Whetstone Sharpening Compared To Honing Steel

Whetstone Sharpening

When it comes to protecting a quality set of kitchen knives, there are two key tools every professional (and serious home chef) should have in their arsenal. These tools are a whetstone shaarpening and honing steel. Then we need to understand whetstone sharpening compared to honing steel.

These are two distinct and valuable tools. And the proper use of each ensures that your knives deliver countless years of reliable service.

To perform in the kitchen like a pro, you should have the best knife set you can afford. But every kitchen knife (style and brand) takes a beating each time it’s used. Even though you can't always see the damage, rest assured it’s there. So what can you do about it?

Take good care of your tools and your tools will continue to be your greatest ally in the kitchen.

The difference between a sharp and dull blade is like night and day. The trick is to consistently perform routine maintenance on your knives. And that requires having both a whetstone and honing steel and using them in the correct way. Here's the difference, and what they are all about ...

Whetstone Sharpening

The Difference Between a Whetstone Sharpening and Honing Steel

Whetstones and honing steels are what allow you to maintain a sharp edge and the right balance on all your blades. A quality kitchen knife that’s been well-maintained, should mean that chopping, slicing, and dicing becomes almost effortless.

One without the other won’t do you nearly as much good, as having both these key tools and using them as they’re meant to be used. Each has a unique function and together, provide you with the potential to keep those edges sharp and the shafts straight. So it isn't even a matter of one versus another.

Both are important in keeping your knives in peak performing condition. Whetstones are used to sharpen blades.

Honing steels - also mistakenly referred to as sharpening steels - are used to realign curled edges and straighten out twisted blades in order to maintain sharpness and optimal functionality.

Whetstones come in different types, sizes and grits. Oil stones represent the traditional type of whetstone. But the water stone knives. Every decent kitchen knife needs to be properly cared for. That means constant honing and periodic sharpening is required. Most combination knife sets come with a honing steel. But rarely do they include a whetstone. That's something you’ll probably have to pick up in addition to your chosen set of well-made knives.


When To Use A Whetstone Sharpening Steel

Whenever your knife needs to be sharpened, that's the time to get out the whetstone. For most home chefs this typically means you should sharpen your knives about twice a year - if you’re using them frequently.

It takes a bit of practice to get used to using a whetstone. You can't expect to master it the first time you use one. A whetstone is a rectangular piece of flat stone. They are available in various sizes and grits from coarse to fine, just like sandpaper.

You need some kind of a stone to sharpen your blades, whether that's a grinder or a whetstone. The problem with grinders is that they take off too much metal from the blade. Over time, you’ll destroy a knife by using grinder several times, when it could last you a lifetime by using a whetstone instead.

Over time, you'll gain valuable experience using your whetstone, and you'll get better at the procedure. Just start where you are, and learn to do it right. You’ll be glad you heeded this advice.

Water stones need to be soaked in water, oil stone needs to be covered in oil prior to use. With water stones, cleanups are easier. But both types work well.

The key to using whetstone is to hold the blade at the right angle - about 20°. Although you can pull, push, or move the blade in small circular fashion around the stone, it's easiest when learning to just to pull the shaft toward you.

Pay attention to how much of the blade is making contact with the stone. You can push, pull, or move around in small circular fashion. What's most important though is that you remain consistent in your movements. One thing about pushing is that it can cause problems, because you risk digging the blade into the stone, and damaging both the blade and whetstone in the process.

Time yourself because you need to use the same actions for the same amount of time on the other side of the blade. This is important to maintain balance and get that ultra-sharp edge.

As you continue to work the blade over the whetstone, you’ll notice a wet grime starts to builds up. This is a good thing. You should let it accumulate as it tends to aid the sharpening process.

Sharpening only occurs by grinding or stoning off tiny fragments.

"A knife is only as good as the one who wields it."

Patrick Ness

When To Use a Honing Steel?

You need to hone your knife every time you use it. With every chop or slice, your knife’s blade takes a hit. What causes the most damage is hitting hard surfaces such as cutting boards or bones.

Small twists and bends can quickly develop, throwing your prized instrument out of alignment.

Honing helps keep the blade straight as can be, which in turn gives you better performance. You need to use a honing steel to smooth out those twists and bends and to set the blade back into place. Just remember that it's a maintenance tool, not a blade sharpener.


Why You Need To Look After Quality Kitchen Knives

Kitchen knives are everyday tools, a quality set is a chef's best friend. But every time you use any one of your knives, it wears down just some and the blade gets bent ever so slightly.

Quality knives cost good money, so it only makes sense that you take care of them. It's an investment that can serve you for a long time - but only if you treat then as vital and properly maintain your knives.


Why Effort Is Worth It

You spend regular time in the kitchen preparing meals, so you probably have several go-to knives you rely on time and time again. But are these knives as effective as they could be?

Maintaining kitchen knives is a skill set you should learn in addition to everything else you’ve already learned about cooking and food preparation. Blade care and maintenance is something that you will continue to use. If you care about what you do in the kitchen, having the right tools in the best possible condition can make a world of difference.

The other option is to take your kitchen knives to a sharpening service and let them handle it for you. This will cost you money. But more importantly, it will cost you in the amount of material that gets removed from your blades.

Most sharpening services are not going to be particularly concerned about how much metal they take off, as long as they give you back a sharper knife than you had before.

But therein lies the problem, and the answer!

If you take the time to learn how to care for your own kitchen tools, your tools will probably last you a lot longer. You’ll never get stuck again with a knife that just doesn’t cut it.

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  1. Watched my dad use both a water stone and an oil stone for years. He was really good at sharpening knives. I will have to buy a water stone and really learn to use it correctly. I have a sharpening steel but as you point out they just keep the edges clean in between the real sharping. My daughter is a chef, who showed me how to use a steel to keep my knives honed, yet they become dull without the “stone” sharpening. Thanks for the great info so now I can make an informed choice…..the water stone I believe is for me.

  2. Ah, so that’s how it works! Very interesting article, Chef! I’ve been using an electric knife sharpener and it really does grind away too much of the blade. I just need to convince myself that I can do this. And I’ll need a whetsone and honing steel. I think I’ll be adding those to my Christmas wishlist. Pinning this!
    Marge recently posted…Berkey vs Propur | InfographicMy Profile

    1. Yes Marge – electric sharpeners can do that – they are also less precise sharpening, as each make/type of knife has it’s own angle. Hope all on you Christmas Wishlist ends up in your stocking!

  3. I’ve always spent money for someone else to sharpen my knives for me. Thanks for the informative article! I’ll have to look into a whetstone and learn how to do this myself. It’d definitely be a helpful skill!

    1. Well, a definite way to save money for you then! Yes – it’s confidence after you’ve learnt the skills. And practice of course! Good luck!

  4. I need one of these! Sharp knives are super important in cooking.. and even safer than dull ones as long you use them properly (dull knives are more prone to slipping and cutting you actually). Mine definitely need some sharpening.. I’ll need to add this to my christmas list! 🙂

    1. So true – I often hear of parents starting their kids cooking with blunt knives, without realising that it is more likely they will slip and cut them. Thank you for your comment!

  5. I don’t think there’s anything quite as dangerous as a blunt knife in the kitchen. When my knives are blunt is usually when accidents happen. Thanks for explaining the difference between a Honing Steel and a Whetstone – it all makes sense now. Time to purchase a Honing Steel!

    1. I definitely agree Sharon. With my kids, I always emphasize that the knife should be sharp to cut the food, when they cook, and explain if it’s blunt it will slip, and cut them.

  6. Awesome writeup on sharpening stones. I have a whetstone in my kitchen and definitely notice the difference before and after sharpening. I always wondered how the performance of whetstone compared to those auto-sharpening tools. Have you tried any of those to compare the difference?

    1. HI Julie – The whetstone allows you to sharpen your kitchen knives to exactly the right degree (that differs slightly depending on the make), whereas the auto sharpening tools are known to take too much of your knife, and therefore the knife wears away much more quickly. I hope that helps!

  7. I have had the same set of knives for almost 20 years and that’s pretty much been as a result of taking care of them. Can you imagine not servicing your car and expecting it to meet a consistently high standard. It’s the same with knives; maintain them, and they’ll last a lifetime. Sure I paid top dollar for my set, but I have undoubtedly saved a lot of cash over the years.

    1. Yes – very true, but even more importantly, each time you use them, it is a joy, and you marvel at the excellent job they do. I’m sure yours will last a very long time!

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