While electric and mechanical sharpeners can work in a pinch, they tend to ruin knives quickly: They often don’t grind the blade at the right angle, and they remove a lot of metal. Sharpening with a whetstone is the best way to re-sharpen and maintain your knife’s edge. Here’s how to do it.
- Use The Right Whetstones
- 1. Soak / Lubricate Your Stones
- 2. Press The Blade Against the Stone
- 3. Begin Sharpening (1,000 Grit / Medium Stone)
- 4. Sharpen Until The Edge Forms a Burr
- 5. Sharpen Opposite Edge to Form a Burr
- 6. Strop The Blade (“Apex” The Edge)
- 6. Start Honing (3,000+ Grit / Very Fine Stone)
- “How do I know when I’m done?”
Use The Right Whetstones
There are three types of whetstones: Diamond stones, oil stones, and water stones. Diamond stones provide the fastest sharpening action and they last practically forever. They’re the most popular type of whetstone among knife enthusiasts today. Oil and water stones work well, too, and may be more affordable. If you’re not sure which to pick, this guide compares types of sharpening stones.
“What Grit Stones Should I Use?”
- For repairing chipped blades, use a 400- to 600-grit stone.
- For standard sharpening, a 1,000-grit stone is recommended.
- 3,000- to 4,000-grit stones bridge the gap between sharpening and finishing.
- 5,000- to 8,000-grit stones polish and hone a blade to its final sharpness.
- Stones below 1,000 grit should only be used to repair damaged, chipped blades.
Not all sharpening stones are measured by grit. Some are labelled “Coarse,” “Medium,” “Fine,” and “Very Fine.”
- Use a Coarse stone for repairing chipped blades.
- Use a Medium stone for heavily dulled blades.
- For standard sharpening, Fine stones work best.
- Very Fine stones are for honing and polishing.
A good set of starter stones should include:
- (1) “Coarse” or 300- to 600-grit stone.
- (1) “Medium” or 1,000- to 2,000-grit stone
- (1) “Fine” or 3,000- to 4,000-grit stone.
- (1) “Very Fine” or 5,000- to 8,000-grit stone.
For beginners, Sharp Pebble makes reliable water stones that are reviewed favorably. Grab their 1000/6000 and 3000/8000 combo set, and you’ll have what you need for sharpening. If you’re fixing a chipped blade, grab their 400/1000 Stone. If you’re confident that freehand sharpening with tabletop stones is a skill you want to master, head to the Sharpening Supplies website. Check out their Japanese water stones or DMT-brand diamond stones.
1. Soak / Lubricate Your Stones
Water stones should be submerged and left to soak for at least 15 minutes before use, or they could be damaged while sharpening. Don’t soak finishing stones, or they can crack. Only apply water to them before use.
Oil stones can be used immediately after oil is applied. They do not need to soak. Avoid thick, viscous oils. They can interfere with the stone’s sharpening action. Mineral oil works best.
Diamond stones can be used dry, but we recommend wetting them. Water helps collect and contain debris as you sharpen. While sharpening, keep your stone lubricated. Place your stone atop a towel to catch oil or water and debris.
2. Press The Blade Against the Stone
Hold the handle of the knife with your dominant hand. Use your non-dominant hand’s fingers to apply 4 to 6 pounds of pressure to the blade. Place the heel of your knife’s edge atop the stone.
The blade may face toward you or away from you. For beginners, pointing the blade toward you can help provide visual confirmation that your edge is correctly oriented.
IMPORTANT: Before sharpening, ensure the knife’s edge is angled to properly. It should rest flush against the stone. Getting the angle right is the greatest challenge in freehand sharpening.
NEED HELP? If you’re a beginner, apply black permanent marker along and above the knife’s edge before you begin.
If the marker along the entire edge disappears as you sharpen, you’re at the right angle. If the marker above the edge disappears, you’re holding the knife at an angle that’s too shallow. If the marker along just the tip of the edge disappears, your angle is too steep.
3. Begin Sharpening (1,000 Grit / Medium Stone)
Move the blade back and forth across the top of the whetstone. While sharpening, continue moving the blade from left to right, and right to left. This ensures the entire length of the blade is sharpened at a consistent rate. This should result in a zig-zag movement across the stone.
As you approach the tip of the blade, rotate the knife to ensure the curved portion of the edge maintains the proper angle and orientation atop the stone.
4. Sharpen Until The Edge Forms a Burr
While sharpening, occasionally stop and carefully pull your thumb across the edge to check for a burr. A burr is a microscopic bend that forms along the edge of the blade. It’s too small to been seen; it must be felt.
Once a burr forms, that side of the edge is finished. You can now flip the blade over and repeat the sharpening process. Make sure your stone is properly lubricated with oil or water before continuing.
5. Sharpen Opposite Edge to Form a Burr
Once a burr forms along the opposite side of the cutting edge, sharpening is complete. Before honing, you should test your edge. To do this, you must remove the burr on the absolute edge.
6. Strop The Blade (“Apex” The Edge)
Strop the blade by pulling the edge along the sharpening stone. This will eliminate the burr created by sharpening, giving the cutting edge a proper, triangular shape. This is also called “apexing the edge.” Strop each side of the blade 10 to 12 times.
Next, grab a piece of paper and test how well your knife cuts. It should easily slice the paper without dragging or tearing. Test the entire length of the edge by starting at the heel of the blade and pulling it through the paper until reaching the tip.
After confirming your edge provides clean, effortless cuts, you can begin honing your edge.
6. Start Honing (3,000+ Grit / Very Fine Stone)
Honing is just like sharpening: Lubricate your stone and run the blade’s edge back and forth at the same angle, with 4 to 6 pounds of pressure. Ensure the entire length of the blade is drawn along the stone. Finish with stropping passes.
“How do I know when I’m done?”
Some will say, “You’re not done until you polish a mirror on your edge!” Except a mirror finish takes a lot of work with 8,000- to 10,000 grit-stones and leather strops. The impressive shine tends to fade quickly once you start cutting, too.
For a regular, everyday-use blade, this writer is happy with a frosted, semi-reflective edge, as seen above on the knife sharpened in this guide. A 6,000-grit stone will get you there.
Not happy with your blade’s cutting ability? Learn what edge angles are best for sharpness and toughness.