How to use a whetstone to sharpen kitchen knives

Learning to sharpen a knife on a whetstone forces you to get up close and personal with the task at hand. In many cases, this leads to a more effective sharpening, and it is also more enjoyable to do so.

The blades of your knives can be honed in a variety of ways. A few examples are belt systems, filing systems, and electric sharpeners. It is common practice for manufacturers to also provide an after-sale sharpening service. However, if you use it, your knives will need to be sent back to the factory and won't be returned for a few weeks. Just get a whetstone and teach yourself how to sharpen your tools.

Source: Ethan Chlebowski


There are a few reasons why we enjoy utilizing whetstones. To begin with, they allow you to give your knife-sharpening a uniquely distinctive touch. It's a breeze to get to work with most whetstone kits, as the stones are already pre-assembled and arranged in a convenient manner. Nothing complicated is needed, it can be set up instantly, and there is no need for electricity (except for your arm muscles).

For sharpening, whetstones typically feature both coarse and fine grit on opposite sides. The rough side serves as a pre-sharpening tool, removing the bulk of the edge's roughness and any burrs. The fine grit side polishes everything up, reducing the size of any remaining burrs and sharpening that formerly dull blade to razor precision.

Here we've laid out some basic steps for using a whetstone to restore the edge to your folding pocket knives, kitchen knives, axes, scissors, or any other bladed implements.

First, soak the whetstone.

Whether or not you should moisten your whetstone when sharpening knives is a topic of some debate. (For some lighthearted fun, try saying "whetstone" to a knife fanatic in the same way that Stewey Griffen says "cool whip.")

Some people prefer to go at it dry and avoid using water altogether. While some prefer to use mineral oil, others prefer water. The result is less frictional heat. Our preference is to keep everything well oiled. Another option is to use the instructions provided by the maker.

A whetstone should be soaked in water for at least five to ten minutes before usage. If you extend the time frame, you'll merely guarantee saturation. Some of the people we know soak their whetstones for at least a day. In some cases, that could be excessive.

To prevent the wheel from moving in Step 2, place it in a stable position.

It's best to use a mat or cloth as a base for the whetstone once you've soaked it in water. You'll want to have something to catch any stray water and prevent the stone from moving about. Stands and integrated holders are available from some brands. Those are fantastic, too.

Start with the coarse side of the whetstone if it has both. When using more than one whetstone, the same rule applies. To accomplish this, start with the largest pieces and work your way down. Sharpening knives in this way allows you to gradually refine their edge by removing burrs.

Three, set the knife on the stone.

Sharpening knives with a whetstone requires some practice. However, most people get it really fast. The handle should always be held in the dominant hand when using a knife. When using this method, sharpening with a whetstone is much less dangerous. To sharpen a knife, lay it across the whetstone at a 45° to 60° angle, keeping the blade's tip away from the stone's edge. Depending on your chosen grip, the point might point toward you or away from you.

Determine the actual blade edge angle (pitch). Kitchen knives typically have blades with an angle of 15-20 degrees. Angles on modern pocket knives can reach upwards of 25 degrees. When first sharpening a knife, the blade should be positioned across the whetstone at a 45 degree angle.

Keep in mind that you're not grating cheese, but rather sharpening a knife.

Four, move the knife across the whetstone in a back-and-forth motion.
Holding the back of the blade with the fingers of your non-dominant hand, drag it toward you along the length of the stone. Both the knife's and the blade's angle should be kept constant while you carve through the stone. Because of this, the whetstone can smooth the knife's whole length, from tip to belly.
Use the whetstone in both vertical and horizontal directions to sharpen the knife. It's important to do this multiple times, especially if you're trying to sharpen a dull blade. In order to properly sharpen a knife, the entire blade needs to pass over the whetstone with each stroke. If you want to sharpen a blade properly, you shouldn't do it in "parts," but rather the whole thing at once.

You should keep applying water every so often while sharpening. Little pieces of the stone will fall off as you cut into it. These fragments are too tiny to escape the liquid and produce abrasive paste. Maintain a fairly liquid state throughout.


When one side of the knife's blade is sharp, you can switch it over and do the same to the other. Remember to keep the handle in your dominant hand at all times. Maintain that angle and proceed to work the knife across the whetstone as you had been doing.

If you want to maintain things as even as possible, counting your passes will help. When sharpening a blade, be careful not to remove more material from one side than the other.


In order to continue sharpening with the fine grit material, simply switch the whetstone over (or use a different one) once the coarse grind is complete. Here, on this side of the whetstone, you should follow the same procedure. Keep in mind that the blade's angle must be maintained consistently at all times. With some methods, you can use all three whetstones to get the blade razor sharp. The best advice is to start with the coarsest whetstone and work your way up.

Then, if you're using a leather strop, now would be the time to give it a final polish.

Edge irregularities that aren't obvious to the naked eye can be corrected with stropping. It's what makes your blade as sharp as a razor. Strop a blade by pulling it toward you along a piece of leather at the same angle you used to sharpen it. You only need around a dozen passes, though more is always preferable.


In general, you don't need a master's degree in rocket science to learn how to use a whetstone to sharpen your blades. But you need to practice before you can master it. The hardest part of learning to sharpen knives using a whetstone is keeping the knife at the correct angle as you move it across the stone. When you have perfected your method, you may then experiment with other angles for various tasks and steel combinations.

Please share your wisdom about using a whetstone to sharpen knives with the rest of us by leaving a comment below.

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