Knives are just one of the many things that separates the human race from the rest of the animal kingdom. While this particular piece of technology has been around for most all recorded history, and likely even before that, if archaeological records are correct, it can’t be overstated what knives have done for the species.
The right knife can carve up food, cut string and rope, bring down branches or trees for firewood and construction supplies, or even serve as a weapon, either for just defending one’s self or actually hurting and killing someone.
For all their benefits though, they do need to be maintained and kept in the right condition. Sharpening stones are a sister technology to knives, used to keep blades at an appropriate level of sharpness. However, many knife owners are often left wondering just which one they should use for a particular knife.
What is the best grit to use for a sharpening stone? This is a very important question if you have knives you want to sharpen, but also sharpen right. It depends a lot on the state or condition of the knife in question though. Keep reading for the short answer which briefly covers the range of whetstone grits and their specific applications, followed by more detailed information regarding all this.
The Short Answer
Whetstones are available in a variety of grits. Something with less than 1000 grit is typically used to repair a knife that has a chipped edge. If you have a dull knife that you need to sharpen, then you would use from 1000 to 3000 grit. The range of 4000 up to 8000 grit are the numbers for finishing stones which you would use to refine the edge of your knife. If you intend to use your knife for the cutting of meat, then it’s a best practice to stop in the 4000 to 6000 grit range, since you can actually bend the edge of your knife on sinew and muscle.
About Those Whetstone Numbers
Have you bought a whetstone already? Even though you’re trying to learn about them? It should have a number on it, possibly 1000. It might be on the side or the top, but do you know what it means? Did the person that sold it to you explain what it was? It can be frustrating to have a whetstone with a number and not now how or even if you should use it, but fortunately, the following paragraphs will layout in more detail what the Short Answer section above alluded to.
In terms of the whetstone number, it’s a representation of the stone’s coarseness. The lower the number is, then the coarser the stone is. Each grade of grit has a different effect on how it sharpens your knife.
Coarse Stones: These come in the number range of less than 1000.
Any whetstone with a number under 1000 is going to get used primarily for damaged knives. Does your blade have any chips or nicks? You can use coarse stones to be free of those in no time at all. You can also use these grade stones to repair an edge that has been entirely lost.
Use these whetstones for very dull or damaged knives, but keep in mind that their abrasiveness means they aren’t great for general sharpening, as they won’t leave your blade edge with a good finish.
Medium Stones: These are the stones between 1000 and 3000.
A 1000 grit stone is a basic choice for most sharpening situations. If you have a knife that no longer has its edge and you want to give a good sharpening, then start with this grit. Don’t use this stone often, though, as you can wear your knife down with it. The 2000 and 3000 grit stones are ones you can use more frequently if you’re the kind of person who likes to sharpen up more often, as they’re not as coarse. Then again, remember they’re intended for sharpening, rather than edge maintenance. Once you settle into a routine, you’ll start knowing when it’s time to use one of your medium stones.
Word to the wise from those in the food industry: 3000 grit whetstones are great for boning knives. Going any higher would mean refining the edge to a point that bends the knife on the sinew and muscle, which just means you have to sharpen more often than you should have to.
Finishing Stones: These start at 4000 and move to 8000.
The 4000 to 5000 grit stones serve as a bridge between sharpening stones and the truly superfine finishing stones. In many cases, you might even use 4000 and 5000 stones as finishing stone. Western knives often have a “u” cutting edge instead of a “V”, and so a 5000 grit stone might be the end of the range, unless you want the superfine finish a 6000, 7000, or 8000 would give you.
If you’re using knives for food though, any knife being used to cut meat should ideally stop in the range of 4000 to 6000. Only go all the way up to 8000 for a knife that will cut fruits and veggies.
So, all this should hopefully answer the question about what grit of whetstone to use to sharpen your knives with. Hopefully, it answers the question well for you. Stones do require some patience to learn, but your skill will come with time. Just a bit of practice gets you in the right direction, and it’ll be worth it in terms of how great a condition you get to keep your knives in.
Choosing the right whetstone is just one thing though. It’s another to actually use it right. Make sure you honor all instructions and warnings from your knife manufacturers, as not adhering to them can mean possibly violating even a lifetime warranty. Also watch any instructional videos you can to see with your own eyes how it is done, as this can improve the safety aspect of this skill.