Knife Skills: How to Hone a Dull Knife
Many people confuse honing with sharpening, but there is a distinct difference. We've already discussed using a water stone to sharpen a dull knife. When you sharpen a knife, you're actively removing material from the blade, creating a brand new razor-sharp beveled edge.
The thing about metal is, it's malleable. That means that with regular kitchen use, that thin sharpened edge can get microscopic dents in it that throw the blade out of alignment. Even if the blade is sharp, it can feel dull because the sharp edge has been pushed off to the side, like this:
That's where a honing steel comes in. When used properly, a steel will realign the edge of the blade such that the sharpened bit is all facing the right direction. You should steel your knife every time you use it to ensure that you're getting the best edge possible.
When purchasing a steel, look for a heavy model at least 9-inches long. Just like a good knife, a high quality steel will last a lifetime. The ridges may wear out over time, but don't worry—it's still doing its job.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.