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How to Use a Sharpening Steel

Learn how to use a sharpening steel in this Howcast video with expert Dan Delavan.


Hi. My name is Dan Delavan. I am the Owner/Operator of Plaza Cutlery in Costa Mesa, CA. We have a great selection. We also have a website; Today we are going to be talking about knives.

Most people refer to a steel as a sharpening steel, which is very inaccurate. The steel is just a re-aligner, it is not a sharper. Probably the biggest question we get asked at Plaza Cutlery is, 'My steel does not do anything. It will not sharpen.' It was never meant to. Your steel is just a maintainer, just de-burrs it and realigns the edge. That is all a steel does. If you have let your knife go to where they are dull, you have not done anything with them for months and then you try to use the steel, it is not going to help you.

There are a lot of ways to use a steel and different people have tried different things and if it works for them it is great. I am going to show you two ways in which to use the steel. Both of them work very effectively.

This is a simple way for most people. You stand it straight up on a cutting board or any piece of wood, a very slight angle, 10 to 15 degrees. If you are having trouble deciding what the angle is, again, take a small branch off of a tree, you are slicing between the bark and the wood. So it is just a slight angle, 10 to 15 degrees. Again, you are going to start at the heel, go all the way down to the tip. The secret is between the elbow and the shoulder that when you come down you are pulling back. So it is the elbow and the shoulder drawing back. Whatever you do to one side you do to the other. The back hand, if you are right handed the left side is going to be a struggle, just the opposite for a left hander, but you are going to alternate from one side to the other going heel to tip. You want a forward motion going down. You do not want to do this. It might work a little bit but you want that forward motion going from the heel to tip. Again, it is important to have a steel as long as your knife.

The second way is to hold the knife horizontal, the knife vertical. A lot of people are going to say, "Oh, he is going to cut himself." The only thing that you move is your wrist so there is no way you can reach your hand. The knife starts at the heel, turn it in, from one side to the other.

You can also tell whether it is a good piece of cutlery if you hear the little ringing sound. This is a Henkel Professional S, from one side to the other. If you do try to do it this way, a lot of people think you have to go away from you, the problem is if you are doing it correctly, again you are going straight into the blade, when you are coming back you are running that point towards your hand. So it is not something that you want to do.

Again, this is the easiest way to do it because if you do have an accident and come up it is the back side of the blade hitting you. So from heel to tip. If you do this as often as you can your knives will stay good and sharp and eventually the blade is going to slowly wear back and get thicker, then you will have to go to your stone at some point. The secret has always been one thing; you have to use it, you cannot wait for the knives to get dull and then try to use the steel, it is not going to help you.

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