Is there anything more troubling or difficult than trying to cut something with a blunt knife? We have all been there, and honestly, it just stresses us out, and before you know it, we have ordered take-out instead.
But that is why knowing how to sharpen a knife correctly becomes so important. However, with several sharpening options out there on the market, it can start to complicate matters when that’s the last thing we need.
So, we will cut through all that and focus on just one option, a sharpening stone. Yes, even in a world full of technology and robots, it turns out that one of the best ways to sharpen knives is, well, a stone.
But clearly, there’s a lot more to it than just being a stone. You also need to know how to use a sharpening stone the right way, or you may be disappointed with the results.
But this is where we plan on helping, so by the end of all of this; you will have a much better understanding of how to use a sharpening stone and get the sort of results you were hoping for.
What Exactly is a Sharpening Stone?
First, what do we mean by a sharpening stone? Well, if you thought it meant any old stone that you would then run the blade of the knife along, then that’s not correct.
Instead, a sharpening stone is also known as a whetstone, so both terms are used throughout, but they both mean the same thing.
A sharpening stone can come in different materials, changing both its effectiveness and price. They also come with varying grades of grit on different sides. This grit change plays a vital role since we will take you through when you need to change grit when in use.
But the key here is that a sharpening stone provides you with a surface to run the knife blade along to sharpen it effectively. However, you cannot just grab a whetstone and start using it. Instead, the sharpening stone needs to be prepared, and that’s where we need to start.
Selecting Your Whetstone
But before we delve into how to prepare your whetstone, how about we quickly mention the selection process?
First, decide if you want to purchase either a natural or synthetic material. There is a third option containing tiny diamonds that are then attached to a piece of metal. However, this option is significantly more expensive compared to the other options, so it is rarer than the other two forms.
But after selecting the stone material, check if it needs to be prepared in water or oil, or if it can sometimes be used dry. This does change the way in which you will then use the sharpening stone.
Finally, there’s the grit. If your knives are dull, then you need a whetstone consisting of a coarse grit on one side and a finer grit on the other. If your knives are only slightly blunt, then a whetstone with more of a medium-grade grit should suffice.
The grit is linked to certain numbers that indicate whether it’s coarse or fine. Something in the region of 325 is regarded as coarse, while 1200 represents an extremely fine grit. Look out for those numbers when purchasing your sharpening stone.
Preparing the Sharpening Stone
When looking to prepare a whetstone, the actual method you need to use depends on your own sharpening stone. Some require water, while others use oil, which changes how it is prepared.
Preparing a Water Stone
If we start with a water stone as this does take the longest to prepare. You need to soak the stone in water and do so for around 45 minutes.
It’s best to get a large bowl and place the stone in the bottom. Then, add enough water to the bowl to ensure the stone is fully covered. After that, go and do something else for the next 45 minutes, as that’s how long you should soak the stone before using.
But we have a couple of tips here.
First, never use a water stone without soaking it. If the stone is too dry, then you increase the odds of scratching or chipping the blade rather than sharpening it.
Also, double-check that it is a water stone you own. If you place an oil stone into water, you will actually damage the stone, and it will no longer be as effective.
Preparing an Oil Stone
If you own an oil stone, the preparation aspect is different from a water stone. Clearly, the main difference is the use of oil rather than water, but you also don’t need to soak the stone in oil.
Instead, spray some oil onto the stone and massage it with your fingers. You are only giving the stone a coating of oil rather than soaking it. But don’t just use any old oil.
Avoid using vegetable oil or anything you use for cooking. It has the potential to damage the stone. Instead, invest in oil designed for use on sharpening tools. It will tend to come with special ingredients that will then protect your knife blade. Cooking oils just don’t have that.
Once you have massaged the oil into the stone, it’s ready to use. Now let’s see how to use a sharpening stone.
Step 1: Laying Out the Stone
One key element of using a sharpening stone is ensuring it cannot move around when used. You need to place it on top of a solid surface and then place a damp cloth on that surface. You need to do this no matter the type of stone you plan on using.
Your next step is to then put your stone on top. It should not be capable of moving around on this damp cloth, providing you with better control when sharpening your knife.
Step 2: Practice Your Knife Angle
The knife angle is crucial when it comes to getting the blade nice and sharp when using a sharpening stone. Ideally, you should be looking at trying to get a 20-degree angle as that should cover most types of knives. You should know the knife anatomy since it will help you understand the angles and later help you get the best out of your knives.
Of course, you don’t have any instruments to help you get the angle, but we have a tip.
The key is to go ahead and hold the knife in front of you and hold it so the blade and spine are straight up and down. That means you create a 90-degree angle between the knife and the stone.
At this point, you need to tilt the knife spine down so it’s halfway between its starting point and being laid flat on the table. That creates almost a 45-degree angle, but you aren’t quite finished.
Once you have this angle, tilt the knife again to the midway point between this new angle and the table. That’s going to get you close enough to 20 degrees.
But even with this, you still need to be careful.
You cannot create a larger angle than this because you run the risk of scraping off more of the blade than you intend. Also, if you are using a coarse stone, then you might want to reduce the angle to closer to 10 degrees. That’s going to protect your blade and also stop you from taking off too much at the one time.
Step 3: Choosing the Grit
Before using the sharpening stone, you do need to choose the grit. If your knives are dull and very blunt, then use a coarse grit. Suppose they are still relatively sharp, and you simply want to sharpen them lightly. In that case, starting off with a finer grit is absolutely fine.
Make sure you place the coarse grit facing up. Once you feel you are getting the blade sharp enough, it’s easy to simply turn the sharpening stone upside down to then access the finer grit.
Step 4: Using the Sharpening Stone
We now get onto the good part, which is how to actually use a sharpening stone. For this, you need to keep that earlier point in mind where we mentioned the angles that your knife should be held at.
Hold the knife at a 20-degree angle on the stone, and have your knife pointing away from you. Make sure it’s the blade’s heel that is touching the stone at this point.
To correctly hold the blade, you need to have your fingertips on the blade’s heel, but make sure it’s towards the spine. This helps provide balance and stops the blade from moving around when sharpening.
Your other hand must then be placed on the spine at the point of the blade. This also helps you hold things into place and maintain control of the knife as you pull it back over the stone.
The Sweeping Motion
The key to correctly using a sharpening stone is how you move the blade across the stone. For this, you need to use a sweeping motion, and it also needs to be quite a smooth movement as well.
Starting from the heel, move the blade across the stone and do so in an arc movement. You must move from the heel to the tip without stopping to ensure you sharpen the blade correctly.
There is no real need to apply any real pressure with this. The coarse grit will remove the metal parts, resulting in a sharp blade reappearing once more.
Keep repeating this motion on this one side until you feel that this side of the blade is sharp once again.
Once you feel you have reached this point, you then need to tilt your knife in the opposite direction to allow you to sharpen the other side of the blade. You then need to repeat the process as often as required until the knife is as sharp as you need it to be.
Switching to the Finer Grit
When you are content with the sharpness of the blade, you need to turn the sharpening stone over to then use the finer grit. This can effectively polish the edge without removing too much of the metal and running the risk of over-sharpening the blade.
Once again, it would help if you held the knife in the same way and always start at the heel moving toward the tip.
Step 5: Test the Knife
One thing we wouldn’t recommend is simply sharpening the knife and putting everything away. Instead, you must always test the knife first.
Try it out and see if it cuts as cleanly and smoothly as you had hoped. If not, then go back and repeat the process by sweeping the knife blade across the sharpening stone a couple of times to see if this makes a difference.
Step 6: Cleaning Everything Up
The final step is to clean everything up, which means both the knife and the stone itself. Make sure you wash and dry the blade thoroughly. Never leave it wet, as this will damage the blade over time.
For the stone, you need to look at the instructions as provided by the manufacturer. For example, some companies that produce oil stones insist you need to scrub them clean to remove as much of the oil from the surface as possible. For a water stone, you just need to rinse it and then wrap it up in a dry cloth.
How to Use a Sharpening Stone: Additional Tips
Finally, we have a couple of additional tips to make life that bit easier when it comes to using a sharpening stone.
When sharpening, make sure you do the same number of swipes on each side. This allows you to sharpen things evenly. So, count as you do it and repeat the process. It makes life so much easier, and your knife will work better as a result.
Another tip is to practice on an old knife where you are not too concerned if things go wrong. You certainly do not want to get your best knife and start attempting to sharpen it on your first attempt.
Holding your knife at the wrong angle can make a real difference in how it sharpens. That is why we suggest you practice first. It’s all too easy to make a mistake when learning, and it’s best not to make those mistakes on your favorite Victorinox kitchen knife or the Serbian chef knife since they are your best option in the kitchen, and too worthy to be used for practicing.
But overall, learning how to use a sharpening stone should not be too difficult. Yes, it takes a bit of work, but you can achieve some fantastic results, and your knives will be back to their best in next to no time.
Please don’t rush through the process of preparing the stone. It directly influences the results you can achieve, so if you want the best for your knives, then prepare correctly, and you won’t be disappointed.