"Sharpening is like a hangover cure," says Laurie Timpson, founder of Savernake Knives in Wiltshire. "If there was a cure and you knew about it, I'd stay at your house, crash on your sofa and have whatever it was when I woke up. Everyone would have it and there'd be no discussion. Everybody says they've created a perfect sharpening technique, and they haven't."
The purpose of this article is just to get you started on the right path and please note that this is just the way I do it, there are many gifted sharpeners out there who are eager to share their knowledge. (I am not calling myself a gifted sharpener by the way, I just have so much respect for many sharpeners so I’m calling them gifted, they call me Peter).
Your immediate goal is to raise a burr on the side of knife opposite to the side you are sharpening and depending on the steel, the grit of stone and how you are doing, it will be either a very quick process or it will seem like it takes an eternity. Patience here will reward you, believe me. The sharpening process is incomplete with no burr creation on your first stone. (Yes, it is possible to stop at that magic moment without the burr forming but we are not there yet, we don’t even need to go there, ever, I am just mentioning it so those gifted sharpeners will be happy) . Think of the burr as the debris that is making the knife dull being forced down the blade towards the edge and over to the other side of the by your sharpening prowess. You form the burr, that knife will get sharp, no burr, you just need to look at your work. A Loupe is handy here, an inexpensive magnifying device with a light that allows you to see the edge very well, if you are not forming a burr, you are not reaching the edge. (Having a loupe also makes you look cool and scientific, like a Sharpologist).
Place an old coffee mug upside down so that the bottom of the mug is exposed to the air. In a pinch, a coffee mug can serve as a surprisingly effective sharpening tool if you don't have any fancy equipment. The ceramic material of a mug is a material coarse enough to get good results. Indeed, some honing rods even use ceramic material to keep a blade homed in between sharpenings.
Technically, the name whetstone can be applied to any form of sharpening stone, regardless of what cutting fluid is typically used with it. However because whet sounds like wet, many hear the word and assume that it refers to a stone that is used wet with water. Actually, water stones, oil stones diamond stones and ceramic stones are all forms of whetstones. So, while all water stones are whetstones, not all whetstones are water stones.
I've been using these stones for the past day, and they work great. Once you get the technique down that works for you, you can sharpen any knife to the point it can cut through news paper. Tip: make sure you count the amount of times you pass through the stone on one side and do that same amount on the other side. What I usually do is if I know the knife is very dull or chipped, I do 100 passes on each side using the 400 grit. I test the blade on thick paper and if it cuts through I test it on news paper. If it doesn't cut through the news paper I do another 50 passes on each side. Repeat this until the blade can cut through newspaper. After, on the 1000,3000, and then the 8000 grit stone I do 50 passes on each side. This should make the blade very smoothe cutting and polish it. I plan on getting a strop or piece of leather to further polish the blade. The only thing I don't like about this is that this package is that it does not come with a dressing stone so you can re flatten/level the stone after using them.
Over the course of two days I re-sharpened nearly a dozen old blades, including removing the secondary bevel on an old stainless Ontario saber-grind Navy diver's knife, convexing the edge on flat ground 1095 Schrade 55 that also came with a secondary bevel, and fixing a broken tip on an old Kershaw folder. These stones made quick work of the Schrade and Kershaw. Both had completely new edge geometry within 30 minutes apiece. The Kershaw looked like-new, as if the tip had never broken. And the Schrade cut much better than it's secondary bevel would previously allow, regardless of how sharp I got it with a ceramic rod and strops. The Ontario took a little more work, as it had been abused a little the last time I'd held it, over 25 years ago and was as dull as a case knife - one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and do a full saber grind - well, a slightly convexed saber, I suppose would be more accurate. But within under an hour of using the two stones and a couple leather strops (one with black compound, another with green), the Ontario was shaving sharp again too.
Practice holding the knife at a 20 degree angle. Most straight blades need to be sharpened at a 20 degree angle. To find the angle, hold the directly in front of you so it's straight up and down. This is 90 degrees. Tilt the knife halfway towards the table so it's at a 45 degree angle. Tilt the knife halfway again so it's about an inch (2.5 cm) above the table. This should be a 20 degree angle.
It will be tempting to raise the angle here to get to the edge quickly, that is not the way to go. Re-paint the edge/bevel if necessary and try again. You can flip the knife prior to burr formation and work on the opposite side. Repeatedly feel for the burr with your thumb by running it very gently down the blade and over the edge, if the burr is there it will be very obvious, you need to create the burr along the entire length of the blade. Once you have done that, (you have accomplished what most people will never try) but besides that, you have to do the same to the other side of the blade.
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 sufficiently wet, it's time to position the stone on something solid, so it doesn't move about during sharpening. Many come with holders, but you can just place it on a slightly damp tea towel on the table. The stone should be roughly perpendicular to your body, though Warner told me it is sometimes easier to angle it ever so slightly to the right (if you're right handed).
I can personally verify that this will get your knives very sharp. I will spare you all the gory details, but the picture is of the instructions the ER sent me home with after stopping the bleeding and patching me up. I have to say, that’s not what I had in mind regarding “Thanksgiving tips”. So: not only will knives slide easily through spinach, but they will go through finger and fingernail like a hot knife through butter after being sharpened by this whetstone. Very clean, straight cut. Impressive, really. Just take it slow and don’t be a moron like me.
The coarse stone will cut the metal off quicker but it is going to give you a rougher edge but that way the job gets done quicker, without the oil. It is not as messy. This is just a real simple set up. If you do wood work you can make a little wooden box and rout it out. In this particular case it is just a 2x4, stone traced out, finishing nails tapped down so they are deeper than the stone so when you drop the stone in, if you are at a workbench you can C-clamp it down in place or you can hold on to it.
Speaking of building muscle memory, here is a good exercise for you, a confidence builder: Paint the edge of your knife and bevel with a Sharpie and sharpen the knife at an angle that results in the removal of that Sharpie. In many cases it will be close to the 20 deg angle anyway. When you have achieved success, repeat the process and do that ten times. Now flip the blade over and do it on the other side, you don’t need to use much pressure here, just a little. You want to get to the point where you can place the knife at the SRA “Sharpie Removal Angle” the first time, every time.
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.
To use Al's method, take a black felt pen and shade in the bevel of the knife. Then take two strokes on the stone and examine the edge. If you have maintained the proper angle then all the black will be gone. If you see black on the top of the edge it means you are holding the back of the knife too far from the stone. If there is black on the bottom of the edge but the top is clean then you are laying the knife too flat on the stone and you need to raise it a bit. Repaint the edge and try it again. Once you discover what the right angle looks like then just maintain that.
When the block is intended for installation on a bench it is called a bench stone. Small, portable stones (commonly made of bonded abrasive) are called pocket stones. Being smaller, they are more portable than bench stones but present difficulty in maintaining a consistent angle and pressure when drawing the stone along larger blades. However, they still can form a good edge. Frequently, fine grained pocket stones are used for honing, especially "in the field". Despite being a homophone with wet in most dialects of modern English, whetstones do not need to be lubricated with oil or water, although it is very common to do so. Lubrication aids the cutting action and carries swarf away.
Choose the style of stone. You'll need to choose a natural or synthetic stone that can be used wet (soaked in water), with oil, or dry. There are also diamond stones that are actually very small diamonds attached to a metal surface. Stones that are soaked in water are softer stones which means you can quickly sharpen your knives. Unfortunately, these stones will wear down faster than the others. Oil stones are the least expensive and they're made of a harder material.
The double sided 400 and 1000-grit Water Stone Sharpening Block by Whetstone enables you to safely and easily sharpen and polish your kitchen cutlery, hunting or pocket knives, blades and razors. You can even use it for your gardening tools! This stone only requires water, no oil needed! Made with durable green silicon carbide, this honing tool will last for years to come.
I am just starting out sharpening with whet stones. I have found these stones to be very nice and the instructional videos that come along with the set on knifeplanet are extremely helpful to anyone starting out. The cost of the set was very reasonable and seems to be a great value. The customer service is amazing, I lost the site for the videos and sent an email to get the information and immediately there was a reply with all of the links that I needed. I appreciate their attention to their customers!!