Have you ever had a car that was out alignment? It still got you to where you were going, but it probably pulled a little to one side and it wasn’t good for your tires.
It’s the same way with a knife. A sharpening steel (like the one seen above) doesn’t sharpen your knife. What it really does is fix the alignment of the blade. If you really need your knife sharpened, contact a specialty shop which sells Henckels or Wustof knives; they should be able to tell you where to take your knife to have it sharpened.
A few obvious warnings – you only use a sharpening steel with with a smooth knife blade such as a chef’s knife or a paring knife. Do not use it on a knife with a serrated or scalloped blade. There are also a few really rare kitchen knives which aren’t supposed to be sharpened this way. If you have one of those, you were probably sold special honing tools when you bought the knife.
Second warning – when you’re running the knife blade down the sharpening steel, always run the blade away from yourself.
What do I use? I have a J.A. Henckels 9-Inch Poly Sharpening Steel. I’d estimate that I’ve used my paring knife at least 7,000 times and my chef’s knife around 4,000 times. Because I hone them before almost every use, they still cut as well as they did when I purchased them almost 20 years ago.
So, how do you use your sharpening steel? Rub the edge of the knife blade along the length of the steel at about a 20 degree angle. Do this 4 to 5 times for each side of the blade.
Norman Weinstein knows knifes. For over 10 years, Norman was a knife instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education. Plus, he has written an excellent book Mastering Knife Skills: The Essential Guide to the Most Important Tools in Your Kitchen. I know you’re wondering how you can learn knife skills from a book, but Mastering Knife Skills also includes a 30 minute DVD which demonstrates the techniques taught in the book.