Sharpen a Knife

By Todd Duplechan
Photography by Andy Sams

I won’t lie to you. Sharpening a knife on a stone takes a bit of practice and a whole lot of patience—and the skill doesn’t develop overnight. It’s the sort of process you have to love or it will frustrate you to no end. But the practice is worth all the effort, because sharpening your own knives saves money and makes cooking more efficient and enjoyable.

Ask 10 people how to sharpen a knife, and they’ll probably give 10 different answers. Whetstone, oilstone, left to right, up and back, little circles—everyone has their own tool of choice and technique. I prefer a whetstone for sharpening, and I try to retain the original shape of the blade by applying equal pressure to each part of it, section by section.

Unlike honing a knife on a steel, which takes off the burrs and straightens the edge, sharpening will shave away part of the blade and help maintain its edge for a longer period of time. I’ve tried several methods and this is the one that works best for me.

What you’ll need:
• A dull knife
• 1000/4000 grit whetstone (available at Breed & Co.)
• An old kitchen towel
• A rectangular container that the stone will fit into, filled with water
• A flat surface, counter height
• Patience. Estimate 30 minutes of effort per knife (it gets faster with practice)

The 1000-grit side of the stone shaves off the steel, and the 4000-grit side takes off the rough burrs left from sharpening and polishes the edge to a razor. If you’re sharpening a large knife, work on it in four to five sections, working heel to tip. For a small knife, three to four sections should do it.

Before starting, soak the stone in water for at least five minutes.


1. Start with the 1000-grit side of the stone face up on top of the towel, perpendicular to your body, in front of you. With the handle of the knife in your dominant hand and the blade facing toward your body, place three fingers from your other hand at the heel of the knife just above the edge.


2. Create a 20-degree angle between the blade and the stone (about the same angle as a matchbook). Apply gentle pressure through your three fingers as you push the knife away from your body.


3. Drizzle a layer of water on top of the stone regularly, and pay attention to your fingertips—only apply pressure when pushing away (if you are pushing down and pulling the knife back toward you, you might shave a little off your fingertips—not recommended). Repeat the strokes on the same section of the knife three to four times, then move up to the next section of blade. Continue to the tip of the knife.


4. Now turn the blade away from your body and use your non-dominant hand to maintain the 20-degree angle. Apply pressure to the section of blade to be sharpened. Repeat on both sides of the blade four to five times, or until an edge begins to develop (the edge can be felt by just barely flicking your thumb over it several times, working your way up the blade). If there is an area that’s less sharp than the rest, repeat sharpening in that section. When you’re satisfied with the edge (I always test mine by shaving the hair off a bit of my forearm), turn the stone over to the smoother 4000-grit side and continue through the same steps.