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whetstone - water stone questions

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

Just a couple of questions ...

Is there a difference between a whetstone (wetstone) and a water stone or is it just the same thing by a different name (sales gimmick?)?


I hear a lot of talk on the knife forums about oil stones. Is that something typical for North America? All I ever saw being used for sharpening when I was growing up were whetstones (this is in Northern Europe).


I got a couple of old whetstones. They were bought years ago at a hardware store. One is German made. The other one I don't know. I can't read the grit on either of them.

Can anyone tell me how long can they be kept in water without damaging the stones?

Reason for asking is that I gave myself the task of sharpening quite a lot of (old) knives, just to get the practise. Now it just seems silly to take them out of the water, dry them out and then soak them again a couple of hours or a day later.


Do these old whetstones need to have water running over them while sharpening? I remember my dad using them underneath a dripping tap to keep the stone wet.


Sorry I don't have more info about the stones, it's been a long long time since I bought / got them.


Life is too short to drink bad wine


Life is too short to drink bad wine

post #2 of 9

Hello Zambezian girl,

As you may already have guessed, whetstones are called different names, but they basically all are whetstones. Nothing to do with wetting (putting water on) a stone, but from the verb "to whet". The verb could very well originate very nearby your very own roots! Maybe the dutch words "messen wetten" and "wetsteen" rings a bell. Even in the old days (the era when animals still spoke,) these stones were quarried in stonemines. One of the most wellknown is in fact the Belgian coticule and very recently the Belgian Bleu Whetstones (BBW). These stones don't need to be soaked at all, just put a little water on them and go. Even the Old Romans liked the coticules!

The Japanese also have a wide variety of fine natural stones. Also, the Japanese produce probably the bulk of wellknown manmade stones; Naniwa, king etc....


You can use all whetstones with water or oil, as some kind of lubricant. However, once you put oil on a stone, they can never again be used with water. You don't need to keep them in water, soaking them for 10 minutes or so is enough.


It wouldn't even be such a bad idea to ask around with the locals where you are now and see what they use to sharpen knives! Take a look at the website of a member of FF who sells all kinds of stones, including some he looks for himself. He's known on FF as "Alchemist";


I'm very intrigued which stones your dad uses. Could be anything. There are a lot of manmade stones around used to whet "sikkels" and "zeisen" (don't know the english words, sorry). Mostly incredibly coarse oval stones! On the other hand there are also a lot of coticules around which were mostly used for whetting shaving blades. I do love my coticules(8k grit) and BBW's(4k grit), they look like this;



post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks Chris,

My mind should have clicked on the wetsteen (Dutch) and the fact that it is called whet stone in English (and not a wet stone), so yeah looks like you are right in your explanation that it is basically just a sharpening stone.


Sharpening around here:

If you are lucky, the guys here throw the knife or anything that needs sharpening on the electric grinder, but in general, all knives are dull.

Any piece of rock or stone is used to sharpen slashers (something like a scythe (zeis), but straight, and used for cutting grass).

When I see any of the local carpenters I'll ask them how they sharpen their tools. That would be interesting....


The stone my dad uses is ancient by now I would think. It has never been flattened so is very hollow in the center. He manages to get all knives absolutely sharp on it though.

He has taken a piece of wood that fits over the sink, made 2 supports underneath so it can't slide, and made 2 supports on the top in which the whetstone lies (so that one can"t move either). He then opens the tap till the water drips on the stone and starts sharpening.

He does soak the stone beforehand.

I'll try make some pictures when I'm back home (although I have actually no idea where home is, suppose it is like they say: home's where the heart is...).


I have ordered a 1000/4000 combination whetstone from JCK. It is on the way to The Netherlands as we speak. That one is for myself, but if my dad likes it I'll buy him one as well. Although I can already hear him say that the old one will still last a couple of years and he has no need for a new one.....




Life is too short to drink bad wine


Life is too short to drink bad wine

post #4 of 9

"...The stone my dad uses is ancient by now I would think. It has never been flattened so is very hollow in the center. He manages to get all knives absolutely sharp on it though..."


I have no dought people manage to sharpen knives on hollowed stones. Last june I was in Funchal Madeira and saw a guy sharpen a knife on the stone stairs leading to the church at Monte! The spot was completely hollow and I guess many others used that spot to sharpen.

Like always, it's not the tool that does the work, it's the person behind it.

post #5 of 9

You asked about storing stones in water. It depends on the stone, unfortunately: there is no general answer.


Manmade (synthetic) stones basically consist of grit and a binder, sort of like glue, and it's all baked together in a kiln to make a brick. Depending on what the binder is, some of these stones can be stored in water, and some will slowly soften and in fact dissolve. You've just bought a 1000/4000 combination stone, which is almost certainly synthetic, so if you tell us the brand name someone here will probably know whether it can be stored in water.


As far as waterstones and oilstones, as a distinction, this is largely a matter of traditional practice being re-applied in a different way. Traditionally a great many Western sharpeners used oil, whereas Japanese sharpeners traditionally used water. Today, when you see the term "waterstone" or "oilstone," it usually means a distinction between a Japanese and a Western-made synthetic stone.


The real functional distinction, so far as I know, is that Japanese synthetic and natural stones are all waterstones, but a lot of Western stones could well be called "drystones": you can happily use them perfectly dry if you wish. You should not do this with Japanese stones, because part of what makes them work is that you raise a certain amount of mud from the surface, which won't happen dry.


Hope that helps.

post #6 of 9

Oh, one more thing you asked about: running water.


Again, it depends on the stone. Isn't that helpful? smile.gif


When you sharpen on the stone, thoroughly soaked but not under running water, do you raise mud? Not the black stuff from the steel, known as swarf, but a mud that is pretty much the same color as the stone itself? If so, you should not sharpen under running water, because the mud will get washed away and you are losing the best quality of the stone. If the stone does not raise mud, you can sharpen under running water if you wish, but it's a bit of a pain. The advantage of this procedure is that you do not sharpen in swarf, that ground-up black steel sludge. The disadvantage is that your fingers will get cold and the stone will be slippery, and this is likely to interfere with a smooth and extremely regular grinding. I myself wouldn't try running water, but you can suit yourself and see what works best. I suspect that the cold and slippery thing will be far more damaging than the swarf problem, which in my view is largely overstated anyway.

post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks Chris,

The stone I bought is a JCK combination stone 1000/4000.

I have no experience with it yet. It is nicely lying around in its packaging material, accompanied by 2 new knives, waiting for me ....


The stones I am using at the moment are old ones, I can't read the grit on it.

One of them was bought probably more than 25 years ago and not really used as it was easier to have my dad sharpen my pocket knife than to do it myself.

It is a german made stone bought in a hardware shop. It's a bit small, but I started using it now on my old knives and the knives are getting sharp.

I figured that any stone should get a knife sharp when used with the proper technique, so I'm trying to teach myself and hopefully I'm going to be able to properly sharpen my new knives on my new stone...


This old stone seems to "run" smoother if you wet it occasionally, but no real mud is forming. It gets noisier when it starts to get dry. It also feels more abrasive when getting dry.


It's my dad who sharpens under trickling water (really just a drop every few seconds). It seems to work for him (note: he probably uses luke-warm water, cause he hates being cold crazy.gif).

So far, I find it easier to sprinkle a bit of water on it by hand whenever I think it is needed.




Life is too short to drink bad wine


Life is too short to drink bad wine

post #8 of 9


post #9 of 9

I'm pretty sure a waterstone is a natural stone and a whetstone is a manmade stone.  You should not sharpen under trickling water (it washes away the mud, which you want, it's tiny bits of stone that aid in grinding the metal), I know that for sure.  Simply put the stone in water for 10 min. before you sharpen and you are good to go, no need at all to store them in water.  If they are natural stones I'm not sure you could possibly damage them by letting them sit in water, I just don't see the need.  I hate oil stones, I'm pretty sure it's European in origin and water stones are Japanese/East in origin.  Oil stones become gummed up easily.  

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