How to Use a Sharpening Stone

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Traditionally, sharpening stones were mined from the earth. They came from large quarries where they were cut and squared to form a block of stone that could be held in your hand. They were used to sharpen knives, scissors, planes and chisels. Today that block of stone has been replaced by a manufactured block of mineral material, usually silicon carbide or aluminum oxide. These blocks are much cheaper yet they still do a very good job in sharpening of metal blades. They are also called whetstones or waterstones, because it is advisable to moisten the stone before using it.

Things You'll Need

  • Oil or water
  • Moisten the sharpening stone with water (saliva is a common substitute) or oil. This step helps carry away the swarf, the mixture of metal dust and bits of sharpening stone that is the result of the sharpening process.

  • Move the stone over the blade in a circular motion. Do this constantly, while changing the location on the metal blade with the stone. Each type of blade requires a different type of sharpening method, but basically knifes and blades are sharpened in one manner while a beveled blade such as a chisel or a plane requires a different technique.

  • Sharpen a blade to a point. No beveling is necessary here, just go for the colloquial “knife’s edge.” The process is very straightforward; rub the stone on each side of the blade until the tip of the blade gets gradually sharper. One only needs to “bite into the blade” (angling the stone, while sharpening) just a little bit.

  • Retain the beveled edge while sharpening scissors, planes and chisels. This means work the stone over the beveled edge in a circular motion that keeps the angle of the bevel, then turning the blade over and removing the small burr that builds up at the tip of the blade during the sharpening process. When working on the back side, always keep the stone nearly flat against the backside of the blade. Once the burr is removed, the blade is ready for cutting again.

Tips & Warnings

  • Always handhold both the stone and the tool that you are sharpening. Sharpening rigs are not necessary for this task. In fact, they can cause problems.
  • Artificial stones can be used with water or oil.
  • Stones that are mined from natural quarries need special care when being used. Some are only compatible with water, some are only compatible with oil and some are compatible with both. It all depends on the type of stone. This information should be available at the time of purchase.
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