How To Sharpen A Knife

Among the oldest tools of humankind, knives have many and diverse uses. From chopping and whittling wood to mincing and dicing vegetables to performing intricate surgery, knives are indeed indispensable. Yet, as with any material, blades wear down and get dull. Their edges broaden and lose their effectiveness.

Returning the blade to maximum incisiveness requires sharpening. This process evolved over millennia and does so still today. In the present, the best way to sharpen knives comes down to four options.

If you’re looking at these knife sharpeners and wondering how the heck you will use them, fear not! How To Make Sushi made a video that will explain how you can use a whetstone to bring your knife to razor-sharp perfection! We explain what we learned from his video below.

4 Best Ways to Sharpen Knives like a Pro


First, you will need to soak your stone in a water bath for at least 15 minutes.

Sharpening water bath

Next, you will want to level your stone. This is done by using a low grit stone to remove the dips and valleys in your high grit, sharpening stone. How To Make Sushi suggests penciling in a grid over the knife so you can see what areas have been leveled after you use your leveling stone. Keep on scrubbing until you remove the pencil grid.

Sharpening Leveling


Sharpening Styles

Once you have leveled your stone, there are a couple of ways you can sharpen your knife.


Japanese Style

When using the strict Japanese Style, push the blade over the stone straight forwards and straight backwards. Maintain the same angle at all times. Alternate sections of the blade so that the whole knife gets sharpened.

Sharpening Japanese Way

Western Style

When using Western Style, you will slide the knife while moving it over the stone so that each section gets sharpened. Start with the bottom of your knife touching the top of the stone. When you pull back, slowly slide the knife to the side so that the top of the knife is touching the bottom of the stone when you are done. Then push forward to your starting position and repeat.

Sharpening western 2

Sharpening western 1


Whichever style you use, How To Make Sushi has a few tips.


How To Make Sushi suggest having a low grit stone between 1000 and 2000 grit and a high grit stone between 7000 and 10,000 grit.


He recommends an angle of 10 degrees while sharpening. You can achieve this by putting the knife flat on the stone and then lifting until the back of the blade is about half a thumb above the stone. This angle is meant for kitchen knives however. If you are sharpening an axe blade, you will want to have an angle of 30 degrees, or just over a full thumb. If you are looking for a knife for general use, you will want a 15 to 20 degree angle, or just over half a thumb.


You have to be careful in how you move the blade. When moving the blade forward, relax and let it run on the stone. When moving the blade backwards, push lightly into it, but now too hard.


If you want an extremely sharp knife, you will want to continue sharpening your blade for around ten minutes, flip it, and then sharpen the other side. Then, you will want to repeat this process two more times. Most people can get away with less time than this, however. Ten minutes on each side should be plenty. Your knife won’t be quite as sharp, but most people don’t need this level of sharpness. If you want extreme sharpness however, go for it!

Blade Tip

The blade tip will be the most difficult part and is the most difficult to describe. You will need to lift the blade handle slightly to maintain the correct angle. The best way to learn how to do this is to watch someone doing it. How To Make Sushi explains this in more detail in his video at the 5 minute point. The video is linked below if you want to view it.

High Grit Stone

Finally, if you want to achieve true razor sharpness, you will want to repeat the entire process on the higher grit stone.

How to Sharpen a Knife

1.  With the Whetstone

It bears noting that sharpening a knife means removing steel at the edge, i.e. literally shrinking the blade. There is no way around the fact that the knife will someday have nothing left to give. But that is a far off bridge to cross. For the time being, the whetstone is a proven best way to sharpen knives that keeps this reduction to a minimum.

A whetstone is a tool for sharpening edges of all kinds. Ideally, it has a coarse grit on one side and a finer grit on the opposite. This arrangement gives the user greater flexibility as to how sharp to make the blade.

Different knives—kitchen cutlery, utility knives or hunting blades, e.g.—call for various angles at which to sharpen. Clearly, a 90˚ angle would further flatten an edge. However, many knives have specific angles indicated in their instructions. A good rule of thumb, though, is to remain around a 20˚ angle for best results.

Grasp the knife by its handle, place the point of the blade against the grit and slide the blade forward so that its entire length makes contact. Apply medium force in so doing and repeat this action about 10 times. Then, flip the whetstone for finer treatment.

2. Using the Water Stone

Looking very much like a whetstone, the water stone has a long history in Japan and the Far East as a sharpening agent. From coarseness to fineness, the normal grit measurements are 400, 1,000 and 5,000 (grit fineness goes up to 10,000!). Whereas a knife owner can anchor a whetstone on a simple cutting board or otherwise flat surface, the wielder needs a water stone holder for this sharpening technique. This is usually a simple bracket structure that screws the stone into place. Because water is an essential part of the technique, keeping a towel under the stone is a good idea.

Both the water stone and the knife are soaked during sharpening. Doing so clears away all the filings, and better allows the knife holder to ascertain a “burr” as she follows through with the strokes (again, a 20˚ angle is a reliable default position). Sometimes called a wire edge, the burr is a barely visible extension from the blade that demonstrates the evenness of sharpening on each side. Their results include water stones as the best way to sharpen knives.

Still, water stones have a softer constitution and need flattening to remove wear and depressions. Another important caveat is that water stones need not be stone: popular synthetic varieties are made from compounds like aluminum oxide and silicon carbide.

3. Following the Iron Sharpens Iron Principle

It is a Norman Rockwell image: the grandfather stands at the head of the family table, striking a carving knife against a long sharpener. Ancient scripture tells us that “iron sharpens iron” so it is no surprise that the standard knife sharpener—both manual and electric—ranks as perhaps the best way to sharpen knives.

The pumice of Thanksgiving imagery is a beveled, grooved steel rod against which a knife is stroked for sharpening. Because both the knife and pumice are held in each hand, cutters should take care to perform this technique away from any food upon which filings may drop.

The double-ring manual sharpener has the advantage of sharpening both sides of the blade at once. Passing the knife through this instrument repeatedly bypasses worries about precise angles and positioning. The drawback of these manual steel sharpeners is that they achieve uneven results on serrated or wavy edges, as with steak knives. Depending on the value of the knives. Owners do well to consider professional sharpening.

Electric sharpeners also contain a double-ring design. Of course, it saves on the elbow grease. Nevertheless, those who fret over exactitude may not like them. Like pencil sharpeners, they aim at good enough and not perfection. Few professionals use them.

Chef's Choice 15 Trizor XV EdgeSelect Electric Knife Sharpener

4. Going Pro

Knives can run the price range from a few bucks to thousands of dollars. High-value knives might be worth a professional sharpening service. As noted, some knives call for a level of precision that is hard for the amateur sharpener to attain.

Due to the grinder and mill technology that such businesses adopt, angles are calibrated precisely and blades are honed to a even finer edge. Moreover, these sharpening enterprises take a craftsman-like approach to forged and serrated knives, sharpening tip by tip, if necessary. This might just be the very best way to sharpen knives like a pro: use a pro…if you can afford it.

Not only do pros incorporate belt sanders and wet grinders to give knives an extra-keen edge, they sometimes employ a technique known as stropping. Here they polish the blades with a leather strop, or strip, to a brilliant sheen. This task not only gives a brilliant sheen to the knife but it further enhances the blade’s effectiveness. Yes, a professional service can run high in cost. At the same time, if your knives are worth much, they are worth preserving.

Summing Up

Many people, from all walks of life, prize good knives: chefs, collectors, outdoors enthusiasts and handymen, to name a few. They are willing to pay top dollar if the knife does its job and demonstrates rugged durability. Furthermore, they are willing to do what is necessary to preserve these instruments and make them worth the purchase price. Maintenance is always necessary so it is logical that responsible knife owners will always seek out the best way to sharpen knives.

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