What is a Whetstone? – Comprehensive Guide

Whetstones are integral to the longevity and functioning of both kitchen knives and pocket knives. I was talking to my buddy about this the other day and he actually asked me “What is a Whetstone?”

Being stunned by this question, I asked around. It turns out many people these days don’t routinely sharpen their knives or scissors, even more don’t even know what a whetstone is. So I’ve dedicated this article to give an introduction to this matter.

I will go through

  1. What is a whetstone
  2. Types of whetstone
  3. Which grit do I use?
  4. Should I use water or oil with my whetstone?

Before we start, in the interest of full disclosure. I must inform everyone that I am an amazon associate, and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Meaning if you do decide to click on the links provided in this article and decide to purchase something, I will earn a small percentage of the sale (at no extra cost to you). If you would like to read my full disclosure I have linked it here.

What is a whetstone? – NOT wetstone

A whetstone is also known as sharpening stones, but it is important to note. A whetstone is NOT a wetstone. A wetstone is a stone that has been left in the rain, a whetstone is a tool.

In short, a whetstone is a tool used to sharpen knives. It is abrasive and allows you to take off pieces of metal from your dull edge to create a new edge. As you take off more and more metal a new edge on a knife is created. If you are any good at sharpening, the resulting edge will be sharp.

Whetstones can be made of different minerals, compounds and stones. Some use water to remove the swarf (pieces of metal that comes off t

Using a whetstone carefully to sharpen a kitchen knife.
Using a Whetstone” by Didriks is licensed under CC BY 2.0

he knife) while others use oil. It is important to choose the right lubricant for the right stone.

They also come in different grits, just like sandpaper. The lower the grit number the coarser the stone is, conversely the higher the number, the finer the stone. Coarser stones will grind metal off faster, finer stone will grind metal at a slower rate. The trick is to use a coarse stone to quickly create a new edge, then use a finer stone to hone the edge and make it sharper.

Most whetstones these days come with two sides. One is coarser and is designed for creating an edge, the second one is finer and is designed to hone the new edge. Remember to use the coarser one first followed by the second one.

If you would like a guide on how to sharpen you knife you can follow this guide that I have created. Guide to sharpening pocket knives

Types of whetstone – Don’t get confused

Artificial vs Natural

Natural stones are found naturally in nature, whereas artificial ones are man made. I’m sure many of you have guessed but natural whetstones are the traditional whetstones.

Artificial whetstones are generally made of aluminium oxide or silicon carbide. These are the most common whetstones. This is what most people will be getting. They are cheap and readily available, and also have a consistent particle size, giving you a more consistent sharpening experience.

Water vs Oil

NEVER GET THESE TWO MIXED UP. Different whetstones are designed for use with different lubricants to remove swarf, getting the lubricant wrong will mean your sharpening will be slower and more frustrating. You can check the lubricant required in the product information section or on the label of the stones.

Oil stones are generally slower at sharpening, but they are more durable and are better at retaining its shape and flat surface when you sharpen your knife.

Water stones are more popular, but they warp easier. After a few grinds their surface may not be so flat anymore. With a water stone you’ll often find yourself needing grind the actual stone down on concrete or diamond plates to get a flat surface again. Water itself is a huge benefit, they are readily available and are not slippery, they are extremely easy to clean up.

Japanese whetstone

These are a special type of whetstones. They have gained a lot of following over the years and originate from Japan due to their unique soil structure. I will not go through Japanese whetstones in this article to avoid writing a novel.

Which grit do I use?

This topic often causes heated debate among knife sharpeners. I wouldn’t be surprised if punches were thrown in the past due to disagreements on grit. I’ve roughly categorized the grit according to coarse medium and fine, generally I would stick to medium grit for regular maintenance.

Coarse 100 – 500

These whetstones are saved for people with an extremely dull knife. Did you find that neglected pocket knife that you’ve used since you were 12? Well choose a grit from this range and go to town.

These whetstones are very coarse and will take off a lot of material very fast. However, they are very rough, after using them you’ll want to continue sharpening at a finer grit.

Medium 600 – 2000

This is where I will hover for daily maintenance. First sharpen a new edge at 600 grit, then hone the edge at 1200 grit and you’ll have a knife with a decent edge. The best part is many stones will come with 2 sides, a 600 grit side and a 1200 grit size.

Fine 2000+

You can go as high as you want, but the higher you go, the slower they take off metal from the knife and the slower the sharpening.

These higher grit whetstones are used to remove any tiny burrs that may be left behind by lower grits. There is no obligation to use whetstones this fine, but it is always available if you are chasing that edge that can slice a piece of tissue in thin air.

Should I use water or oil with my whetstone?

This question pops up way too often, so I thought I might just address it in its own section.

If you bought a whetstone designed to use water as a lubricant then simply use water. If you bought a whetstone designed to use oil, then use oil! It is that simple.

Many people have done tests in the past, the whetstone was simply not as effective or wore out faster if you use the wrong lubricant.

Some people don’t use any lubricant at all. The theory behind that is, sharpening knives require abrasion. If I use a lubricant I will decrease the abrasiveness of the stone. I personally do not agree with this.

I find using a lubricant allows my knife to glide easier and gives me a smoother finish. Feel free to experiment and make up your own mind.

The Bottom Line

Hope everyone was able to learn something from my guide today. Hopefully I answered the question and everyone was able to get some understanding into what is a whetstone.

Whetstones are not rocket science. They are essential tools for any kitchen or knife enthusiast. Buy a few and experiment with them. Test which ones you like and which ones you don’t. I’ve included a few links in here to whetstones I personally use, hope they give you an idea of what a suitable whetstone is.

If you have any questions simply leave them below and I will get back to you as soon as I can.


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