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Getting started with Waterstones

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 

So I've just recently purchased and received a MAC Pro, which so far I am very happy with.  It's light and very comfortable to hold.  Perhaps most importantly, it is easily the sharpest knife I've ever used in a kitchen.


Now I need to figure out how to keep it that way. 


Looking at my options, and after a lot of reading here and elsewhere, I've decided I'd like to sharpen freehand with stones.  I've started to get a pretty decent idea of what I need, but I still have a few questions and a few constraints.  And finally: if anything below is mistaken please let me know!  I'd rather know I was wrong


Caveats: I've never really done this before.  I remember sharpening in scouts, but I'm really not certain how well I'll take to it.  That combined with a bit of a budget means I really don't want to jump into a $150+ combination set.  I'd really like to try to keep it to one stone and a steel for now, and then know what and when I need to expand to later.  I'm open to eventually have several quality stones, but I need to try and keep things below $100 for now, then in a couple months add on (I just can't manage $300+ in one month for knife/sharpening gear).  The big question is what I need for the immediate future to keep this thing in shape, then what I need to keep it up to par for the next few years over several purchases.




It seems like most people suggest a medium (around 1k) and a fine (I've seen... a lot of numbers here).  Which is more vital to maintaining a good working edge in a kitchen?  Is a single 1k stone capable of keeping a knife sharp, or do you really need the refinement that a 4k+ puts on it?


In that vein:  I'm not sure I really understand the difference between a blade that has been sharpened somewhat roughly and stopped on a lower grit versus one that's been polished highly up through the 8k+ stones or a fine strop.  That is in part at least my uncertainty.


And then there's the steel.  I know for sure I'm not getting a grooved steel, but I'm still a little unclear on the ceramic's purpose.  It seems the Idahone is really well respected, but what throws me is that it's a ~1200 grit equivalent.  Does that mean if I get a 1k stone and a Idahone now I'll be able to keep a decent edge, but that if I start polishing my knife further in the future the first time I steel will just pull that smooth edge off?  


Finally: what's the opinion on combination stones?  A Norton combination is somewhat tempting to start with, but if the general consensus is 'get a decent single grit stone you can start with and then expand later as that will keep you set for years, combo stones have issues' then I don't want to get something I'll quickly outgrow/wear out/replace.


As an idea of what I'm currently thinking: either a 1k/6k combination stone and either a Idahone fine rod or smooth steel, or a 1k glasspro and the idahone. 

Edited by jrgumby - 6/20/12 at 12:26pm
post #2 of 11

Im sure someone is gonna disagree with me and go into some elaborate plan involving buying a lot of extra stuff, stropping s***, etc... and they may be right and probably are more informed but you can get a King combo 250k/1000k grit stone for like 25.00 dollars and that will work fine. As for steel I've had a 20 dollar 9" Henckels one for years and that is fine too. Thats around 50 dollars total, my knives are sharp enough to shave with and are used daily. You can get all the extra stuff and have a polished edge and 125 dollar steel that you have to worry about losing or just spend the extra money on the actual knife. 

post #3 of 11

I semi- disagree, but only semi.

For a first stone I'd get a combo with 1000k/4000k (or 1000k/6000k), rather than the 250k.  That is, a very coarse stone is for repair or reprofiling, and is far more likely to damage a knife for a beginning sharpener; probably not needed for a good long-ish while.


I don't know about the Henckels steel  (shrug).   And yes, a 1200 grit ceramic rod will "scuff" the higher polish of finishing stones.  It's ok.  So your knife loses polish over time. It doesn't lose it all based on a single truing on the rod.  Had I money to throw around, I'd try what BDL describes doing -- using a borosilicate rod for a while after sharpening, and moving to the rougher stuff as required.  Then it's time to re-sharpen on stones.


Reasons for getting separates rather than a combo -- they will last longer, and you can be more choosy.  Still, as a beginner who wants to economize, I think combination stones are really good.  By the time you develop tastes that require something else, you'll have a some practice sharpening and figure out how involved you want to be with sharpening and whether you want to spend more money on separates.


(So you see, I really *do* agree with ez13... I just would get a medium+high grit combo stone to start, rather than a coarse+medium).


To some degree a higher polish will "feel" sharper and lose some "bite" -- so it depends on what you're cutting. I'd love an educated response to your question re: hones and sprays in particular (vs higher grit stones, though) -- but higher polish means less bruising of herbs and smoother cuts of most things. (I'll let someone else talk about what works for various meat-cutting tasks.... I just don't cook it, myself!)

post #4 of 11

Hey, I am also new to waterstones but I can say after research that Norton Stones is the place a beginner can start with and then progress if the need /addiction takes you there. From my limited experience water stones cut real quick compared to my oil stones (which are used dry and clean)

but they do require more attention and care. The first thing you should do is learn how to sharpen your knife and forget about all the stuff you have read about knife sharpening and find what works for you. It will be similar to many methods but in the end its gonna be the way you sharpen your knives and your own way! Emulation is great to some point and so are the many ways we do things to accomplish the same tasks,Raise the burr my friend. Doug................

The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
The two most common things in the universe are hydrogen and stupidity !
post #5 of 11

Waterstones will take off metal fast. This means that you shouldn't need any coarse stones unless you need to do some repair work on your knives. Additionally, higher grit stones are not mandatory, as a medium waterstone will still leave you with a reasonably fine edge. For most purposes, a decent 800-1200 grit stone will be all you need. One can be had from Chefknivestogo for about 50 bucks. You'll also need something to flatten it with eventually. Idahones have a great reputation and should be just fine if you are only sharpening up to 1200 grit.


 Just be sure to do the research on sharpening technique. It's not all that hard, but it's important to understand the processing of raising and removing a burr to get a properly sharpened edge. That alone will make more difference than what stone you choose, by far.

post #6 of 11



Mi first sharpening stuff was this Oishi combination stone 1000/6000 and an Idahone fine rod. It was awesome, I could make my knives razor sharp and in a budget, such a great little stone for 31 bucks.


And remember that "very sharp" means different things for different people (and tasks) for me a "sharp" knife (meaning that you won't be squeezing tomatoes while trying to slice them, or cutting your herbs without making them look like they were chewed and then spitted) is something from the 1000 grit wich is my  very personal and maybe wrong idea, but that kind of sharpness is something that I consider "acceptable". If I was going to have the chance of spending less than 50 bucks for a stone and a polishing stone, without a question I would pick the Oishi again. I learned with that one and I still have it and my cooks make their knives scary sharp with it.


Now I sharpen with a bester 1200 (Great stone) and I finish with an Arashimaya 6000 (A.K.A. Takenoko 8000) and I think that, that is already more than sharp for my cooking knives.


If you're not an "scary sharp" junkie (You'll become one if you keep reading this forum too much wink.gif ) and you want to get just one stone without worrying on too many polishing issues, go for the Bester 1200 (And your Idahone rod) and you'll be a happy man too, if once that you have it,  you decide that 1200 is not enough... Go for something with higher grit, but you'll see that for your daily use, 1200 is not that bad.


Actually, I lived in the dark for almost 20 years of professional career sharpening with very coarse stones, a few years ago I got a minosharp medium grit stone (about 1000) and I felt like my knives were scalpels, after that I started  doing research and I found this place and that was when everything went downhill, I got spoiled and... I became a knife/sharpening junkie and got the idea that the higher the grit, the better the knife and I started buying knives and stones. Now I feel like my knives are up to any task in the kitchen and not being that worried anymore about getting into 30,000 grit (Wich not only is  crazy, but impractical too for a cooks knife).

I think that my 2 stones are fine and maybe I'll get a nice strop soon, or maybe another stone,I don't know but that's more on the idea of satisfying a curiosity than a necessity. 


My 2 cents.


post #7 of 11

Yes, shoulda mentioned that 250k is only used for repair/re profiling which isn't something needed frequently but helpful on the occasion of a shot blade.   

post #8 of 11

The right tools for sharpening depend on the knife and how you're going to use it. You've decided to use a bench stone sharpening kit and a rod, and have asked about a single, best stone for a MAC Pro. However a knife of the MAC's quality which will be used for general chef knife tasks wants a three or four stone set. One to profile and repair; one or two to sharpen; and one for a final sharpening / polish.


A medium/coarse (~1K on the JIS scale) edge is suitable for red meat work, but will dull quickly and need a lot of steeling to retain performance. Also, it won't give you the kind of glass smooth cuts on veg, poultry and fish you can get with some degree of polish. On the other hand, a MAC doesn't have the most "scratch hardness" of any knife on the market, will probably get a fair amount of steeling between sharpenings, etc., etc. There's no good, practical reason to push the polish much beyond 4K If you can only afford to buy one stone now, get a medium/coarse, and plan on adding a medium/fine as soon as you use to learn the 1K -- which will probably be within a few months.


Chances are you won't need a fast, coarse stone (500 or coarser) for profiling for about a year or so. If you're just learning to sharpen and want to keep costs down, you can start with either a two stone kit or a combi stone (two thin stones glued together to form one).


A combi stone will be a little cheaper initially, but I recommend starting with separates. They last longer, are less fragile, easier to maintain, and will outlast combi stones. Whether you want to keep prices down by compromising on one aspect or another and buying stones you'll outgrow, or just bite the bullet and buy stones which will last you a long time is your call. I think the best economy choice 2 stone starter kit would be Naniwa SS 10mm 1K and 5K. There are some issues with these stones, but they're the best you can get for the money by far. Don't worry about how thin they are, you'll most likely outgrow them before using them up. Not quite as good, efficient, or economical in the short term, you might also want to look into Kings which are very good. But I don't like them as much as the Naniwas because Kings are "clay binder" (as opposed to Naniwa "resin binders," e.g.) stones with all the issues that entails (cut slow, dish quickly, etc.). I used to recommend Nortons, but don't any longer. They're very high quality and very consistent, but they have all the mud binder problems and cost a lot.


If you decide to buy something you can live with for a long time, the medium/coarse I most like is the Bester 1200.  It's an exceptional stone in a lot of ways, very fast, polishes well above it's nominal grit level, etc.  There are some negatives.  It's a bit on the hard side though and feedback is a bit compromised.  But the worst thing is that it takes a lot of soaking (at least forty-five minutes, two hours is a lot better, and overnight is fine) before it's ready to work, so it's not a good choice if you're all about not planning.  The thing is, if you want a stone that's better in those respects and at or near the same quality as the Bester -- a Chosera for instance -- you're going to spend a lot more money; and if you want to do better -- Gesshin 2K for example -- it will cost still more.  Lots of "inside baseball," and lots of tradeoffs... but that's the way it is.


For medium/fine either the Arashiyama/Takenoko (same stone, different widths, nominall 4K) or the Suehiro Rika. I'd go with the Rika if you have a plan to get a very fine grit polishing stone down the line; with the Arashiyama, if that's all the polish you think you'll ever use.


Best "steel" for the money by far is the Idahone "fine" (aka 1200). While "1200" is indeed an expression of the "grit" size, grit numbers don't all come from the same scale. Idahone's 1200 is the equivalent of a typical 2000# Japanese synthetic stone. Even if you do get the numbers straight, don't invest too much meaning. How you use your "steel" is a very important part of how much "scuff" you're going to lay on the bevel. And, as the edge starts to wear, you want a little but of scuff to give the edge some bite.


If you want to put the whole thing off for a couple of years, you might want to think about a MinsoSharp3 manual pull-through, or one of the "Asian angle" Chef's Choice electrics -- each about around $80.  You'll get better than adequate edges and avoid the learning curve.  


Hope this helps,


Edited by boar_d_laze - 6/23/12 at 9:56am
post #9 of 11




Edited by boar_d_laze - 6/22/12 at 8:24am
post #10 of 11
Thread Starter 

Thanks everyone!  This was a huge help in figuring out what I need to know.


I went ahead and ordered a Bester 1200 and the Idahone.  I'm probably going to do my sharpening on the weekends, so I'm alright with needing to give it a few hours to soak and the idea of something I can hang on to seems like a good idea. Hopefully in a month of so before my MAC really needs sharpening I should be able to get a polishing stone for it.  


The only real question I have left is this: are there some significant differences I should watch out for when I go from practicing on softer Wustoff steel (I have a Wustoff Santoku and Chef's that I'm not big on) to actually sharpening the MAC?  I'm assuming that it will keep the edge at that angle better (I'm going to practice at 15 on the Wustoff, I don't care as much about usefulness for it as getting my edge down), but take longer to sharpen and cut more slowly?  

post #11 of 11

A 15* MAC edge won't collapse (go out of true) nearly as quickly as 15* on a Wustie... everything else being equal.  However, since you're just starting out I can guarantee that nothing will be equal from knife to knife or even from sharpening to sharpening on the same knife.


Everything else being equal confused.gif, time and effort to get to a good edge will be about equal.  The big difference between those two knives from a sharpening standpoint is that it's a little easier to do an inherently tougher knife alloy like the X50CrMoV15 in your Wustie on oil stones than an inherently stronger alloy like the VG1 in your MAC, even though both are hardened to around the same Rockwell C number.   But we aren't talking about oil stones.


You want that higher grit stone as soon as possible. 


Your ceramic rod won't polish out the scratches (which make for toothiness) left by the Bester 1200, which is more a function of the differences between using a rod and a stone than grits.  But as 1200 grit stones go, at least the Bester won't be too toothy.  Did I mention that you want to buy that higher grit stone as possible?


Your learning sequence should go like this: 

  • Learn to draw a burr and deburr with the Bester (perhaps using your rod to help chase the burr), holding a steady angle.  Use the "Magic Marker Trick" to help you visualize what's going on. 
  • As soon as you can consistently hold an angle and actually sharpen with the 1200, jump up to the finer stone (3K - 6K range), and do the same. 


You'll find that the finer stone reveals punishes angle holding flaws and thus develops consistently.  Do get a fine stone quickly.


An edge off a Bester 1200 is very toothy and consequently has a lot of bite:  I think it's way too coarse for a good chef's knife.  Not only is as much saw is knife, it will dull because the "teeth" bend and break so easily.  Get that higher grit stone as soon as possible.


One very inexpensive thing you can do to refine that 1200# edge is stropping on newsprint, shirt board, or the manila folder board.  Like sharpening on stones, stropping is also far from intuitive and you won't get good results without expertise derived from practice.   You either want to do some research or ask questions here.  Preferably both.


The Idahone is a really good rod.  Great even.  Rod hones aren't intuitive and most people use them wrong.  Take a look at "Steeling Away" on my blog, it should help with the basics.


In addition to that higher grit stone which you should get as soon as possible, you're going to need some method for flattening (and lapping) your stones.  Ordinary 3M Drywall Screen is MUCH better than sandpaper; cheaper than and just as good as coarse, ceramic flatteners.  You MUST flatten, bevel and lap your Bester before using it, your flattener purchase must take place ASAP.


$12 worth of drywall screen is a lifetime supply pretty much.  Don't be shy.  Once you've absorbed that cost, you can start saving for that finer stone. 



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