A lot of you have been writing to me about whetstones lately and I want to take a few minutes and just talk about whetstones in general. I want to break down whetstones into 3 main categories and hopefully it’ll help you understand what they are.
The first category being fixing stones, followed up by sharpening stones and 3rd category are the polishing stones. Within each category you have your coarse, medium and fine. I consider anything under a 320 as a fixing whetstone. The reason for that is because anything over a 320 would be too slow and too inefficient to fix any sort of chips, or nicks on your cutting edge. 120 are your coarsest, 220-240 are a medium and 320 can be considered either a relatively fine fixing stone or a very coarse sharpening stone. I have never used a 320 as a sharpening stone so that’s why to me a 320 is in the category of a fixing stone.
If you guys have watched some of my repair videos, you’ll see that my knives with chips of 2-3mm, I typically throw onto a 120 or even a 140 Atoma. For me, the 140/120 are the grits that I use to fix anything with a large chip on. The bigger the chip or the bigger the damage you have on your cutting edge, the lower grit you want to go.
The next tier of stones are your sharpening stones and I would say the grits that fall into the sharpening stones are 400 up to 3000. The reason why is because you can’t really fix a knife at the 400 grit level. You can try, but it would take a tremendous amount of time so to me that falls into the sharpening category. At 3000 grit, you can still sharpen a knife that was fixed on a 320 grit stone, and after 3000 it gets really slow and inefficient. That’s the reason behind why I give a range of 400 up to 3000. 400 being very coarse, and 3000 being very fine. Within that category you have to decide what you’re looking for. If you are looking for a really fast sharpening stone then go with the 400-500. If you want a whetstone that is very fast cutting, but also can handle relatively dull knives then go between the 700-1500 range. However, if your goal is to have a fine sharpening stone that can handle daily knife maintenance; anywhere between a 2000-3000 would be the way to go.
The 3rd and final category is our polishing whetstones. This is the broadest range of whetstones out there and they fall from the 4000 all the way up to 30,000 grit whetstones. The reason I put these grits in the polishing category is because I’ve never really successfully go from a 320 grit whetstone to a 4000/5000 and gotten a really good edge. Although the edge is nice and polished, but it is not very sharp. That’s why to me, the 4000 cutoff is what I consider a polishing whetstone. In my lingo I would call a 4000/5000/6000 your medium-fine polishing stones, whereas 8000/10000/12000 would be your fine. Anything over 12k would be considered your super polish or your ultra polishing whetstones.
If you look at the lineup like the Shapton glass stones or the Naniwa professional stones, you will see that as you go up in grit level the prices will increase. One thing that you need to bear in mind, the higher the grit level does not necessarily mean the sharper the knife. The higher you go in grit rating has more to do with aesthetics than absolute sharpness. The absolute sharpness of your knife is dictated with the sharpening stone. If you have a poorly sharpened knife and you go on a 16k grit whetstone, it’s not going to be very sharp. It’ll look very nice, it’ll be very glossy, but the sharpness will not be there. Your technique is going to the number one factor in deciding how sharp your knives can be.
That leaves us with the question: How do you build a whetstone collection? Here is where things can get a little tricky and has more to do with subjective uses. For example, I really don’t care for a mirror polish on any of my knives. My personal knives are sharpened on the Chosera 800 and then polished on the Chosera 3000. For those who want a 8000 grit finish, you can very safely jump from 1000 to 8000 grit without a problem. When you go over the 8000 grit level that’s when you want to explore either a 2000 grit or a 3000 grit sharpening stone, and then jump over to your 12k grit polishing stone.
A question that I get often is “Where should I spend my money when it comes to whetstones?” “Should I put my money in polishing, sharpening, or fixing whetstones?” Here’s my answer…
So imagine your grit range as a bell-shaped curve, the 800-1200 grit range is at the top of the curve and then everything else falls below. As a matter of fact, for your fixing-whetstones, I would recommend you buying the cheapest fixing-whetstone you can buy at the coarsest level because then you don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to worry about your knives gauging into the stone or if you have a chip on your knife - spend as little money as possible. For polishing, polishing is quite an interesting topic. Are you looking for a hazy Kasumi finish or are you looking for a mirror polish? Unfortunately, there are many brands that are being made in China that are sold on Amazon and eBay that advertise a 6000 and 8000 grit finish, but really offer you nothing more than a 2000 or 3000 grit polish. This is not to say that stones made in China or outside of Japan are poor, it just means that grit stone ratings aren’t universal and that you have to understand what you’re buying before you actually buy it. A big problem is that there aren’t many sources that will give you an apples-to-apples comparison between different brands. I’m trying to do that, but there are so many brands out there that it’s really difficult to do. Whetstones from brands like King, Naniwa, Shapton, and Suehiro, these are the brands that I trust the most. They’ve always been very consistent and they offer a wide range of stones that could very well suit anyone who’s looking to get into hand sharpening.
Here is a recap:
Anything below a 320 is considered a fixing stone. The lower the grit, the faster they remove the chips off of your knife. Everything from 400 to 3000 is your sharpening stone, so the lower the grit - the faster they sharpen. And the higher the grit, the better they are for daily maintenance. Everything in the 4000, 5000, and 6000 are your medium polishing stones. 8000, 10000, 12000 are your fine polishing stones and finally anything over 12k is an ultra fine polishing stone. The higher the grit the more expensive they tend to be, but it does not equate to absolute sharpness.
Disclaimer: I am not the authority when it comes to knife sharpening and polishing whetstones. I’m merely trying to do my best to explain what I understand based on my experience. Just remember, there is no one person or entity that has the absolute authority when it comes to knife sharpening or polishing whetstones. If they claim they do, either they are a retailer or they are somebody who takes themselves way too seriously.
Last, but not least….if all of this whetstone grit talk is too confusing, you can always buy an electric sharpener and call it a day. Thanks for stopping by!