In most cases a sharpening stone will be a combination of sharpening grains and a binding agent. However, in case of a Ardennes Coticule it is a completely natural product. The grains have cutting edges which enables them to sharpen your knife. As soon as a sharpening stone is used little pieces of the grains break off, revealing a new cut ing edge. The higher the number, the finer the grain. Stones with coarse grains (up to grain 400) can be used to shape the blade of a blunt knife. You can subsequently take care of the fine finish with a stone with a smaller grain.
Though "whetstone" is often mistaken as a reference to the water sometimes used to lubricate such stones, the term is based on the word "whet", which means to sharpen a blade, not on the word "wet". The verb nowadays usually used to describe the process of using a sharpening stone is to sharpen, but the older term to whet is still sometimes used. The term to stone is so rare in this sense that it is no longer mentioned in for example the Oxford Living Dictionaries. One of the most common mistaken idioms in English involves the phrase "to whet your appetite", too often mistakenly written as "to wet". But to "whet" quite appropriately means "to sharpen" one's appetite, not to douse it with water.
Start off on the rough grit side of the stone. Check the grit on your stone, or the packaging that came with the stone, to identify which is which. In general, whetstones and diamond stones each have different grits on either side. The rough grit side is used to grind the steel down, while the fine grit side is used to sharpen or hone the knife. The grinding process comes first, so you start on the rough grit side.
One of the most well-regarded natural whetstones is the yellow-gray "Belgian Coticule", which has been legendary for the edge it can give to blades since Roman times, and has been quarried for centuries from the Ardennes. The slightly coarser and more plentiful "Belgian Blue" whetstone is found naturally with the yellow coticule in adjacent strata; hence two-sided whetstones are available, with a naturally occurring seam between the yellow and blue layers. These are highly prized for their natural elegance and beauty, and for providing both a fast-cutting surface for establishing a bevel and a finer surface for refining it. This stone is considered one of the finest for sharpening straight razors.
The truth is that there is no one recommendation that we can make that will meet everyone’s needs. Every sharpener’s needs are different and every sharpening toolkit will be different. In order to help beginning sharpeners get started with good sharpening stones to build around, we need to understand their individual needs. So with that in mind, let’s look at the basic needs of a beginning sharpener.
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Rest your knife on the stone at your chosen angle. An easy method for determining the angle by eye is to visualize a 45 degree angle and then take half that amount. That will give you a ballpark estimate of the angle and then you can adjust accordingly up or down. With a slicing action bring the length of the knife across the stone with a motion that starts with the heel of the knife on the stone and ends with the point of the knife. The motion should resemble a sweeping arc pattern across your stone. Be very careful to maintain the angle of the knife on the stone. Longer curved knives provide additional challenges but as long as you can maintain the angle you will be sharpening very effectively. Repeat this process on the other side of the knife and continue repeating until you have sharpened your knife though all your stone grits.
A sharpening stone is a stone that has got a coarse side and usually a finer side, and that is going to take and re-shape your edge and get it back down thin enough in order to sharpen it. You are basically taking something that is blunt and thinning it back down. You have to remove all of this extra metal and get it back down to where it is thin enough to cut. Very simply, all a knife is is a very thin piece of steel to split whatever you are cutting. If the knife is obviously thicker, it is like trying to cut something with a chisel; it is not going to happen.
One more thing to consider before you proceed is if you would like to sharpen your knife freehand or use a guide such as the DMT Sharpening Guide. Your skill and experience in sharpening will help you decide on the method that's best for you. If you are experienced and comfortable with freehand sharpening, a knife guide may be unnecessary. On the other hand, a knife sharpening guide is an inexpensive and easy way to keep the angle consistent. If you have tried to sharpen before but never achieved the proper edge, we recommend using the sharpening guide. The guide can solve common mistakes in the sharpening process. If you choose to use a guide, please read our how-to for using the knife sharpening guide.
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J. Kenji López-Alt is the Chief Culinary Advisor of Serious Eats, and author of the James Beard Award-nominated column The Food Lab, where he unravels the science of home cooking. A restaurant-trained chef and former Editor at Cook's Illustrated magazine, his first book, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science is a New York Times Best-Seller, the recipient of a James Beard Award, and was named Cookbook of the Year in 2015 by the International Association of Culinary Professionals.