I have an embarrassingly large window between the time I purchased my first grown-up knife and the time I came to fully understand the difference between sharpening and honing and why you want to do either of those things.
I demo’ed basic knife skills at the farmers’ market last weekend and their amazing knife sharpener, John, came over and showed folks how to hone their knives.
The takeaway I hope you’ll glean from this:
1. Pay attention to the angle at which he’s honing. No need for a protractor, just go slowly.
2. You need to sharpen your chef knife periodically. Sharpening is actually shaving off a layer of your knife to smooth out and remove chips, divots and burrs that form with use. I sharpen ours once every three months.
3. Using the basic honing steel as shown above does not sharpen your knife; it simply realigns the blade edge which can curl over on the microscopic level after banging against your board repeatedly, slicing through foods and during everyday use (causing you to think your knife is dull). Some rods are dual sharpening/honing tools, but I say pay the kind knife sharpener in your neighborhood $8 every few months and know that your knife’s most prized asset (its blade) is in good hands.
4. If you hone it between sharpenings, you’ll have to sharpen your knife less often.
5. How often do you hone? Mid-way through and after using your knife intensively. A butcher might hone his/her knife five or six times in an hour depending on the task at hand, since keeping your knife blade in alignment is key when your job is to cut stuff up.
Maybe make a practice of honing before you cook dinner and just wait to see how official you feel when you pull out that onion.