A: For many years there was a heated debate around this topic with manufacturer’s stating flatly the notion their products actually damaged knives was absurd, and many professional chefs claiming not only was it not absurd, it was common for mechanical sharpeners to damage expensive cutlery. So who was right? To a certain extent they both were. The manufacturers were correct in asserting that if you followed the instructions to the letter there was little if any chance your knives would be damaged. However, in reality few people actually followed the instructions to the letter and when they veered from the recommended course the potential was there for damage.
Once sufficiently wet, it's time to position the stone on something solid, so it doesn't move about during sharpening. Many come with holders, but you can just place it on a slightly damp tea towel on the table. The stone should be roughly perpendicular to your body, though Warner told me it is sometimes easier to angle it ever so slightly to the right (if you're right handed).
Once the burr is removed, it's time to test the sharpness with paper. Hold a piece of newspaper at about 45°, with a bit of tension, and slash lightly with each point of the blade. If it cuts through easily, your knife's sharp. Warner speedily lacerated his newspaper, but I of course struggled. There is an element of technique involved, he reassured me.
In recent years, some whetstone manufacturers have started producing ceramic whetstones made from hard, ceramic, powders that are mixed with Aluminum Oxide and then sintered to form a solid. But, rather than using oil or water to lubricate the whetstone, ceramic whetstones are meant to be used without lubrication and thus, they provide a significant advantage for chefs who need to keep their knives sharp but, who do not have either the room or time for using a bench water stone. Thus, they are commonly available as either bench stones, pocket stones, round rods, or triangular rods.
A single stone of 120 grit and a combination stone of 1000 and 3000 grits come along with a stone holder all for a price of less than many other individual stones. The stones are 6 7/8" long and 2 1/8" wide. A flattening stone of some kind would be needed, but with economical options available in those, the overall price of this kit would still be low. This entry level set is a good budget minded option.
When you apply a sharp knife to the surface of a tomato, cucumber, carrot or other food item it should - if you are holding it firmly and applying minimal pressure - sink into the particular item without effort. As such all you really need to work on is your technique and making sure you keep your fingers out of the way. With a dull knife however things aren’t quite so simple. When you apply a dull blade to, say, a tomato it’s not going to slice into the skin. Instead the skin will be able to push back meaning you’ll need to apply ever more pressure to get the knife to penetrate. Increasing the pressure on the knife increases the likelihood of the knife slipping off the offending food item to one side or another. And if it slips to the side where your hand is attempting to hold the vegetable steady you could be in store for a very nasty cut. Because even a dull knife will cause injury if there’s enough force behind it.
Oil Stones differ from water stones in that they require the use of honing oil to float the swarf (metal particles). Also, these stones are commonly made from one of three different materials consisting of Novaculite, Aluminum Oxide (Corundum), or Silicon Carbide (Carborundum) and they all use oil to lubricate the stone and suspend the swarf in order to prevent the stone from becoming clogged. Also, while Novaculite and Coticule are the most traditional types of oil stones, there are also synthetic oil stones made by the Norton abrasives company called “India Oil Stones”.
Oil stones have been around a long time, and while not as popular as in the past, they are still a practical option. Not as fast as the other stones, they are easy to use and their lower price makes them a good value for the budget conscious. With oil stones, the relation of the types and grits can be confusing. Our article, Difference in Sharpening Stone Materials, provides a more in depth explanation, but in general an India stone or two combined with an Arkansas stone is a good combination to start with.
As opposed to water whetstones that require you to pre-soak the stone, the Norton oil stone is pre-filled with oil to save time and eliminate the need to pre-soak it prior to use and the lubricant stays on the surface during sharpening. The oil also prevents metal from bonding with the abrasive surface by flushing away dislodged abrasive and metal chips.
Table mounted device – Typically the manual powered table mounted sharpener looks virtually identical to the electric powered sharpener with a slot for each stage. Where they differ is that each slot in the manual powered sharpener has only one groove and you pull the blade through this groove toward you to sharpen the blade. Once the blade is sufficiently sharp you place it in the honing groove to refine the edge and pull it toward you again several times. If there is a third, cleaning, stage you repeat the process for that stage as well.
The toughest angle to master is the angle at which you'll sharpen the edge of the knife. For a Japanese knife, that should be around 12-15 degrees. Before you reach for the protractor, a good test is to get roughly half an index finger's gap between the spine of the knife and the stone (see above). Remember to remove your finger before you start sharpening. For a Western-style knife, you want an angle of about 20°, so raise it ever-so-slightly higher.