What is a Whetstone Knife Sharpener? Learn The Basics!

Kitchen knives and other sharp tools such as scissors and scythes become blunt with regular use, which is why they need maintaining and sharpening. The tool used to sharpen these sharp tools is often called a whetstone.

Although the name may sound like it has something to do with water, this is not the case. The word is actually formed from the word ‘whet’ which means to sharpen a blade and has nothing to do with the word ‘wet’ which refers to water.

What Does a Whetstone Look Like?

Whetstones vary widely in their shape and size and even the material there are derived from. The actual task that they are required for may also determine the design. For example, if the tools needing to be sharpened are frequently used for wood carving, the whetstone will likely be made of a natural quarried material, and will be shaped to form more complex edges.

Whetstones are grouped into grades which determines what they will look like. The grade of the whetstone is worked out by determining the size of the grit particles within the stone. The general rule is; the finer the girt the denser the material. The denser the material is the finer the finish of the tool being sharpened. The reason that denser material provides a finer finish is because less material will be removed. The fine grits cut a lot more slowly, and so the finish is more controlled.

What is a Whetstone

Type of Material of a Whetstone

Natural Stones

Natural stones are quite hard to come by these days, because the production of man-made alternatives has rapidly increased. Because the natural stones are so hard to come by, prices have skyrocketed in recent years, especially for high quality stones. Low quality natural stones are easier to find, however they are not always the right tool to get the job done. The problem is that, with the lower quality natural stones often the grain size is not consistent and this results in there being large particles, other types of stone and also cracks within the whetstone.

In fact the use of natural whetstones for the purpose of sharpening tools has definitely waned, and these days they are most often purchased as collectors’ items, due to the complex beauty of the pieces. The most well-known natural whetstone is the ‘Belgian Coticule’. This particular whetstone has been used since Roman times, and has become a thing of legend due to its unrivaled ability to expertly sharpen a blade.

Artificial Stones

In most situations artificial is never as good as the real thing, but this isn’t the case when it comes to whetstones. The sharpening performance of artificial whetstones is actually considered superior to natural stones in general. This is because, manufacturers can have full control over the properties of the stones, meaning that there is a high level of consistency in the grit size. Usually, artificial stones are created from a bonded abrasive. This abrasive is commonly formed from a compound of ceramic or aluminium.

The stones are made by sintering powdered metal, the chosen compound and clay slightly below the melting point. These bonded abrasives provide a much faster sharpening action than their natural counterparts and there are also much more versatile. For example, more artificial stones will be designed as a double sided block, with a fine grit on one side and a coarse grit on the other. It is also common to find artificial stones designed for specific purposes such as sharpening drills.

Oil Stones

Oil stones are a type of whetstone formed from finer grade materials and they are designed to be used with oil. They usually come in the form of a bench stone. Bench stones are large heavy whetstones that are created to stay stationary on the bench. The tool that needs sharpening is then rubbed against the stone. Although oil stones by nature are much finer than general whetstones, there are still further grades to the type.

The finest grade of oil stone is often called surgical black. In order to create oil stones, a natural mineral called Novaculite is used. This mineral is a made from microcrystalline quartz and is considered to be a low grade metamorphic rock.

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