The Basics of Sharpening Stones
First things first: how do you find the right knife-sharpening stone? As with your set of kitchen knives, plan on investing in a high-quality product and doing plenty of homework before you choose.
How Whetstones Work
Whetstones are special sharpening stones you can use on knives and scissors. They come in a variety of different sizes and styles, but their surface always contains materials that are harder than steel.
As you drag the edge of a knife over the whetstone's coarse surface, it shaves some of the steel off of your knife to sharpen the blade. Don't worry: quality knives can withstand regular sharpening without decreasing their performance.
Buying a Whetstone
Aim to buy a decent-sized whetstone: you don't want to go any smaller than three inches by eight inches. The stone should be around an inch in height.
The grit of the stone is just as important. You can buy sharpening stones in various grit sizes, ranging from the low hundreds to over 10,000. The higher this measurement, the finer the grit of the stone and the sharper you will be able to get your knife.
If you've ever had a manual or electric sharpener, you'll know these simpler tools come with multiple grits. This allows you to establish the blade's cutting edge using a coarser grit before sharpening it with a finer grit. In general, lower grits mean faster sharpening and a less sharp result; higher grits require more strokes but give you a sharper blade.
This sharpening strategy is ideal with whetstones as well. Count on purchasing two whetstones, one with a medium grit and one with a fine grit, or choosing a double-sided whetstone to save space in the kitchen. The ideal knife-sharpening stone coarseness should be around 700-1,000, and the finer grit should be 2,000 or higher.
If you can only afford or make space in your kitchen for one whetstone, choose an option with a grit of around 1,000.
How to Prepare Your Sharpening Stone
Before you begin sharpening your knives, you may need to get your stone ready.
Most whetstones need lubrication before sharpening to protect the stone from damage. This is especially crucial for more porous stones, which will dry out without proper soaking and create nicks in the edge of your blade. However, certain types of stones (such as diamond stones) don't need this extra step.
In the majority of cases, lubrication will mean water, but some stones use oil as a lubricant instead. Check the manufacturer's specifications to learn the details of your stone.
In general, you'll start by placing your whetstone in water for around an hour. Keep a bowl of water handy while sharpening as well. This helps ensure the stone stays moistened as you sharpen your knife.
To set up your workstation, place the sharpening stone on a towel atop a cutting board. Keep the short edge of the stone parallel to the edge of the counter.
Make sure your whetstone is level, especially if you've had it for a while. These stones often wear down in the middle after enough use, creating an uneven surface that makes it impossible to find the right knife-sharpening angle. If necessary, you may have to use a stone fixer or leveler before sharpening.
How to Sharpen Kitchen Knives With a Stone
When you're ready to start sharpening, pick up the knife with your dominant hand.
You'll begin with the coarser grit to get the knife back into the right shape. Hold the knife so the heel rests just above the far edge of the stone.
The next bit can be tricky at first: make sure you're at the proper knife-sharpening angle. For most knives, this is 20 degrees, but you should check the manufacturer's specifications to learn more.
To ensure the right angle, you can purchase an angle guide online. You can also try holding the blade perpendicular to the counter for a 90-degree angle, halving that angle for a 45-degree angle, and halving that angle for a 22.5-degree angle. This isn't perfect, but it's a good method for beginners and works well enough for most knives.
Maintaining that angle, lower the edge onto the surface of the stone and draw the knife across it in a smooth motion. The goal is to start by dragging the heel of the knife, move the point of contact toward the middle, and finish by dragging the tip. Don't force the knife down with heavy pressure!
Repeat this action as desired, keeping count of how many passes you make. Depending on the state of your knife, you may need anywhere from five to fifty passes.
As you work, watch the water gathering on the blade. You should start seeing a layer of silty water begin to grow, a sign that some of the steel is shaving away from your blade. When you see this, you can carefully feel the edge of the blade for a slight rough patch, called a "burr," which signals that it's time to move on.
When you're finished on one side of the knife, repeat the same number of passes on the other side.
Next, fine-tune the blade. Switch to your fine-grit stone, if you have one, repeating the same steps above to refine and sharpen the knife.
To check for sharpness, try classic tests like slicing through a tomato or a piece of paper. If you can perform these tasks with ease, your blade is sharp enough to stop.
How to Care For Your Whetstone
Once you're done sharpening your blade, give your whetstone a bit of TLC. Proper knife-sharpening stone care can keep your investment in good condition.
As you work, make sure your whetstone never goes dry. As stated above, lubricant protects the surface of the stone and keeps its surface from deteriorating.
Caring for the Surface
While you scrape your blade across the surface of your stone, you might notice grooves developing in the middle.
This is normal, even with proper care, but you should flatten the stone with sandpaper, a stone fixer, or a leveling stone. Doing so creates a smooth surface for your next sharpening session.
Failing to care for the surface can result in a whetstone that dips into a U shape in the middle. This can make the stone unusable, requiring you to toss it or resurface it, which can be expensive.
Cleaning and Storage
Every time you finish sharpening, clean your stone with soap and water. Use a damp towel to wipe away any shavings, water, or oil. If the surface is especially dirty, a firm-bristled brush can help you scrub away any leftover shaved metal.
Let the stone air out for 24 hours before storing it. In most cases, the best way to store it is by wrapping it in a towel and keeping it in a dry place. Again, check your manufacturer's guide: with some whetstones, the best way to store them is in water!
How to Touch Up Your Knives by Honing
Honing your knife is an optional step, but it's often a good idea. Where sharpening fine-tunes the edge of a blade, honing brings that sharpened edge back into perfect alignment. The effect is a blade that feels even sharper than before.
To hone your knives, you'll need a honing steel. With this steel in one hand and your knife in the other, you'll put the blade at a 20-degree angle against the surface of the rod. Using the same sharpening methods above, you'll drag the blade down the honing steel from heel to tip.
Repeat this process 5-6 times on each side to remove any leftover burr and smooth out the blade.
Elevate Your Kitchen Knives
When your favorite blades have grown dull and dangerous, it's time to try the steps above! Knowing how to sharpen kitchen knives with a stone can boost your kitchen safety and improve your culinary game. Even better, high-quality whetstones are easy to use and can last years with proper care.
If a seamless cutting experience is important to you, we hope you'll trust Faneema Cutlery to offer the tools you need! Our hand-forged Damascus steel knives are more than works of art; they're also engineered for precision and durability. As with all blades, proper care and sharpening can preserve our knives for years of use, so follow the steps above and check out our care guide to continue enjoying the beauty and functionality of your blades.