Although there are many ways to sharpen your kitchen knives, we believe that using a sharpening stone is the absolute best way to go about it. Not only will you get the best results, you won’t assume as much risk of damaging the blade as you would using a manual or electric knife sharpener. The problem for most home cooks, however, is finding the best sharpening stone and learning how to use it. I’m not going to pretend it’s as easy as purchasing a stone and digging right in.
Once you’ve decided to start sharpening your kitchen knives with a sharpening stone, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to actually get going. These steps include finding and buying the best sharpening stone for use at home, learning the basic technique involved in doing the sharpening, and then practicing enough times to get it right. (For the sake of the knives, we don’t recommend using your best kitchen knives for practice!)
What to Look for in a Sharpening Stone
There are a few important factors to consider when looking for a good sharpening stone. You should be able to find a knife sharpening stone with at least the most important criteria, so here’s what to look for:
The most important aspect of a sharpening stone is the grit. If you have knives that have taken a beating and are either nicked up or really dull, you’ll need a courser stone to get it back into shape. And in order to put an exceptionally sharp edge on an already sharp knife, you’ll need a finer grit stone. If your knives are already in pretty good shape and just need a touch up, buying just a finer grit stone might be enough, but don’t think you can get away without a courser stone for knives that need more TLC. It is possible to buy a combination, or two-sided sharpening stone.
- Understanding Grit: You’ll see a bunch of numbers being thrown around when discussing the grit of a sharpening stone. The number refers to the size of the grit. The larger the number, the finer the grit. A good beginner stone would be a two-sided stone with #400 and #1000 grit. The #400 grit is the courser stone for working out the nicks and imperfections, the #1000 grit is for refining.
The size of stone you buy really depends on the size of the knives you plan to sharpen on it. If you’re going to be sharpening really large knives, you’ll need a really large stone. A good size for the average kitchen knife is roughly 7 inches in length and 2 1/2 inches in width.
The type of stone refers to the material it is made with. You can find many different types, including diamond, ceramic, natural stone, and synthetic. I would only suggest diamond if you’re planning to be sharpening only ceramic knives. Many of the stones you’ll find on Amazon or other retails are made of Corundum, which is a crystalline form of aluminium oxide. It’s a fine choice for a beginner sharpening stone.
Water vs Oil
All stones require either water or oil as a lubricant to sharpen the knife. We prefer water stones because they’re easier to use, less messy and don’t have the possibility to go rancid like oil does. If you choose a water stone, all you have to do is either add water to the stone before placing the knife on the surface, or soak the stone in water for 10 minutes before use. You’ll want to read the instruction for the stone you purchase to find out how to use it properly.
Here are a few options that we like for #400/#1000 water-based stones. Once you become more comfortable with sharpening on a stone and want to sharpen your more high-end knives, you might consider getting a stone with an even finer grit, but these will do for beginners.
How to Use a Sharpening Stone
Practice makes perfect. If you’ve ever watched a professional sharpening knives on a stone, you’ll see how effortless and easy they make it look. It’s not going to be that easy the first few times, but you’ll get the hang of it.
The basic instructions for using a sharpening stone are actually fairly easy to follow.
- First, soak the stone in water for a few minutes before using it.
- If you’ve purchased a sharpening stone that comes with a base, you can use that to hold the stone in place. If yours don’t have a base, place the stone on a kitchen towel to hold it in place.
- Holding the knife at the correct angle (20 degrees for Western knives), draw the knife across the stone from heel to tip, using a little pressure, alternating from side to side to keep the bevel even.
- You’ll know you’re reached a stopping point when you can feel the slight catch of the bevel on the edge of the blade, by carefully running your finger in the direction of the blade, or by cutting through a sheet of paper. When the knife cuts cleanly through the paper, it’s time to hone the blade. Read our guide for more information about honing vs sharpening.
- Clean the knife and dry it.
- Brush off the sharpening stone and store it in a place where it can dry.
See It In Action
See, that sounds easy right? I personally like to see what I should be doing. If that’s you too, then you can watch this YouTube video from Howcast.com that will show you how to use the sharpening stone.
Knife Sharpening Tips & Tricks
What these instructions leave out is the tips and tricks that help make the process easier. It’s getting the angle right, using the right pressure, and knowing when to stop that you must learn. We’ve put those tips into a handy infographic. This guide will help you teach yourself how to become an expert at using your sharpening stone.
If you have a couple of cheaper knives that you don’t mind practicing with, I would suggest you spend a little time acquainting yourself with the stone and getting the feel for it. You’ll need to train yourself to feel the correct angle and the right amount of pressure.
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That’s a lot of information to process! I am sure you’ll find that using a sharpening stone isn’t anything to be scared of, and it will begin to feel natural the more you use it. If you keep your knives honed reguarly, you won’t need to use the sharpening stone very often, but it will probably become your favorite kitchen tool, nonetheless.