The best sharpening stone for kitchen knives explained
Choosing the best sharpening stone for knives of all types isn’t easy.If you’re new to knife sharpening you might be surprised to learn that there’s many ways of sharpening a knife, including a kitchen knife, and none of them are easy. Using a stone is one of those methods, and a very good method, but choosing the best sharpening stone for a kitchen knife isn’t easy at all.
What does a sharpening stone do?
A sharpening stone is a flat object, either naturally or artificially created, over which you draw your kitchen knife, or other knife, to take fine amounts of metal off the blade to create a new edge, thereby sharpening your kitchen knife.
This sounds simple in theory but in practice is not as easy as you would think. In fact there is much to think about when choosing a sharpening stone for a kitchen knife. Let’s take a look.
The basic types of best sharpening stone for kitchen knives
Sharpening stones come in a number of different materials and grades, which are often called grits, which indicate the size of the small particles on the surface of the stone. The finer the grit the less metal it will take off the blade, which leads to a finer finish.
In the past sharpening stones were made from natural stone quarried from the ground, and in some cases still are. Many high quality Japanese waterstones are natural stone and are highly prized by Japanese chefs. They can be extremely expensive if they are available at all.
However the number of quarries with high quality natural stone which can be quarried have reduced over time with use, and there are now limited places where natural high quality stone can be quarried. As well as this technology is now able to produce high quality artificial sharpening stones
Natural stones versus artificial stones. Which is better?
There is no doubt that natural stones can be of the highest quality, however they are generally very expensive and artificially produced stones are now of equal quality to natural stones and have a very consistent particle size which means that the fineness of the stone can be controlled very well.
Because of the quality of modern artificial stones any home chef will be perfectly happy with an artificially produced stone. It is not necessary to spend a lot of money on a natural stone in most cases, unless you’re a professional chef with a particular need to sharpen your kitchen knives on a natural stone, or a particular lover of natural stones.
What is a Whetstone?
From time to time you’ll see the term “Whetstone” (or “Wetstone”) used. This was one of the original names for a sharpening stone.
Some time ago sharpening, or abrasive stones, were simply called whetstones. The “whet” doesn’t refer to whether or not it had water on it, or for that matter oil, it referred to “whetting” which was the old-fashioned word for sharpening. So in other words a “whetstone” is simply another name for a sharpening stone.
The different types of sharpening stones to choose from
These 3 basic types of sharpening stones, oil stones, water stones and diamond stones. Both the oil and water variety are available in both natural and artificial types. Natural oil stones, for example, include the well-known Arkansas sharpening stones.
However as we’ve suggested the artificial varieties are just as good for the average person, so we shall concentrate on those.
Artificial oilstones can be made from a number of different materials, including Aluminium Oxide, Silicon Carbide and Novaculite, mined and reconstituted. Novaculite is natural stone and originally Arkansas sharpening stones were simply mined and supplied as natural. However the highest quality Novaculite now tends to be gone and it is more common to find that Novaculite is mined and reconstituted into the modern product.
As the name suggests they are used in combination with a fine grade of oil. The oil is there to help lubricate and also to produce a “swarf” which is a slurry of oil and tiny particles of metal and grit which help lubricate and sharpen. Some people suggest that this helps keep the fine particles out of the surface of the stone. And some people also suggest that having fine particles of metal in the oil actually reduce the effectiveness, though this effect might be very tiny in either direction.
Because the use of oil lubricates the sharpening action it slows down the sharpening process, and therefore oil lubrication makes sharpening your kitchen knives a slower process. Oil stones come in a number of different grades, which relate to the fineness of the surface. Many of them come with different grades, or grits on both sides so you will buy the stone with 2 grades in the one product, one on either side.
Aluminum Oxide oil stones are a very good choice as these will cut faster than reconstituted Novaculite (Arkansas) versions. They are coarser and harder and last longer and are commonly called India stones.
Silicon Carbide stones are extremely effective and quite coarse and work very fast.
Waterstones are available in both natural and artificial versions however if you are able to find a natural version it is likely to be very expensive. The artificial versions are perfectly effective and you’ll not be disappointed with an artificial Waterstone. Most commonly these are made from Aluminum Oxide but unlike India stones have a different binder to hold the materials together.
Is generally stones are softer and therefore cut quicker, which has advantages and disadvantages. Obviously speed of sharpening your kitchen knife is useful, however this also wears the stone surface faster and may require flattening of the surface more often.
These are all artificial and are manufactured by implanting very small particles of diamond onto a metal surface. The diamonds are fastened onto a metal plate.
Some diamond stones have gaps in the surface of the diamonds to capture the swarf, others are continuous diamond surfaces which are better for sharpening some other types of tools.
You will see diamond stones available as mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline, the monocrystalline will last better and so is a better choice, though more expensive. They cut extremely fast and are very useful where your knife edge requires some serious care as it has become very blunt or abused. Originally they came as mainly coarse grits but they are now available in finer versions. Diamond stones are a very modern and effective choice.
As we mentioned in relation to Waterstones the surface can become worn and it can lose it’s flatness, and may need to be re-flattened from time to time to maintain its effectiveness. One of the advantages of the diamond version is that they will stay permanently flat and in some cases can be used to flatten the surface of other stones.
You would normally use water as the lubricant on the diamond surface.
Should you use oil or water on your sharpening stone?
Whilst the traditionalists will always use oil on an oil stone this is not necessary. It’s perfectly possible to use water, however if you begin using the stone with oil then you are probably better to continue to do so as it is difficult to switch. However water will work effectively as your lubricant if you start using it from the beginning.
Oil tends to be messy and harder and slower to clean up. Water is cleaner and easier to clean up. Water and diamond stone should only be used with water.
What else should you consider when choosing the best sharpening stone for your kitchen knife?
It’s extremely important to consider the grit, or the grade, or fineness of the stone. Commonly you will need a coarser and a finer grit, though some people will use 3 or even more.
You should start sharpening your kitchen knife on the coarsest grit unless it is already reasonably sharp and merely needs a touchup. After working on the coarsest grit you then move to the finer grit. Many many are “combination stones” featuring a coarser grit on one side and a finer grit on the other so that all your sharpening requirements are there in one single item.
In other cases you can buy a kit which contains 2 or 3 different grades all in one kit. These different grades are intended to produce a good range of grits for the average user.
Should you choose a cheap sharpening stone?
It’s perfectly possible, if you search online, to find a very cheap stone which appears to be a great buy. However as the old adage suggests “you only get what you pay for”.
Remember that you will be using your product for many years to come. Saving $30 or $40 on your sharpening stones makes very little difference over the space of ten years. Don’t select your kitchen knife sharpening stone on price.
DMT W6EFC Three 6-Inch Diamond Whetstone Models in Hard Wood Box
Which sharpening stone should you buy?
This is a very difficult question to answer. It depends on a whole range of factors. However in our view it’s very hard to go past a quality diamond sharpening stone kit, such as pictured. Whilst it’s possible to buy them cheaper kit such as this will last you for a long time, be relatively simple to use, with practice, and being of metal and diamond is unlikely to wear, and will not require flattening.
If this kit costs you anywhere around $$, and you use it for 10 years, then it has cost you $8 a year. Not expensive.
Another great alternative, though more expensive, is Norton sharpening stone starter kit. One of the values of this kit, for a beginner, is the instructional DVD that comes with it.
Where to buy sharpening stones
In many cases you can buy direct from the manufacturer but in each case it’s highly likely, unless you happen to hit a sale, that you will pay recommended retail price.
In our experience you will usually get a better deal from Amazon.
Watch this video about choosing a sharpening stone. It is well worth a few minutes.
Want to find out even more about best sharpening stone for kitchen knives?
Useful articles to read
If you’ve got a spare half hour and are happy to grab a coffee, sit back and relax, here is a very good article about sharpening your kitchen knives including about sharpening stones. But you will need time to read it.
A good article on Popular Woodworking
Sharpening stones explained on Wikipedia