Although there are many ways to sharpen your kitchen knives, we believe that using a sharpening stone is the absolute best way to go about it. Not only will you get the best results, you won’t assume as much risk of damaging the blade as you would using a manual or electric knife sharpener. The problem for most home cooks, however, is finding the best sharpening stone and learning how to use it. I’m not going to pretend it’s as easy as purchasing a stone and digging right in.
As you probably have guessed, knives are easier to sharpen on longer stones. The width of the stone is less important than the length when sharpening knives. The longer stone allows for longer sharpening strokes and contributes to faster sharpening. The longer strokes mean fewer strokes across your stone, making it easier to maintain a consistent sharpening angle. As a rule of thumb, a small knife can easily be sharpened on a large stone, but a large knife cannot easily be sharpened on a small stone.
Clean the knives and stone. As soon as you've finished sharpening your knives, wash and dry the blades. You should also clean the stone according to the manufacturer's instructions. For example, if you have an oil stone, you might need to scrub it occasionally with a stiff fiber brush and soak it in oil. For a water stone, wash off any of the residue and store it in a dry cloth until you need to use it again.
The Sharpening and Specialty lines of waterstones from Naniwa are available in several packages of three to five stones. The Specialty line is the same as the Sharpening line, but half the thickness and therefore less expensive. Both the Sharpening and the Specialty stones are 8 1/4" long by 2 3/4" wide, amply sized for most knives and tools. These are a higher grade stone that do not require soaking before use. While you would need a flattening stone in addition, these kits are a good way to enter into premium grade waterstones.
The stones from Shapton are probably the hardest of all Japanese sharpening stones. They will remain flat for a long time. They are therefore the best choice if you are looking for a relatively coarse stone that cuts quickly without having to be dressed repeatedly. The finer-grained stones also work very well. But Shapton stones do not provide the mirror finish you can achieve with softer stones.
The purpose of this article is just to get you started on the right path and please note that this is just the way I do it, there are many gifted sharpeners out there who are eager to share their knowledge. (I am not calling myself a gifted sharpener by the way, I just have so much respect for many sharpeners so I’m calling them gifted, they call me Peter).
Selecting the right sharpening angle is the next step in sharpening. For more detailed instructions on selecting the right angle, try reading this article. Regardless of the method of sharpening, a appropriate angle should be selected. This angle doesn't need to be exact but following some general guidelines is a good idea. Most knife manufacturers recommend a roughly 20 degree angle. Depending on the use of your knife, you can move up or down from that angle. A fillet or slicing knife is never used on anything hard so an angle a few degrees less will produce a sharper edge. On the other hand, a survival knife with various uses can benefit from a more durable edge a few degrees larger.