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!

IMPORTANT NOTE
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.
6 Comments
  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.

  3. You mentioned that these ceramic rods can wear out. As an uneducated home cook, how will I know when the rod is spent and needs to be replaced? Also, is there any care and maintenance of the rods I can take to extend their life?

    • Hi Doug,

      Two good questions!

      RE knowing when to replace a ceramic hone
      I’m in the same boat with you here. I’ve got a DMT ceramic steel/hone that I’ve owned for about 4 years and I’m trying to figure out how worn down it is. I’ve used it very regularly on all my knives, but I’ve been careful not to grind into it, not to press real hard as if I were sharpening.

      Here are the reasons why I think I might want to replace it though (in order of importance):

      #1) It doesn’t seem to bring back my knives’ edges quite as powerfully as I remember it doing the first few years of ownership. This is a tough call, of course, because I didn’t take notes, or track this at all, and I’m just going from a general sense of things.

      #2) It feels rather smooth all the time, even after I clean it. I believe it was grittier earlier on. Again, this is another impression relying on memory. On top of this, I know that the grit on this hone (2200) is higher/finer/smoother than most other ceramic hones out there (generally 1200 grit). So if I compare to one of them (which I’ve done), it’s apples and oranges. Yes, I would need to buy a brand new DMT to really suss this out. Instead of doing this, I’d rather try out some other brands of hones (Messermeister, Idahone). . . so an old DMT/new DMT comparison might never get done :)

      #3) It’s turned greyish. And even after I clean it, the grey diminishes but still stays. This I take as a sign that the grit has been slightly clogged with steel filings permanently. But I may be wrong about this, and it may only be a surface stain from the metal.

      So there you go. Regardless, I plan to buy a new hone in the next few months or so and will likely make it a Messermeister or Idahone for no other reason than to compare.

      RE care and maintenance
      As mentioned above, as you use your ceramic hone, it will gradually clog up with fine metal filings. This is because the ceramic not only realigns the microscopic teeth on the edge of your knives, but also cleans up/removes teeth that are weak and beyond repair. The hone will eventually reach a point where the grit is so clogged up it is not doing much cleaning up, but only pushing back/realigning teeth, and maybe not even this that ineffectively. Time to scrub it clean.

      All you need to clean your hone is to scrub it down with soap and a synthetic scrub pad (not metal) and you’re good to go. You can buy a special erasure by Idahone if you like, but I’m not sure it will clean it any better.

      I clean my hone probably every month or so, but it really depends on the individual hone and how much it’s being used.

      BTW, this is one reason why it’s generally not a good idea to stroke the side of a ceramic hone much with bare hands. You can possibly get a metal splinter (which I have done). It’s uncomfortable and harder to detect and remove than a wood splinter. . .you definitely want to avoid this.

      Conclusion
      Other than cleaning regularly, there’s no other maintenance that I know of. Don’t drop it or bang it around. It IS ceramic.

      Obviously, the best kind of ceramic hone would be one that would last and last. I know that the DMT is a layer of ceramic on metal which might not allow it to last as long as one that was solid ceramic. But it also makes it less likely to break if dropped. I’m not up on whether the other hones I’ve mentioned are solid ceramic or not or how durable they are. And just to be clear, my DMT hone still works—it just doesn’t seem to be quite as quick and effective as it once was.

      Best, KKG

      P.S. Idahone makes a great steel/hone and I need to add it to this article.

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