If you’ve read any of our articles on The Grind, like for example this one, this one or this one, you’ll know that we’re firmly of the belief that – most of the time – you’re better off with an electric knife sharpener, which is definitely quicker and almost certainly (unless you’re a real pro) more accurate than the old fashioned way of sharpening knives – with a whetstone.
But having said that, we do acknowledge there are times when you either want to use a whetstone or you have no choice.
For example, if you have a blade that just won’t fit through a conventional electric knife sharpener or perhaps you’re out in the bush and you have no access to electricity. Or maybe you just enjoy the meditational aspects of sharpening your knives in the ancient and traditional way!
Here’s a great video by a sushi chef on how to sharpen knives using whetstones…
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t39rhQs6Hqc (~10mins viewtime)
In the video you will see the importance of choosing the correct whetstone ‘coarseness’ or ‘grit’ for the type of knife or the stage of sharpening of the blade you are at.
Grit level is measured in numbers, with the coarsest stones being assigned low numbers and the finer grits higher numbers. Most whetstones have a coarse and a fine side, so you can prepare the blade surface and then put a sharper finished edge on with the finer side. The whetstones we stock at Total Knife Care range from coarse stones with 120+320 ratings up to super fine stones at 3000+8000 on each side.
Here’s a quick summary of which sort of stone we suggest you should use for which job:
Coarse Stones (120+320 grit)
These stones are used generally for fixing damaged knives. If you have large nicks or chips in the blade, a coarse stone will get rid of these quickly. However one of these stones will not leave a good enough finish on your blade for use – you’ll need to get this with a finer stone. We advise you don’t use this coarse grade of whetstone on any Japanese style chefs knives. Can also be used for axes and garden tools!
Medium Stones (240+800 grit)
This type of stone can be described as a good all rounder. The 240 grit surface is sufficiently abrasive to create an edge on a blade and the 800 grit side will give the blade a good finish.
Fine Stones (1000+3000 grit)
These stones give a very fine edge to a blade (this is similar to the whetstone used in the video by the sushi chef). You need to make sure your knife is made out of good quality metal. Plus if you are using a knife to cut meat you don’t really want to use a whetstone with a finer grade than 3000 as the knife edge it produces can be so fine it can be bent cutting through muscle and sinew. Will give razor sharp edges to both German style and Japanese style chefs knives.
Super Fine Stones (3000+8000)
This type of whetstone is really a finishing tool for blades you have already sharpened on coarser stones. It actually looks like a smooth ceramic tile the surface is so fine. You need to spend a bit of time working on this, but the end result is an incredibly sharp knife and a fantastic polished finish. If you have a good set of Japanese chefs knives and you have a bit of time to devote to them, this stone will give you an amazingly sharp knife and a very fine (pardon the pun) finish.
Even though you must keep a whetstone wet to be able to use it, the word ‘whet’ in fact derives from the Middle English verb whetten, which means to sharpen, hence ‘whetting your appetite’. It’s a pretty good reminder though that your whetstone does need to be wet to work.