly vertical position and repeat the above steps, only this time on the other side of the steel to true the other side of the knife.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use no more than five or six strokes on each side of the blade.
  • A steel should always be within reach any time you are using a knife.
  • Hone your knife regularly with a steel and you'll rarely need to sharpen them on a stone.
  • It's important to keep the pressure even as you pass the blade along the steel. This prevents wearing away the metal in the center of the knife, which over time can create a curve in the edge.

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  • Photo Credit Sherry Van Der Elst
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