Is a Whetstone Better Than a Sharpener?

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There is one issue novice home cooks don’t immediately recognize in the kitchen:
A dull blade is a dangerous one.

When you force the knife on the item you’re cutting, the chances of accidental slipping – ergo, injury – are higher.

This is why having sharp knives is a must.

Technically speaking, a whetstone is one type of knife sharpener. But to answer the question: yes, many experts – both professional chefs and bladesmiths – believe that this is the best way to put a good edge back to knives. It is, admittedly, quite difficult to use because it requires good skill.

Fortunately, there are other tools for this task, most of which are easier to operate.

Below is a comprehensive discussion about each type so you can choose which is the best

The Whetstone (Then Finished with a Strop)

As aforementioned, this is the best way to sharpen any blade. But it does take a whole lot of skill.

The good news is that there are several online video tutorials that you can follow.

With specific instructions and tips, you will be able to work on this at home at no time.

Here’s a general step-by-step guide:

1. Soak your stones in water

Place all your stones in a bowl of cool water for 15 minutes, at least. This lubricates the grinders so that the metal filings from the steel can be washed off easily.

Pro-tip: Use at least two grit levels – one coarse and another one that’s fine. Some even have an extremely smooth one for finishing.

2. Start sharpening

Hold your knife diagonally on the stone, with two fingers of your non-dominant hand on the tip of the blade. Slightly raise the spine, so that the stone hits the edge at an angle.

Pro-tip:

Know the original angle of your bevel’s edge.

FYI:

Most kitchen knives have 18-25 degree angles.

Those for filleting and paring have 12-18 degree angles.

Once you’ve got the position and angle set, run the blade back and forth on the surface of the stone, moving it gradually so that the whole length touches the grit.

Do this 3-4 times on both edges before moving on to the finer grit.

3. Wash, Dry, Then Strop

Once you’re done, wash your tools and dry them with a piece of cotton towel.

You can forgo the stropping but, if you want to restore this to factory-level quality, get a piece of leather and run the edges several times over it. This acts as a honing rod, removing the remaining imperfections on the steel.

It is a Grind…

And even if you did get the hang of using this, it is quite time-consuming. Restoring the 10-degree angle to the bevel will take 30 minutes to an hour, depending on how meticulous you are. You could be spending the whole day on your whole knife block.

A Gratifying Chore

Then again, many who do this at home say that this is quite therapeutic, that it isn’t a burden at all. This is why many chefs do the grind all on their own.

Have a Pro Work on It

But if you don’t have time for this, or aren’t too confident after that YouTube lesson, go ahead and ask a professional to do it for you.

Pros: The best way, hands down, to sharpen your steel.
Cons: Difficult to learn and is time-consuming.

Pull-Through

This is the option which most people prefer because it is easier to use.

Pull-throughs look like napkin dispensers, except that there are grinders in the middle.

All you need to do, as the name implies, is put the edge in the middle and then pull the handle towards you so that the edge runs through it from the heel to the tip.

Do this several times and your knife can slice through tomatoes once more.

Pros: Easier to use and relatively cheaper than most high-quality whetstones

Cons: Not as versatile, can’t be used for high-carbon Japanese steel.

Electric Sharpeners

This is very much like Pull-throughs in anatomy, except that this has a machine inside which rolls the grinders, making your life a bit easier.

You still need to do the pulling action but you don’t need to put so much force anymore on the task because the machine does most of the work.

Most products in the market feature several slots with different grits so you can move from coarse to fine.

Pros: Easy to use. Faster sharpening. Has numerous grit levels.

Cons: Not suitable for all knives since it is difficult to control the grinding.

Go for the Whetstone. You Can Thank Us Later

If you have figured out how to manually grind your blades, you won’t be bothered (and threatened) by a dull knife for a year, at least.

On top of that, high-quality whetstones are quite pricey; even more so than electric sharpeners.
But it’s worth every penny.

Last Updated on July 15, 2021

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My name is Andy Wang, and I'm a retired chef. I used to work at the City Vineyard restaurant in NYC. I also had a culinary degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. And this blog is where I share my love for knives and cooking with people like you.