I was trying to explain a friend how to use a steel today, and eventually just told her to find a video online that shows her how to do it. I then looked at some videos online, and they all do it in the opposite direction from the way I do it.
The best way to explain what I'm doing is described here: http://www.cookfoodgood.com/?p=551.
Another name for a knife steel is rod hone. Honing is one of those sharpening terms made ambiguous by the 'net (tube-like interwebs). Honing means the edge leads and the spine trails, and the action is "cutting in." The reverse action -- spine leading edge trailing, with the edge being pulled over the sharpening surface is called stropping.
Anything you hone on may properly be called a hone. Anything you strop on is called (c'mon, guess) a strop.
Sometimes people use the term hone to refer to a hard sharpener, like a bench stone; and the term strop to something softer. It's not wrong, just confusing.
Anyway, it's a rod hone, so always hone and don't strop. Don't ever strop.
Well, the way I do it could pretty much be described as stropping. In fact, if you were to believe the explanation that honing straightens out the bent micro-serrations along the edge of the blade, it would make sense that the "stropping" motion does a better job of this than the "honing" motion, which would push some of those bent serrations down toward the side of the blade.
I've also tried doing it the way that everyone else recommends, and it seems to do less well at getting me a sharp easy-to-use knife edge. Can anyone explain why everybody seems to recommend a honing motion instead of a stropping motion when using a steel?