How to sharpen a knife using a whetstone
Once a knife is blunt or dull, a butcher’s steel won’t return it to shape. The blade must be ground to a new edge.
V-shaped knife sharpeners and electric sharpeners do a great job, but they can frequently leave a rough edge. Many people are quite happy to leave their blade edges rough, knowing that regular subsequent use of a butcher’s steel will
gradually make the blade smoother. The steel will not, however, smooth over chips in the edge that some mechanical or electric sharpeners cause.
Teach yourself to use a flat, rectangular sharpening stone or whetstone and you can create a smooth razor-sharp edge on a variety of different knives.
Most whetstones are ‘wetstones’, requiring a light coating of oil or water to help cut the blade and keep it cool, and also to wash away the debris formed in the grinding process. It is preferable to use a large whetstone with a coarser grit on one side and a fine grit on the other. If your knife is very dull or damaged, start with the coarse side and then move to the fine side. If it is reasonably sharp and in good condition, start with the fine side.
Place the stone on a stable, non-slip surface.
Look carefully at your knife blade. Where the thickness of the blade has been ground down to form the sharp edge a bevel occurs. Some knives are bevelled on only one side. Some are bevelled on both sides. Aim to grind only the bevelled edges, always keeping the same angle on the bevel.
Hold the knife firmly against the stone at the same angle as the bevel. This angle could be anything between 10 and 20 degrees, depending on the type of knife.
Grind with any of these three movements:
in small circles, gradually moving the blade from handle end to tip, or
sliding the blade in light, even strokes from handle end to tip or from tip to
handle end, or
alternately sliding the blade forwards and backwards between handle and tip,
but always maintaining the same angle of the bevel.
It won’t happen automatically the first few times. Stop frequently and check the bevel. When the scratch pattern is in the centre of the bevel you’re duplicating the original bevel. Well done!
If you have trouble seeing the scratch pattern, try applying some ink to the bevel with a black felt tip pen. Allow it to dry and then check your next grinding effort against the scratch marks in the ink.
Finish your knife with ten or so strokes on the butcher’s steel.