The Secret to a Chef’s Knife: Sharpening Stones Vs. Steels

The Secret to a Chef’s Knife_ Sharpening Stones Vs. Steels


Knives are arguably the most critical tool in a chef's arsenal, enabling precise cuts that translate to better-tasting food. Whether slicing, dicing, or filleting, a sharp blade is a chef's best ally. But what keeps those blades sharp? That's where sharpening tools come into play. Professional chefs primarily use two types of tools to maintain their knives: sharpening stones and honing steels. Let's dissect the world of culinary blade maintenance to understand which tool chefs prefer and why.

Sharpening Stones: The Precision Tool

Also known as whetstones, sharpening stones have been used for millennia to keep blades sharp. These stones come in different grits, much like sandpaper, enabling chefs to reshape and refine their knives with incredible precision.

Sharpening stones are the favored tool for dull blades that need to be brought back to life. They remove metal from the blade, creating a new sharp edge. The coarser the stone's grit, the more material it removes, and the sharper it makes the edge. For instance, a 200-grit stone is perfect for restoring a very dull knife, while a 1000-grit stone will give you a finely honed edge suitable for most kitchen tasks.

The most skilled chefs in the world prefer sharpening stones because they offer control and versatility. They can tailor the angle and pressure to create the perfect edge, suited to the task at hand, be it slicing delicate sashimi or chopping through hard root vegetables. Sharpening stones also allow for maintenance of single-bevel knives, popular in Japanese cuisine, which require an asymmetrical edge not easily achieved with other tools.

Honing Steels: The Quick Fix

Contrary to what their name suggests, honing steels don't actually sharpen knives. Instead, they realign the blade's edge. During regular use, a knife's microscopic edge tends to bend and warp, causing the knife to feel dull. A honing steel pushes this edge back into place, restoring the knife's cutting power without removing any material.

Professional chefs often use honing steels in busy kitchens for a quick fix. They are an excellent tool for maintaining an edge between sharpenings, especially for knives in constant use. However, they are not meant to restore truly dull blades; that's a job for a sharpening stone.

Chefs who work with Western-style knives find honing steels particularly useful. These knives typically have a symmetrical, robust edge that can withstand regular realignment without chipping. Honing a knife is faster than sharpening it, making honing steels a go-to for chefs who need to keep their tools sharp during a bustling dinner service.

The Verdict: A Harmonious Duo

So, do professional chefs use sharpening stones or honing steels? The answer, for most, is both. Each tool has a specific purpose and time to be used, and understanding these can help maintain a knife's optimum performance over a long period.

Sharpening stones are the primary tool for initially setting and restoring a knife's edge. They are also indispensable for maintaining the complex edges of Japanese and other single-bevel knives. They provide a level of control and precision unmatched by any other sharpening tool.

Honing steels, on the other hand, are perfect for regular maintenance. They can keep a knife working at its best between sharpenings and are an excellent tool for busy professionals who need a quick edge fix.

Thus, sharpening stones and honing steels work in harmony, not opposition. Both are integral to a professional kitchen, each catering to different aspects of blade maintenance. Chefs wield them in unison to ensure their most crucial tool, their knife, remains in peak condition.


To think like a chef, we must consider our knives as they do: a crucial extension of our culinary skills. While both sharpening stones and honing steels play critical roles, knowing when and how to use them can make all the difference.

Sharpening stones are the go-to for setting edges, repairing damaged knives, and maintaining specialty blades. Honing steels are the chef’s secret for keeping a knife razor-sharp during a busy service.

Ultimately, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' in the culinary world. The use of sharpening stones or honing steels varies based on factors like knife style, kitchen demands, and personal preferences. However, one truth remains: a sharp knife is a chef's best friend, and maintaining that edge is an art in itself.

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