The Ultimate Guide to Knife Sharpening

The Ultimate Guide to Knife Sharpening

Knife Sharpening

There are a variety of tools you can use to sharpen your knife at home. Some of these tools are purpose built specifically for knife sharpening such as a sharpening stone, honing rod, or electric knife sharpener, and some of these tools have other primary purposes, but will absolutely get the job done if you’re lacking access to purpose built tools, for example a rock or coffee mug.

Because you might be an avid knife collector, or someone who is just trying to make dinner we’ve separated this guide into how-tos on each of these:

  1. Sharpening Stone (also called a whetstone, water stone, diamond stone or oilstones)
  2. Sharpening & Honing Steel
  3. Electric Knife Sharpener
  4. Coffee Mug
  5. Rock

What is a Sharpening Stone and How do I use it?

Sharpening stones come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials and grades.

Before explaining how to use them, it’s important to review the various types and their applications. However if you just want to sharpen your knifes really quick before making dinner, feel free to skip straight to the instructions.

The first thing to understand is the language surrounding sharpening stones and oilstones is very unintuitive and misleading. Knife sharpening has been around since people have been making knives, before ‘sharpening’ it was referred to as ‘whetting’, and has absolutely nothing to do with lubricating a rock. In fact all sharpening stones can be used successfully with oil, water, or even spit.

What is Sharpening Stone Oil?

Sharpening stone oil, or ‘honing oil’ is a liquid solution used to aid in the grinding of metal. The reason for it’s use is it prevents the sharpening stone pores from being clogged with stone dust or metal.

The two most common types of honing oil are non-petroleum (typically water or vegetable oil) based or petroleum (often mineral oils) based. Common additives include detergents, rust inhibitors, sulfur and chlorine.

Not all sharpening stones require oil, or liquid at all, and in rare circumstances using the wrong liquid can damage the stone.

What Are the Different Types of Sharpening Stone Materials?

There are two primary kinds of sharpening stones - naturally quarried and synthetic. Despite all the different types, all sharpening stones have more in common than they have differences because they are all composed of some sort of ceramic.

Here are some of the most popular sharpening stone materials:

  • Novaculite
  • Aluminum Oxide
  • Silicon Carbide
  • Carborundum

What is a Sharpening Stone Grit?

The number on your sharpening stone represents how coarse that particular stone is, the lower the number, the more coarse your stone is.

The type of grit you choose depends on what you’re doing. Each grit size will sharpen your knife differently, and you may need several types if you're working on a badly damaged blade. Many knife enthusiasts will have multiple types of grits available to choose from depending on the application at hand. However, if all you’re doing is basic maintenance you should buy a sharpening stone with a grit between 1,000 and 6,000.

Sharpening Stone Grit

Sharpening Stone Application

Under 1,000

Repair damaged knives with chipped edges

1,000 - 3,000

Sharpen dull knives

4,000 - 8,000

Finishing stone to refine your knife edge

If you are sharpening your knife to use in a cooking application, you do not want to use a sharpening stone grit higher than 4,000 - 6,000 as the muscle and sinew can actually bend the edge of the knife.

Sharpening Stone Grit Shape

Along with different sharpening stone grits, sharpening stones also differ in the shape of their grit. You might think any shaped grit is fine as long as the grit is the right size, and you would be mostly right. If you’re new to knife sharpening, you probably won’t notice the difference, however, serious knife enthusiasts will appreciate the difference in grit shapes and use different sharpening stones accordingly.

How to Use A Sharpening Stone?

If you’d like to learn more about sharpening stones, check out our ultimate guide for everything you need to know.

Step 1 - Pick an angle to sharpen your knife

  • If you don’t know the current angle and you have an expensive knife, ask the manufacturer or google ‘what angle should I sharpen *knife*
  • If you don’t have an expensive knife, or you can’t find it from Google or the manufacturer, choose an angle between 10 and 30 degrees
  • A shallower (lower) angle will make a sharper edge, but it won’t last as long. A Steeper (higher) angles are less sharp, but more durable
  • A good compromise between the two is 17 to 20 degrees
  • Check out this article for more best practices on knife sharpening angles

Step 2 - Lubricate your sharpening stone (if necessary!)

Some sharpening stones can be used dry, while others will be destroyed if used with oil, so please proceed with caution. If you are unsure, please check with your manufacturer or refer to Google.

It is not necessary to use knife sharpening specific lubricate, but if this isn’t a one-time thing we strongly suggest you invest in some amazing mineral oil.

  • If your sharpening stone requires lubrication apply oil, water, or spit directly to the sharpening stone
  • Massage lubrication evenly into sharpening stone with a rag or paper towel

Step 3 - Use an angle guide (if available)

An angle guide is a small tool placed underneath your knife to ensure a consistent angle throughout the duration of the sharpening. Maintaining a consistent angle by hand is quite difficult, and while an angle guide is not necessary if you’re doing this more than once or twice, it’s an amazing investment to really increase effectiveness.

If you don’t have an angle guide, a cheap hack is to use a sharpie and cover the existing edge. Inspect after several strokes to determine whether you are removing the sharpie. This indicates you’ve got the right angle. If you aren’t removing the sharpie, or you’re removing only a portion of the sharpie you need to change your angle and try again. Or invest in an angle guide.

Step 4 - Begin sharpening with the rough side of the sharpening stone

Most sharpening stones will have a different grit on each side. The rougher side is used to grind down the blade, while the fine grit side is used to sharpen. You’re going to use the rough side first to grind the blade down.

Step 5 - Begin sharpening

Imagine slicing a thin layer off the sharpening stone, or a slice of cheese off a block. Now drag the knife across the stone in the opposite direction.

You can continue to sharpen that side of the knife until you're roughly halfway through creating the new edge. Fortunately this doesn’t need to be exact, just be sure to examine the knife during sharpening to stay on top of it.

Step 6 - Flip the knife and sharpen the other side

Skip this step if you are sharpening your goal is a one sided edge such as a scandi or chisel grind.

Begin sharpening the second side until you have created a new edge. A good way to tell is when the steel begins creating burrs. Steel burrs are naturally formed when one bevel is ground until it meets another. The steel burrs will be too small to see, but you will be able to feel them by running your fingers from the dull part of the edge to the sharp part. Please do this carefully.

Step 7 - Flip your sharpening stone to the finger grit side

This is almost exactly the same as steps 5 and 6, but this time your goal is to completely smooth the blade edge of all the burrs created by sharpening your knife across the coarser grit.

Perform this action with the fine grit on both sides of your knife blade before continuing on the to the next step

Step 8 - Begin alternating sides on each swipe across the sharpening stone

Instead of swiping one side of the knife blade across the sharpening stone multiple times, flip the knife each stroke. For the best result, do each side in this manner 10+ times.

Step 9 - Watch a few knife sharpening videos

A written guide can only go so far, so we’ve included our favorite videos teaching knife sharpening to ensure accurate, efficient and safe technique.



How to Use a Honing or Sharpening Steel?

Honing steel goes by many names:

  • Honing steel
  • Honing rod
  • Butchers steel
  • Chefs steel
  • Sharpening stick
  • Sharpening rod
  • Sharpening steel

They all mean the same thing - a rod with a handle you use to sharpen knives. Typically the rod is made of steel, hence the name, but can also be ceramic or a diamond composite.

A honing steel is not for brining a severely damaged knife blade back to life, a honing steel is used to keep the blade fresh and sharp during regular use.

Compared to a sharpening stone, a honing steel does not remove any significant amounts of metal from your knife blade, instead is massages the metal, removing small flat spots, nicks and minor indentations.

If you care about your knives, use a honing steel regularly. Regular use delays the need to use a sharpening stone, and this is important because using a sharpening stone shaves steel off your knife, reducing your knife blade’s lifespan. The less you use your sharpening stone, the longer your knife blade will last.

Step 1 - Grab the honing steel in your non dominate hand

  • Hold the base of the handle firmly
  • Hold the base of the honing steel at a comfortable angle from your body
  • Elevate the tip of the honing steel above the handle

Step 2 - Hold your knife in your dominate hand

  • Use four fingers to hold onto the handle of your knife
  • Place your thumb on side of the handle, far away from the blade

Step 3 - Position your hand 20 degrees in relation to the honing steel

  • It’s ok if your angle isn’t exact, approximately 20 degrees is fine
  • The important part is to maintain a consistent angle throughout to ensure you smooth out the entire blade
  • An inconsistent angle won’t damage your knife, but there will be dull spots

Step 4 - Pull the knife down across the top of the honing steel

  • Start the motion from beginning of the knife edge to the very tip
  • Keep the knife in contact with the honing steel the entire motion
  • This motion involves your wrist, hand and arm
  • Without moving your wrist you won’t be able to bring your knife the entire length of the honing steel

Step 5 - Pull the knife down across the bottom of the honing steel

  • This is the exact same motion as #4, except the honing steel is on top, and you are sliding the knife across it from underneath
  • Use only as much pressure as the weight of the honing steel, do not press the honing steel and knife together

Step 6 - Repeat steps 4 and 5

Step 7 - Watch Master Technique Videos

For the visual learners, we’ve scoured YouTube for the absolute best technique videos showing how to use a honing rod so you don’t have to. If you still need additional guidance, please watch one or more of the following videos to ensure you follow best practices to stay safe and prevent damage to your knife.



How to Sharpening a Knife with a Coffee Mug?

This is a skillset everybody should have. If you don’t have a sharpening stone or a sharpening steel, I bet you have a coffee mug or 15 handy. It works because coffee mugs are ceramic, and as we covered earlier, every type of sharpening stone is ceramic based, as are some sharpening sticks.

Note that this is a last resort, you’ll want to get your knife to a honing steel if you use it with any regularity. While it does sharpen, it does create minor steel burrs.

Step 1 - Flip your mug upside down onto a sturdy, waist level surface

  • Wash the bottom of the mug and wipe off with a paper towel until dry
  • Place the mug on a solid surface, with the bottom of the mug pointing up

Step 2 - Position your knife and slide your blade across the mug

  • Hold the knife at a 20 degree angle to the mug edge
  • Sweep the knife from the bottom of the blade to the tip across the edge of the mug
  • Repeat several times

Step 3 - Flip the knife and slide the other edge across the mug

  • Hold the knife at a 20 degree angle to the mug edge
  • Sweep the knife from the bottom of the blade to the tip across the edge of the mug
  • Repeat several times

Step 4 - Alternate sides of the blade

  • Run one side of the blade across the coffee mug
  • Flip the knife and run the other side of the blade across the mug
  • Perform this final step 2-3 times

Step 5 - Use a honing steel (if available)

  • Swipe the blade across the honing steel
  • This will smooth out any micro-burrs created by the coffee mug
  • Perform this final step 8 - 10 times

Step 6 - Watch How To Technique Videos

For visual learners, watching a video of expert technique is really helpful. For that reason we’ve included our three favorite videos on how to sharpen a knife with a mug.


Sharpening a Knife with a Rock

Occasionally, when circumstances align you may find yourself with a dull blade and no purpose built sharpening tools such as a sharpening stone, sharpening rod, a coffee mug, or an electric knife sharpener.

No fear, you can even sharpen your knife with a rock, and although not ideal, sharpening a knife out in the field with a rock is absolutely possible. People have been sharpening knives on rocks since metal blades were invented. You’re not living like a caveman so you’ll probably want to go over it with a purpose built tool while your home, but if you’re in a tight spot, find a rock.

Step 1 - Survey the damage on your blade

  • Look for nicks, flat spots and indentations
  • Try cutting a piece of paper, rope or leaves to test the sharpness
  • If your knife doesn’t cut well, or it has deep nicks, flat spots or indentations you have a lot of sharpening ahead of you

Step 2 - Find a good knife sharpening rock

  • Not all rocks are ideal
  • Look for a smooth, fine grained rock
  • A good spot to find these types of rocks is near a lake or stream
  • Look for a rock that has a similar texture to a sharpening stone

Step 3 - Apply water to the rock

  • Preferably you have a small water source to continually apply water
  • This keeps the steel dust and stone dust from clogging up the pours of the rock

Step 4 - Begin Sharpening your knife against the rock

  • Sharpening techniques vary
  • Most experts recommend dragging the knife across in small circles of 20-30 circles on each side
  • You can also use a circular slicing motion similar to peeling a potato
  • Another technique is to a simple straight pull, pulling the edge of the knife across the rock

Step 5 - Use your jeans, leather belt or other coarse fabrics to remove steel burrs

  • Hold the knife in your dominant hand parallel to the ground
  • Run the knife along your pants over the thigh muscle
  • The dull edge of the knife should be facing your knee, while the sharp edge faces you
  • Pull the knife from the top of your thigh down to your knee

Step 6 - Check out the technique videos

Some people can learn but reading, but a lot of people learn by seeing. We’ve scoured the internet and compiled the best technique videos for sharpening your knife with a rock.

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