Which kitchen knife whetstones are best?
The chef’s knife is by far the most useful and versatile tool in any kitchen, but if it’s not sharp, it can be frustrating and even impossible to make consistent and accurate cuts. While there’s a decent number of pull-through knife sharpeners on the market, experienced industry professionals agree that they’re just not good for the long-term health of a kitchen knife and, in many cases, can’t deliver the sharpest or longest-lasting edge. Instead, professional chefs largely resort to traditional whetstones to keep their knives in peak condition.
There are plenty to choose from, but the King Deluxe Stone is the go-to for many cooks and chefs of all skill levels. It’s wide, heavy, consistent, great for beginners and effective for both Western and Japanese knives.
What to know before you buy a kitchen knife whetstone
Basic knife sharpening isn’t difficult
Even relative beginners will see a marked difference in blade performance when comparing hand-sharpened knives with those touched up using a pull-through or mechanical sharpener. It only takes reading a tutorial or two and possibly watching a video to get the basics. You can get started with little more than a simple 1,000-grit stone, which should accommodate most types of metal just fine.
Mastering knife sharpening takes a lot of practice
While it’s not too tough to get the basics down and you don’t need much equipment to do so, there’s a huge gulf between the beginner and the expert knife sharpener. In that same vein, it can be easy to maintain an already sharp knife but extremely difficult to repair a chipped or especially dull one. Advanced knife sharpening almost certainly requires more than just a single sharpening stone, as well, with the most dedicated sharpeners and home chefs also utilizing leather straps to put razor-sharp edges on knives made from premium alloys.
In reality, you can practice knife sharpening for years and still find yourself getting better with each attempt. To that end, don’t be too hard on yourself as you learn. There are plenty of resources for seeking help from master knife sharpeners (sometimes called polishers due to the distinct, high-gloss finish on some finished edges). Pay close attention to their advice and be extremely patient, and eventually, you can produce razor-sharp edges yourself.
Don’t start learning on high-end knives
The most obvious reason to avoid working on ultra-premium knives as a beginner is that you could damage them due to inexperience. What some beginner cooks don’t realize is that high-end blades, especially those made in the Japanese style, are often constructed from advanced alloys that are significantly harder than less expensive knives and those made in the Western style.
What to look for in a quality kitchen knife whetstone
Traditional bonded stone construction
The majority of knife whetstones are made from either ceramic or bonded stone, and the two materials work very differently. The most traditional variety is bonded stone, which generally needs to be soaked in water for at least a couple of hours before use to get enough water into the pores. Once you begin sharpening, you’ll need to make sure there’s water visible on top. As you go through the sharpening process, you’ll notice the stone start to wear away and form a slag mixture with the available water. It’s this slag mixture that does most of the sharpening, not the solid stone. For this reason, traditional whetstones can develop pits, grooves or even scratches if you’re not careful.
Advanced ceramic whetstones
The other popular type of kitchen knife whetstone is made from ceramic, which is notably harder than knife steel alloys. It doesn’t break down the same way bonded stone does, doesn’t form a slag mixture and therefore doesn’t require soaking. With practice, ceramic stones can work noticeably more quickly, especially if you’re working with Japanese knives made from high-hardness alloys.
Ceramic stones are less forgiving than bonded stone models and are not usually recommended for pure beginners. Once home cooks start to get the technique down, though, it’s not uncommon for them to start a collection of various materials and grits, to accommodate a variety of knives made from different alloys.
Size and stability
A good kitchen knife sharpening stone should be at least 2.5 inches wide. Anything less than that will make it significantly harder to form and pull a consistent burr and, if you’re just starting, a whetstone that’s too narrow makes it easier to damage an edge. Similarly, an 8-inch length is roughly standard on kitchen knife whetstones, and anything shorter will increase the amount of time it takes from start to finish.
How much you can expect to spend on a kitchen knife whetstone
A basic combination stone suitable for beginners can be had for just under $30, while a single premium ceramic model will run you $70-$120 depending on the brand and grit.
Kitchen knife whetstone FAQ
Can I sharpen kitchen knives with a diamond whetstone?
A. No, do not use diamond sharpeners on good kitchen knives. If you do, it’s extremely easy to make a knife edge brittle or dull when you’re trying to sharpen it. Pocket knives and tools often call for diamond sharpeners, but those are traditionally much more robust in their alloy and construction than kitchen knives are. The only time a kitchen knife should ever see a diamond sharpener is if the knife is substantially nicked or so dull it can barely cut a boiled vegetable and needs a completely new edge.
Do I need a honing rod?
A. For knives with low to moderate hardness, yes. In fact, for Western-style knives with soft, chip-resistant alloys, a smooth honing rod is essential to the sharpening process. While a whetstone removes metal from the edge to make it sharper, the honing rod keeps the microscopically jagged edge as uniform as possible. Beyond that, proper use of the right kind of honing rod goes a long way in keeping your edges in good shape and will greatly lengthen the amount of time needed between actual sharpenings. For that matter, some sharpeners argue that grooved honing steels are less effective and hurt edge longevity. Ceramic rods, on the other hand, actually remove metal and should not be used as replacements for actual honing rods. In short, the better-honed you keep your knife, the sharper it will stay and the less you’ll have to sharpen it.
Can I sharpen ceramic knives?
A. Technically, you can sharpen ceramic knives with diamond whetstones. It’s a touchy business that’s very hard to master and doesn’t always come out right. The reality is that you probably won’t find any ceramic knives in any professional kitchen anywhere, and they aren’t generally recommended unless someone in your household has a nickel allergy.
How do I sharpen serrated blades?
A. Sharpening serrated knives is somewhat of a tricky business. You can’t use a standard whetstone, as you’d likely destroy both the knife and the stone. Instead, look to a more catchall manual knife sharpener with smaller inserts that can fit in each serration.
What are the best kitchen knife whetstones to buy?
Top kitchen knife whetstone
What you need to know: Probably the most well-known brand of kitchen knife whetstone, this one is suitable for beginners and effective enough for pros.
What you’ll love: It’s as simple and traditional as they come, both heavy and wide enough for easy use, and because it’s so thick it can last for years as long as you take good care of it. It also comes in 4,000-grit and 6,000-grit versions.
What you should consider: You’ll need a flattening stone if you plan on using your King whetstone a lot.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Top kitchen knife whetstone for the money
What you need to know: This two-in-one whetstone offers everything you need to get started sharpening and put a finely finished edge on premium blades.
What you’ll love: One side of this combination stone offers a 1,000 grit and the other 6,000. It includes a plastic base with small nonslip feet on the bottom so it’s relatively easy to use.
What you should consider: If you use it frequently, it won’t last long. You can only flatten it so many times before you wear down the 1,000-grit side.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
Worth checking out
What you need to know: Shapton’s glass lineup is probably the most popular ceramic stone out there, and a favorite among experienced sharpeners.
What you’ll love: Since they’re made from ceramic instead of more traditional materials, they don’t require soaking and last considerably longer. This 1,000-grit option is the most popular and should take care of most knives with ease. It also comes in 2,000-grit stone and 4000-grit versions.
What you should consider: Ceramic stones like these are pretty expensive and not forgiving, so they’re not ideal for absolute beginners.
Where to buy: Sold by Amazon
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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
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