How to Sharpen a Knife With a Whetstone
Maintaining a sharp knife is extremely important when working in the kitchen. A sharp knife ensures precise cutting, effeciency, and avoidance of injury. An optimally sharp edge improves speed and accuracy. This is a must for any cook.
While there are many sharpening methods out there, the use of a whetstone ranks superior. Using a whetstone alows you to easily and accurately shape the blade and sharpen it without removing too much material as many other sharpening devices can. Whetstones come in several different grit sizes. A coarse grit whetstone may be used for initial sharpening, or when a blade is damaged and the edge needs reshaping. The finer grit whetstones will help finish the sharpening process and result in a very sharp edge. This article describes the step by step process for sharpening a knife with a whetstone.
Soak the Whetstone
The first step before sharpening is to soak the whetstone in water for approximately five minutes. This allows water to penetrate the porous surface. Water is necessary in the process to keep the whetstone lubricated. With softer stones, such as Japanese whetstones, the water and soft material form a slurry which assists in the sharpening process.
Next, place the whetstone in a pan or other container to catch any water and whetstone material that accumulate. I used the bottom of an old roasting pan. Keep a container of water nearby so that as the water runs off the whetstone, you can replenish it and maintain optimal lubrication.
Coarse Grit Sharpening
With the coarse grit side up, place the knife on the whetstone at an approximate 20 degree angle. Different manufacturers create their knives with different blade angles. For example, a Wüsthof knife has a larger blade angle than a Shun knife. Check with the knife manufacturer and try to maintain this angle while sharpening. I start with the heel of the knife and only sharpen in one direction. There are variations here, but I choose this method to ensure consistency and to maintain the integrity of the whetstone. I will sharpen for 9 repetitions, then move down the blade trying not to overlap what I have already sharpened. I repeat this until I have reached the tip of then knife, usually 3-4 locations. I turn the knife over and repeat the same process. Once complete, I go back to the other side and repeat with 7 repetitions before turning the knife over. I repeat with 5, 3, and finally 1 repetition on both sides.
Fine Grit Sharpening
I repeat the same process outlined above with the fine grit side of the whetstone. As you are removing less material, there is a little more leeway and mistakes are more forgiving. Upon completion, examine the blade and look for symmetry. Wash the knife well with soap and water prior to use.
- Apply a firm, even pressure as sharpening, allowing the knife to glide with ease.
- Using a permanent marker, draw a strip along the blade edge just a millimeter up the blade. As you sharpen, the ink should be removed. This will help with assessing even sharpening.