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.
10 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.

  4. Hey!

    Firstly: Great website, great resources and really well written! Thanks!

    Question: Traditional japanese blades you say, shouldn’t be honed. I’ve got a Shigeharu knife, bought at his shop in Kyoto. I’ve been honing it for a couple of months in addition to using a whetstone. Do you think this knife is made using a traditional japanese steel and therefore I’ve sort of ruined it? (http://www.imgrum.net/media/1353491920327856062_1408877657) Like this?

    Regards, Morino

    • Hi Morino,

      First off: If you haven’t already, please read my other articles on honing/steeling: What’s a Honing Steel and How to Hone a Knife. They will give you more knowledge.

      Secondly: As I freely admit elsewhere on this site, Japanese traditional knives are not my expertise. That said, here is what I can tell you:

      It looks like Shigeharo has a long lineage of sword and knife making, but in the U.S. his name is not much of known quantity. So it’s hard to find info on him and verify what his knives are made of and the level of their quality. Does your knife rust if you don’t dry it? Is the blade slowly developing a patina, a greyish film, over it? These are the signs of a carbon steel knife.

      Most traditional Japanese knives are made of carbon steel that has been heat-treated to tolerances of HRC61 and up. This makes the steel hard, but brittle, and demands that you take care in how you hone/steel it, or not steel it at all. And if you do hone/steel it, it’s wise to only use a ceramic hone. What happens if you don’t use ceramic is that you risk chipping the cutting edge with the steel/hone. Ceramic is a harder material than most steel hones, and ironically enough, it is gentler on the knife than a steel hone. Also, most steel hones/steels have crude ridges that rough up the cutting edge. On a German knife with softer steel, this works to give it saw-like teeth. But on a Japanese knife with harder steel, it causes chips.

      The edge of your knife looks fine to me, so I doubt that it is suffering too badly from whatever you are doing to it. If you have been using a ceramic hone on it, you’re probably going to be OK long term. If you’ve been using a steel hone, then maybe you’ve just been lucky. Stop using a steel hone immediately! Or, maybe the blade is not made of hard carbon steel, but a softer stainless. At any rate, you should still switch to a ceramic hone if you’re not using one.

      Personally, I would sharpen you knife with a waterstone not a whetstone. It’s gentler and takes off less steel. I would also consider using a waterstone to touch up the edge instead of honing it with a steel/hone.

      Hope this helps! Please feel free to ask more questions. . .

      Best, KKG

      P.S. The rough texture on the upper part of the blade, did that come with the knife?

  5. I’m trying to decide on a hone for my new Messermeister Meridian Elite 9-inch chef’s knife. I saw that you don’t like steel hones, but prefer the ceramic. I noticed on Messermeister’s website that they recommend their “fine steel” for the Meridian Elite line. I emailed to inquire about their thoughts, and they said the ceramic would work, but would just be a bit more aggressive. They recommended the fine steel as their first choice. Any thoughts? I don’t know who to listen to!

    • Hi Scott,

      I got a similar answer as you did from Messermeister, their most salient point being that the Fine Grit steel would keep the “polished edge” more intact than a ceramic steel. This may be true. On the other hand, the Fine Grit has “small ridges” which, in my experience, rough up the edge more than a ceramic hone. Huh?

      I think communicating with email and not being able to feel and touch each hone/steel in my hand, we’re not going to be able to achieve absolute clarity. And, as excellent and well-meaning as Messermeister might be, knife manufacturers do not necessarily have the best solutions in maintaining their knives.

      If it were my Meridian Elite, I would still prefer a ceramic hone—even though it takes a slight bit of steel off as it hones—because this clean-up is a good thing. Ceramic is super hard and the grit is very fine. I have found that honing with a ceramic can make a sharp edge last years. And when the edge finally begins to go, do not fret, just send it out to one of my favorite professional sharpening services. They will bring back the edge as sharp, or sharper, than the factory.

      Messermeister’s Fine Grit may keep more polish, but, with it’s ridges, I don’t see how this will make the cutting edge last longer.

      The good news is that, in my opinion, either hone will work fine. And the differences between them may be rather subtle. The main thing is to hone regularly and do it correctly. And, if you haven’t already, make sure to check out How to Hone a Knife (and Keep It Sashimi Sharp). You also may find it useful to read The Sharpening Cycle.

      Best, KKG

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