What's the difference between honed and sharpened knives?

What most people consider sharpening or home sharpening a knife is actually a process called honing. In most cases the tool frequently referred to as sharpening steel is actually a honing steel. So how is honing different from sharpening?

To understand the difference, we first need to explain why and how knives get dull. On a dull knife, the sharp edge to the blade has been lost and/or the metal in the blade's edge is no longer aligned properly due to use. Even if the edge of the blade is still sharp, just losing that alignment of the edge means that it won't cut through food properly.

So how can a knife get that sharp edge and alignment back? This is where honing and sharpening come in:

  • Honing: A honing steel or home pull through knife sharpener basically pushes the edge of the knife back to the center and straightens it. It corrects the edge without shaving off much of the blade's material. Honing does not actually sharpen the knife, but if done properly, the knife will seem sharper because the blade is now in the proper position. Honing can easily be done at home and should be done often — ideally knives should be honed before each use.

  • Sharpening: Sharpening, on the other hand, is a process where bits of metal or ceramic are ground and shaved off the blade to produce a new, sharp edge. It can be done using a variety of tools such as a water stone, whetstone, or large professional electric knife sharpener. Sharpening can be done less frequently than honing — just a few times a year depending on how much use the knife gets. With training, patience, and the right sharpening stones, basic knife sharpening can be achieved at home. To get real results, there is no other way than giving your knives into the hands of highly skilled professionals that use professional grade tools to sharpen knives.

Professional sharpening will prolong the lifespan of a knife, will make it more fun to use and can repair dents, broken tips, and even bent knives.