Personally, I only use the variety of the smooth rods. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the butcher steels sold nova days are not smooth, even when called so. They have grooves alongside the rod, which rather damages the fine edge than helps it. For a lot more aboutsteeling and its effects read the article - Knife Steeling And Stropping, What They Really Do
Hand American Smooth Steel- Produced by Hand American. Hardened steel rod, 11" long, and ½" diameter. Wood handle, which is around 5" long. Steel is hardened to 62-62HRC. Therefore all the knives that are harder than that shouldn't be used with this steel. Although, you'd have to be a Japanese kitchen knife aficionado as I am to stumble on those types of knives that often. Absolute majority of the Euro and Even Japanese mass market knives are way below that, 54-56 HRC, ~58HRC for higher end stuff. Some very good Japanese steel is also in 61-63HRC range. Anyway, very useful too and it does belongs in every kitchen instead of that grooved junk they sell with every knife block. This was my primary steeling rod until I got the Borosilicate rod because of the high hardness knives.
Hand American Borosilicate Rod- Very good alternative is the Borosilicate rod. Also, sometimes called a Glass Rod. It's harder than any steel, so it'd be preferred choice for ultra-hard knives like those listed above. Price is a bit high, ~70$, and not so easy to find these days. Mark has those at chefknivestogo Borosilicate (Glass) Honing Rod 12". It is well worth the investment, considering how much of an extension of life it will give to your prized kitchen knives. In fact, it isn't an alternative, but an upgrade and a necessity for very hard(63HRC+) knife edges. As for the details, it's a borosilicate rod, 11" long, ½" in diameter, with 5" long, plastic handle. This is my primary steeling rod since 2008, when I bought it. Obviously because of all the ultra hard Japanese kitchen knives I was getting. Works exceptionally well, as you can see from this photo of the Watanabe Kuro-Uchi Nakiri edge. After stropping on the leather around 50 time I still had rolls, but just 5 passes per side on this rod make the edge straight again. Nothing but positive results. On the side note, be a little careful with it. I kept dropping mine into the knife block's round slot and one day the rod just came out of the handle. Repeated impact of the handle did made the rod loose. No biggie though, I just inserted it back, it's very tight in there, just not glued. So, since then I stopped dropping it in the slot, just insert it carefully, at least until last inch or so.
Other Steeling Rods- As I said above, better to stay away from the grooved butcher's steel. It'll do more damage than good. Worthy alternative to smooth steel rod is ceramic rod. In fact it is recommended for ultra hard knives like Aritsugu 300mm Honkasumi Yanagiba at 65+HRC or Phil Wilson CPM-10V Knife 64HRC, or his CPM S125V knife at 65HRC. More about that in Ceramic Sharpener Reviews section.
Last updated - 09/01/11