Keep Your Chef’s Knife Sharp!

How to use a whetstoneAnyone who has purchased an expensive knife should learn how to properly sharpen and maintain the edge on that knife, and learning how to use a wet stone is the best way to accomplish that task. It’s easy to do, and relatively inexpensive to get the gear to do it. And if you’re a professional chef, then you certainly should learn the skill of knife sharpening, especially if you have purchased hundreds of dollars worth of quality knives. And although there are a number of ways to sharpen your kitchen knives, I’d recommend using a whetstone over other methods in order to get the most refined, sharpest edge possible.

Different Otions for Knife Sharpening

The Knife Van

Many professional kitchens will hire some guy to come around once a month and sharpen all of the kitchen knives. He shows up in a van, collects all the house knives, and typically will use some type of a grinder to put a rough yet sharp edge on the knives. This may be an adequate edge for your cheap knives, but don’t ever give your quality knives to someone who uses a grinder! It will f__k them up! If you spent more than $100 bucks for your knife then give it the respect it’s due and learn how to properly sharpen it on a tri-stone or whet stone.

Electric Sharpeners

You can also purchase electric knife sharpeners from various kitchen stores, but they are pretty much the same as the guy with the grinding wheel. It’ll work OK on your inexpensive knives, but don’t put your good knives on one of these devices.

Tri Stone

The Tri Stone has been the professional kitchen standard for hand sharpening knives for many years. It is an oil based sharpening tool that comes with three different grits: course, medium, and fine. I’ve searched and it is hard to find specifically what a “coarse, medium, and fine” grit is on this class tool. But it seems to be something like a 250, 500, 1000. This tool works much better than either of the other two previous choices, but these standard grits aren’t quite fine enough to deal with today’s high-end knives.

Whetstones (Whet Stone, Water Stone)

How to use a wet stone
Bob Kramer Sharpening Kit

If you own a knife that cost you over $200, then a whetstone kit is your best option for maintaining a sharp edge. There are 2 basic types of whet stones (also called water stones). One type requires that you soak the stones in water for 10 – 20 minutes to absorb the water before starting to sharpen your knives. The other type only requires that the stone is wet…they don’t need to be soaked before using. The way to tell the difference is to put some water on a dry stone. If the water is absorbed then it needs to be soaked, but if the water pools on top then it doesn’t. But of course, refer to the original instructions which came with the stone.

Whetstones also come in many different grits. The lower the number the courser the grit. Master bladesmith Bob Kramer recommends using a 400 grit if a knife is in bad shape. But if your edge is well maintained then using the 1000 grit for standard buffing followed by a 5000 grit for final buffing is suggested. And then finish it on a leather strop for a razor-like polished edge. If you follow this process then you do not need to hone your knife on a steel when you are done sharpening it. But you will still need to hone it after normal use until it is time to sharpen it again on the stones.

How to Use a Whetstone

Start with the lowest grit stone you plan to use. Position your wet stone so that it is secure and will not move once you start sharpening. Position your knife at about a 10° to 15° angle (about the angle of a matchbook) and do long, even strokes on one side of the blade using medium pressure. Make roughly 8 to 10 strokes, then switch to the other side of the blade and repeat. Continue repeating this process, making about the same number of strokes on each side of the blade. Clean the residue off the blade and feel for a bur or “wire” on one edge of the blade. Once the wire has begun to form, focus your efforts on that side of the knife until the wire runs the entire length of the blade.

Then do a few balancing strokes on both sides of the knife. Now change to a finer grit stone and repeat the process of making 6 to 8 strokes on each side of the knife. Since you already formed the wire winds on the lower grit, you don’t need to worry about that anymore. Some people will start with 10 strokes on each side, then 8, then 6, then 4, 3, 2, 1 and finish by doing 1 stroke on each side three or four times to balance the edge.

Switch to your finest grit stone and repeat this process. Lastly, if you have the leather strop then use it to polish out of the wire and put a razor edge on your knife. If you don’t have the strop then use a ceramic steel to finish the edge off.

Note: Regardless of whether you are starting with a 450 grit to fix a poorly sharpened knife, or a 1000 grit to maintain your good edge, you still need to develop “the wire” or bur if you want that razor sharp edge.


Knife Sharpening with Master Bladesmith Bob Kramer

Bob Kramer is in his shop and demonstrates how to use a wet stone to properly sharpen a knife. This is part of an interview with The Knife Nerd and Chef’s Resources. Check-out the actual interview of Bob!


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