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How to Use A Sharpening Stone

How to Use A Sharpening Stone

Last updated on 6/20/2018

Most people don't think about sharpening knives until this vital kitchen tool is no longer sharp. The truth is that nothing impacts the longevity of your knives, or their daily performance, more than regular sharpening and maintenance. A dull knife in the kitchen is more dangerous than a sharp one when employees must force their way through cutting meat and slicing vegetables. As a result, daily sharpening and maintenance is easy, and most importantly, necessary. We're here to show you how to use a sharpening stone, including correct techniques and maintenance. The end result is a more efficient, and safer, set of knives!

Preparing Your Stone for Sharpening

Adding oil to a knife sharpening stone

Sharpening tools by using a sharpening stone has been an effective technique for centuries and has greatly developed over time. Whether you have a crystolon or India stone, a water stone or oil stone, the actual preparation and subsequent sharpening is fairly similar! To ensure safe and efficient sharpening, follow these steps: 

  1. Place the stone on a damp cloth or towel, and make sure both of these are on a flat surface. This helps prevent the stone and towel from sliding during sharpening.
  2. Begin with the coarse side of the stone on top, as this is the quickest way to form the knife blade back into the correct shape.
  3. Lubricate the stone. Some stones specifically use oil or water, and if that's the case, ensure you're using the recommended lubricant. Most importantly, whichever lubricant you choose, do not change it after the first use. When using oils, only use those approved for sharpening stones. Food oils such as vegetable and olive oil should never be applied! Some options like diamond stones, and others, don't need any lubricant at all, so be sure to check the stone's instructions.

  4. To apply the lubricant, put a small line of oil or water down the middle of the stone. Gently massage and spread the oil or water evenly across your sharpening stone. Once this is done, you're ready to start sharpening!

Finding the Angle

Perhaps the trickiest and most uncertain aspect for anyone new to sharpening stones is learning to know the correct angle for the knife. It's recommended that knives be sharpened at a 20-degree angle, and these simple steps will make it easy for you to find the correct angle.

  • Hold the knife with the blade down, at a 90-degree angle.
  • Move the knife to a 45-degree angle, halving the distance between the 90-degree angle and the table.
  • Once more, move the knife to half of the remaining angle, and now you have a good estimate of the appropriate sharpening angle. Adjustments can be made up or down as needed.
Hold the knife with the blade down at a 90 degree angle Move the knife to a 45 degree angle Move the knife down to roughly a 25 degree angle

Sharpening Your Knives: It's All About Consistency

Sharpening a knife with a sharpening stone

When sharpening a knife, you're actually grinding away the existing blade to create a new edge. This is evidenced by the fact that upon completion, you can find tiny metal filings, called swarf, when wiping down the stone. Because the metal blade is actually being ground away, a high importance is placed on the technique and consistency of drawing a knife over the stone.

A sharpening stone should never be used on serrated knives. Consult a professional to have serrated knives sharpened.

Once you have the correct angle, it's time to start sharpening! Be sure that the stone is placed on a damp towel, with the coarse side facing up.  

  1. With your knife at the correct angle, slowly draw the knife down and across the stone in a smooth motion, starting at the heel and finishing at the tip.
  2. The number of times this must be done will vary depending on the dullness of the knife. But what's most important is that for however many times this action is completed on one side, it must be done an equal amount of times on the other.
  3. After five draws, flip the knife to the other side and repeat the heel-to-tip motion.
  4. Repeat this 10-step process, but instead push the knife from tip to heel. Knives are used to cut in both push and pull motions, so it's important to sharpen them in both directions as well.
  5. Flip the stone over to the finer side, and complete steps 1 through 4 again.

So When Are You Actually Done?

This is an important but often confusing aspect of the sharpening process. When you sharpen knives, especially on coarser stones, you'll notice a burr form on the opposite side of the edge. It can be difficult to see, but easy to feel. Carefully feel for the burr by running your finger from the spine of the knife to the edge. The burr will jump from side to side as you sharpen each edge, and once you've felt the burr move to both sides, you can move to the next finer stone. Once you get to the finest grit, the burr will become smaller and smaller!

As for cleanup, simply use a damp towel to wipe down the sharpening stone. There's no need to rinse or wash the stone when finished with the sharpening process, but be sure to store it in a dry place (preferably in the box it came in).

Consider Adding a Sharpening Steel to Your Repertoire

Using a sharpening steel

A common myth is that sharpening steels actually sharpen knives, and can replace stones or other sharpening devices. Steels actually hone a knife and help keep its edge if used regularly. A steel should be used before and after each knife use for proper maintenance. Easily enough, it's used the same way you use a sharpening stone. To find the proper angle, hold the knife horizontally with the edge touching the steel. Move the spine upward to create a 45-degree angle, and then half that again for your optimal sharpening angle.

The WebstaurantStore offers a wide variety of cutlery, from chef knives and slicing knives to butcher knives. Whatever you may choose, or already own, be sure to keep up with regular sharpening and maintenance to extend the life of your knives!

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