Picture of Keep a knife sharp (using a steel)
Keep your knives sharper, longer, by using a steel every time you pick up a knife.  Lots of people complain that their knives are dull, but I don't think I've ever seen a home cook use a steel (even though they are included in many knife sets).

I want to be clear here (and possibly clear up some misconceptions).  A steel will keep a knife sharp.  A steel will do nothing for a mostly or very dull knife.  A steel DOES NOT sharpen knives.  If you have a sharp knife and properly use a steel every time you use that knife, it will remain properly sharp 2 - 3 times longer than if you don't use a steel. This is, of course, a generalization and is variable depending on how much and how properly you use your knives, but it gives you an idea of the benefits of using a steel.

Note: I wouldn't recommend using a steel on serrated knives, especially the cheap knives with very small serrations (the 'miracle knives' that are on infomercials). 

Step 1: Why it works

Picture of Why it works
Here are 3 pictures, each of a cross section of the very small cutting edge of a knife. The picture would be about a millimeter high, so the scale is very small.

The first is a sharp knife, this is what we're trying to maintain.

The second is a truly dull knife.  Using a steel on this edge will do nothing - you're wasting your time.

The third is a 'dulling' knife with the edge rolled over to one side; the very tip of the cutting edge deformed by normal use (even just a few cuts can do this).  After using a steel on this edge, the nice cutting edge of the sharp knife will be re-gained.   If not righted, the knife with an edge like this one will continue to deform and pretty soon you'll have a dull knife. NOTE:  Because it's so small, you can't really see this deformation.  Just because you don't see the edge of your knife deforming in this fashion doesn't mean it's not happening!
AndyGadget1 year ago
Great Instructable.
I always give my kitchen knives a few strokes with a steel before putting them away so I know they'll always be sharp next time I use them. 
I also give the sharpened knife a wipe with a cloth to remove the steel powder from the blade, and give my steel a good wash every now and then as it's amazing how much powdered steel accumulates in the grooves.
Nicely done! Very few people understand how using a steel works, and you illustrated the process well.
Very few people understand sharpening in general. I'm not sure if this article is going to change that either. I do know you don't want a wire edge on a work knife. As feather edges do have a tendency to bend over, and that has the effect of making a knife dull. The only time a wire edge will help you is if you are scraping. A wire edge will never benefit anyone cutting anything though. The real solution to this problem is to strop a sharpened knife to remove the wire edge from the blade. A very sharp edge is still a fairly delicate affair, so a steel can be used to refine the edge between hones. Personally I can't be bothered using steels though. If I determine a knife is dull I just sharpen it. Using Henckels knives helps too :)