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Whetstone vs. Honing Steel: When Should You Use Them?

Honing steels and whetstones are essential tools to help you maintain sharp edges and the right balance for your kitchen blades. Not only that – using a dull blade can be downright dangerous.

Ensuring that all your knives are properly maintained will make chopping, slicing, and dicing relatively effortless – however, only using honing steel or a whetstone won’t do much good because you need to use both of these tools together to keep blades sharp and edges straight.

Whetstone and Honing Steel: What’s the Difference?

Whetstones are used to sharpen blades while honing steel realigns curled edges and straightens them out. Honing steel is often referred to as “sharpening steel,” but this is incorrect – honing steel does not sharpen blades.

When to Use a Whetstone

A whetstone is a flat, rectangular piece of stone. They are available in different sizes and gradients – like fine and coarse sandpaper. Oil stones are traditional whetstones that need to be coated in oil before use, but water stones need to be soaked in water. Water stones and oil stones both work well, but water stones make cleanup easier afterward. 

When your blades feel like they need to be sharpened, you should use a whetstone. If you’re a home chef who uses your knives often, you will usually have to sharpen them around twice a year. 

You can use either a grinder or a whetstone to sharpen blades, but whetstones are better because they won’t eventually destroy your blades after repeated sharpening. By using a whetstone, your blades will last you a lifetime. 

How to Use a Whetstone

When it comes to using a whetstone, practice makes perfect – don’t expect to be able to sharpen your blade perfectly on the first try. Over time, you’ll gain more control and learn the proper technique to use your whetstone correctly.

When you begin using a whetstone, try to hold the blade at a 20-degree angle. Begin by pulling the shaft toward you while the blade makes contact with the stone. 

When you are feeling more confident, you can push, pull, or move the blade around the stone by using small circular movements – just be careful not to push too hard, or you can dig the blade into the stone and damage both the stone and your blade.

Use a timer when you’re sharpening your blade on the whetstone because you need to sharpen the other blade for the same amount of time by using the same movements – this will give your blade balance and an ultra-sharp edge.

While you continue to work the blade over the whetstone, you’ll notice wet grime beginning to build up where the blade makes contact. Let the grime accumulate because it aids the sharpening process.

When to Use a Honing Steel

You should use honing steel to hone your blades after each. Every chop and slice can cause a small amount of damage to your blade – especially when you’re using it to chop vegetables on a hard surface or to slice bone. 

Because the knife is hitting a hard surface reputedly, small twists and bends begin to form quickly and these can throw your knife and shaft out of alignment. 

Honing will help keep the blade straight and repair any curling or damage caused by normal use. When you’re blade is properly aligned with its shaft, it will perform at its best, which will help you perform at your best in the kitchen, too.

It is important to remember, however, that honing steel is a maintenance tool, not a blade sharpener. 

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