Learning the right way to use a whetstone may take a bit of practice, but once you get the hang of it, you'll be able to keep knives razor sharp while saving time and money.
As counterintuitive as it sounds, sharp knives are actually safer to use than dull ones. Dull knives force you to apply more pressure to achieve the cut you want, and pressing down harder can cause the knife to slip. So not only do you cut yourself, but you cut yourself worse because you were applying more force to the knife.
Watch Now: How to Sharpen a Knife With a Whetstone
What You'll Need
To begin, get a two-sided whetstone, with a coarse grit on one side and fine grit on the other. Different knives require the edge of the knife to be applied to the stone at a different angle, depending on the manufacturing specs. In general, it's somewhere around 22 degrees.
To visualize this, picture 90 degrees, which is straight up and down. Then imagine half of that, which is 45 degrees. And then another half of that is 22 1/2 degrees. Don't worry about the half degree. But do consult the technical info that came with your knife, or check with the manufacturer to verify the correct angle you should be using.
Keep It Dry
While there is such a thing as a "waterstone," which is designed to work under running water, a whetstone needs to be kept dry. Don't let the name confuse you. Using oil or water on a whetstone traps tiny metal particles in the liquid, which in turn produce a more ragged edge than when using a dry stone.
The difference between a waterstone and a whetstone is that a waterstone is a natural stone, often Japanese owing to geological features unique to that part of the planet. Wetting it causes it to dissolve, producing a gritty mud that helps grind away steel.
A whetstone is a different kind of stone, sometimes natural, sometimes synthetic. Some whetstones are OK to wet, others not. For instance, soaking a synthetic whetstone can significantly shorten its lifespan. Again, consult the instructions provided by your stone's manufacturer before doing anything you're not certain about.
How to Sharpen Your Knife With a Whetstone
Use these steps:
- Place the whetstone on a cutting board or countertop, with the coarse grit face up. Place a wet paper towel underneath the stone to help keep it from sliding.
- With one hand, grasp the knife by the handle and hold the edge of the knife against the stone, point-first, with the cutting edge meeting the stone at around a 22-degree angle. You can stabilize the blade with your other hand.
- With moderate pressure, slide the blade forward and across the whetstone, covering the entire length of the blade and keeping the blade flush against the stone at a constant 22-degree angle.
- Do this 10 times, then flip the knife over and give the other side of the blade 10 strokes on the whetstone.
- Flip the whetstone over to the fine grit side and give each side of the blade 10 strokes.
- Finish by using a sharpening steel to hone the blade, then rinse and wipe the blade dry to remove any metal particles.
- Always sharpen in the same direction, whether it's front-to-back or back-to-front.
- Don't believe the hype about knives that supposedly "never need sharpening." Cutting produces friction, and friction causes a knife's edge to lose its sharpness. There's no avoiding the laws of physics.
- Don't attempt to sharpen ceramic knives; they are brittle and prone to breaking.
- Remember, it's a whetstone, not a "wet stone."
- Finally, don't forget about professional knife sharpeners. For your time and money, that might be the most effective way to sharpen your knives, and it's a fairly inexpensive service. Inquire at cutlery stores or even your local butcher shop.
- Take care of your knife so it retains its edge longer. Store your knife so it is not resting on its edge and protect the edge with a blade protector if you keep it in a drawer. Handwash the knife immediately after each use and only store it when it is dry.