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We have a knife set that's approximately 15 years old, and as we were honing a knife tonight, a question arose. Do honing steels get worn down over the years? Should they be replaced? If so, how often?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

They are either made of surface hardened steel, which can't be realistically sharpened, or bonded with tungsten or diamond grit, again which can't be realistically replaced

Most steels just need a good clean; soak the steel in warm soapy water for a while, and then give it an aggressive scrub with a nylon bristle brush. Dry thoroughly

If it still does not hone well, then maybe it's time to buy a new one?

I am using a full size silver handled surface hardened steel that is 70+ years old and still works fine. It looks quite beaten up, has had surface rust, but always brings a knife back to life

Good steel

I have a short portable diamond grit steel for camping that is less than 5 years old, and is nearly useless already

Not so good steel

There doesn't seem to be consensus on what exactly a honing steel does to a knifes edge. But to me it's a very fine file, so it will wear out over time. Considering the normal usage in a domestic situation that could be a very long time

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Agreed that they can wear out, but it's not likely if you're using them appropriately to train the edge of a nearly sharp knife rather than stropping away trying to sharpen a dull knife. – bikeboy389 Jun 5 '11 at 15:06
Also, I do not consider the diamond/tungsten grit ones to be true steels, as they are designed to remove material rather than true the edge. If you put them in the same class with a traditional steel, you get that lack of consensus on what a "steel" does. But if you separate hones from steels, I doubt there's much confusion about what each does. – bikeboy389 Jun 5 '11 at 15:09
@bikeboy389 What do you mean by "separate hones from steels", the terms is "honing steel". The diamond steel is claimed to work as a hone and the fine diamond dust should grab the damaged edge and re-align it. But is appears to just file it away, while losing it diamonds! – TFD Jun 6 '11 at 23:15
What you just said is what I meant--the diamond dealies tend to remove metal, which is not what the "normal" steel is meant to do. If you don't include what I've called diamond hones in with traditional steels, I don't think there's much controversy about how the traditional steels work. The diamond ones do something different, as you say. – bikeboy389 Jun 8 '11 at 1:09

I'm not a metallurgist, but when I received my knife sharpening training, it was explained to me that the steel was used to align the microscopic raggedy edge of the knife after sharpening into a "foil", like a fine fin along the tip of the edge of the knife. Depending on what I'm cutting, the fin works like a scalpel. If I'm making fine cuts to meat, I want a foil. If I'm chopping carrots, I prefer a rough edge.

I was given a training steel, which has been used many times daily for over a decade. It was a rough steel but the knurling has been worn smooth so it doesn't tear at a blade the way a "sharp" steel does. It does however put an edge on a sharp knife, you just have to strop a bit more.

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