February 27, 2020 3 min read
Steel tools such as Japanese kitchen knives and scissors can be sharpened with a sharpening stone.
Although whetstone is often misconstrued to indicate stones being lubricated by water, the term is based on the word ‘whet’ which means to sharpen a blade.
Whetstones come in a wide selection of different sizes, shapes and types of materials.
The burning question for those new to using a whetstone is…what does the digit on the side of the whetstone indicate?
Without knowing this, you could be wasting your time trying to sharpen your kitchen knives with a whetstone too smooth, or even worse, damaging your cooking tools in the process.
The digit or ‘grit’ size which comes labeled with every whetstone refers to the grit size of the abrasive particles in the stone. This is given as a number, as it indicates the spatial density of the particles.
A lower number for examples denotes a lower density ie. larger particles more spaced apart giving it a rougher surface, leading to a more thorough and aggressive sharpen for dull or even possibly damaged blades.
There are 4 main stages or brackets of grit, and each one is categorised to sharpen your knife differently. We will explore each of these categories below to help you understand how each bracket is different, and how you can select the right whetstone grit when sharpening or polishing your kitchen knives.
If you have any kitchen knives which are damaged, has any nicks or chips in the blade or is extremely dull, then you should be looking to a grit size of #1000 or less. A whetstone of this grit will smooth out any kinks in your blade in no time assuming the knife can still be salvaged.
If your knife is dull and has completely lost its edge, then these whetstones are for you.
A word of caution: due to their abrasiveness, these whetstones shouldn’t be used for general sharpening as they don’t leave the best finish on your blade edge. Due to the low grit, they may damage a knife when too much pressure is applied. And a low grit means that a lot of material is being taken off the knife so choosing the right level of grit is imperative for keeping your Japanese knives in tip-top condition.
The #1000 grit whetstone is your go-to sharpening stone. If your Japanese knives need a good sharpen to regain their edge, then this grit is your starting point. But use this sparingly as it will wear your knife down. Whetstones in the #2000-3000 range are less coarse and are more appropriate for the individual who like to sharpen their Japanese knives more regularly. But keep in mind, this range is still focused on ‘sharpening’ your knives, and not maintaining the blade’s edge.
Medium grit stones are fantastic at giving your Japanese knives that razor out-of-the-box sharpness.
For those looking teetering on the cusp between wanting to sharpen and achieve a superfine edge, then #4000 - #5000 range is best suited for you.
Some may see this range as far as they need to go as a ‘finisher’ for their knives. This would apply in particular if you are using a Western knife which typically has a ‘U’ rather than a ‘V’ shaped edge, and a #5000 grit whetstone may be as far as you need to go.
As a guide, if you are cutting meat then it may be in your best interests to stop at #4000 - #6000 grit. The reason for this is #8000 grit and above whetstones may leave your knife exposed to bending whilst cutting through muscle and sinew.
If you are only using your Japanese knives for cutting fruits and vegetables, feel free to go all the way up to a #8000 grit whetstone.
Do not soak in water finishing stones #3000 and above. If needed splash with water only.
Let the stone dry thoroughly. Returning a stone into its box while still wet or damp will result in molding and affect its quality over time.