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Maintenance & Sharpening

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Whetstones I Recommend

πŸ›’ Shapton Pro Ceramic, Ha No Kuromaku (If I wasn’t gifted the Shapton Glass I would have bought this one personally over the Shapton glass).

πŸ›’Diamond plate (AliExpress)
(needs pre- sharpening in order to reach the specified grit they are pretty coarse out of the box/package, a diamond plate that works for just $25/$30 USD)

We are going to cover how we maintain your new or old knife. But before we start with the maintenance and sharpening guide we are going to cover all the different types of sharpening stones.

How to choose a sharpening stone, synthetic, ceramic, diamond etc

For every beginner, you have to start somewhere, but it is quite hard to get the correct recommendation. You have different brands, materials, grits, and more but what is the best solution? What should you buy when you are first starting? Let’s take it easy and start with covering the different types of material.

Does it matter what brand you use?

The majority of the results comes from the person and the techniques. So the brand does not matter as much as you think. Therefore I will list the most used sharpening material and their benefits and disadvantages. In the end, all that matters is the technique that is required in order to get the results you want and not the brand or the price of the stone. I have tested multiple brands and even Chinese unbranded stones and it seems like that the grit rating is correct in most of the stones. Of course, a well-known brand is better and will last longer, but 90% of the sharpness comes from the technique that is required to get the results.

Water stones / whetstones (Soaking Needed)

The whetstone or also called a water stone needs soaking for around 10min or less before you can use it. They are cheap to produce and the cost varies per brand. But most of the time the grit ratings are correct from various brands no matter where they are made, and you will get a sharp result. The problem is that Waterstones dishes out very fast even after one knife, so the lifespan is not long. This can cause various problems for beginners, it will get harder and harder to master your sharpening technique on that kind of stone. Therefore it is important that you keep the stone flat and leveled all the time especially if you are sharpening for your first time. While the grit is somewhat correct the softness of these stones varies per brand, the softer the stone the faster it dishes out. Most if not all water stone/soaking stones are made from aluminum oxide as their primary sharpening material it is the binding that makes the difference in how fast something dishes out.

Ceramic whetstone (Splash and Go ”Water”)

The ceramic stone is one of my personal favorites, they won’t dish out as fast as the soaking stones. The ceramic whetstone is also a splash and go and does not require any pre-soaking. They cost more than a soaking stone but they don’t dish out as fast as a soaking stone and therefore preferable over the aluminum oxide soaking stones. The lifespan is also significantly longer on a ceramic stone and they are great for knives with a high Rockwell hardness.

Diamond stones (Dry, Splash and Go ”Water”, Oil)

The Diamond stone is something I slowly fell in love with each time I used it. Most diamond stones need a few pre sharpening sessions in order to reach the grit level stated on the package. All Diamond stones are plated on top of aluminum or steel. I don’t have to flatten my diamond stone at all even after 30 sharpening sessions they are still very flat. You can use it completely dry, or you can splash some water to make the sharpening sessions a bit smoother. You can’t soak or leave water on it for a long period since the steel beneath will rust. The advantage of the Diamond stone is that they are speedy and you can also use it to flatten your soaking or ceramic whetstone. The downside is that you need a lot of pre sharpening before it reaches the desired grit that was stated on the package. A diamond whetstone is expensive, but I have tested a Chinese made one that I’m pleased with and that for just $25/$30 USD. Since you need pre sharpening, I suggest that you use older knives or cheaper knives first untill the desired grit is reached.

Note: while I love the diamond option I don’t use it on high carbon steel or SG2/R2 powdered steel. I find the diamond a bit too aggressive (especially when they are new and not broken in yet with a few pre sharpening sessions) on this type of steel with a Rockwell of 62+.

Natural stone like the Arkansas (Dry, Splash and Go ”Water”, Oil)

I need more time and testing before I can judge the natural stone. (this will be updated once I have used the stones a lot more).

What grit size do you use?

Grit SizeWhenWhy
#100 – #400broken tips, chipsRemoving chips, on a damaged knife
#500 – #800Dull knife, bend cutting coreGetting an edge on a complete dull knife
#1000 – #2000When you feel that the knife is not sharp anymoreGetting a medium to fine edge good enough for home use
#2000 – #3000Failed paper testMeat and fish that you cook and vegetables. (honing/ touch up)
#3000 – #5000Failed tomato resistance testFor knives with a Rockwell of 60+
#5000 – #6000For raw fish and Rockwell 62+Sashimi (raw fish), nigiri slices
#8000+Mirror polishAesthetic
This is just a guideline, how far you want to go is something you have to decide for yourself

I recommend a size of 6cm wide and 18cm long for a whetstone, which is the minimum size bigger is fine too!

Coarse stone= #100 – #800
Medium stone= #1000 – #2000
Fine / Finishing stone = #3000+


Knife Rockwell Guide
#100 to #3000 – All Rockwell can be used on it
#3000+ – #5000 – Rockwell of 58+
#5000+ – #6000 – Rockwell of 60+
#5000+ – #6000 – Rockwell of 61+

The reason for this is that the edge of a knife with a Rockwell of 58 or lower can’t maintain the edge for practical use (Cooking) and therefore going beyond a certain grit is inadvisable.

As a chef, you should not rely on these tests, a chip, broken tip, or bend cutting core are all visual. Once you get more and more into sharpening you will feel what the condition is on your knife and you will be able to tell by the feeling of how it cuts and what stone you should be using instead of relying on those tests.

Stropping on leather, newspaper, carboard (polish)

If stropping on leather, the newspaper has any effect or not depends on where you finished with your sharpening session. If you finish at a #1000 to #2000 grit then it will help to smooth out the edges and give it a slight polish. If you finish at #2000 to #3000 then the effect of it will be less visible. So you got to load your leather strop up with some compound. However, if you finish at #500 to #800 the newspaper won’t have any effect it may smooth the edges a bit but the effect is almost not visible. Therefore I recommend you use a compound depending on where you stopped. The higher you finish the less effect the compound will have.

Compound Colors

  • Grey: coarse (approx. grain 3000)*
  • Green: medium (approx. grain 5000)*
  • Red: fine (approx. grain 7000)*
  • Black: ultra-fine (approx. grain 10.000)*

*While most manufacturers use the general color codes some have a different color. Always check the approx. grain size specification.

When to use what compound (grain size)

Grain SizeWhenWhy
3000 – Coarseafter #1000 – #2000 grit stonepolishing & refining the edge
5000 -Mediumafter #3000 – #5000 grit stonepolishing & refining the edge
7000 – Fineafter #5000 – #6000 grit stonepolishing & refining the edge
10.000 – Ultra Fineafter #8000+ grit stonepolishing & refining the edge
With all compound you have to make sure the knife is sharpened before, the compound will not bring a dull knife back to sharp!

PS: This is just a guideline if other steps works then it works. Everything written above is based on my personal experience as a chef, there is no measurable science involved.

You don’t actually need a compound after #6000 grit, newspaper, carboard would work fine too. Basically the higher the grit you finish on the less you need to polish or to refine the edge.
It also matters how good your finishing is on the higher grit stone.

I recommend a sharpening stone up to #3000 and a medium 5000 grain (Green) compound for home cooks, how far you want to go is up to you

If you have any questions leave them behind in the comment section below

Whetstones I Recommend

πŸ›’ Shapton Pro Ceramic, Ha No Kuromaku (If I wasn’t gifted the Shapton Glass I would have bought this one personally over the Shapton glass).

πŸ›’Diamond plate (AliExpress)
(needs pre- sharpening in order to reach the specified grit they are pretty coarse out of the box/package, a diamond plate that works for just $25/$30 USD)


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5 Comments

  1. Very informative guide, thanks for your time putting all these options in order, so that a home cook can understand and decide where to invest.

    Looking forward to your new videos mentioning, maybe some real-life sharpening / maintenance scenarios using tools like honing rods, whetstones and stropping leather with compounds. For instance, since I am a home cook becoming enthusiastic with Japanese / Chinese knives, in which order should I invest in the above mentioned tools. Should I start with a 3000 grit ceramic honing rod and a 5000 whetstone and after a couple of months maybe invest in a 1000 grit whetstone? Do I need the 1000 grit stone for a newly bought knife, or the honing rod could do the job for the everyday home cooking preparations? Do I need a leather stropping with compounds if I already have a rod and higher grit stone?

    1. I will add what you mentioned in future videos and guides. Great ideas! Thank you.

      #1 As for the honing rod, I will say stay with #1000 to #1200 ceramic rod.
      It is the happy middle not too aggressive but also not so smooth as a ceramic rod of #3000.
      You get a good result each time you use it and can be a bit lazy since you don’t have to use the stone that fasts and also it will not remove too much material on your knife either.

      #2 I would get a #1000 first, the reason for this is you are going to use a stone once the knife conditions can’t be honed with the honing rod. Once you reach that stage that a honing rod does not work that means that the knife is becoming noticeably less sharp. So a #5000 whetstone is not the best and will have less effect in removing the correct amount of material from your knife. So you need to start at #1000 and then go up if you want based on the chart above. (For knives ith a Rockwell of 60+ 5000 is the max but #3000 to #4000 is good enough).

      If your knife is new, you can get away with a higher gritstone, the order is then different you use the stone as your honing/touch-up. The problem with this is that you need to take out your stone more often so that the condition of your knife does not worsen over time. This is very time consuming and therefore a lot of people get the stones out once the knife is not as sharp as they liked or it has been damaged.

      Leather strop is not necessary, you can skip it if your sharpening technique is good enough you can get away with newspaper or cardboard box. But they are all not necessarily. You may want it to refine your edge and especially if you are new to sharpening it helps by refining the edge more so your mistakes on the stone are forgiven.

  2. Chef Panko,
    I do all of my maintenance with a loaded paddle strop: green on one side for “tuning” and leather on the other side for polishing. For my knives with a Rockwell of 58 and below, I also hone with the non ribbed part of my Shun honing steel (rarely with my Kyocera 9″ ceramic). The Shun has a built in angle guide that helps me keep a consistent honing angle.

    Would there be any advantage to having loading on both sides of my strop–green as I have it, with red on the other side. That might add to the “tuning” of my harder steel knives. Should I try loading red on the leather “polishing” side?

    Ray

    1. I remember when I started using a ribbed honing rod on one side and non-ribber on the other 2 sides. I became very lazy and started forcing the hone to give me an extended time to postpone sharpening. But in the end, it takes more time to sharpen since I forced the blade (got rid of that bad habit). Now I use it as my indicator for when I need to plan a sharpening session.

      It actually depends, in most situations the green compound is good enough even for knives with a higher Rockwell (63+). In the end, it depends on how you finished on wich stone. As for Rockwell I don’t go over a stone with #4000 grit if it has a Rockwell of 58.

      Same with the sharpening angle for knives with a Rockwell of 58 or lower, I actually sharpen my Global knives with a 17-degree angle instead of the factory 10-degree angle. Especially when I had to prepare the beef tenderloin.

      Same with Wusthof and Zwilling I actually find it strange that they now changed their 20-degree angle to a 14 degree. I changed it to a 17 degree too for my usage.

      While they both are around the same hardness of 58 when preparing beef it simply can’t hold the edge that they sharpened with out of the box. The edge rolls over a bit too fast therefore I went for a 17-degree angle.

      For home use it might be different you are probably not preparing things like beef every single day. So the factory angle is suitable for most home cooks and won’t be noticeable.
      (probably why they changed the sharpening angle).

      Knives with a Rockwell of 62+ were the only ones that could hold the edge longer with an angle of 12 degrees while preparing beef. But in the end, I changed those to a 14/15 degree since that worked the best for me.

      For Chinese Cleaver I prefer an angle of 20/25 (because of the extra weight on those cleavers the edge is getting a beating anyways on each contact with the board so going lower does not mean it is better).

      Now back to the compound it may have a very minimal effect or even an effect that is not noticeable in performance with a compound. The biggest effect is at wich stone you end on wich knife and Rockwell. Choosing the sharpening angle has a better effect than switching compounds. So I would actually suggest just go for the Green compound and you should be set for most of your knives.

  3. Thanks for the analysis. I’ll continue as I’m doing. I’ve come to a similar conclusion with honing: I hone on the spot to finish a job–only with softer steel knives–followed by immediate stropping. I maintain an angle of 14-16 degrees for all my knives except my Miyabi birchwood chef knife at 12 degrees.

    The cleaver I just bought comes at 25-30 degrees. Bringing it down to 20 degrees as you suggest sounds very reasonable.

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