Cookware & Cutlery

How to Select the best Sharpening Stone

How to Select the best Sharpening Stone

 Whether you are choosing a sharpening stone for kitchen cutlery, wood chisels or another purpose, there are several things to consider before purchasing one.  With one of my hobbies being wood carving, I have several stones for various purposes.  I like a good, clean and sharp blade that is smooth and well polished for softer woods and keeping them sharp is not easy when carving.

There are three stages to sharpening a blade, grinding to remove nicks and dings and get the most even edge that you can; sharpening to hone the point to a fine cutting edge and finishing or polishing the blade which removes small burrs and is puts a good, clean finished edge that should cut through soft woods and a piece of paper cleanly.  First you should consider what “grit” of stone you will need to use.  “Grit” is used to determine hose coarse a stone is.  The “grit” of stones varies from around 120 up to 10000. 

Especially if you have a blade or chisel that has dings or uneven places nicked from the edge of the blade, you will want to use a “grinder” or a “grinding stone”, better known as a “whet” stone. 

Grinders usually have between a 120 and a 500 “grit” stone that is rather coarse and will quickly get your blade back into a straight edge.  While a grinder may cost more than you want to spend, a good combination stone may run you between $10-50.00, depending on the brand and size.  Other than the electric grinders on the market, you will not want to use other electric sharpening devices as they don’t really do much for grinding burrs and nicks out of the blade edges.

You will want to use a 700 to 2000 stone for sharpening your freshly ground blade.  You don’t have to buy a lot of stones in order to get the best edge.  The best economical buy that I’ve found is a “combination stone”.  One side is for grinding, the other for sharpening and if you don’t have a lot to invest it is very useful.  The sharpening side will be a less coarse side and will help you to sharpen your blade to a nice cutting edge.  It may also leave some tiny and rough burrs on the edge so you will also need a “finishing stone”, also referred to as a “polishing stone” that is usually very smooth with a “grit” of 3000-6000.  It will remove your burrs and give your tools a nice cutting edge.  These generally run between $6-20.00. 

As far as size, you should consider what you are going to sharpen and purchase stones that are at least, the length of the blade that you are going to be sharpening.  For pocket knives, a 4-6” stone will do the trick while your best meat carving knife will need a much larger stone.

There are several types of stones that you can buy for sharpening, the most common being oil stones.  These can be messy and take some getting used to, but by far, are the best for producing a nice cutting edge without destroying your stone. 

You should coat your stones with oil before grinding and sharpening; otherwise you’ll quickly wear down your stone.  The oil will re-distribute the “grit” as you sharpen and while wiping down your stone afterwards so that you don’t end up with an uneven stone that no longer sharpens your blades.  Many people find this a messy and irritating process, but it can be controlled by using very little oil as you sharpen and keep the stone wiped down with a rag as the oil runs to the edges.

Ceramic stones are man-made and meant to be used with water to lubricate them in order to sharpen blades.  They will leave a beautiful sharp edge on your tools and knives.

Water stones are also lubricated with water and they will usually sharpen blades faster than oil stones without the oily mess.  However, they will need to be repaired with a process known as, “flattening”, in order to be maintained.

The newer stones on the market are Diamond stones are generally used for a great deal of sharpening.  Through a process, industrial diamonds are applied to metal backing and don’t need to be “flattened”, watered or oiled in order to keep them in good condition.  They do cost quite a bit, but if you do a lot of sharpening; you may want to consider this investment.

If you are a wood carver and work with a lot of hardwoods such as mahogany and wild cherry, you will need to sharpen more often as these woods quickly dull blades.  Soft woods dull them, as well and they need to be extra sharp when working with woods like, balsa, pine, poplar and cedar because edges that become worn will literally tear at the grain of soft woods.

When sharpening your blades, you need to keep both sides of your tool at an angle 30-35 degrees is a good one, or you can purchase a “jig” for sharpening.  The angle is extremely important, especially on a double-sided blade such as a carving knife or chisel.

Kitchen cutlery can be sharpened on a metal sharpening rod, as long as it does not become too dull.  These are not for grinding nicked blades.  They are primarily for honing and polishing an already ground bladed and will not remove dings and nicks in your kitchen cutlery so you should have an oil stone or water stone for your kitchen sharpening, as well as your trusty polishing rod if you want to make an impression on your relatives and friends who dine at your table.

Depending on the purpose and type of stones, you can purchase them online at stores like, http://www.amazon.com/, which has a large selection of great stones and jigs available at excellent prices; in wood carving supply stores, hardware stores, cutlery and at many home and department stores.

It’s a fact that more people are injured with dull blades than with well-sharpened blades, so do your best to keep your blades cutting smoothly and avoid slips that could send you to the emergency room.  Good sharpening stones are essential for keeping your tools and cutlery in top cutting shape.

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