A wet stone knife sharpener will produce a superior result to commercial knife sharpeners (if you learn how)
Whilst most people sharpen their knives nowadays with commercial knife sharpeners, a wet stone knife sharpener, or what is otherwise called a whetstone knife sharpener or waterstone, is a good choice for someone willing to put in the time and effort to learn how to use it. Wet stone sharpening can be used for a number of different tools including knives.
Wet stone knife sharpeners, when used properly, can produce an edge which is superior to that produced by most commercial knife sharpeners. The downside to wet stone knife sharpeners, however, is that they take some practice before becoming proficient in their use.
Lets look at wet stone knife sharpeners, what they are and how to use them.
The wet stone knife sharpener or waterstone is a manual knife sharpening tool made of either natural or artificial stone. Traditionally they were made from natural stone which was quarried from various locations around the world. High quality Japanese waterstones are natural stone are highly prized and very expensive. However sources of natural stone are now drying up and it is unlikely that you will find a high quality natural waterstone at a reasonable price nowadays.
That shouldn’t matter as artificial stones are highly effective, and according to some more effective than natural waterstones. So unless you’re a real aficionado there is no need to try and find a natural stone.
A normal wet stone sharpener is used with water, although it is also possible to get oilstones which are commonly used with a lubricating oil, they can also be used with water. These are generally a finer grit than whetstones.
What do the numbers mean for different stones?
If you intend to sharpen your knife with a wet stone then you will need a number of different surfaces to do so. Different levels of abrasion can be achieved by varying the coarseness of the particles, or grit, and sharpening is usually a process of working from a coarser grit (denominated by a number) to a finer grit. The higher the number the finer the grit.
When wet stone knife sharpening it is normal to moisten the stone with some water before use, though some people will use them dry. Lubrication with water, or with a water-based oil, will allow a slurry to develop on the surface of the stone as you work rather than allowing the small particles to build up on the face of the stone and reduce its effectiveness.
Some stones will benefit from soaking for 10 minutes before sharpening. How do you know if your stone needs soaking? Spread a little water on the surface of the stone. If the water soaks into the stone then it needs to soak a little first. Place it in water until there are no bubbles coming out of the stone.
Note that although wet stone sharpeners are commonly used on knives it’s also possible to sharpen a range of other implements including scissors, chisels, blades from tools such as planes and more with a sharpening stone. So if you’re thinking of buying a stone it is worth remembering that it’s a very versatile tool.
While stones traditionally came in a single grit many now are comprised of 2 different grits, both bonded together. A combination stone is a stone with 2 different sides, so you can begin your sharpening on the courser side then move to the finer side when necessary, simply by flipping the stone over.
Begin stoning with the coarser grit stone. The job of this stage is to take metal off the edge of the blade until you have created a basic edge. You will know when this has been achieved because you can feel a very slight edge, or burr, on the edge of the blade. This means that both sides of the bevel have been ground to the point where they meet to create an edge.
Once this has been achieved move to your finer grit, the other side of the stone if you have a combination stone, and you then remove this edge to create your final edge. Use less pressure with a finer grit stone.
Whilst this sounds easy it does take a little practice. The most important consideration when stoning a knife is to maintain the correct angle between the knife and the stone. A good angle to begin with is about 20 degrees, though experts suggest less than this for a finer edge. However for the average person learning to use a wet stone knife sharpener this is a good place to start.
Here’s a great video that shows you exactly how to stone your knife using a wet stone knife sharpener
For step by step instructions on how to use a sharpening stone click here.
Caring for your wet stone sharpener
Very important is to wash the stone after use. Rinse it under running water and then air dry it’s before putting it away. It’s not necessary to use soap on your stone or hot water.
Water stoning produces very fine particles of metal which you will find on both your knife blade as well as on your wetstone. If you use your knife without washing it then you will get these tiny particles of metal in your cooking.
Keep your wet stone in a place where it will not be banged around with anything else, for instance kitchen implements, as it may become damaged. Particularly the finer stones can be subject to damage.
And if you use your stone a lot it can get slightly scalloped on the surface. So it won’t work as well. You can flatten your stone using another stone called a Nagura, or flattening stone, which is harder. Here’s the Norton Flattening Stone for Waterstones
So if you’re looking for a way of sharpening your knives a wet stone knife sharpener may well be the ideal solution for you. It’s not as easy as using a commercial knife sharpener and you need to practice a lot more to get the hang of it, but if you put in a little practice to the point where you’re comfortable with the use of a whetstone you’ll get a very good edge on your knife.