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Wet stones for sharpening knives

Wet stones for sharpening knives

Sometimes admirers of kitchen, hunting and camping knives, as well as edged weapons, confuse the terms «whetstone» and «wet (water) stone». They do not know the difference between these concepts, and not everyone knows how to use the whetstone or the wet sharpening stone. 

In fact, any sharpening tool shaped like a bar and made of natural or artificial abrasives is called «sharpening stone». A sharpening stone allows you to sharpen knives, axes, scissors and other objects with a blade. Whereas a "wet stone" is a type of whetstone that needs to be moistened with water before and during operation. They are also broken down into different types according to their material, production method, country of origin, and other criteria that you need to consider when choosing a stone. 

Here is more on this. 

Sharpening bars

This is what they call the pieces of abrasive rock in different shapes that can be used to make a blade edge sharp again. They use it when a honing rod no longer helps to restore the blade sharpness due to the presence of rolled parts of the edge and other defects. 

The main purpose of sharpening is to remove microscopic metal particles from the blade and fix damages. A durable abrasive material shaped as a rectangular stone is the tool for the task. A sharpening stone can be made of aluminum oxide, ceramics or electroplated diamonds. 

Natural sharpening whetstones are made from garnet, novaculite and other abrasives that are mined in different countries of the world. The properties of the tool depend on the type of mineral.

Features and pros of wet stones

Such tools for sharpening kitchen knives differ from the classic stones in the way you use them. To create an abrasive slurry, protect the blade surface from damage and reduce surface wear, you have to moisten them with water. 

Water stones are popular due to the high quality of the blade processing. Different grit range allows you to use them for different purposes, from removing serious damage to polishing the edge to a mirror surface. 

You can find and purchase both natural and synthetic varieties of sharpening stones on the market. The former are most often made from a rock containing aluminum oxide. They use the same material to make oil sharpening stones, but the difference is in the bond that holds the abrasive particles together. 

The stones that have to be used in a moistened form have a soft surface. This contributes to the rapid separation of abrasive particles, which accelerates the sharpening of the edge. The liquid on top removes the «old» abrasive, so it is quickly replaced with a fresh one with sharp edges. 

In addition, the use of water instead of oil allows a quicker removal of metal particles that separate from the knife during the sharpening process. Thanks to this, the steel particles do not damage the edge and do not leave unwanted scratches. Another obvious advantage is the greater availability of water compared to oil, which makes these stones popular.

An additional advantage of water stones is a larger range of grit sizes. Manufacturers offer stones from 120 grit for the coarsest primary profiling stage to 8000 grit for polishing. Some Japanese brands sell products with a grit of up to 30000 (JIS) grit. 

The soft stone surface has a significant drawback. And it is on the surface - it wears out faster during use. From time to time, it is essential to restore its flat shape with the help of special leveling bars, which you have to purchase separately. 

Who makes water stones

Japan is the largest supplier of water stones to the global market. The popularity of Japanese manufacturer's products is due to their quality and variety. The Japanese are rightly considered experts in the field of cold steel. 

To use almost all Japanese stones you have to moisten their surface. The liquid mixes with the abrasive particles and forms a slurry that facilitates sharpening. Depending on the type, wet stones can be applied in two ways:

  • Putting the stone under water and waiting for it to fill all the pores, and periodically add liquid to the abrasive surface during sharpening;
  • Only moistening the stone surface without soaking it under water beforehand. Only the part of the stone that comes into contact with the blade should be wet. 

The Japanese also produce diamond tools for chef's and special knives and even sharpeners. The electroplated diamonds are super strong and when in contact with steel it is more likely that they will the leave the bond, than crumble into abrasive particle. They do not form slurry, and do not need to be moistened, so they do not belong to the category of "water" stones. On top of that, using water with them can lead to rusting. 

However, it is not accurate to claim that water sharpening stones are solely produced in Japan. The term «water» and «Japanese» are not synonymous. There are several reasons for this:

  • Not all stones from Japan need to be moistened with water, some can be used dry;
  • Not every stone needs water, certain abrasives require oil;
  • Manufacturers from other countries also produce water stones.

Please note that oil stones are made using a very hard bonding agent. Whereas the water stones are bonded with a material that does not hold the abrasive material as tightly. It is best to follow the recommendations given by the manufacturer and not use oil then water or the other way around when sharpening the blade. 

Moreover, handling sharpening stones in such a way can be dangerous. For example, some stores sell stones that contain magnesium. The element reacts actively with water, so it should not be submerged in a container. 

Natural and synthetic stones

Initially, water stones were made only from rocks with the necessary abrasiveness. With the advancement of the industry, synthetic sharpening stones entered the market. The use of synthetic abrasives and automated lines for the production of sharpening tools has reduced their cost to the customer. 

There is an opinion that synthetic origin sharpening stones have a worse quality in comparison to natural stones. That is a misconception. Quality products from well-known brands can handle both European and Japanese-made knives equally well. 

They usually make these kitchen sharpening stones from silicon carbide crystals, chromium oxide grits and corundum. They bond them with polymer resins which get stiff when exposed to high temperature and pressure. This is how they get strong and wear-resistant sharpening stones that carefully remove the metal particles from the blade edge. This way delivers a superior sharpening for the knife while causing less wear on the blade. 

Knife sharpening experts say it is best to use natural water stones from Japan only if you have already learned how to handle synthetic stones. One of the drawbacks of natural origin stones is random grit, which you can find with some of the stones. It makes it more complicated to determine the hardness of the abrasive and the correct choice depending on the type of steel. 

Based on the above, it is clear that a wet stone is a type of sharpening stone. The need to use it with water in the blade sharpening process is what makes it different from other types. Sharpening stones are available from various sources, not just Japan. Manufacturers based in the United States also produce sharpening supplies that can be found in stores.

Choosing the wet stone grit

In general, you will need a set of several bars with varying grit levels to sharpen a knife. You have to choose the stones based on the condition of the blade damage and the desired level of edge finishing. 

Experts recommend adhering to the following rules:

  1. To remove chips or other large defects from the blade during coarse sharpening, use stones within a grit range of 120 to 400. Sharpening stones with 120 and 240 grit are sufficient for any home craftsman's toolkit.
  2. Stones with a grit range of 400 to 800 are ideal for regular sharpening of a dulled chef's or hunting knife. For personal needs, you can buy two stones, 400 and 800 grit, with no in-between options. 
  3. To remove scratches left by coarse abrasive particles and for the final polishing of the blade, you will need a stone over 800 grit. 

Theoretically, there is no upper limit to the grit of sharpening stones. But researches show that using stones with more than 2000 grit does not give a visible improvement in machining quality. Moreover, the Japanese JIS abrasive measurement system does not include labeling of stones over 8000 grit. 

If you are a beginner or you just sharpen your own knives, a double side stone or a universal sharpener will be best for you. With such a bar, you will be able to sharpen and hone the edge of your knife to the point where it can easily cut through any food or other soft materials. 

Thus, a double side synthetic variant of the bar can be your universal «do-it-all» choice. It will have different abrasiveness depending on the side. A double grit stone can help you keep all your tools sharp and in best condition, whether you are a hunter, cook, or carpenter. 

How to sharpen a knife with a wetstone

The algorithm for using an abrasive water bar is as follows:

  1. Put the stone in a container filled with water so that the liquid completely covers it. It must stay in there until air bubbles stop coming from its pores. 
  2. Place the stone for sharpening on a table or other flat surface. If the work surface is slippery, put a towel or a wooden block under the wetstone. 
  3. Then place the blade on the abrasive at the manufacturer's recommended sharpening angle. It is different for Japanese and Western blades. 
  4. Next, slide the knife along the stone edge leading (pushing into the abrasive) and then trailing (pulling from the abrasive), starting from the heel and ending at the tip and vice versa. To create a burr on the upper part of the edge, you will need to make 20 to 30 sharpening movements. 
  5. After creating a burr on the upper part of the edge, you should repeat the same for the other side of the blade. 
  6. As you sharpen the blade, the stone surface produces a slurry consisting of water and detached abrasive particles. Do not remove it before you finish working with this wetstone. To maintain the right thickness of the slurry, it is best to add a little water from time to time.
  7. After you have finished whetting the knife, you should thoroughly rinse both the surface of the stone and the blade to remove any residue particles. 

After you have finished sharpening the blade with one grit bar, you can move on to the next one. 

Other ways to sharpen a knife 

Wet stones do a good job of sharpening knives, but are difficult to use. The user must be skilled in handling them and strictly maintain the angle of sharpening. You may find it much easier and convenient to use a manual guided fixed angle knife sharpener from the range of TSPROF sharpeners. 

These sharpeners have flipping units and clamps to hold the knife in place, which allows you to maintain the exact edge sharpening angle without the risk of spoiling it after turning the blade to another side. They support different kinds of abrasives: silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, diamonds and other types, both flat end and glued to aluminum backing plates with facets. You can find sets of stones usually including several pieces with different grits sufficient to remove any damage and polish the blade to a mirror shine. All in all, they provide the best quality of sharpening.

Pioneer sharpener is the TSPROF newest model. It is a full metal modular system which works with K03 and Kadet clamps and can be upgraded to fit your purposes.

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