You've acquired a good chef's knife, you're using it almost daily to make tasty dinners for the family, and it's stored in a nice knife rack or a magnet for safekeeping. So why stop there? Keeping that knife's edge fine will make cooking not only safer but, let's face it, much more fun. Whether you've spent £150 on a high-end knife or under a tenner on a dinky paring knife, keeping it sharp is crucial.
Grinding is generally done with some type of sharpening stone. Sharpening stones come in coarse and fine grits and can be described as hard or soft based on whether the grit comes free of the stone with use. Many sources of naturally occurring stones exist around the world; some types known to the ancient world are no longer used, due to exhaustion of former resources or the ready availability of superior alternatives. Arkansas, USA is one source for honing stones, which are traditionally used with water or honing oil. India is another traditional source for stones. Ceramic hones are also common, especially for fine grit size. Japanese water stones (both artificial and natural) come in very fine grits. Before use, they are soaked in water, then flushed with water occasionally to expose new stone material to the knife blade. The mixture of water and abraded stone and knife material is known as slurry, which can assist with the polishing of the knife edge and help sharpen the blade. Generally, these are more costly than oilstones. Coated hones, which have an abrasive, sometimes diamonds, on a base of plastic or metal, are also available.
"Sharpening is like a hangover cure," says Laurie Timpson, founder of Savernake Knives in Wiltshire. "If there was a cure and you knew about it, I'd stay at your house, crash on your sofa and have whatever it was when I woke up. Everyone would have it and there'd be no discussion. Everybody says they've created a perfect sharpening technique, and they haven't."
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.
Just to prove that we're not merely sharpening geeks, here's an interesting side note. The word whet pops up in some unexpected places. A small species of owl is called the saw-whet owl because the sound it makes reminded people of the sound made when sharpening a saw with a file. And the phrase "to whet your appetite" comes from the idea of your hunger growing sharper at the thought of food.
I purchased this set together with the 400/1000 grit stone assuming that some of my knives were quite dull and would need work on a coarse grit stone. Premium Whetstone Sharpening Stone 2 Side Grit 400/1000 | Knife Sharpener Waterstone with NonSlip Rubber Base & Flattening Stone. This is my first wetstone. First off I tried to sharpen my Chicago Cutlery boning knife. This knife is nearly thirty years old, has been abused in may ways and was quite dull. It was very difficult for me to get a burr on this blade, which I attribute to poor technique. Next I moved on to my Henckels Professional S paring and chef's knives. The paring knife was moderately sharp and was modestly improved after working over all three grits of stone. It would cut paper but again it was difficult to develop a burr with this blade. Undaunted I switched to the chef's knife. This knife is twenty years old and has never been professionally re-sharpened. I have sharpened it twice with a Lanksey sharpening system which marred the finish but did put a good edge on the blade. Lansky Standard Coarse Sharpening System with Fine Hones. The chef's knife was moderately dull and had several pits visible on the cutting surface. I modified my technique for passing the knife over the stone and worked the chef's knife over the 400 grit stone aggressively and eventually I was able to get a burr to form from the tip of the knife all the way to the handle. From there it was a simple process of reforming the burr on the 1000 grit stone and then finishing on the 6000. After sharpening, the chef's knife easily and cleanly slices a tomato with very light pressure and is in my opinion very sharp. Not sushi knife sharp but more than enough for the chopping and slicing I expect of it. I'm looking forward to going back and working both the boning knife and the paring knife over again. Don't expect a good result from this product the first time you use it. Watch videos on using a wetstone, expect to spend at least twenty minutes per knife at first, and practice forming a burr. If you can form a burr, you will be able to successfully sharpen your knife.