Sharpening generally refers to the process of putting a sharp edge on an object. Honing, on the other hand, refers to making an existing sharp edge more keen. Honing is therefore an action that is performed after the object is sharpened, and uses slightly different tools than does sharpening.
Sharpening is a general term for the process of removing metal to put a sharp edge on a tool or implement designed for cutting. Knives, razor blades and pencils are all objects that can be sharpened. The tool or cutting instrument can either have an existing edge or point made more sharp, or have a new edge or point put onto it.
When a metal blade is sharpened, microscopic "teeth" are created along the cutting edge. These teeth become flattened when the blade is used, and honing is the word that is used to describe the action of drawing these teeth back into shape. Honing is not intended to remove metal, unlike sharpening.
A whetstone often is used in sharpening, to put an edge on a cutting instrument. A whetstone is generally made of an abrasive material, such as carborundum, that is moistened with either oil or water. The stone is then placed on a flat surface and the blade is swept across it in an arc. Alternatively, a diamond or ceramic sharpening rod may be used in place of a whetstone.
Honing uses a honing steel, which is a round or oval steel rod with a handle at one end. To hone a blade, the honing steel is held straight up and down with the tip pressed against a flat surface. The blade is held against the top of the steel at an angle, and is lightly drawn back and down. This movement is repeated for both sides of the blade until the desired sharpness has been reached.
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