How To Use A Whetstone

How To Use A Whetstone

  1. Immerse your whetstone in water for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. Lay a Dalstrong coarse grit whetstone in its base or on a dry cloth to prevent slippage.
  3. Hold the knife blade at a 16º-18º angle (German Knife) or 10º-15º angle (Japanese Knife), maintain a constant angle and pressure to sharpen blade on each side.
  4. Switch to a Dalstrong finer grit whetstone and repeat the process, using slightly less pressure. 
  5. Remove knife surface rust marks with the Dalstrong Cosmetic Rust Eraser.

3 panel guide to sharpening your knife on a yellow whetstone by German, Japanese and single bevel blade types.

Now that you have a collection of great kitchen knives (or at least one), you’ll want to keep them sharp and ready to roll. And you’ve got great options. The important thing to remember is to choose a method–and use it. Look, accidents happen. Watch your fingers, of course, and remember that above all, nobody wants a butchered tomato or raggedy slices of meat in their steak salad.

What You'll Learn

  1. What is a whetstone?
  2. Different methods of knife sharpening
  3. Can I use oil with my whetstone?
  4. How do I know when to sharpen my knife?
  5. How to choose a whetstone
  6. How to polish a knife
  7. How to use a whetstone (Tips)

1. What is a Whetstone?

Whetstone, sharpening stone, or water stone–it’s a matter of semantics. Each term describes what amounts to the same thing:  a smooth stone surface that when wet, creates a slurry of liquid and sharpening particles that sharpen steel.

A whetstone can be formed from natural stone, or a whetstone may be made of manufactured materials that combine the best of natural and manmade qualities. The sharpening stone has existed for centuries and has been used for a lot more than sharpening knives. It's also been a useful tool for sharpening farmers’ scythes and machetes, dressmakers’ scissors, woodworkers’ chisels and planes, and every chef’s most cherished tool, the knife. Woe to the chef who tries to work with a dull knife. Uh-uh. No way.

2. Different Methods Of Knife Sharpening

Electric sharpeners are popular and often reliable. With an electric knife sharpener, the angling and pressure required is already designed into the machine which limits versatility and can sometimes damage the blade edge. 

Honing steel (or honing rod) is a chef favorite, and well cared for will last a lifetime. Ironically a honing your dull knife will not actually sharpen it. However, it will compliment other sharpening methods by narrowing the blade's angle. 

Sharpening stones are another excellent steel-sharpening option loved by sculptors, fine woodworkers, and chefs alike. The rectangular stones are a simple, elegant solution for sharpening steel tools that artisans have used and improved upon across the world. “Lap” (level) a well-used whetstone periodically and you’ll make use of it for years to create one sharp knife after another. 

Check out the best knife sharpeners here

3. Can I Use Oil With My Whetstone?

Water is for Knives. Oil is for Chisels.The debate never ends–until this moment. A whetstone works best wet because any particles that could cause abrasion and ruin a blade are instantly washed away with liquid. 

  • Always use water with your whetstone to sharpen and polish knives. 
  • Use oil (woodworkers swear by kerosene) with chisels and planes. 

4. How Do I Know When To Sharpen My Knife?

Phantom Series Chef Knife Resting On A Circular Wooden Cutting Board Surrounded by chopped vegetables on a dark wooden table

Dalstrong Phantom Series 8" Chef Knife

Even sharpened knives don't stay sharp forever. You need to sharpen your kitchen knives at least once every few months. Talk with chefs and you’ll learn dozens of “swear by” tips for when to sharpen your kitchen knife, one of the most popular being The Tomato Test. 

A dull blade won't cut through a tomato’s skin in even slices without turning the tomato into a mess. If you 'smash' your tomato instead of slice it, it’s time to sharpen your knife. 

After properly, patiently sharpening your knives, you’ll be able to slice a tomato to paper thin tomato-y perfection. 

5. How To Choose A Whetstone

Like sandpaper, sharpening stones are available in progressively finer grit, beginning with the coarsest, #100 grit, right up to the #8000 or finer grit. The rule when using a whetstone to sharpen is simple:

  • Sharpen dull knives with a coarse grit whetstone of #1000 grit or less. 
  • Polish your knives with a fine grit whetstone of #4000 grit or more. 

Dalstrong offer three great options.

  1. An excellent place to start is with the #400 / #1000 Premium Whetstone Set.
  2. The Premium Whetstone Kit offers #1000 / #6000 grit stones, an acacia wood base, and a cosmetic rust eraser stone.
  3. The Dalstrong #3000 / #8000 Grit Premium Whetstone Set offers a larger, thicker duo of whetstones that promise a mirror polish to your screamingly sharp knives. 

6. How To Polish A Knife

Take your kitchen knife and repeat the sharpening method of choice with the finer grit stone, making sure that you’ve soaked the whetstone well. For this step, sharpen each side of the blade for just a minute or two, and apply a little less pressure. As before, maintain the angle.

Pro Tip: As you learn to sharpen your Dalstrong knives, you may want to collect additional whetstones of various fine or coarse grit. Like so much in life, you’re the boss of what works best for you – and practice (totally) makes perfect.

7. How To Use A Whetstone (Tips)

Three panel image of different angles to sharpen your knife using a grey whetstone based on the blades style

1. Immerse each whetstone in water.

Soak for five or ten minutes, or longer, until bubbles cease,  (indicating that your whetstone has absorbed enough water for the job ahead).

Pro Tip: the whetstone material determines soaking time. As a rule, manufactured materials absorb water faster than natural stone, which can take up to two hours of soaking. Dalstrong sharpening stones are constructed of top grade corundum (aluminum oxide).

2. Set The Stage

To prevent slippage, lay your coarse grit whetstone in its base, on a dry kitchen cloth (or both), or clamp to a worktable. 

3. Find Your Angle

Whetstone knife-sharpening Western-style begins by angling the knife blade at 16-18º from the stone. To create mild pressure, grip the knife handle with one hand and steady the fingers of your other hand on the side of the blade. 

Sharpen Japanese knives using the traditional Asian push method: angle your knife at 10-15º from the sharpening stone. 

4. Pull the knife towards your body (Carefully)
Pull the knife diagonally across the stone towards your body. Maintain the blade angle and pressure for an evenly sharpened blade.

Use three fingers of one hand to apply pressure to the blade, and steady the knife by gripping the handle with the fingers and thumb of your second hand. Place the knife at the inner edge of the whetstone and push away from your body. Asian-style sharpening requires that you use a mild pressure to sharpen a little of the blade at a time. 

For both sharpening methods, check the blade frequently* until you feel a slight raised burr, and then repeat your chosen method on the other side of the blade.
*and keep the surface of your stone wet

Patience is key. Spend the time that it takes to achieve a beautiful polished, sharp knife. There is nothing like having the perfect tool for the job.

Pro Tip 1: some chefs mark the blade edge with a sharpie so that as they sharpen, the mark disappears. When the mark has disappeared, they trust the blade is sharp.

Pro Tip 2 : Pressure is a subjective term, and different for everyone. Learn to feel the correct pressure by pushing your knife onto a balanced kitchen scale. You’re looking for about 15 lbs. of pressure.

Pro Tip 3 : Listen and learn. A constant pressure is reflected in the sound of the blade moving across the stone.

For other sharpening methods, check our guides on how to sharpen a knife or how to sharpen a serrated knife

Check Out Dalstrong's Knife Maintenance Tools Today

Stainless Steel Knife and a grey whetstone rest on a large wooden cutting board with a second whetstone on the table next to the board
Written by Jennifer DeBell

Jenny believes there’s nothing better after a long day of writing than coring apples for a mile-high pie. 

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How To Use A Whetstone

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