Knowing how to sharpen a knife with a whetstone will help you get closer and more familiar with the job. It also generally results in better sharpening – frankly, it just feels more satisfying!
You can sharpen your knife in a number of ways. There are electric sharpeners, filing systems and belt systems. Many manufacturers even offer sharpening services. However, with it, you have to mail the knife back to the factory and wait a few weeks for it to return. You can learn how to do it yourself with a whetstone.
Table of contents
- Examples of using a whetstone
- Step 1 – Saturation of the Whetstone
- Step 2 – Position the stone so it won't slide
- Step 3 – Put the Knife on the Stone
- Step 4 – Pull the knife back and forth on the stone
- Step 5 – Flip and repeat
- Step 6 – Finish with a fine whetstone and whetstone (if available)
- wrap it up
- Using Power Tools to Sharpen Knives
Examples of using a whetstone
We love using whetstones for several reasons. First, they give you a very personal touch when sharpening your knife. Most whetstone kits make it easy to pull out the whetstone, align the blade and get to work. You don't need a lot of fancy accessories, the setup is instant, and it doesn't require any strength (other than your arm muscles).
A whetstone usually has two sides: coarse and fine. Rough Side pre-sharpens by sanding away rough edges and any burrs. The fine-grit finish gets the job done by making large burrs smaller and turning a dull blade into an ultra-sharp edge.
Next, we provide some easy step-by-step instructions on how to use a whetstone to sharpen a pocket knife, kitchen knife, axe, scissors, or other sharp implement.
Step 1 – Saturation of the Whetstone
There isn't necessarily a consensus among sharpeners on whether or not to wet your whetstone. (If you want to have some fun — say "wheetstone" to knife lovers like Stewey Griffen said "cool whip.")
Some people don't use water and just dry it out. Others prefer water or mineral oil. This reduces any heat caused by friction. We prefer to keep it lubricated. You can also simply follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
To use a whetstone, soak it in water for at least 5-10 minutes. The longer time period is just right to ensure saturation. Some people we know soak their whetstones for at least 24 hours. This might be overkill.
Step 2 – Position the stone so it won't slide
After soaking the pumice stone, place it on a mat or towel. You'll need something to keep the stones from sliding around while also keeping wayward water out. Some manufacturers make brackets or integrated brackets. Those work great too.
If your whetstone has a rough side and a fine side, start with the rough side. The same is true if you have more than one whetstone. Work from coarse to fine. This way, you can gradually sharpen the knife by removing the burrs and gradually sharpening it.
Step 3 – Put the Knife on the Stone
Sharpening a knife with a whetstone takes some practice. However, most people figure it out quickly. Always hold the knife handle with your dominant hand. It provides a safer whetstone sharpening experience. Pass the knife through the stone at a 45-60 degree angle, with the tip of the knife off the edge of the stone. Depending on your preferred grip, the tip can either face you or away from you.
Find the angle (pitch) of the actual blade edge. We see a lot of kitchen knives at 15-20 degree angles. A pocketknife can be angled up to 25 degrees or more. You want to start with the blade passing diagonally across the whetstone.
Remember, you are sharpening the knife, not the cheese!
Step 4 – Pull the knife back and forth on the stone
Place the fingers of your non-dominant hand on the back of the blade and pull or "pull" the blade toward you along the length of the stone. Maintain the angle of the knife through the stone as well as the angle of the blade. This allows the whetstone to work across the entire blade, from tip to belly.
Move the knife up and down in both directions. Repeat this a few times – especially if you're using a blunt blade. Each stroke should move the entire blade across the whetstone. You don't want to be dealing with "sections" of the blade, but the whole blade at once.
Continue to use water from time to time during the sharpening process. As you work, the particles on the stone are released. These small particles become trapped in the liquid and form an abrasive paste. Keep everything flowing and consistent.
Step 5 – Flip and repeat
When the first side is sharp, turn the knife over and repeat the process with the other side of the blade. Again, hold the handle with your dominant hand – you're not switching hands. Keep this angle and continue sharpening on the whetstone as before.
It helps to count how many passes you are making so that you are as balanced as possible. You don't want to remove more material on one side of the blade than the other.
Step 6 – Finish with a fine whetstone and whetstone (if available)
When finished with coarse grinding, turn the stone over (or replace) to continue sharpening with a finer grit material. Repeat the exact same process on this side of the whetstone. Remember to always keep the blade angle consistent. Some systems allow you to sharpen your knife with three whetstones. Either way, work your way through the best whetstone offered.
After that, if you have leather ziplines, it's time for the finishing touches.
Stropping removes invisible inconsistencies around edges. This is what gives your blades a really sharp edge. To slide the blade, use the same angle you used to sharpen the blade, and pull it toward you along the leather. Just a dozen times is all it takes – the more the merrier!
wrap it up
In general, you don't need a rocket science degree to know how to use a whetstone to sharpen a knife. However, it does take some practice to get it right. Maintaining an angle while moving the knife across the whetstone constitutes the biggest learning curve for this method of blade sharpening. Once you've adopted a technique, you can start tweaking your angles for the specific application and steel mix you have.
If you are an experienced sharpener and have any tips and tricks on how to use a whetstone, feel free to add them in the comments section below.
If you don't want to use a whetstone, check out the following power tools, which will sharpen your knife faster but may remove more material from the blade.