To sharpen a knife with a whetstone:
- Soak the sharpening stone in water for 5 - 10 minutes.
- Place the stone on a flat surface.
- Find the optimal angle on the whetstone for your knife. The angles vary depending on the type of knife. Check out these helpful angle guides you can try.
- Hold the handle with one hand and apply pressure on the spine of the knife with your thumb. Use your other hand to put pressure on the cutting edge.
- Slide your blade forward along the whetstone and away from you.
- When you reach the edge, lift the blade and do it again. Drag the knife this way over the stone until you’ve reached your desired sharpness.
- What is a Whetstone, Anyway?
- Why You Should Use a Whetstone to Sharpen Your Knife
- Quick Tips Before Sharpening Your Knife
- How to Sharpen Your Knife With a Stone (Video)
- Other Methods of Knife Sharpening
- Knife Sharpening Products to Buy
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a Whetstone, Anyway?
If you’re anything like me, you were intimidated for a long, long time by the notion of sharpening your dull knife on a stone. It seemed like something only some wizened sage would be able to do. But sharpening knives is also something that I desperately wanted to try myself.
Thankfully, I’ve found that it’s nowhere near as difficult as I thought. In fact, it’s fun and enjoyable, almost like a therapeutic, thoughtful experience. The process is easy, but it’s actually getting started down that path that is difficult. And it all begins with that question: “what is a whetstone, anyway?”
Whetstone, also known as a water stones or a sharpening stone, is a type of stone that is used to sharpen the edges of steel tools such as knives, scissors, etc. They come in all manner of shapes and sizes and are made of various materials. Factory stones are made of aluminum oxide or ceramics, and some are diamonds stones. Natural sharpening stones like Ardennes Coticule stones consist of grenades, while other stones have novaculite as an abrasive.
You may have heard the word “grit” being used in reference to whetstones. This refers to the grit size of the abrasive particles of the stone, the density of the particles. The higher the grit number is, the higher density (smaller particles) are, which gives a finer finish to the sharpened object.
Knives are sharpened with whestones by running the blade along them, which shaves away particles from the knife’s blade, fixing them into a straight, sharp shape.
2. Why You Should Use a Whetstone to Sharpen Your Knife
Using a whetstone or a sharpening stone is widely considered the best way to sharpen your knives. Not only does it remove the least amount of material (extending the life of your knives), but it also results in the very best edge. With a fine grit, your knife should be able to easily take hairs off your arm after you’ve finished sharpening it with the whetstone.
There’s also something rewarding about going through the process of sharpening your knife with a whetstone. It feels like a communion of sorts, like you’re bonding with your blade. And it’s a relaxing process, too; you start to really learn to love the ins-and-outs of it the more you do it.
Of course, the problem is that it requires some know-how. Most people won’t find it super intuitive to just start sharpening their knives on the sharpening stone. It takes practice, and at first you won’t be very good at it. But eventually you’ll become an expert at it, and you’ll wonder how you ever went your entire life without knowing this life skill.
3. Quick Tips Before Sharpening Your Knife
Here’s a few pro tips you should keep in mind before you start sharpening your knife on a whetstone.
Pro tip number one: Be patient. This is especially true if you’re new to whetstones. Don’t get frustrated if you don’t pick up on it right away, or if you feel like you’re not doing it right at first. Spend the time it takes both to learn the skill and to achieve a great polish.
Pro tip number two: When people talk about “pressure”, take it with a grain of salt. “Apply pressure” may mean an entirely different thing to you than it does to me. You can learn to feel the pressure by pushing your knife onto a balanced kitchen scale. The pressure you should be aiming for should be around 15lbs.
Pro tip number three: Some chefs will mark the edge of the blade with a sharpie, so that it disappears as they sharpen. This way, once the mark has fully disappeared, they know the blade is sharp.
4. How to Sharpen Your Knife With a Stone (Video)
Check out the video below for a step-by-step breakdown on sharpening your knife with a stone.
5. Other Methods of Knife Sharpening
Whetstone sharpening is not for everybody. I saw this because, for a long time, it wasn’t for me. It seemed daunting and scary, like something I needed a couple of advanced degrees to even begin considering. For those people, there are a few other alternative methods of sharpening.
Let’s take a quick look at them.
Electric knife sharpener
An electric knife sharpener is a tool you introduce your knife blade into. It then automatically grinds metal from the knife. The good news is this basically removes the effort involved with any other method of knife sharpening, and it is actually the quickest and easiest method to get your knife sharpened.
However, as you might imagine, it’s not perfect. An electric knife sharpener is by far less reliable than other methods of knife sharpening, and sometimes can even damage your knife. An electric knife sharpener is also often much more expensive than other knife sharpening tools, and the results aren’t entirely consistent.
Manual knife sharpener
A manual knife sharpener (also known as a pull-through knife sharpener) is a tool that has several slots (also known as grooves, channels, or stages) through which you can pull your knife blade. You place the sharpener steady on your counter and you manually move the knife through each of the channels. These channels sharpen, finish, and hone the blade.
Manual knife sharpeners are very useful. They also provide a certain level of control that an electric knife sharpener does not. They tend to be considerably less expensive than an electric knife sharpener or a whetstone, however, they do take more effort, and are not great for serrated knives.
For the longest time, any time I saw a chef use a honing steel, I was convinced they were actually sharpening their knives. In fact, that’s a bit of a misconception that lives on to this day, as honing steels are also known as “sharpening rod” or “honing rod”. And perhaps I am adding to it by listing it here as a method of knife sharpening. Let’s clear up the confusion once and for all.
A honing steel doesn’t really sharpen your knife. It hones it. What does that mean? Sharpening grinds metal into sharpness, while honing simply shapes the metal into a more efficient shape. It straightens the blade’s cutting edge. If your knife is already sharp, honing can make it feel even sharper. But if your blade is dull, there’s not much that honing can do as far as sharpness. Honing, then, compliments sharpening tools nicely, but doesn’t sharpen on its own.
6. Knife Sharpening Products to Buy
Now that you know how to sharpen your knives with a stone, let’s take a look at some products you can buy that will make this a total breeze.
This is a portable whetstone set that will ensure the proper maintenance and sharpening of your blades. It’s a convenient, classy solution that not only results in razor-sharp knives, it also looks and feels great.
- Double-sided whetstone made of premium Corundum.
- Comes with a sleek, beautiful oak wood storage box.
- #1000 grit to sharpen, #6000 grit to polish.
- Extremely easy to use for all levels of experience.
- The box is a bit large, which takes away somewhat from the portability of it.
- Same kit as the #1000 / #6000 Grit with Nagura Stone & Rust Eraser, but without the Nagura stone.
This kit is an incredible value, featuring the #1000 grit for sharpening, the #6000 grit for polishing, and an added Nagura stone.
- It includes the Nagura flattening stone, which acts as a conditioner for the sharpening and finishing stone.
- Constructed of top-grade corundum (aluminum oxide)
- Helps to rub away any corrosion or scuffs that can build up on high.-carbon and stainless steel knives.
- Gorgeous acacia wood base with their own unique grain pattern.
- If you’re not interested in the Nagura stone for erasing rust, check out the previous entry in this list.
This is a step up when it comes to sharpening with a whetstone set. This amazing kit is perfect for working on German and Japanese knives, scissors, etc. An incredible value for the price.
- Perfect for both German and Japanese style kitchen knives.
- The #3000 grit stone serves as an all-purpose stone to sharpen dull or damaged blades.
- The #8000 grit stone brings that mirror polish and super sharp edge back to your blade.
- The size of the stones gives you more surface area and efficiency.
- If you need a finer grit, look at some of the other options available on this list.
This is a perfect whetstone knife sharpening kit for both for experienced knife-sharpeners and for someone who is just starting to embark on their own knife sharpening journey.
- Great craftsmanship, beautiful design.
- Includes a #400 coarse grit stone to sharpen even the dullest blades
- #1000 all-purpose sharpening stone to bring a mirror polish back to your knife.
- Suited for sharpening both German and Japanese knife types.
- Fantastic gift for the knife enthusiast in your family.
- The stones are quite wide, which gives you more space to work with but might throw you off if you’re used to working with smaller stones.
7. Frequently Asked Questions
Do you need to soak a whetstone?
If you want to use the whetstone at its best, yes, a whetstone should be used wet. Some whetstones need to be submerged in water for them to fill up while others just need the surface of the stone to be wet, and it should remain wet during the sharpening process. But generally it’s a good idea to soak the sharpening stone for several minutes.
Can you use a whetstone dry?
Yes, you can technically use a whetstone dry, but it will not perform at its best.
How do you prepare a whetstone?
Soak your whetstone (also known as water stones) for 5-10 minutes for it to soak up the water and be ready for use. Then place the stone on a flat surface and start sharpening.