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Choosing A Steel For Sharpening A Knife

Choosing A Steel For Sharpening A Knife

Here is a short video showing tips for choosing a steel for sharpening a knife. It evaluates all the different sharpening techniques and tools for VideoJug users, allowing them to find out with the best steel for sharpening a knife is for them.

Step 1: Knife Steels

Knife steels come in a bewildering variety of shapes, sizes and materials. They can be round or oval, grooved or smooth, made from steel, ceramic or even glass. In addition they can have some sort of an abrasive coating. In this video, I am going to go through the various types of steels and discuss what I believe to be the pros and cons of each sort.

Step 2: Types of Steels

Because the function of steeling is simply to realign the edge of the blade, technically speaking a steel could be completely smooth. So let's start there.

Step 3: Smooth Steel

A smooth steel, such as this, will gently push the metal at the edge back into alignment. As it is not at all abrasive, it cannot do any damage to the delicate edge and for this reason is very forgiving if you fail to maintain a constant sharpening angle making it an ideal choice, particularly for an anxious beginner.

Because it can't do the blade any harm, the worst that can happen when using such a steel is that you simply fail to sharpen the blade completely because you get impatient.

The disadvantages are that it may take a little longer to refine the edge than a more abrasive steel and sometimes it is an advantage to take away some metal. I will say a little more about this later.

To the very anxious, it is possible to get a smooth steel with an angle guide as you see here. By aligning the blade against the guide you can be sure of the correct angle. However, as the precise angle is not critical this can be more of a nuisance than a help.

Step 4: Glass

The smoothest steel of all is made of glass. In my hands, this does seem to take much longer than even an ordinary smooth steel to achieve a sharp edge. It is also relatively fragile and so probably not suited to use in a commercial kitchen. It is much lighter than the other types of steel although even this may not necessarily be an advantage. It is difficult to see a valid reason for using this type of steel except perhaps to impress dinner guests who may not have seen anything like it before.

Step 5: Grooved Steel

This is the traditional grooved steel with which most people are familiar. With the grooved steel, the grooves create tiny points of contact with the edge of the blade. This smaller contact area focuses greater pressure on the edge with less effort and it can act like a file removing more steel than is absolutely necessary. As a consequence it must be used with a light hand. Used lightly, a grooved steel will realign the edge quickly. This type of steel is similar in every way to a coarse diamond steel.

Step 6: Ceramic Steel

Perhaps a better solution is to use a fine grit ceramic steel like this one. Although a smooth steel pushes the edge back into alignment, some of the metal it leaves behind is weakened and this can relax back into deformity.

The ceramic steel will remove some of the weakened metal while it is aligning the edge. Consequently, the edge will be more stable and will stay sharp for much longer. Ceramic steels are lighter than their metal counterparts but also more fragile and so may not be suitable for commercial environments.

Step 7: Diamond Coated Steel

I have saved this, which I consider to be the best choice, until last; the fine diamond coated steel. This has the advantages of the ceramic steel in that it is only mildly abrasive. It is more rapid in action than a smooth steel and more robust than either glass or ceramic.

This final picture is of an oval fine diamond steel. The oval cross section presents a greater surface area to the blade without the need for larger diameter steel thus saving weight. Apart from this I can see little technical advantage but some people find them easier to use than round steels. So those are the main differences in construction.

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