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A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.
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Wet stones, otherwise known as whetstones or water stones, are an excellent option for sharpening knives. Unlike honing rods which only realign the edges of a knife, wet stones sharpen by grinding away damaged steel and creating a new, razor-sharp cutting edge.
Sharpening a knife with a wet stone is a simple process that can keep your blades in cutting shape. Once you learn how to sharpen a knife with a wet stone you will never go back to using a sharpening rod again.
Here’s how to sharpen a knife with a wet stone in six easy steps.
1. Choose a Wet Stone
When it comes to choosing a wet stone, the most important factor is the stone’s grit. Wet stones come in three levels of abrasiveness. The level of grit you choose has to do with the sharpening performance you want. How often you use and sharpen your knives also affects which grit you want to purchase.
Coarse stones are less than 1000 grit. These stones are best for sharpening knives that are chipped or severely damaged. They aren’t recommended for routine sharpening, so unless you use your knives often, you may not need a coarse wet stone.
Medium stones are about 1000 to 3000 grit. These stones are ideal for sharpening knives that have lost their sharpness over time. You do not want to use a medium stone too often because it can wear down your knife, but to spruce up a dull blade, a medium stone is most recommended.
A finishing stone is between about 4000 to 8000 grit. It is best for refining your blade, especially if the knife is used for fruits or vegetables with skins. Like the coarse stone, a finishing stone isn’t necessary but can be a lovely addition to your wet stone set.
2. Getting Set Up
Read your wet stone instructions to check if they are soaking or splashing stones. For soaking stones, you may need to let them soak in water for a certain amount of time before using them. For splashing stones, all you’ll need is a bowl of water.
Next, grab a cookie sheet with a lip or jelly roll pan. Set the pan on the table where you’ll be sharpening your knives.
Place the bowl of water inside the pan in the upper left corner. Set your stone, which should come with a holder or mat, in the middle of the pan. You’ll also want to grab a towel, paper towels, your knives, and a piece of paper. Keep everything in your workspace, so you don’t have to get up during the process.
3. Sharpening the Knife
The most important part of learning how to sharpen a knife on a wet stone is how you move the knife across the stone. After wetting the stone, either by splashing water on its surface or submerging it in water, set it in the middle of your pan.
Hold the knife with your dominant hand, with the blade facing away from you. Place your thumb on the back of the handle, your ring, pinky, and middle fingers around the handle, and your index finger resting across the end of the handle and onto the blade. Place the tips of your first few fingers on your free hand on the top of the blade of the knife.
Angle the knife at about 45° to the wet stone. Starting at the top of the stone, bring the knife towards you across the stone, pushing down gently from heel to tip of the blade. Repeat this movement about 10 to 20 times. You should see a layer of sediment from the stone on the edge of the knife. If necessary, wet the stone and repeat the process.
4. Testing the Sharpness
To ensure the knife is as sharp as desired, carefully wipe off the blade with a paper towel. Hold the piece of paper in one hand and the knife in the other. Bring the knife to the top of the paper and move it downward. The knife should make a smooth cut down the length of the paper when properly sharpened.
5. What to Avoid
There are two main actions to avoid when learning how to sharpen a knife with a wet stone.
First, do not sharpen the knife by bringing the edge of the blade towards your body. You don’t want to risk the knife slipping or moving too fast towards you.
The second action to avoid is moving your knife in a sawing or circular motion on the wet stone. You also want to avoid moving the blade upwards, grinding into the wet stone. Either of these motions can severely damage the knife’s blade and result in an injury to your hands or fingers.
6. Wet Stone Care
Proper clean-up and care are essential in learning how to use wet stones as a sharpening tool. There are two key components of wet stone care.
As you use your wet stone, the steel from the knife wears parts of it down. Although normal, it can make for uneven results if the stone isn’t kept flat. To do this, use a fixer stone, which may or may not come with your set, to flatten out the stone. You should do this about every other time you use the stones.
After using the wet stones, wipe them off with a towel and let them dry completely. Stones that are put away when still wet may start to grow mold and smell unpleasant, so make sure that they are thoroughly dry before putting them away.