A quality set of knives deserves to be looked after as much as a brand-new car, especially if they are a valued tool of your profession. From home cooks to professional chefs, a well-maintained blade can make the difference between being an ordinary cook or an exceptional chef.
But how can you reliably keep them razor-sharp and ready for action at a moment’s notice?
Although there are several techniques to keep the blade of a knife in prime cutting condition, the honing rod ranks among the most efficient and reliable.
Popular choices among chefs include honing rods made from either steel or ceramic in order to achieve this goal. But which is best for you and your kitchen?
Steel honing rods are ideal for tough, thick blades and for removing imperfections. Whereas ceramic honing rods are ideal for delicate blades and creating a superiorly sharp cutting edge.
This guide will put the ceramic and steel honing rod head to head in a battle even Hells Kitchen would be proud of. By the time you’ve finished this guide, you’ll have a deep understanding of which honing tool is best suited for your own kitchen knife and other tools.
Ceramic vs Steel Honing Rod: Key Differences
|Ceramic Honing Rod
|Steel Honing Rod
(Subject to cracking if dropped)
(Impervious to impact)
(Superior for honing to a razor-sharp edge)
(Ideal for hard steel and fixing imperfections)
|Shape of Rod
(with or without a handle)
(with or without a handle)
A ceramic rod, as the name implies, is made from ceramic. Ceramic is heat and corrosion resistant, yet despite these qualities, it is a softer knife sharpening material than steel. This has both advantages and disadvantages. Softer material causes less abrasion and stress on a delicate blade and is useful for maintaining an edge between use. However, ceramic is not ideal for resharpening or re-aligning.
Steels come in varying levels of hardness, all of which are ‘harder’ than ceramic. This makes them ideal for re-aligning a rolled or dented edge. Unlike ceramic, a steel rod has no risk of breaking if dropped. We can say the same for a diamond rod and whetstones as well.
Ceramic is available in various levels of grit, each lending to the job at hand. Courser grits are designed to cause increased friction for those blades needing more ‘oomph’ between uses, while fine grits are ideal for delicate blades and fine-tuning. Overall, many chefs prefer ceramic for enhanced precision.
The hardness of steel allows this rod to get more done faster, and have a more profound impact on larger or thicker blades (especially those with minor imperfections). It is the brut of the honing rod world, and while you can be precise with it, ceramic wins this category.
Suitable Knives for the Rods
What Types of Knives Should be Used with Ceramic Rods? Typically, the best knives to use ceramic rods on are those with thin or delicate blades, high-end knives (such as Japanese Santoku Knives), and those made from softer steels.
What Types of Knives Should be Used with Steel Rods? These rods are best suited for use on durable, rough, and rugged knives made from harder types of steel. They are also suitable for your everyday kitchen knives.
Honing rods are aptly named. Mounted to a handle (usually made of rubber, plastic, composite, ceramic, or steel), is a stick-esq looking rod. This rod is usually cylindrical of varying thicknesses and overall resembles a round knife or wand.
Shape of Steel Rods. Cylindrical rod/wand attached to a handle/grip
Shape of Ceramic Rods. Cylindrical rod/wand attached to a handle/grip
Using A Ceramic Rod
Ceramic rods have a special design that keeps the blade of the knife straight and true and is one of the best tools that chefs will keep in their kitchen.
Over a period of usage, the keen edge of a knife can develop minuscule rough bits that interfere with its cutting and slicing capacity. For some cooks, this is barely noticeable but when having to filet a fish or slice a fine cut of meat, the results speak for themselves.
What a ceramic rod does is eliminate those burrs by coaxing them back into shape and shaving off minute slivers of metal at the same time as the edge is repeatedly run over the rod.
- Lasts forever if well-maintained
- Ideal for soft steels and delicate blades
- Ideal for thin edges and superior sharpness
- Can crack or break if dropped on a hard surface
- Not ideal for straightening out a rippled or folded blade edge
- Can be more expensive
Using A Steel Rod
A steel honing rod is the most common one used even though it performs the same function as a ceramic honing rod. The reason for this is that it has a magnetizing feature that enables the fine shavings from the blade to be easily removed from the edge of the knife.
These microscopic bits can gather on the rod, however, so it needs to be cleaned frequently while honing, eliminating the risk of any tiny shavings of metal entering into the cooking process.
Being more durable than the brittle ceramic rod, the sharpening steel rod has a longer life expectancy, yet care should be taken to not use too forcefully against some hard rigid blades as it can actually cause breakage. However, you can go for a high-end Japanese knife made of carbon steel if you require more hardness and durability from your sharpening products.
- Can straighten blades
- Can remove or repair blade imperfections
- Subject to corrosion over time
- May damage softer steel or delicate blades
Watch out below video by America’s Test Kitchen where they have demonstrated different sorts of honing rods.
In the Battle of a Steel Vs Ceramic Honing Rod Which One Reigns Supreme?
There are a lot of things to consider when selecting whether to use a steel or ceramic honing rod. Each has its place, best use case, and pros and cons.
In an ideal world, and budget allows, you probably should get them both.
Both have their place in your kitchen tool bag because of what they bring to the table. After all, you don’t just have one knife in the kitchen, you have a variety so different foods can be cut or sliced cleanly. Some of them are used for special cuts, while others are employed for general purposes. So why have just one type of honing rod?
High-end knives are not cheap, but connoisseurs of cooking understand that a quality knife is an essential tool in the culinary world, yet even the best blade needs to be kept in pristine cutting condition.
Actual sharpening of the blade is undertaken on average every six to twelve months, whereas honing of the blade edge can be a daily occurrence after a hard day of knife play. Depending on the type of knife-edge that needs honing will reflect in which rod to use.
Ceramic Vs Steel Sharpening Rod: a Gentler Approach
One of the key differences between ceramic and steel is that a ceramic honing rod tends to be gentler on high-end knives compared to its steel compatriot, improving the sharpness by smoothing off minute levels of uneven metal from the skin of the blade. The stainless steel variant is more suitable for blades that have miniature serrated edges as the roughness of the steel is better at sharpening these types of knives and removing any rougher jaggedness.
What About Maintenance?
When it comes to care and maintenance of your knife sharpener, however, a steel rod requires more attention in part because of its magnetic nature. Fine metal shavings removed from the sharpened knife adheres to the surface and these particles need to be wiped off with a wet cloth or washed off. A ceramic rod doesn’t have this magnetizing feature so it just needs a gentle wipe with a damp cloth, or a soak in warm water every now and then and left to dry. It is important to clean it and the knife after use to prevent any minute metal shavings from getting into the food.
Ceramic vs Steel Sharpening Rod: Cost Comparison
There is a slight difference in pricing between these two honing rods, with the ceramic version being about $5 more expensive on average. But it is worth getting as for honing high-end top-quality Japanese knives, it’s hard to beat, yet at the same time, its versatility for honing virtually any knife is a major plus in its favor.
Which One is More Durable, Steel or Ceramic Honing Rod?
Durability is a consideration that has to be taken on board if only one of these rods is going to be purchased. Accidents happen all the time in kitchens and if a ceramic rod is dropped for whatever reason, there is a high probability that it is going to break into pieces, being somewhat brittle. Whereas a steel honing rod is going to withstand a lot of wear and tear, bumps and bruises, and survive the rigors of a bustling kitchen.
For long-term use and durability, a steel rod is the one to get. It does tend to be rougher on the knife edge’s surface and is not recommended for hard or very rigid knives as they have been known to snap. French and German knives, however, seem well-suited for the steel honing rod.
The Most Versatile Option
Versatility is the main take-away with a ceramic rod, being capable of honing world-class knives, yet being sturdy enough despite its lightweight composition, offering an effortless result for most knives in the kitchen. Another good point is because it isn’t too stiff and unforgiving, a ceramic rod will never over-sharpen a knife.
With a steel rod, you can rest assured that it is going to have a long and useful lifespan. And because of its solid nature, it is the go-to rod for most chefs due to its strong ability to smooth out any kinks or dents. Knives that are used for chopping meat or cutting through bone can often become misaligned so for these kinds of knives a steel honing rod is an essential bit of kit.
Our Recommended Ceramic and Steel Rods for Honing
Not all honing rods are created equal.
Some rods have a special design where one side is set at a precise angle of 15 degrees, aimed specifically at the Japanese market, while a wider side is set with a 22-degree angle specifically for knives made in the west of the world. This level of precision is also apparent in the grading of the grit on the rods, and that dictates what a honing rod should be used for. A grading of 2000 is set for honing rods, while grading of 400-800 is used for sharpening.
The composition of ceramic honing rods is incredibly strong and can last for years. They don’t wear out but that impression can be given if the surface becomes clogged, so regular cleaning is essential for long-term usage.
When choosing something like a honing rod, whether ceramic or steel, there are a few things to check off so you know you’re getting the best one for your needs. A simple feature to check off is a knife guard that will protect fingers when honing vigorously, safety first, and a durable grip on the handle to ward against slipping when under heavy use.
Investing in a good-quality rod is crucial. A low-quality one can actually reduce the longevity of knives.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do ceramic sharpening rods wear out?
Ceramic sharpening rods are highly durable and won’t ever let you down. This year or a decade from now, a well-maintained ceramic rod will stand the test of time. They can, however, crack if dropped and may get clogged up with use. Also, a good cutting board will help in this regard.
Is a honing steel necessary?
The process of honing can help maintain the integrity of your blade and improve its longevity by reducing the number of times it needs to be sharpened. Sharpening is an abrasive and damaging exercise, and although necessary, it’s a sensible idea to not do it more than needed.
But is honing steel a necessity? Honing steel has its place for use with hardened steel, durable blades, and those knives which have experienced damaged such as nicks, an uneven edge, or a rolled edge. In such cases, a ceramic honing tool won’t cut it.
How long do ceramic sharpening rods last?
A ceramic sharpening rod can last a lifetime if properly cared for. This is why investing in a quality rod is so important.
What is honing steel used for?
Honing steel is used to maintain a blade’s razor-sharp edge between uses and between abrasive sharpening.
Can we hone micro-serrated knives?
No, micro serrations blades have serrations on both sides, unlike single serrations. Their design is not compatible with honing rods. Therefore, we can’t sharpen them.
Closing Thoughts on Ceramic Vs Steel Honing Rods
The decision to purchase a ceramic rod over steel will boil down to how often the knife is going to be honed or sharpened. A steel rod is capable of removing a much greater amount of the steel from the knife blade and is generally not advisable for use on a regular basis due to the damage it can cause to blades over time. That said, it is the preferred rod for use with durable and thick blades, as well as those with imperfections such as a rolled edge that need fixing.
Whereas the gentler ceramic rod is equally effective but will not reduce the lifespan of your knife’s blade. Due to its softer approach to honing, ceramic rods are better suited to thinner blades, and those made of softer steel.
Honing of your kitchen knives should be part of your routine in the kitchen, scheduling time to keep your blades in peak condition between uses.
With this routine, your knives will always be ready to perform, cut, slice, chop or filet, at the optimum level of sharpness with a moment’s notice.
If you’re a weekend chef and you hone your knife surface regularly, it probably won’t make your food taste as good as a Michelin star restaurant, but it will make the preparation stage a lot easier and more enjoyable. And cooking is a passion that should always be enjoyed.