Whetstones may be natural or artificial stones. Artificial stones usually come in the form of a bonded abrasive composed of a ceramic such as silicon carbide (carborundum) or of aluminium oxide (corundum). Bonded abrasives provide a faster cutting action than natural stones. They are commonly available as a double-sided block with a coarse grit on one side and a fine grit on the other enabling one stone to satisfy the basic requirements of sharpening. Some shapes are designed for specific purposes such as sharpening scythes, drills or serrations.
To take off the fine scratches and burrs left by coarser stones, and to polish the surface, you can use stones starting at around 2000 grit. There is theoretically no upper limit, but stones above about 10000 grit achieve practically no measurable improvement in the edge. It is also interesting to note that above 8000 grit, there is no Japanese measurement standard. For stones labelled as having a finer grit, you simply have to take the manufacturer's word for it.
In addition, the most prized of the natural Japanese Water Stones are quarried in the Narutaki District north of Kyoto, Japan and are commonly available as either bench stones or pocket stones in grits ranging from 120 to 12,000. On the other hand, synthetic water stones are made from Aluminum Oxide and commonly available as either bench stones or pocket stones as well in grits ranging from 220 to 8,000 and, although this is the same abrasive material used to make India Oil Stones, the difference between the two is that the binder that holds the abrasive together enables Water Stones to be much softer than India Oil Stones which, in turn, promotes faster cutting because the worn abrasive material breaks away more quickly and is replaced with fresh, sharp, abrasive material more quickly. In addition, because water stones do not become glazed or loaded with swarf like oil stones can, new abrasive particles are constantly exposed as the stone wears so it continues to cut consistently. Plus, they can be lubricated effectively with water (rather than oil which can ruin some water stones) which combines with the fine particles of abrasive from the surface of the stone to form a slurry which polishes the bevel as the stone cuts. However, it should also be noted that Water Stones do become uneven significantly faster than other types of whetstones although, their softness does make them easier to true again.
You've likely seen someone using a honing rod to "sharpen" a knife. But the steel rod doesn't actually sharpen your knife—it just straightens out the cutting edge on the blade to allow for smoother, safer cuts. Sharpening your knife, on the other hand, actually, well, sharpens it. So yes, you need to do both. Hone your knife weekly—every time you use your knife, if you'd like—and sharpen your knife every few months, or at least every year (depending on how often you use it, and how soon you notice dulling that honing doesn't really improve).
Scissors get dull, too, but many sharpeners can’t handle their unique shape. This easy-to-use manual sharpener can handle scissor easily, and will also sharpen all of your non-serrated knives with ease. It’s ergonomically designed for either right- or left-hand use and has a protective finger guard so you can safely sharpen all the knives in the block.
Grip the handle of the knife firmly with one hand, and with your opposite hand spread your fingers across the the blade in a way that enables you to apply even pressure. Maintaining a consistent angle, and applying even pressure, drag your knife across the stone with slow, deliberate passes. Over time, you will see a build up of dark sludge called a slurry. This is good! It will help remove metal from your knife and make the edge sharp. Once you finish running the blade along one side you should be able to feel a small hook or ‘burr’ along the other. After you successfully form a burr, turn the knife over and start again on the other side.
Cerax and Suehiro stones from Suehiro are a little harder, and as such do not wear down as quickly as the classic Japanese water stones. The 8000 grit stone will perhaps give you the best cutting edge with a mirror polish on chisels and similar blades. Suehiro also makes a small combination stone for those who do not sharpen tools all that often and are reluctant to spend extra for a Cerax stone.
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.
When the stone is intended for use on a flat surface, it is called a Bench Stone. On the other hand, small, portable, hand-held stones are referred to as Pocket Stones. Also, because Pocket Stones are smaller than Bench Stones, they are more easily transported but, they also present difficulty in maintaining a consistent angle and even pressure when attempting to sharpen longer blades. Consequently, Bench Stones are commonly used at home or in camp whereas, Pocket Stones are generally reserved for honing an edge in the field.
The Brød & Taylor Professional Knife Sharpener is distinctly different from our main picks, not just in its obviously unique form but also in the way it sharpens. Whereas the others grind a new edge with rotating wheels, the Brød & Taylor model carves one with stationary tungsten-carbide stones. Some of the cheapest and worst sharpeners employ a similar method, but the Brød & Taylor’s clever design and precise construction allow it to deviate from the norm. After quickly carving an impressively keen, even edge on a dull knife, with a simple tilt of the blade you can then hone and polish the edge on those same tungsten-carbide stones, obtaining a durably sharp knife. And because this sharpener is compact and handsome, it can live on your countertop, so you’ll be more likely to keep up with regular knife maintenance. It’s the clear choice for style hounds.
There really is no point in having amazing knives if you don’t keep them sharp. Bert from TOG Knives has spent years experimenting with different sharpening methods and bits of equipment to work out the absolute best way to sharpen TOG Knives. If you follow the advice below we guarantee you will become a sharpening Ninja. Watch this space as we’ll be adding more videos in the future…