The History of Sharpening Steels

As long as human beings have used knives, they have also needed a means to sharpen them. Any surface harder than the knife’s edge will, after a fashion, make that edge sharper. Stones, particularly those with a hard and rough surface, have been used to sharpen knives for thousands of years. More recently, a sandstone doorstep or window sill would have been used to make a reasonably decent job of sharpening a kitchen knife. For the huge variety of jobs requiring of a sharp knife, a more effective and less cumbersome sharpening tool would emerge.

It is not known when the first of what we now call Sharpening Steels were made, or what they were like. It is likely that companies with the capability to produce “files” would, recognising the need for more efficient, more portable knife sharpeners, have been among the first to make Sharpening Steels. The Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire has records of Sheffield cutlers making Sharpening Steels in the 1680s.

The Sharpening Steel rapidly became the preferred tool for keeping knife edges in optimum condition. The first Steels would have been laboriously cut by hand but the effort was worthwhile. Their round profile enabled only a small area of the knife to be in contact with the Steel at one time. This meant that the knife blade presented to the Steel could be effected using only a modest amount of pressure and the process of honing and sharpening became more precise.

As knife blade materials improved so too did the materials used in Sharpening Steels. More recent developments have included the introduction of hygienic plastic handles, variations in the type of “cut” for producing finer knife edges for particular applications and Diamond coated Sharpening Steels.