Like so many others who get into blacksmithing, I’m interested in making knives by hand. I’m just starting the whole (very complicated) process of learning with the goal to make a set of kitchen knives for myself since I love to cook and do most of it being a stay at home dad.
Knives play a critical role when it comes to food preparation. But as you use your knife over and over, the blade dulls and the edges chip away. Dull blades are dangerous because you generally need to apply more pressure when cutting and if/when a slip happens the cut can be far worse than the light nick from a razor-sharp knife moving with almost no force. So to keep your knives safe, you need to sharpen them regularly with a sharpening stone, also called a whetstone.
If you are new to sharpening
and don’t want to learn all the details of how to use a sharpening stone then I’d highly recommend going with a sharpening system designed to make it foolproof to get a razor’s edge with little effort beyond sliding the knife down the ceramic rod like you are chopping vegetables.A razor edge you could shave with in minutes without the learning curve of a whetstone.
Whether you’re a housewife, househusband, a chef, or a camping buff, a sharpening stone will make your work so much easier and enjoyable. But not all sharpening stones are good for your knife or whatever blade you use. In fact, there are 4 main kinds of sharpening stones on the market today, namely water stones, oil stones, ceramic stones, and diamond stones.
Sharpening stones are available in different materials, sizes, and shapes. They may be flat or feature a complex edge based on the blade to be sharpened. All things considered, here’s a rundown of the 4 main kinds of sharpening stones out there.
Before We Get Started: A Note On Sharpening vs. Honing
Sharpening is quite different from honing even though they are often confused.
When using any of the many kinds of sharpening stones you are grinding away at the metal edge of the knife and removing steel in the process. Honing using any of the many kinds of honing steel or what are sometimes advertised as sharpening tools do not remove steel.
It doesn’t use grit like an oil, diamond or another whetstone abrasive but a hard steel surface to move the edge. What honing steel does is straighten or even uncurl the very fine edge of the blade so that it comes to a point rather than a bluntly rounded surface.
Types of sharpening stones
Oil sharpening stones
These are the traditional sharpening stones that many people in the West grew up using. They’re made from one of these materials: Aluminum Oxide, Silicon Carbide, or Novaculite and utilize oil for metal filing (swarf) removal.
The most common oil sharpening stones are Novaculite natural stones. They’re mined in Arkansas and used to make what are known as Arkansas stones. Arkansas stones come in different grades based on the density and finish the stone creates on a blade.
Washita is the coarsest grade and isn’t used often today as it’s very soft. Hard Arkansas, Hard Translucent Arkansas, Hard Black Arkansas, and Soft Arkansas are the finer grades. These oil stones often cut slower than synthetic stones but can leave a polished edge. Hard Translucent Arkansas and Hard Black Arkansas are rarer and therefore costlier.
Silicon Carbide oil stones are the fastest when it comes to cutting. Those manufactured by Norton are known as Crystolon stones. Silicon Carbide stones are also graded as coarse, medium, and fine grit, and are usually grey in color.
While Silicone Carbide stones won’t produce a fine edge like natural or India stones will, the fast cutting ability makes them perfect for the initial coarse sharpening. As they sharpen fast, it’s ideal to use coarse Crystolon stones, followed by a fine India stone, and finally an Arkansas stone.
Before getting to know about oil stones, bear in mind that they’re the slowest cutters of all sharpening stones. And due to oil, it’s very difficult to clear out the swarf after use. Of all the modern types of sharpening stones, Oil stones are falling out of favour for more effective and easier to use options.
Click below to see examples of each type of oil stone on Amazon.
Water sharpening stones
Water stones come in natural and synthetic forms, but synthetic varieties are more common. While water stones are comparatively newer in the market, they’ve become very popular these days snd are often in the bestseller spot on Amazon. Moreover, sharpening experts consider them one of the best sharpening stones.
They’re very easy to use and come in different grit levels. They only need to be soaked in water for around 5-15 minutes before use.
Like India stones, man-made water stones are made from Aluminum Oxide. But there’s a difference between the two. As water stones are the softer of the two, they cut faster than India stones.
Water stones are easier to clean as well, and won’t leave oil residue on tools. Owing to the increased use of water for sharpening and improved performance, many people now sharpen their kitchen knives, other blades and other household tools with water stones.
However, water stones do require maintenance and they can become brittle when soaked in water so be careful after soaking. But contrary to older style oil stones, this type of sharpening stones have been getting ever more popular because of ease of use and cost. That said, what I’ve put below is a very reasonably priced all in one kit that you can’t really go wrong with.
Diamond sharpening stones
Diamond stones are fast becoming the most popular types of sharpening stones and are now the go-to option for many experts and chefs. They’re made of synthetic diamonds attached to a metal plate in a process known as electroplating. The diamond bits are implanted in nickel plating, giving them their incredible durability.
Diamond stones work extremely fast, are very durable, and will sharpen anything with a blade quickly, including stainless steel, ceramic, and high carbon knives.
Diamond stones can come with both an interrupted and solid surface. They quickly remove steel, require minimal maintenance, and are unlikely to be worn out by the average user.
Diamond stones usually have perforated surfaces to hold ground metal (swarf), but some models don’t have that. They’re also available in a variety of grades and abrasion levels.
The key benefits of diamond stones are that they sharpen very fast and keep their flat shape more easily than any stone, which may become hollowed or curved because of the sharpening process.
Ceramic sharpening stones
Ceramic stones have a different quality as they’re synthetic. They’re made from extremely tough materials and thus are long-lasting. They can be used without water or oil. In fact, using water or oil is optional.
Ceramic stones require a higher maintenance level as they can very easily break. As with other stones, you need to clean them after every use. Most people don’t know much about ceramic stones. And as they’re very tough, they’re usually used in the refining or honing stages of sharpening.
If you are just starting out these might not be the best choice for a first sharpening stone. However, if you are curious you can see what is available on Amazon for ceramic kinds of sharpening stones. .
Summary of the types of sharpening stones
Different blades require different kinds of sharpening stones, which come with an array of grit levels. If you’ve never used a sharpening stone before, you can begin with man-made water stones or pick your own stone. But be sure to choose the right stone for your blade.
When deciding what kind of sharpening stone you might need it seems clear that there is more to consider than just what grit to choose. You need to decide what kind of stone you need based on what steel your knife is made from and where you will be sharpening it.
Oil whetstones are great for use in the shop or at home. But if you are out in the bush you are probably better off with a whetstone that only needs to be soaked in water since that will likely be easier to come by. You can even find portable all-in-1 sharpeners like this one
that are made to be carried on a belt.
Diamond types of sharpening stones are great for being super long life and able to sharpen even the hardest steel however they are not usually made in the easiest to carry sizes except in the above all-in-1 which usually leaves them in the shop or at home.
As far as Grit choices I personally use a 200/1000 grit for most of my every day carry knives. 200 grit is great for apexing if there are nicks and chips out of the edge. 1000 grit is my go to for just maintaining an already established edge. Sure you can apex with a 1000 grit but it will take you FAR longer than on a more aggressive grit.
Some will say that 1000 is not high enough but with 1000 grit and a quick stropping I get my knives sharp enough to shave easily without grabbing hairs. For me, that is more than adequate for a knife I use every day for a multitude of tasks.
If I had to pick one for a beginner looking to use a proper whetstone for sharpening knives it would be the kit I mentioned earlier. It has everything you need to get razor sharp edges with a little practice. Knife Sharpening Stone Set – 400/1000 and 3000/8000-Grit Professional, Safe Knife Sharpener Set – Whetstone Set Includes Flattening Stone, Bamboo Base, and 2 Nonslip Rubber Bases