A Basic Guide For Choosing Whetstone/s (Natural Or Synthetic).
I have created this post to provide general answers for those visiting the store, that maybe looking for a whetstone or whetstone set to sharpen and maintain their kitchen or pocket knives, yet are unsure where to start. More detailed answers can be provided to suit individual customer needs; however this is a good overview to get you started.
Whetstone brands, sharpening mediums (diamond, oil or water stones – natural or synthetic) and grit progression (from 180 up to the finest 30,000 grit), may lead to confusion as to which stones to buy for your sharpening needs. Understandably with all those options it can be confusing and could leave you wondering if this process is worth the hassle. Well don’t worry; this post will try to provide some basic guidance.
Regardless of the whetstone/s you do purchase, your technique will dictate the result 90% of the time (i.e. blame the technique not the tool).
To make this process of selection easier, I only stock high quality whetstones. Where there is an option to do so, I always select the professional version, 1st grade or select (highest grade option) over the standard or economy version from the manufacturer. This helps to ensure that these whetstones will do their part in helping you to keep your knives sharp. Yes, you will pay a little more but the difference is very little when you consider the years of use you will get out of each stone (course grit stones can wear more quickly).
Secondly, when it comes to whetstones, you should not base your selection on the cheapest stone you can find, quality does count. A whetstone is just as important to a knife as petrol is to a car (in my opinion). There is no point in buying expensive Japanese or German kitchen knives if they can’t be maintained. A four hundred dollar knife teamed with a cheap $15 whetstone may not offer the best result. As the old saying goes, a cheap tool will be the most expensive tool you will ever buy!
Kitchen or Pocket Knives:
Pocket knives and kitchen knives are utility tools born to do certain tasks that will in turn impact their ability to stay sharp for long periods.
Of the two knives, a pocket knife on average will get the widest ranging and edge damaging tasks (and will usually be the most abused). From cutting rope, string, cardboard boxes, parcels, household, workshop or outdoor duties of all kinds; compared to a kitchen knife which will (or should) only come into contact with food (which makes kitchen knives a little more predictable to how often they may need maintenance).
Cutting cardboard for an example is a quick way to dull an edge on a pocket knife; as is slamming a kitchen knife down on a hard surface when you slice and dice. Through daily use they both will dull sooner or later and will need touch-ups to maintain their working edge (even high quality steels). This is the exact reason why we should have our own whetstone/s on hand to keep our knives in ready working condition. The fact is, letting any tool get too dull (blunt) not only makes them less efficient as tools; but also increases your maintenance time when you do finally get around to sharpening them.
Regular maintenance is the key!
One more point on this: if you keep a regular sharpening routine and care for your knives (not abuse them with tasks they were not intended for), you can get away with literally one stone for most tasks. One of my favourite sharpening stones can help: The Coticule
Have You Considered Looking At Natural Stones For You Sharpening Needs? If Not, You Should!
Natural stones do not come with grit ratings like the below discussed synthetics. That is not how their cutting ability is judged. Overtime as a reference only, most naturals have never-the-less been given approximate grit ratings to help a buyer get an idea. These should be taken as estimates only.
There are four natural stone options available in this store, that can provide you with a great cutting edge for your knives:
Belgian Stones: Natural stones like the Belgian Blue and Coticule will use slurry to increase their ‘grit’ range.
What is slurry: slurry is created when rubbing a smaller stone (of the same type called a slurry stone) onto the surface of the larger stone (with water) to create a light muddy liquid (a slurry).
Using the slurry method, as we progress in our sharpening, we slowly add more water to the mixture, diluting it down to just pure water alone at the final stage (the slurry is gone).
This slurry makes these whetstones quite versatile allowing them to provide a wide range of sharpening duties. You do not need to use slurry of course, but using slurry simply increases the range they can perform. Using varying degrees of pressure with just water alone can also be done.
A Belgian blue is a very dense stone and with water alone is a polishing stone, a slurry stone is needed to ensure good cuttgni action
Belgian coticules are can be between 4000 – 8000 (range when slurry is used).
Both are more than capable at gaining an edge on pocket and kitchen knives and keeping an edge on those knives. Will the edge be sharp enough for me? I can’t say. These are natural stones and there can be slight variance in result, however your technique will be the deciding factor.
How do they work? Both the Belgian blue and coticule whetstones have garnets naturally impeded within the stone which provides the cutting material. These garnets remove steel quite easily and leave a nice polished edge. The only difference is the BBW has less % of garnets across the stone compared to the coticule, which makes the BBW a slower cutter – on average. Of the two, the coticule is the preferred stone; however the BBW is much cheaper (size vs size).
If you are looking for only one stone for your pocket or kitchen knives (and do need stones that will repair chips or re-profile edges), these are a great place to look and will last for many years of duty.
La Pierre Des Pyrénées : The La Pierre Des Pyrénées is a natural stone from Saurat France. It has a grit of approx. 1000. This makes the La Pyrenees a great stone to use up front when more steel removal is needed for knives on the real blunt side. La Pyrenees comes glued to a piece of BBW (Belgian Blue), so you can use the La Pierre Des Pyrénées first, then jump to the Belgian Blue (BBW) next.
If considering Belgian stones for your sharpening needs, here are a few possible selections:
Belgian Blue + slurry stone (only this stone is needed for most tasks – a little slower in cutting action than the coticule)
If you find your knives are quite blunt, consider the La Perennes as a first option to speed up the process. It will get the job done quicker before you start on the Belgian stones (and you get a BBW with it!).
La Pierre Des Pyrénées/BBW combo -> Coticule (this set will give you the widest range of cutting ‘grits’ in the natural stone range). As the BBW is so smooth and dense, it can with water be used after the coticule to polish also if needed.
If you find you need something even courser (repair chips, re-profile) you will need to look into the lower grit synthetic whetstones. Alternatively, if something extra is needed after the coticule, you could consider the Leather strop.
Arkansas – Novaculite: is another natural stone and is from the Ouachits Mountains in Arkansas USA. The stones I offer here are 1st grade. There are lower grades, but if you want the best result, you get the best stones!
They are available in three ‘grit’ sizes (medium, fine and ultra-fine). Rather than using slurry to create variances in ‘grit’ like the BBW and coticule, the Arkansas simply come in three levels to accomplish the same task (more like the synthetics).
So the process is simply:
*The only downside to Arkansas stones is they can be slow cutters on newer / harder steels.
When Deciding On Which Synthetic Stones To Use, How High A Grit Do I Need To Go?
There is no set rule (however 30,000 grit is the highest grit available) when it comes to sharpening your knives.
A few very simple questions may help you decide:
- Your budget? (the finer the stone, the more expensive)
- Your tools usage? (what are you using it for, some tasks just don’t need ultra-refined edges)
- How often are planning on sharpening? (regular is best and reduces the stones you may need to maintain them)
- And regardless of the above, simply how far you wish to go in your sharpening process? (some love the idea of using multiple stones and don’t mind the extra work of adding the finer stones; while others only want to do the minimum amount of sharpening and get out of there asap!)
So before we go any further, I wanted to make it clear you can buy from 180 to 30,000 grit stones and use them for your knives. The issue here (and why I am doing this post) is to show that is not always necessary for the average user to do so (there is a difference).
So As A General Guide Rule Only: If you are looking to sharpen and maintain a pocket or kitchen knife, as a general rule you can stop at the 5000 synthetic grit stone. This will be more than adequate for most uses. Above 5000 grit and you are getting more into the polishing stages and moving away from the actual sharpening stages (there is some, but you are removing very little steel).
Simply, the added benefit of using higher/finer grit stones over 5000 for pocket or kitchen knives becomes less noticeable as you progress up the ladder. It is however a personal choice – again there is no rule!
What If Overtime 5000 Grit Is Not Enough?
One great benefit of whetstones is you can always add another stone to your progression until you reach the level you are satisfied with (so they are versatile like building blocks – just add one either side of the grits you already own to extend their range). If you find 5000 is short of what you want, you can always add the 8000 and 12000 later – easy!
This is why it is better to select up to 3 stones to begin. More times than not – that is all you will ever need for most tasks!
Can you use naturals and synthetics? Yes – read more?
Ultra-Fine – Polished Edges: Depending on your cutting tasks, an edge that is too polished may not be the better edge: e.g. like certain food prep duties. Some tasks are actually easier if there are some ‘teeth’ or ‘a bite’ still left on the edge to help the cutting action.
Another point to remember when putting a highly polished ‘razor edge’ on a utility blade, is that those ultra-sharp edges can dull more quickly.
You may have seen barbers use a leather strop on their straight razors in between shaves? The reason this is done is to maintain that ultra-sharp polished edge necessary for shaving and to help keep the edge aligned (can get misaligned easily). These polished glassy edges necessary for the task of shaving are actually quit fragile and without constant stropping and regular sharpening on a stone, will lose that ultra-sharp edge relatively quick.
Now imagine that same ultra-sharp (fragile) edge for food prep (hard vegetables) or outdoor use (cutting rope)? It just wouldn’t last long at that high level when used on harder objects and would begin to come down to a lower grit edge very fast. This is also influenced by the angle of the bevel to be fair.
What Is The Lowest Grit Stone To Start? It Depends On The Condition Of Your Knives To Start.
As mentioned above, if you don’t abuse your knives with tasks they were not intended for and keep up to a regular sharpening routine, grits under 1000 are rarely needed:
Whetstones Under 1000 Grit (most steel removal): If you have a blade with chips, blunt as a butter knife with no life whatsoever or you wish to change the angle of the bevel (say from 20 to 10 degrees) then stones under 1000 grit will allow you to achieve those tasks most efficiently and most quickly. Trying to achieve these tasks on finer stones can be done if you have some-time to spare, however as the saying goes – right tool for the right job!
- Ensure you take care with any course grit stones, as these stones can scratch the surface of the blade if you angle is too shallow.
- You will lose steel quickest on these stones, so work smart.
The lowest grits under 500 (180, 220, 320, 400) will remove the most steel quickest, and are only needed for the above tasks (chip removal, excessively blunt knives or re-profiling). The Shapton 320 grit Pro or Glass are both suitable for these tasks.
Unless you find your knives in these before mentioned predicaments, these low course grit stones are not necessary for average knife use and really only a recommended purchase if/when needed (you may never need them).
1000 Grit Whetstone: Once you use a 1000 grit stone, your knife will be sharp – real sharp, but it will not be overly polished or ‘super’ sharp. Many knives out of the factory can be at around this level and for many duties this is a perfectly good working edge and for some duties all that is needed.
The 1000 grit provides enough steel removal to help in restoration jobs and fine enough to make a knife working sharp. The 1000 grit is a great stone on its own for those after one simple synthetic stone to cover two bases and who are not looking for the ultimate sharpness. You can easily add stones either side of the 1000 grit if/when needed. This makes the 1000 grit a very versatile stone. The 1000 grit is most popular for these reasons.
1000 Grit To 5000 Grit Whetstones (where the bulk of sharpening happens): This is the area where most sharpening stones are purchased. In this area you have stones that can revive blunt knives (1000) and take them to an extremely sharp edge (2000-5000).
A good synthetic 3 stone set to consider for knives is:
5000 – 8000 Grit Whetstones: It is from 5000 grit we begin to get a polished edge and less steel is being removed. From here you will see less and less noticeable advancement. However, don’t think this means you are not getting a sharper edge, you are. However about 80% of your sharpening is done up to 5000 – not over.
Although stones from 5000 on-wards remove less and less steel, you will be slowly gaining that glassy edge (if your technique has been correct), which in turn makes it sharper. The very factor that makes broken glass so sharp is the same element we are looking for post 5000 (an edge free of any inconsistencies, micro teeth and a perfect polished glassy edge).
So following on the above 3 stone set would be:
(Under 500 only if serious grinding of steel is needed) 1000 – 2000 – 5000 – 8000
Finishing on the 8000 grit will give 95% of user’s satisfaction. Only extremely minor advancements on the edge will be gained from:
10,000 – 30000 Grit Whetstones: Stones over 10,000 are purely polishing stones with near no steel removal. They are the area straight razor users go to get all they can from an edge. Every % counts and is the reason these stones are used by many.
For knife users, these high grits may not be needed or necessary at all – unless you really want the last % of perfection your knife can give! Many do, and this is why they are available at this shop
If you are unsure which whetstones maybe most suitable for your needs, please email for a more detailed answer specific to your request.
Disclaimer: this post is only a basic guide for those looking to purchase whetstones at Interesting Gear Australia, yet are unsure where to start. It is not intended in anyway to be used as a reference for whetstones that are not sold on this site (other brands); as I can only give recommendations on stones I have used (the stones on this site). This post is to be strictly used as a guide only. There is no guarantee given or implied to any whetstone performance for any knives, nor does this post try to answer every possible question on whetstones and their use with knives.