A Starter’s Guide to Sharpening a Kitchen Knife With a Whetstone
Last updated ago
5 min read
By 
Michael Way
Published 
November 19, 2021

A Starter’s Guide to Sharpening a Kitchen Knife With a Whetstone

Last updated ago
5 min read
By 
Michael Way
Published 
November 19, 2021

A knife that lacks sharpness is no longer suitable. When it becomes dull, it will be difficult to use, and it can also be dangerous. A consistently sharpened knife is safer and works better. Sharpening a knife requires practice, but it is generally brief and straightforward. You can even develop good knife control skills in the process.

When sharpening a kitchen knife, consider it as a cooking skill. Cooking includes getting precise cuts and slices of food to prepare the perfect dish. To successfully sharpen a knife, you need to have the proper procedure and tools, such as finding the best kitchen knife sharpener to do the job.

There are manual and electric ways to sharpen kitchen knives. You might've heard or tried the Kitchen IQ knife sharpener or watched an America's Test Kitchen review on a knife sharpener. Using a whetstone to sharpen knives is also popular. You might've asked, "are there any kitchen knife sharpening tools near me?" Well, lucky for you because whetstones are easily found in your local hardware stores.

Whetstone as a Knife Sharpening Tool

Discover essential information about whetstone and how using a whetstone to sharpen a kitchen knife is right for you.

What Are Whetstones?

Whetstones are either natural or artificial stones that sharpen blades and other cutting tools. The name itself roots from the word "whet," an old-fashioned term for sharpening. 

Whetstones are made up of silicon carbide or aluminum oxide. These ceramic components form into a bonded abrasive, a material used to mold workpieces by rubbing. These stones come in various shapes (but commonly rectangular), depending on the purpose. They also have a double-sided block: coarse grit and fine grit. 

Types of Whetstones

Every sharpening stone is considered a whetstone. The different types of sharpening stones are water stones, oil stones, Arkansas stones, and diamond stones.

  • Oil stones are artificial knife and tool sharpeners that require oil to lubricate them for sharpening.
  • Arkansas stones, also called Novaculite, are rectangular-shaped whetstones used with either oil or water. 
  • Water stones are either natural or man-made. They are lubricated with water before being used for sharpening. Water stones are most commonly manufactured in Japan and Belgium.
  • Diamond stones are artificial whetstones composed of electroplated diamonds on a nickel plate. They are durable and work fast, so most professionals use them.

Choosing a Good Whetstone

Simply choosing any whetstone is not enough. There are things you should consider to find the right whetstone to sharpen your kitchen knife. Generally, one should have at least three stones to use for sharpening, grinding, and refining the knife. However, most whetstones today are designed with double sides to maximize sharpening tasks using just one tool. 

Here's a list of factors to help you choose the right sharpening stone.    

Blade Type 

Every blade type has a different hardness level. For blades with low hardness levels (53 HRC and below), whetstones with thick and tough grains are recommended. Whetstones like that will help keep a sharp edge of the knife for a long time. 

For blades with medium hardness levels (53-59 HRC), whetstones with grit for about 800-3000 are recommended. For blades with super high hardness levels (ranging from 59-63), the whetstones should have about 3000-8000 grit and fine grains.

Finally, if your knife's blade surpasses 63 HRC, the whetstone you choose should have at least a minimum of 8000 grit. 

The Correct Grit For The Fitting Issue

Whetstones are classified not only by type but also by grit. The sharpening grit is the coarse level of that particular stone. A lower grit is a coarser stone, while a higher grit is a finer stone.  

Find the correct grit for the particular knife issue. Suppose your kitchen knife has chipped edges. You should find a whetstone with a grit of less than 1000. Are you repairing a blunt knife? Go for stones between 1000-3000 grit. A grit between 4000-8000 would be great for refining. 

How Often Should You Sharpen Your knife?

The frequency of sharpening also matters when you're choosing a whetstone. A sharpening stone between 1000-7000 grit would be great for beginners and for those who sharpen occasionally. Those who are already experienced in using a whetstone to sharpen a knife usually get the 8000 grit stones. 

Sharpening a Knife With a Whetstone in 4 Easy Steps

Whether you're sharpening a chef's knife with a whetstone or an ordinary kitchen knife, here's a step-by-step procedure on how to sharpen a knife using a whetstone! 

Have the following materials prepared before you start sharpening:

  • The kitchen knife in question
  • A preferably double-sided whetstone
  • Cutting board or a wide, flat surface
  • A kitchen towel
  • Water or oil for lubrication
  • Honing steel

Step #1: Set Up the Whetstone

Place your whetstone on a flat surface or a cutting board with the coarse side of it on the top. Prevent it from sliding and keep it in place with a wet towel underneath. Lubricate the stone. If you have a water stone, you have to soak it in the water until the bubbles disappear, and from time to time, check to see that it remains wet throughout the process. For oils, make sure only to use honing oils for sharpening, not food oils.

Step #2: Find the Right Sharpening Angle

Place the dull knife against the whetstone. The recommended angle is 22-22.5 degrees. The angle is measured on how pointy a knife's edge should be. The smaller the angle, the more pointy the knife is. 

Here's a photo of how the angle should look like:

sharpening a kitchen knife with a whetstone knife angle image

To explain that in two ways,

  • Use your dominant hand to lift the spine of the knife. Use one or two fingers of the other hand to place between the other side of the spine and stone.
  • Hold the knife at a 90-degree angle with the blade down against the stone. From 90, make a 45-degree angle. From 45, move the knife to half of the 45-degree angle. Minor adjustments are allowed as long as you find fit.  

The angling could be challenging at first, but rest assured that you can master the right angle in no time with practice. 

Step #3: Start Moving the Knife

This step is about redefining the knife's edge. During this phase, you remove the knife's dull metal and replace it with fresh, new steel. Slide the knife back and forth, starting from the hill then to the tip. Make sure to apply moderate pressure. Grip the knife firmly so you don't stray away from the angle and hurt yourself in the process (remember, dull knives are dangerous!)

You have to do the sliding 10-15 times for each side of the knife. While 10-15 is the ideal count, it would still depend on how much work your knife needs. 

Step #4: Use the Fine Grit and Honing Steel

This time, flip the whetstone to show the fine grit side. Repeat the process when you sharpen the knife against the coarse side of the whetstone. It should be the same angle and the same number of strokes.

For the finishing touch, get your honing steel and start honing the blade. Again, use the same angle for consistency. Rinse and wipe the particles out of the blade after. 

Conclusion

You can start sharpening a knife well with essential tools and procedures, but it takes practice. So take it slowly and surely. Practice good kitchen knife maintenance as well. Hand-wash and dry shortly after use, always cut on cutting boards, and store them properly. 

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