Guide to Buying Sharpening Steels
First and foremost you need to decide your budget. This will narrow your choices down. Sharpening steels can range anywhere from $20 up to $200 typically.
Next, you should become educated on the different types of sharpening steels. Steels are made harder than their corresponding knives so using an inexpensive steel to sharpen an expensive forged knife can create un-appealing results. There are round steels, oval steels, diamond steels, sapphire steels and more. Let's discuss these for a moment.
Conventional steels such as a round steel or oval steel isn't actually "sharpening" your blades. Instead it is realigning the small little teeth that are situated on the blade's cutting edge. These small teeth are so small that you typically need a small microscope to see them. When using a knife these teeth tend to bend, move, or twist. By using your conventional steel these teeth are re-aligned back to their normal position. This process does not harm your blade and does not cause any abrasion. Most chef's will use their steel several times a day to keep the edge sharp. Remember however, that if the blade is already dull or worn away, a conventional sharpening steel will become useless as it will not sharpen it. To sharpen a knife in this situation you will need a sharpening steel with an abrasive edge, such as a diamond steel or sapphire steel.
Diamond steels sharpen knives that are completely dull or useless. They are very robust and durable and nothing lasts longer or cuts better than diamond. Be very careful when using a diamond steel as every time you use it metal will be stripped. Improper use can create uneven results.
Always keep your steels clean and well maintained. Steels can become a very powerful tool in keeping your prized knives durable.
Tip: Use your steel wet as it will create better results.
How to use a sharpening steel
To properly realign the edge of your knife, it is best to place the tip of your sharpening steel on a cutting edge board or kitchen towel holding the rod vertically. Hold the knife in your strong hand and place the knife against one side of the sharpening rod. You can then stroke the blade in a downward motion while drawing the knife towards you. Alternate each side of the blade 6-10 times. Maintaining steady pressure and correct angle are very important. Speed comes with years of experience.
An angle of 20 degrees will sharpen most traditional kitchen knives such as Wusthof and Henckels. Specialty knives such as granton edge slicers should be sharpened at 10-15 degrees due to their thin blades and thin cutting edges.
Always clean your sharpening steels before using them. The grooves that run the length of the rod can become clogged with grease and food which will dramatically reduce the effectiveness of the steel. If you can no longer feel the grooves on the steel, it is time to replace it.