CKS 026| How To Sharpen A Knife With A Water Stone

When sharpening a Japanese knife, it is important that you always use a water stone, unless otherwise instructed by the manufacturer. Using an oilstone can actually dull a Japanese blade, or even completely ruin it.

Before you start, make sure that you soak your water stone in water for at least 5-10 minutes prior to sharpening. The water will act as lubrication, allowing the particles that are taken off the blade during the sharpening process to easily leave the stone.

After your stone is thoroughly soaked, wet a kitchen towel, squeeze out the excess moisture, and lay it flat on your work surface. Place the water stone on top of the towel. This will help prevent the stone from slipping during the sharpening process.

How to Sharpen a Knife Using a Water Stone - Step One

You will notice, on the stone, that one side is course and the other is fine. The course side is your shaping stone, and the finer side is your honing stone.

To begin, place the bottom of your blade at the top end of your shaping stone - at a 16°-18° angle. To find the proper angle, place the blade of you knife directly on top of your stone as if you were going to try and cut the stone in half. This would be a 90° angle. Half that, and you have a 45° angle, and half of that would be a 22.5° angle, which is the perfect angle for a German knife. Now just take off a couple more degrees, and you’ll have your 18°-16° angle. Another way to think of it is pretending that you are trying to shave an extremely thin layer off the top of the stone.

How to Sharpen a Knife Using a Water Stone - Step Two

With one fluid movement, starting from the bolster of the knife, run your blade along the shaping stone, pretending that you’re shaving off a thin layer of the stone. Notice how the left hand is applying gentle pressure at the tip of the knife. This hand is helping to maintain the angle at which the knife is being sharpened, and is allowing even pressure to be applied to the blade.

How to Sharpen a Knife Using a Water Stone - Step Three

Repeat this process for 10-30 strokes (depending on how dull your knife is) on one side of the blade, and then repeat the same process on the opposite side. When sharpening the opposite side of your knife, it’s easiest to switch up your grip. For example, if you were holding the handle of your knife in your right hand, now you will be holding it in your left as shown above.

How to Sharpen a Knife Using a Water Stone - Step Four

Once you have completed 10-30 strokes on each side of the blade, using the shaping portion of your stone, flip the water stone over to the finer, honing side (shown on previous page). Again do 10-30 strokes on both sides of the blade.  If the blade starts to “grind” at anytime during the sharpening process, simply re-wet the stone by dunking it into a container of cold water.

To finish the sharpening process, run you knife on your honing steel at the same angle which you were sharpening your blade (in this case 16°-18°). Make sure that you are using the proper steel for your knife as discussed in the previous section on honing. For more information on recommended sharpening stones and steels for both German and Japanese knives, see the end of this section.

If your knife is still not as sharp as you would like it to be, repeat the entire process, starting with the shaping stone, and then moving to the honing stone and finally the honing steel. Make sure that you are constantly concentrating on maintaining your desired angle while sharpening your knife.

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There are 10 Comments

GreenBake's picture

Other than the cost (I don't know which may be more):

With care, can the give ambitious home cook use these without ruining the knives. I question someone without a lot of knife sharpeng skills with these stones won't do more harm than good. I know there's going to be a lot more (non-metel-reducing) honing, but eventually knives will have to be sharpened.

Comment from all are welcome.. not just Chef Jacob. I'm SURE he will!

And no, I'm not referring to those infomercial knives that cut through old boots for slow-baising.. with some other infomercial gadget, of course! :(

jacob burton's picture

@ GreenBake,

I think having the knowledge and at least understanding how the knife sharpening process is done is what's important. I've found that most home cooks will usually need their knife sharpened every 6-12 months. A lot of manufactures even offer to sharpen you knife to its original factory edge for free, the only problem is that you have to pack up your knife, ship it off and it usually has a 4-5 week turnaround. This might be OK for a home cook with a back-up knife, but I can't go a single day without my knives, they're how I pay my bills (and shoot all these videos).

The water stone used in this video was purchased for $50 at my local restaurant supply store, which means you can order it online for much cheaper. If you want to bring your knife to a local sharpener, they can usually do it on the spot, while you wait, for about $10 or $20 a knife.

erik.enge's picture

When do you use the stone versus just a sharpening steel?  I recently purchased a Shun 7" Wide Santoku knife and was told to use the sharpening steel 3-4 times on each side every time I use it.

GreenBake's picture

My impression (after taking some knife classes & reading) is that you should use a honing steel every day, but sharpening (steel, stone, etc.) a lot less frequently. Sharpening removes metal while honing doesn't.

The more frequent you hone your knife, the less frequent you will have to use a method that removes metal. The more you rely on honing, the longer your knife will last. Honing realigns the metal, but doesn't remove metal.

jacob burton's picture

@ GreenBake is right on. I'll use my honing steel right before I use my knife, and sometimes during the use of my knife (like when doing a lot of butchery for the restaurant). Under a microscope, the edge on all knives looks like that of a serrated bread knife. When all the teeth are aligned your knife is nice and sharp.

After lots of cutting is done, the teeth start to bend backwards, making your knife less sharp. Running your knife at the proper angle along a honing steel will bring these "teeth" back into alignment. After lots of use, bending and realigning, there comes a point when the blade is so mangled on a microscopic level that you have to take off the edge and sharpen (as demonstrated in this video).

jacob burton's picture

It really depends on personal preference. Ideally you would have a low grit for shaping (500), medium grit for sharpening (1000) and fine grit for honing or polishing (6000). The stone that I use in the video is a 600/1000, but I've since moved on to using a 1000/6000 for my every day knife sharpening, and 500 grit for shaping and thinning the blade.

beeb's picture

That's is a beautifull Knife!
What shape is that particular knife called?
I have a Japanese knife for boning but I would like to add your style of knife to my collection.