You need at least three sharpening stones to keep you covered, a grinding stone, a sharpening stone, and a honing stone. If you have a bench or belt grinder, you can skip the first, coarse stone and get only two finer stones. One option is also to get a combination stone with sharpening and honing grits. 

  1. The grinding stone is coarse, 120-600 grit for fast repairing dull or chipped blade or re-shaping the blade bevel-angle, coarser the stone, the quicker the process. You can also shape some softer bladed tools with a fine mill file, e.g., axes, and hatchets. For the best bang for your buck check this!
  2. Sharpening stone, 1000-3000 grit, is for initial sharpening.  This is a great sharpening stone for the money.
  3. Third stone is the honing stone, available from 4000 to 25000 grit, for final polishing and refinement of the edge. The finer the grit, the smoother and more polished/finished surface it does, and the sharper edge are possible.  The great finishing stone is this from the same series as coarser ones.

A suitable sharpening grit progression is essential. Do not get stones with a too large gap between the grits, wide gap will slow your sharpening process down. With harder steels, you need to use smaller gaps. Softer, carbon steels can be sharpened with more significant gaps between grits.

The more whetstone grits you have, the slower your sharpening stones wear out and longer they stay flat. It is sensible to sharpen as little as possible on each consecutive grit. Remember, the flatter the stone, the better and sharper edge is possible!

Bear in mind that you don’t always need to go through all the grits. Do not wait until the edge is blunt but re-sharpen and hone the edge as soon as the tool has lost its best bite; it is fast done with a couple passes with sharpening and honing grits. If you let the blade go really dull, the sharpening process takes much more time.

What is a whetstone/sharpening stone grit?  

What do the whetstone numbers mean? 

  • Sharpening stone grit is the number that defines the coarseness/size of the abrasive particles that are bound together to form a sharpening stone. It is printed usually on the side of the new sharpening stone.  
  • The grit number is inversely related to the grain size. Grit number refers to the mesh size of the screen that is used to separate different sized abrasive particles. 
  • The smaller the number, the larger the abrasive particles, and the faster and more aggressively the stone cuts. Conversely, the bigger the number, the finer the abrasive particles, and the finer the surface quality. 
  • On man-made whetstones, particle sizes are entirely consistent whereas natural stones don’t have inherent grit numbers.  
Progression of grits from 120 to 10000

From left to right, surfaces of the 120, 240, 1000, 3000, and 10000 grit waterstones

How to tell the grit of the sharpening stone?  

How do I know the grit of used whetstone that doesn’t bear any markings? 

Best way to find out the approximate grit is to use the stone.  

  • Coarse, low grit stones cut quickly, with a rough sound. The surface created is coarse, and you can even see the individual scratches made by abrasive particles. Coarse stones also have a rough surface when sweeping with fingertips 
  • Medium grit, stones cut slower, with softer sounds. They are usually softer than coarse stones. The surface quality is great but dull without reflections, and the single scratches cant be distinguished. 
  • Fine and ultra-fine grit honing/polishing stones cut the slowest of all tones. The sound is barely noticeable, and the stone feels soft to touch. Polishing stone leaves the shiny, mirror-like surface.  
  • Colors of the sharpening stones can give some pointers of their grit, but there is no standard among the manufacturers. Usually, coarse stones are darker or gray, and the finer stones are lighter colored. 
  • Combination stones have two layers of abrasive materials; usually, the lighter colored half is the finer grade, and the darker half is coarse. 

Please note! Before using an unknown stone, you need to discern the type of the stone, if it is a waterstone or oil stone. Drop a couple drops of water on the stone surface and observe how the stone reacts. If it absorbs the water easily it is a waterstone and must be always used with water. If the surface tends to repel the water then the odds are it is oilstone and must be used with oil or kerosene. You can’t use the waterstone with oil and vice versa. 

Not all tools should be honed to high shine

Woodworking tools, in general, should have a well-polished edge, whereas kitchen knife, scissors, and other tools work well with a sharp but rougher edge.

How high/fine grit should I chose for honing – Highest sensible grit without going overkill 

All types of sharpening stones are available from low to very high grits. What is the highest sensible grit for regular use and why such high grits are available?

Some types of blades should be sharper than others, it is a waste of time to hone certain cutting tools to high shine and extreme sharpness, some tools need a coarser edge to work correctly.  There are basically two types of cuts you can make with cutting tools, a pushing cut and a slicing cut. 

Woodworking and carving tools, razors, and axes/hatchets are tools that cut with a “pushing” cut. Their cutting edges need to be honed to high polish for them to work correctly and to produce a smooth surface. A well-honed, sharp edge is also more durable and longer lasting than a rough, sharp edge. Coarse bits tend to tear away from the edge easily blunting it faster. 

Knives, scissors, and shears are “slicers” that work best when the edges are sharp but little rough.  

Choice of the highest grit boils down to the intended use of the blade. Here are some pointers: 

Best grit for sharpening kitchen knives 

For kitchen knife sharpening, 4000-6000 grit is reasonable maximum, for many cuts in the kitchen, the microscopic serrated edge is useful when slicing meat and vegetable and sharpening with too high grit smooths the edge too much. Meat is cut best with a sharp but rough edge. Cooks use a tool called honing steel to maintain the knife edge, but it doesn’t sharpen the edge, but re-aligns and pulls the edge straight. This is a great combination stone for kitchen knives.

Best grit for sharpening razors 

When sharpening razors, you need to go as high grit as possible. Some use even 30000 grit stones, like this, when finishing razor’s edge. A more sensible and cheaper alternative is to use a leather strop with a honing compound. 

Best grit for sharpening chisels, plane irons/blades and woodcarving tools 

Woodworking and woodcarving tools need to be sharp to reduce or prevent tear out. 6000-10000 grit is a reasonable maximum for plane irons/blades and chisels. The smoothing plane blade is the most demanding to sharpen; it needs to be sharpest of all the woodworking tools, 10000 grit is not overkill when sharpening smoothers.  A well-honed edge stays sharp longer, and it is easier to maintain than coarse edge. For maintaining a sharp edge in woodcarving knives, chisels, and gouges use a leather strop with honing compound regularly. 

Best grit for sharpening scissors and shears 

Scissors and shears. For household scissors, quite coarse 240 grit is enough, fabric cutting shears should be polished with as high as 6000 grit for best performance. 

Best grit for sharpening axes and hatchets  

Axes and hatchets, max 600 grit for felling, splitting,  and other all-purpose axes. Ax sharpening puck is handy for in-situ sharpening needs. Carvers hone their carving axes, adzes, and hatchets to a very high shine for best surface quality. For carving purposes, hone your ax to max 6000 grit. 

Best grit for sharpening mower blades 

I don’t recommend using whetstones when sharpening mower blades. Dull or chipped mover blades are best ground with mill file or grinder.  

Whetstone/waterstone/sharpening stone grit chart

Whetstone/waterstone Chart with JIS, SHAPTON, CHOSERA, DMT, and FEPA values

Waterstone Chart with abrasive particle micrometer size, JIS, SHAPTON, CHOSERA, DMT, and FEPA values

 

Sharpening stone size? Selecting the right size 

What size should I choose when shopping for a sharpening stone?  

The sharpening stone size is one of the most important decisions to make when selecting proper stone for you. Get the biggest and thickest stone you could afford. Look for at least an 8” long and about 3” wide stone. Although smaller and thinner sizes are cheaper, the larger stones are more versatile, last longer, and are faster to use due to the longer sharpening stroke possible. Smaller tools can be sharpened on larger stones but some wide plane irons/blades cannot be sharpened on a small stone. When sharpening larger kitchen knives the sharpening stone length is more important than width. 

Large whetstones are called benchstones.

Should I get a pocket sharpening stone?  

Pocket stones look attractive but are they practical in use? 

I don’t recommend pocket stone/portable stone/travel stone as a first sharpening stone. You should get large “bench” stones as your main sharpening equipment. If you have them already and do some carving or whittling on the go, or you are bushcrafter with “prepper” ambitions, then the small sharpening stones could be useful. Pocket stones are not practical when sharpening bigger blades such as hand plane irons. 

Keep in mind also that the sharpening technique is different when using small, pocket stones and you need to learn it to get the best results. 

Money saving tip! You can easily make a couple pocket stones from one, cheap 1000/6000 combination stone by sawing it in half. One, full-size combination stone could be had at the price of one pocket stone so you get more for your buck 

Gransfors Bruk puck-shaped axe stone

Gransfors Bruk puck-shaped axe stone.

Puck-shaped ax stone 

A dedicated puck-shaped sharpening stone is a pocket stone that is useful for sharpening ax blades. It is usually a combination stone with two grits, coarse side for repairing and shaping and another for honing. Gransfors Bruks excellent ceramic stone is with 180/600grits. The puck shape makes it ergonomic to hold and handle when sharpening. 

If you have an ax, then you should consider a dedicated ax sharpening stone 

Scythe stone is special, pocketable sharpening stone

Scythe stone is special, pocketable sharpening stone

Scythe/Sickle sharpening stone 

Scythe stone is handy, small, special shaped whetstone for scythe and sickle sharpening. It fits easily into a pocket for easy touch-ups of the scythe blade when moving with the scythe. Scythe stone is available with coarse, medium and fine grits.  

King 1000/6000 combination whetstone

King 1000/6000 combination whetstone is a very popular and affordable combination stone.

Combination stone – a cheaper entry to the world of sharpening 

Combination stone is an attractive option. More affordable price compared to two separate stones is a strong selling point. It is a good choice if you don’t have many tools to sharpen or don’t need to sharpen often. For heavy duty use though, I recommend dedicated bench stones for every grit. 

Pros of the combination stone 

  • Cheaper 
  • Takes a smaller space than the separate grits, useful when needing to transport tools. 

Cons of the combination stone 

  • Only one usable face per grit – you need to flatten the stone face more often compared to single grit stones. 
  • A thinner layer of abrasive – shorter life 
  • Contamination problems, it is easy to accidentally contaminate higher grit face with coarse grit particles, which could lead to visible scratches when honing the edge. 

A great combination stone kit with a stone flattener and bamboo base.

What are the best grits for a combination whetstone? 

I started with a King 1000/6000 combination stone. It was my only sharpening stone for a couple of years, but what it lacked was the ability to repair fast dull or nicked edges so after struggling with it I bought a Tormek water-cooled grinder for grinding and shaping blunt edges.   

Practically you need three to four different grits to cater every situation from very badly dented edges to maintenance sharpening of not so sharp edges. So, this means that you still need two stones, one coarse, grinding stone and one combination stone for sharpening and honing. The Best option is to buy two combination stones, one 250/1000 or 400/1000 for grinding and sharpening, and 3000/8000 or 6000/10000 for final honing.  This one is a great kit that comes even with a flattening stone

List of most common combination stone grits:

  • 120/240 grit combination stone – coarse, grinding stone for repairing and shaping the badly damaged edge 
  • 250/1000 grit combination stone – Grinding and sharpening stone for repairing and sharpening the edge. The great first stone for two combination stone approach. 
  • 800/4000 grit combination stone – Fast sharpening and honing stone. Good grit combination for kitchen knives. 
  • 1000/3000 grit combination stone – Sharpening stone with intermediate 3000 grit. Good maintenance stone for kitchen knives. Not useful as a standalone stone in woodworking due to lowish honing grit. 
  • 1000/6000 grit combination stone – Good all-round combination stone, but for badly damaged or dull edges you need still grinder or coarser stone.  
  • 1000/8000 grit combination stone – Good combination stone for softer O1 steels. Too large grit gap for modern alloy steels. Not for repairing nicked edges. 
  • 1200/8000 grit combination stone – Good combination stone for softer O1 steels. Still too large grit gap for modern alloy steels. Not for repairing nicked edges. 
  • 3000/8000 grit combination stone – Intermediate and honing/finishing grit, a good option as a second stone for two combination stone approach. 
  • 3000/10000 grit combination stone – Intermediate and honing/finishing grit, quite a large gap for modern alloy steels. Good option for O1 steels as a second stone for two combination stone approach. 
  • 6000/10000 grit combination stone – Double honing grits for the sharpest edges. Combine with 250/1000 for best results. Great for modern alloy steels such as PM-V11, A2, CPM steels, D2.