How to Sharpen a Knife With a Whetstone

If you’ve ever had to use a knife in the outdoors, you likely already know that a dull blade is just about worthless. From whittling kindling to cutting rope and fishing line, outdoor knives take a lot of abuse, and tend to dull quickly. Thus, knowing how to properly sharpen a knife properly pays high dividends to the avid outdoor adventurer. A whetstone is generally considered to be the easiest to use and most immediately effective tool for knife sharpening. Read on to find out how to use one to keep your trusty knives sharp.


Before busting out the knife and getting to work, you’ll need to prep your whetstone. Though there is some room for debate on the subject, most people with a lot of knife experience recommend that you soak the whetstone in cold, clean water for about 10 minutes before you begin sharpening. Be To set up your sharpening station, place a towel down on a flat, stable surface, and put the whetstone on top of it. Test it out by applying some directional force with your palm to ensure the stone won’t be sliding around as you sharpen.

The Sharpening Process

Proper knife sharpening is all about angles. If you sharpen the knife unevenly or use too wide of an angle, you’ll likely end up with a nicked, dull blade. To sharpen your knife correctly, start with the coarse side of the whetstone facing upward. Touch the knife to the stone at its base on the lengthwise side of the stone that’s closest to you at a twenty degree angle. This angle width is extremely important. For reference, twenty degrees is about the angle of a book of matches from bottom to top. Next, apply moderate downward pressure with your fingers on the back side of the blade, and push it forward in a diagonal motion. The tip of the knife should be just touching the stone as you reach the stone’s end.

A nice sharp knifeKeep the knife on the stone as you bring it back towards you so as to maintain the angle, but don’t apply any pressure on it. Repeat this process for ten to twenty strokes, then flip the knife over and do it again. When you’ve completed this step, it’s time to wipe the blade off, flip the stone over to the fine side, and repeat again. This will take off any leftover jagged steel on the blade’s edge that the coarse side couldn’t get. After the requisite ten to twenty strokes on each side, your blade is sharp and ready to cut with.

Finishing up

Before putting your knife sharpening setup away, be sure to wipe off the knife blade and check its edge for any nicks or inconsistencies. There’s no need to fret if you see one, as a little more work on the whetstone’s fine side will take care of it in a hurry. And, as with any skill involving knives, it’s important to take your time and be careful the first few times you sharpen. That little extra care will result in a much sharper, safer, and more useful blade.

6 Replies to “How to Sharpen a Knife With a Whetstone”

  1. One way to distinguish a water-based whet stone from an oil-based whet stone (they are not equivalent) is to splash a little water directly on the stone. If it is a water-based stone, the water will seep into the stone in seconds. If oil-based, the water will bead up on the surface. Similarly, since you’d want to soak a water-based whet stone for about 10 minutes before using it, simply place the stone in a shallow dish of water. As water seeps in, you’ll see bubbles of air seep out. Worked for me.

    Also, the whet stone is used to sharpen the blade. A honing rod is used to remove tiny burrs formed during use. I sharpen the blade maybe three or four times a year, depending on use. I hone the blade every time before using it.

  2. There is definitely a great feeling of accomplishment when using a traditional wet stone. Although it does take a little time and patience, this old method of sharpening is a great skill to own.

  3. @Steve Winters Just to be clear, not “all stones use oil”. Many are specifically made to be used with water, or even dry. “To whet,” as you have suggested, means “to sharpen”. It has no link to “wet” or “water”. Some whetstones are designed to be used with oil, and other whetstones are designed to be used with water … or even dry. The “whet” part of “whetstone” simply means “sharpen/sharpening”.

    Whichever stones you acquire should come with instructions as to how best to use them. Some will advise you to use oil, others water. Follow the instructions.

  4. I don’t see an answer and although the posting is not very recent I’ll address it. My father was a taxidermist and taught me how to sharpen knives, then I worked in a meat packing plant when in High School and sharpened knives there.
    All stones use oil. They’re whet stones and a lot of people call them wet stones, confusing the issue. Arkansas stones (generally almost marble looking tan or brown) are excellent and come in fine, medium and coarse. The gray ones you see are okay too. I’ve seen people use engine oil, transmission fluid, etc. and it doesn’t seem to matter though motor oil seems to me to cause the stone to gum up so I don’t use it. Auto parts stores sell an oil called Marvel Mystery Oil that I like to use and when you’re finished it wipes clean with a paper towel and rubbing alcohol. Some people prefer using vegetable oil though I don’t seem to get a good edge with it. The only dry stone that I’ll use is a diamond dust coated rod – especially good if you have a very dull knife that you need to get a good edge on before you put it to the stone.

  5. how do you know one stone from another, is it a wet stone or oil? Even the stores I go to can’t answer the question… Can you use oil or water on either or what should I do – I have Yti Hone stones and they suggest some sort of oil. iCan I also use water?
    My question is how do you know the difference btween wet, dry and oil stones and which is best?

    Thank you,

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