What is a Ceramic Honing Rod, and How to Use One to Keep Your Knives Sharp
November 28, 20225 min read
A ceramic honing rod is a must-have tool to help you get the most out of your kitchen knives, but what are they? How do they work? Today, we'll learn all about honing rods, why you need one, and how to use them. Prepare to read the words "honing rod" A LOT.
What is a Ceramic Honing Rod?
The Ceramic rod is to your knives what a toothbrush is to your teeth. You brush your teeth, so you don’t have to see the dentist as often; you use your honing rod, so you don’t need to sharpen your knife as often. A ceramic honing rod is similar to a European knife steel, but it’s made from a much harder material with a smoother surface. This makes it more suitable for harder steels and fine edges, such as those found on Japanese knives. Ceramic is quite fragile, but ours are made with a steel rod in the core to help them survive being dropped!
How Does a Ceramic Honing Rod Work?
They are quite different from steel or diamond rods, which can grind a lot of steel off your edge. As you use your knife, it develops tiny ‘burrs’, rough bits of the edge that have bent out of shape. Ceramic gently pushes them back into alignment or knocks them off entirely, straightening the edge without removing more steel than necessary. This means that your knife stays sharp much longer without having to be sharpened as often.
Does a Ceramic Honing Rod Sharpen Your Knife?
Nope! While they remove a microscopic amount of steel, they remove far less than a sharpening stone or steel rod. Sharpening stones work by completely re-grinding the edge of your knife, while the rod just maintains the existing edge. Both are necessary, but sharpening shortens the lifespan of the knife, so the better you use the rod, the longer your knife will last!
How do I Use a Ceramic Honing Rod?
Place a folded rag on your cutting board and place the rod upright with the tip on the towel. This will help keep it in place while pressing a sharp knife against it. Set the knife to the angle you prefer (15 degrees for Japanese knives, 20 degrees for most non-Japanese), and gently drag the edge along the ceramic from the heel to the tip in a downward slicing motion. Switch to the other side of the rod and repeat the motion. Continue 10-20 times, alternating sides as you go.
Knifewear’s ceramic rods have a unique design: the hilt acts as an angle guide when you place the spine of your knife along it. The skinnier side will set a 15-degree angle for Japanese blades, while the wider side will set a 22- angle for western-style knives.
How often Should I Use a Ceramic Honing Rod?
It's sort of like asking, "how often should I brush my hair" as every knife and user are different, but here are some general guidelines. At home, use your ceramic rod once or twice a week, more if you're hard on your knives or do a LOT of cooking. You won't do any damage by using them every time you use your knife, but it might be overkill.
For professionals, it's a different story. I've found that honing every hour or so of work does the trick. In a professional environment, our knives are getting a different kind of workout and getting sharpened way more often; anything you can do to help your knife last longer is a plus. Presentation & precise cuts are also way more important, so when in doubt, hone it out!
White v.s. Black Honing Rods - Which do I Need?
We carry two types of honing rods: a hard black one and an even harder white one. The black is slightly finer while the white is slightly coarser, a bit like a 4,000 grit stone v.s. a 6,000 grit stone. If you are a frequent honer, the black rod will be a little easier on your edge and offer a slightly smoother polish, but it must be used more often. The white rod is better for most folks because most of us are tough on our knives and forget to hone regularly. The harder material's rougher texture will bring the edge back from a further state of dullness and is a must for professional chefs.
Those who are serious about their knife collection will have both: a black rod for extreme fine-tuning and the collector’s pieces and a white rod for the daily workhorse. Both also come in handy when sharpening, as the coarse rod will clear off burrs from your stone, and the black rod will act as a finishing touch.
Using a Leather Strop after a Honing Rod
So you want to get super serious? You’re a big knife-nerd like us, and you wanna engage the warp drive? For that, you’ll need a strop.
Originally for barbers, strops give the final, razor-like edge that our knives have out of the box. The incredibly fine texture of latigo leather grabs any lingering burrs and cleans ‘em up. The polish you get is so unreal you can even see your reflection on the edge if you’ve done it right.
While a solid slab of leather works well, a two-step approach is best. Our strops come with a suede side and a leather side. The real pros load the suede side with Chromium Oxide, a super-fine polishing compound used by jewellers. It grabs burrs with a spider-man-like grip and gives you that extra “oomph” when polishing your edge. Finish off on the leather side, and your knives will be molecule-splitting sharp.
Do I have to sharpen my knives if I use a Honing Rod?
Even the best knives go dull. Brushing your teeth properly will mean you see the dentist less, but you still have to go for your checkups. Knife edges are much the same.
When you find that your blade is no longer ‘cutting it’ and your honing rod and strop no longer help, you’ve got two choices:
First, you can bring it to us. We are pros at knife sharpening, and we give half of the proceeds of all our sharpening charges to charity. If the knife is from us, the first sharpening is free. We even have a mail-in service for out-of-towners!
Alternatively, you can learn to sharpen them yourself. Knife sharpening is a fun and useful hobby and is easier than you might think! We host knife sharpening classes twice per week that give you two hours of hands-on instruction, a $50 credit to spend on gear, plus 10% off of any sharpening stones that you need. If you can’t make it in, check out our knife-sharpening tutorial videos on YouTube.
Now you are well equipped with all of the knowledge (and hopefully gear) you need to keep your knives sharp. Should you ever have questions, we are always here to help. Happy honing!
Owen is another ex-chef among our ranks. After Chef-ing in Edmonton for around 12 years, he gave it up to be a human being again! He moved out to manage the Vancouver shop in 2018 and never looked back. Later, nerds! He can almost definitely beat you in a game of Street Fighter. come chat with him about football, steel, and how we are, once again, living in a golden age of rap music!