sharpening and caring for your kitchen knives

My Favorite Honing Steels

Two High-Quality Ceramic Hones

When my favorite professional sharpening service first told me that a fine-grit ceramic hone was their tool-of-choice for keeping a newly sharpened knife sharp, I was shocked and stunned. But then the more I learned, the more it made sense. Ceramic was a hard material. Harder than steel. Thus, a ceramic hone had all the strength necessary to push the microscopic teeth on a steel knife edge back into alignment. (For more on honing, see What’s a Honing Steel?)

Diamond Machining Technology [DMT] CS2 12-Inch Ceramic Steel

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DMT ceramic hone

Messermeister 12-Inch Ceramic Rod

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Messermeister ceramic hone

Traditional hones made of steel tend to be a bit crude, and rough up the edge while they realign. Plus, most cannot be used on Japanese knives because they’re not hard enough. Diamond hones are hard enough for both German and Japanese knives, but are pretty aggressive, and are really more sharpeners than hones. Which leaves ceramic.

What’s nice about ceramic honing steels is that they’re not only extremely hard, but very smooth. So, if used properly, they are virtually non-destructive and gentle on your knives. Because they’re so strong, they can be used successfully on Japanese knives (though not traditional ones, see my note below). And they will clean up the edge a touch—whisking away any weak and seriously out-of-wack teeth—while they realign. Which is a good thing.

Both of the ceramic honing steels (above) which I recommend are produced by well-respected manufacturers. The first, DMT, specializes in sharpening tools, while the second, Messermeister, primarily makes knives. I own the DMT (on top) and have found it works beautifully. The Messermeister (on bottom) I don’t own, but I did inspect one closely before sending it off to a friend as a present and it seemed well-made and well-designed. Neither is pure ceramic, but basically a layer of ceramic over a metal core—which means they won’t shatter into a million little pieces if you accidentally drop them or wack them too hard. (But they might break—so still be careful.)

The DMT is rated at 2200 grit which is finer than the Messermeister which is only 1200. Is this significant? Maybe to some, but one of the sharpening services I conferred with actually preferred the Messermeister. So, my feeling is you can’t go wrong with either.

Looks-wise they’re pretty darn similar. Both have black plastic handles, but the DMT is ridged and shiny, while the Messermeister is matte. I recommend the 12-inch models because they’re long enough to use with 10-inch knife blades and the extra length makes for ease-of-use in general. And remember, they won’t last forever, they’ll eventually wear out. As a matter of fact, any quality knife should easily outlast them. Ah, well. Fortunately the hones are much much cheaper.

Have fun keeping your knives perpetually sharp. You will get hooked!

1) Both manufacturers of these ceramic hones make diamond and steel models as well, so be sure the honing steel you select is ceramic.
2) Generally, you should not use a hone—ceramic or any other type—on traditional Japanese blades. They should only be touched up (and sharpened) with a waterstone. However, hybrid Japanese knives—such as Global, Shun, MAC—will work fine with a ceramic hone.
  1. Can you sharpen an old steel with, say, acid?

    • Hi Bob,
      I’m mystified as to why you would want to sharpen a steel. I assume you’re talking about a steel made of steel (i.e. metal). Are you concerned because the ridges have worn down and you’d like to deepen them? To me, that doesn’t even seem worth worrying about when you consider that a steel is primarily for pushing back/straightening the fine cutting edge of a knife. Please explain more :)

      Best, KKG

  2. How does the DMT CS2 compare with the MAC black ceramic steel?

    • MAC Black Ceramic Steel

      It compares very well! The MAC Black Ceramic Honing Rod is the same grit as the DMT, but MAC’s black ceramic is touted to be harder than the typical white ceramic. Which means it’s especially well-suited to honing Japanese knives that are made of harder steel and will do an excellent job on German knives as well.

      The shape of the MAC is also atypical. Instead of being a round, cylindrical pole, it’s square-ish—two sides of the hone are grooved and the other two sides smooth. The grooved sides allow for more aggressive honing, which is great for knives that are close to needing to be resharpened. But you should be very careful about using the grooved sides on Japanese knives. Depending on the hardness (the HRC) of the knife, you run the risk of chipping.

      Final word? This is a great hone and on my personal shopping list! And, whenever I get a spare minute, I should definitely add it to the above “favorite hones” :)

      Best, KKG

      P.S. I can think of only two small negatives of this honing rod: 1) It would nice if it were a bit longer—12 inches versus 10.5. And 2) the black color will hide the debris of metal particles that is left on any ceramic hone from normal usage. So you will have no visual clue as to when it’s time to clean/unclog it, but will have to get in the habit of scrubbing it down on your own.

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