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Do you need knife sharpening rod if you have a professional sharpening system?

Do you need knife sharpening rod if you have a professional sharpening system?

1. Sharpening rod as a tool for honing and sharpening

Sharpening rods are one of the most widespread tools for honing the knife blades that are used mainly in the kitchen. First of all, it should be noted that when using a sharpening rod, strictly speaking, you are not sharpening the knife, you are honing it just to make it sharp at a certain level. The line of the cutting edge is restored during honing and thus the knife becomes sharp again. Secondly, sharpening rods are used for knife blades made of relatively soft steel, which do not need a complete sharpening cycle to become sharp, or when you just need to make something sharp quickly. Some sharpening rods can be so coarse that the process gets very close to sharpening.

A sharpening rod as a tool for honing various knife blades in comparison with all sharpeners and other tools for honing is used almost everywhere. In addition, kitchen knives and sharpening rods are made for each other, even if there is a sharpening device - it is a classic.

2. Main technical features of sharpening rods

The basic rule for choosing a sharpening rod is length. The length of the sharpening rod should be at least the same length as the blade of the knife or slightly longer. Most often there are sharpening rods with a circular cross-section, but there are also oval-shaped ones. Increasing the radius of the sharpening rod allows a larger contact zone during the honing of the cutting edge which speeds up the process.

Hunting and tourist knives can also be honed with a pocket-sized ceramic or diamond sharpening rod, when a fine honing is enough to continue the task. Sharpening rods for this class of knives are shorter in length and can have combined surfaces.

Among all the sharpening rods there are basically three main groups depending on the material from which the sharpening rod is made:

  • Carbon steel sharpening rods;
  • Ceramic sharpening rods;
  • Tungsten carbide or chromium oxide coated sharpening rods;
  • Diamond sharpening steels.

Carbon steel sharpening rods are often very expensive and have almost no abrasive effect. They are only used for honing and to straighten the cutting edge line.

Sharpening rods of this category are made of tool steel with a sufficiently high hardness level of up to 65 HRC, with the addition of chromium for high wear resistance. Some knife brands offer two different grit sizes in their program. Sometimes there can be up to three pieces in a set. Most often, however, two - a medium and a fine sharpening rod.

A medium-grit sharpening rod is most often used for kitchen and utility knives. Fine-grit metal sharpening rods are the best solution for honing butcher knives and other knife blades to the desired level of sharpness. Another suitable case is when knives have already been pre-sharpened on a sharpener and all that is left is to remove the burr from the cutting edge.

Ceramics as a material for sharpening rods have a fairly straight surface and are quite affordable. Most ceramic sharpening rods are pretty coarse, are suitable for honing knives of any hardness, and they are cost-effective. There are different manufacturers with different grit levels, so it is worth finding out more info about the grit level before you buy. Experience shows that an 800 grit ceramic sharpening rod is probably one of the most popular and effective tools in the kitchen for most knives, including chef's knives.

Tungsten carbide or chrome oxide coated sharpening rods are more durable than ceramic ones and you can be sure that the sharpening rod will not shatter if dropped onto a hard surface. These materials are also safe for cooking.

Diamond sharpening steels are made with electroplating, and a chromium based coating is often used as a bonding agent to bind the diamond grains. This kind of coating gives the sharpening rod a high wear resistance and a high level of abrasiveness. Such sharpening steels can be used for sharpening and you may not even notice how quickly a good burr rises. Such sharpening rods are used mainly for removing a large amount of metal, as a quick sharpening tool. You have to handle such tools with care and understanding, because it is quite easy to overdo it. In some cases, the price of a diamond sharpening rod can be an indicator of its quality.

According to the grit size, sharpening rods are divided into three main groups:

  • coarse up to 800 grit;
  • medium from about 1000 up to 2000 grit;
  • finishing from 2000+ grit. 

The smaller the thickness behind the blade edge of the knife and the less metal is supposed to be removed during honing, the thinner the honing rod surface grit should be.

3. The process of using a sharpening rod

Regardless of the material of the sharpening rod, the way to use it remains the same.

For convenience, the top of the sharpening rod should be placed against the surface of the cutting board vertically and you should make a translational motion from the heel of the blade to the tip at an angle of about 15 - 20° with respect to the sharpening rod. Repeat these steps on each side of the blade in turn. More advanced users or professional chefs hold the honing rod in their hand and hit the right angle with ease. Besides, sometimes someone's speed of work with a sharpening rod can be surprising, but that is why they are called professionals.

It is enough to follow a few basic rules in order to do the proper honing and achieve the right result. With following these rules even a beginner will not find honing difficult:

  • Regardless of the position of the sharpening rod and the blade of the knife, the plane of the secondary bevel should be in maximum contact with the abrasive surface, only then you can make movements from the heel of the blade to its tip
  • For beginners, it is better and easier to set the sharpening rod against the table at a certain angle, then move the blade down the vertical plane from the heel to the tip.
  • Otherwise, you can place the sharpening rod vertically against the table and place the knife blade at the desired angle.
  • the honing can be stopped as soon as you are satisfied with the cutting qualities of the blade edge

Real professionals have a trick with the usual full-size sharpening stones. On large natural or artificial stones with a dense structure, one of the corners is rounded, and this edge of the stone can be used as a sharpening rod for honing.

In the past, when sharpeners were not yet common in everyday life and professional kitchens, chefs used a special metal strip of hard steel as a sharpening rod for honing their knives.

This may sound complicated, but it is not. To hit the right angle, it is enough to properly align the plane of your knife's secondary bevel and the abrasive surface of the sharpening rod. You just need a little practice and you will feel how the shoulders of the edge rest on the abrasive. To control what you do, you can use a black marker to draw a few dots on the secondary bevel, align the plane of the secondary bevel to the abrasive and slowly make a few honing movements with the blade.

Then you need to check the condition of the marks you made earlier and you will immediately see if you got the sharpening angle or not. If the marker paint is removed closer to the cutting edge, it is likely that the angle is too great. If the marker paint is removed closer to the shoulder, it is likely that the angle is too small.

Over time, you will definitely get a sense of how to properly contact the secondary bevel with the sharpening rod and you will develop muscle memory. Then you will be able to get the angle without a marker. You can remove the remains of the marks with regular alcohol, clean the blade with water and your sharp blade is ready for use without the complicated process of sharpening.

There are also some auxiliary Angle Guides for Sharpening Steels, which are mounted on the sharpening rod and can be purchased in kits. It is enough to put the blade of the knife to the guide and run the blade in this position from the heel to the tip of the blade on the surface of the sharpening rod, while trying to maintain the angle, without applying too much pressure.

There are many modern types of sharpening rods on the market. Ceramic and metal rods with different grit and cross-sectional shapes are mounted in a wood or plastic base for easy angle control.

4. Systems with sharpening rods

Systems with a series of sharpening rods are basically the same in technical terms compared to a common sharpening rod. Because the rods are placed in the base at a certain angle, the user only needs to hold the knife blade vertically and slide the blade along the rod with the desired grit down and towards themselves.

Systems with rods have a number of advantages over common sharpening rods:

  • The rods of the system are mounted in the base and do not need to be held in the hands;
  • the rods are arranged in the base at a certain angle and you do not need to verify the angle;
  • the system has several rods, they differ in grit, abrasive material, shape and size, which makes it possible to hone various knives beyond just kitchen knives;
  • If the rods are completely worn out, they must be replaced;
  • this is one of the very convenient ways to repeat the honing angle, since the honing movement is done in the vertical plane.

These systems are much better than the usual sharpening stick, and they are even better than the most advanced pocket or field sharpeners because of the length of the rods and their variability. Some people may find the significantly larger size and weight to be a slight disadvantage.

5. What the household sharpener is for

We already clarified that the essence of using a sharpening rod is not just to run the blade along the sharpening rod at a recommended angle, but also to get into one plane with the blade secondary bevel. It would not hurt to know exactly what is the angle of your knife blade edge and what kind of steel it is made of. And even now the question may come up, "Why do I need to know that when I can just use a sharpening rod?"

This is where the problem lies - we know that the sharpening stick can hone, but not sharpen the knife, and that when the angle is not maintained properly, the sharpening rod can create a kind of micro-bevel on the blade and basically straighten the cutting edge. At this point, we would like to ask a counter question to the readers. What will you do if you spoil the angle of the edge with a large sharpening rod? And what if the secondary bevels are no longer straight and become convex due to frequent honing and the sharpening rod is no longer able to cope with the task?

Only a household or more advanced professional knife sharpener can do the job. The advantage of the sharpener is that it creates straight secondary bevels with a properly shaped secondary bevel plane and a good cutting edge. The sharpener does not preclude the use of a sharpening rod, because it is quick and easy. If you do not have time for a sharpener, use a sharpening stick. If you have the desire and time to use a sharpener, go ahead and use it to sharpen the blade.

Conclusions

It is common to find kitchen knives in the household that have never been sharpened on a sharpener, simply because resharpening or significant removal of metal is unnecessary. Just a quick use of a sharpening rod is enough. And there are knives that one would never hone with a sharpening rod because that would be sheer blasphemy.

It is quite difficult to give an exclusively unambiguous answer to the main question of whether to use only a sharpening rod or only a sharpener, or to use both sharpening rod and sharpener in combination.

As one intelligent person said, "You can ride a horse all your life and never switch to a car, but that does not preclude the existence of a car". It is all about the personal perception of the right thing to do and the specific need at a particular point in time, if you understand what you are doing.

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