How to Use a Sharpening Stone

If you have invested in a good quality Japanese kitchen knife, the best way to maintain its sharp edge is to use a sharpening stone, also known as a whetstone. At first, this old-fashioned tool might seem intimidating compared to a slotted knife sharpener. However, we believe that with a little practice and confidence, anyone can use one. Read on to learn how to use a sharpening stone safely to keep your kitchen knives in top condition.

When to Use a Sharpening Stone

Domestic knives may be sharpened fairly infrequently. If a knife is not used every day, it is fine to sharpen it just once every few weeks. Knives which see heavier use will need sharpening more often. Japanese kitchen knives are designed to hold a sharp edge, but even so, some professional chefs choose to sharpen their knives daily! As a general rule, the right time to sharpen a knife is as soon as you notice any loss of its original sharpness. Remember that sharper knives require less effort to use and are less likely to slip and cause accidents.

Preparing Your Sharpening Stone for Use

Before you start sharpening, please observe the following preparation tips.

  • Prepare your sharpening stone for use by soaking it in clean, cold water. The optimum time for soaking a whetstone is the subject of some debate. However, it is generally sufficient to wait until no more bubbles emerge from the stone, which shows that the water has penetrated the material as far as possible. This may take as little as 10 minutes.
  • For safety, the stone must remain still and level during use. To ensure stability, it is best to mount it on a whetstone stand. Some whetstone stands can be installed securely across a kitchen sink, while others simply raise the stone and provide extra purchase on the surface below.
  • If sharpening on a table or counter, raise the stone to a comfortable height by stacking heavy chopping boards underneath it. Be sure to have water close to hand. Place a folded, slightly damp tea towel underneath the sharpening stone to absorb spillage and provide grip. The towel must not cause the stone to wobble!
  • Finally, keep your working area free of clutter. Knife-sharpening requires some arm movement, so it is best not to have other objects in the way.

Holding the Knife Safely

The grip you use to hold a knife is important when performing any task. When sharpening, aim for a light but confident grip that allows you to hold the knife steadily with minimum pressure.

  • Hold the knife in your dominant hand with the blade flat and the edge facing away from you.
  • Place the tip of your index finger flat on top of the blade to stabilize it.
  • With your other hand, place three more fingertips flat on top of the blade, closer to the point.
  • Keep your fingers near the blade’s spine (i.e. away from the edge).
  • To sharpen the other side of the blade, reverse the knife so the edge faces you.
  • This time, place thumb of your dominant hand on the top of the blade.
  • Place the fingers of your other hand as before, keeping them near the blade’s spine.

How to Use a Sharpening Stone

The following steps will help you obtain the best results when using a sharpening stone.

  • To begin sharpening, first wet the blade of your knife. Holding the knife as described above, place the blade flat on the sharpening stone. Raise the spine slightly until only the edge is touching the stone. The correct angle is quite flat: around 15 degrees.
  • Without exerting any pressure on the blade with your fingers, gently slide the edge of the blade along the stone’s surface, moving in the direction of the spine. Move both hands together and keep the position of your wrists and elbows constant. You have now performed one stroke.
  • Lift the blade and place it back on the sharpening stone gently, without altering the angle at any point. Continue sharpening in this way, adjusting your position to work on the whole length of the blade. Use as many strokes as necessary to gain the edge you require.
  • If using a standard double-bevel knife, alternate your grip to sharpen the blade evenly on both sides.
  • Try to use the whole surface of the sharpening stone so that it does not develop a groove or slant over time.
  • Keep the blade wet and regularly rinse off the slurry so that it does not become slippery. When finished, rinse and dry the blade before storing it.

A support holder attached to the knife as pictured can help you to learn the correct angle.

Benefits of Using a Sharpening Stone

This is the process we recommend for maintaining the edge on your Japanese kitchen knives. Now you know how to use a sharpening stone, please enjoy putting these tips into action. With regular sharpening, your knives will maintain their beautiful edge and continue to cut effortlessly, just as they were made to do. As you gain confidence with the technique, you may find that using a traditional sharpening stone is calming as well as effective!

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