Japanese Waterstones: How Am I Doing?

Image: Chris Dumm

My journey down the edged-steel rabbit hole has included a meander through the various methods of knife sharpening. I started with a knockoff Lansky system, sidestepped to a Smith’s diamond-steel and ceramic set, and finally took the plunge into Japanese waterstones.

Boy did I have a lot to learn. And boy do I still have a lot to learn! I’m not impressed so far with the abilities of the 1200 grit waterstone shown here, because at my limited skill level it doesn’t seem to do anything that my 750-grit diamond steel doesn’t already do more easily.

I like the super-fine polishing of the 6000-grit stone, but I wish somebody had told me that it doesn’t work as well until you dress it with the little (and not included) Nagura stone first. I wasted a lot of time before figuring that out.

Without any particular expertise on my part, these waterstones have significantly improved the sharpness of my sheepsfoot CRKT Tuition, and fully restored my Mora 748 to its almost-mythical factory sharpness. My novice efforts haven’t been able to improve much on the edge of the Benchmade 300 Axis. I’ll try the Benchmade again someday, after I’ve used it on several cheaper knives first. For now it’s acceptably sharp, and much sharper than when it was new.

As always, your tips and tricks are greatly appreciated.

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10 Responses to Japanese Waterstones: How Am I Doing?

  1. Aaron says:

    Have you guys announced the winner of the recent contest and I just missed it?

  2. Don says:

    I’m no expert but I’m really interested in knife sharpening too. I started with the lanksy system and abandoned it eventually for oil stones. I always hated the oil mess though and after dabbling with straight razor shaving I discovered water stones. Norton makes an affordable set which comes with a DVD on how to use them (though the printed instructions are adequate).

    Essentially a water stone is a sharpening stone made from compressed grit. For grits up to 4000 you soak the stone in water before using it, and then you use it just like an oil stone minus the oil. After 4000 grit you can just drop some water on the surface to keep it wet. They’re pretty great. If you want to hone a razor with one you can level them with a leveling block (included in the norton kit I got) so they are completely flat. The drawback is they wear faster than oil stones, but they work extremely well and there’s no oil to deal with. The one knock on the norton kit is that the 4 surfaces included are top and bottom of two “stones” and are essentially made by sticking or laminating them together. I’ve noticed the different grits expand slightly differently when you soak them at the edges so they gap a bit in the middle. It doesn’t affect their performance because I level them occasionally, but it is a thing to be aware of. When I wear these out I’m going to get single grit stones rather than combination stones.

    The other thing I swear by are the lansky crock sticks. I find that if I do a couple swipes before and after using my kitchen knives you maintain the edge and essentially won’t have to use other methods.

    The things I’ve tried but don’t like at all are those carbide knife sharpeners you see everywhere. They seem to chew up the edge and while you’ll get temporarily sharp for a slice or two, you do so much damage it’s not worth it. The ceramic ones are ok though. Also I’ve not really had good experience with electric knife sharpeners like the “Chef’s Choice 330″. After using them for a while I feel the edge gets temporarily sharp but incurs more and more damage requiring a stone to fix in the end.

    • Mark N. says:

      The carbides are useful for a seriously dull or chewed up stainless blades (read kitchen knife). Do NOT stroke hard, just enough light strokes to get the shape back, then hone as usual with your preferred method. Saves a lot of time when you need to get down to a clean edge.

  3. Marko C says:

    Chris,
    I have entered in to a Knife/Gun contest a article about Japanese Waterstones but never saw it published. Let me know and I can resend it or re-post the tips from it.

  4. dph says:

    I’d like to see an write up on the use of paper wheels for sharpening. I have no idea how big the learning curve is for them, but they do seem to put a razor edge on anything.

  5. Mark says:

    I was taught to use an oil stone in the scouts (after a file if the edge is exceptionally dull) and then read an Earnest Emerson article which said to always go with a serrated blade because they always cut. Since then, I just use a file to get a “micro serrated” edge. Quick and easy but doesn’t impress knife snobs.

  6. Kirk says:

    I’ve had unimpressive results from Japanese stones for my kitchen cutlery. I enjoyed the process, but results were meh.

    No doubt user error, and I’ll try again. Like whittling, maybe you get better.

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