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Teach me about the different true steels

post #1 of 2
Thread Starter 
Hello. My first post here...
I have only had a Henckels steel for the past 8 years. I previously just had a ceramic rod, "ceramic steel", "honing rod" or "sharpening rod". I'll tell you right now that I hate all these different terms used for the same thing, and then misused, so it is more confusing and misleading!
Almost all my knives are Henckels Pro's, or at least have good German steel, so I felt I really needed to have a true steel to push the edges back in shape.

My last nice knife purchase was a Kershaw Shun Santuko. I feel that the steel has chipped my blade. It has lots of very small chips; almost too small to see with the naked eye. I see that they do not recommend steels be used on Global knives.

I sharpen my own knives. I'm not confused about that process. I've read a lot about steels, but am confused about them. Generally, I feel my Henckels does a good enough job of refreshing my knives. I have been to the F. Dick site and looked elsewhere (on the internet), but I cannot find a primer on steels. Dick does not tell you which steel to use for what... Does anybody?
There are glass smooth, textured-but un-ribbed, coarse, fine, double-sided, oval and round, and then there are those that are impregnated or coated. I don't even consider these in the same category. I would put them in the category with my ceramic rod... and call them honing rods. They remove material to sharpen. I would prefer to concentrate on old-fashioned, true steels if we can.
As to a true steel, how do you determine which is most appropriate?
I thought a steel was designed to push metal around and not cut or remove material. I know my steel has fine ridges, but I thought that was just to concentrate the force on the edge. Now I have read that some cut; that they create "tooth" on the edge while re-straightening. Kind of like a conversion to a serrated edge, type of interim "fix", until you can do a real sharpening job.
I would assume some are for softer blades and some are preferred based on what a knife is being used for. Do you use one steel first and finish with another?
I just don't have enough facts to understand specific designs of steels and know what, if anything, I should get next! I just hear things like "the Dickoron Sapphire is wonderful" or "the Idahone 12" fine may be the best all-around hone on the market". For what? Isn't this knife metal specific? I'm looking for some more general guidelines of what steels are best for what.
PS: I am a regular on Chowhound under the same moniker. And thanks in advance!
Have a jalapeno, son! It ain't hot...
Have a jalapeno, son! It ain't hot...
post #2 of 2
Hi Scar,

Welcome to the madhouse!

I sympathize with your frustration about the ambiguity of terminology regarding all things knife and sharpening. What I usually call a "steel," when using language loosely, I call a "rod hone," when being technical. If I understand you correctly, you're calling a "truing steel," a "rod hone" which doesn't remove enough material to be said to sharpen while it trues; but only (or very nearly only) trues the edge.

There are a number of good truing steels on the market, and you might as well get through a few of them so you can make a shopping list. What you seem to be pointing at is something called a "smooth," or "glass smooth" rod. They're very good things to have for an edge which has some slight rolling or waving; but is otherwise still quite sharp. Henckels makes their blades from relatively soft alloy (a proprietary alloy very much like X50CrMoV15), so the hardness of the rod itself is not an issue. Some good makers are Forschner, F. Dick, and HandAmerican.

There are limitations to how far between sharpenings you should take steel maintenance -- but a smooth hone is extremely limited. If you are going to continue to maintain with a steel, and put a smooth steel in your rotation, you're going to want to keep your fine Henckles to extend the period between the stones. You'll use your smooth hone a few times only, before switching to the textured hone.

The various Shun Ken Onion designs -- which presumably includes your santoku -- are made with a VG-10 "hagane" hardened to around 60. You should be able to use any fine to smooth rod without chipping the blade -- as long as you use the steel properly.

The most common mistakes are banging the knife against the rod -- making a clang -- at the beginning of the stroke; too much pressure on each stroke; too many strokes; too obtuse an angle; varying the angle during the stroke; and/or too coarse a rod. Any of these could cause the chipping you describe.

Perhaps that was the case a long time ago. But it no longer is. Global makes two different types of steel (ceramic and diamond), includes one of the with some of their sets, and sells them separately. Global 10-in. Ceramic Sharpening Rod - Global Knife Sharpeners and Global 10-in. Diamond Sharpening Steel - Global Knife Sharpeners

Excellent question, but I'm afraid there isn't necessarily a good answer. I've read quite a bit on the net, too; but never anything that put it all together. What makes the situation even more alarming is that I detect some of my online remarks and thinking incorporated into your post.

A round steel has a consistent, small contact patch. The area of the contact patch can be varied on an oval steel -- so it's possible to use it more gently.

People over emphasize the degree hardness plays -- almost everything a steel accomplishes is done with mass. Typically ceramic is chosen because of hardness -- but perhaps it should be more often chosen because of its consistency. There are all sorts of ceramic rods on the market -- some of them much, much finer than your Henckles. The Idahone fine I recommend is about 1200 ANSI, while a new Henckles fine is more like 400 ANSI.

There aren't many glass steels on the market. In fact the only one I know which is currently manufactures is the HandAmerican. It has just enough texture milled in to "frost" the glass; and is so fine it's fair to consider it a smooth hone. It is extremely true, and a delight to use. Expensive, more than is absolutely necessary, and highly recommended. You don't ever need a HandAmerican borosilicate; but if you don't have one, you want one. I'm very happy with mine.

Depends on the steel. The ribs serve several purposes; and the amount of cutting they do, relative to the amount of "concentrat[ing] the force," is determined by their pattern, angles, hardness of the steel and a number of other factors.

A Henckles "fine" is as coarse a steel as I'd recommend using between stones; and it absolutely will scuff up your edge .

If the steel is finer, as fine, or even very slightly than the stone which the knife came from, or than the micro serration the knife developed from use -- the steel will actually blend the scratches and polish the edge. On the other hand, if the knife has worn smooth, the steel will "refresh" the edge (your term) by putting micro serration in.

Asked and answered.

Knife and steel manufacturers oftne make a big deal out of hardness. It's a factor in steel choice -- ideally the steel's surface hardness (RhC) should be as hard or harder than the knife; but it's not enough of a consideration to run out and buy a new steel if you already have one which works well.

One steel is enough for any given task. I use my glass rod for deburring and when the edge is still new. At some point, the glass won't do the trick anymore and I'll switch to my Henckles (a very worn, old and no longer available "extra fine")

If you're only going to have one hone, the Idahone 12" fine should be on your short list. It's suitable for deburring, for taking scratch off knives that are too scratched, and for putting a little scratch onto knives that have worn smooth. It's very true and trues extremely well. It's quite reasonably priced. It's a wonderful "all-around" hone. It's only drawbacks are that it's not "glass smooth;" it's just a little too fine to take an edge as far as it can go between stones; and it's fragile. If I were going to have two hones, the finer would be the Idahone borosilicate; and the coarser would either be the Idahone or a quality metal "fine" rod.

Just keep asking questions, and I'll answer those I can.

Hope this helped a little,

PS. You seem to know a decent amount about knives, and to be on the knowledgable end of the spectrum of those I write for. I'd be obliged if you would do me a favor and take a look at "Part VII" of my CT blog at: ChefTalk Cooking Forums - COOK FOOD GOOD, Blogging BDL's Cookbook and tell me what you think.
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