How do I use a sharpening stone?

Steps In Sharpening Tools On Stones

The method of using a sharpening stone involves a number of simple but important steps.

  1. “Wet” the stone with either water or cutting oil. Be sure to follow wetting recommendations of the stone manufacturer. Because the stone you are using is new, it will not require dressing (using another abrasive such as industrial diamond to be sure the stone is still as close to flat as possible). Dressing may be needed after many uses of the stone.
  2. Be sure that the flat part or the back of the blade or chisel is flat. Do this by rubbing it along the long edge of the stone a number of times, then see if the grooves left in the metal run all the way to the very edge of the blade. If they do, that means the surface is flat. If not, continue to rub the blade on the stone until it is.
  3. Some people would select a coarser stone for what is called regrinding, because a fine stone would take longer to do this job. When finished with the regrinding, return to the finer stone for the finish sharpening. Once that's done it's time to turn over the blade and begin to sharpen down along the beveled edge.
  4. Before you sharpen along the beveled edge, make sure not to change the bevel angle of the blade. Lay the blade onto the stone until the angle of the bevel is met by the stone perfectly. There has been some debate over the method of sharpening. Some professionals suggest making small circles with the blade, stopping and checking the edge every few circles to check the progress. Others will argue that back and forth is better. Either way, when the tool has become sharpened there will be a small wire edge or bur left from the process at the very edge of the tool. This wire can be removed by turning the tool over again and very gently pulling it along the stone until the wire is removed.
Mastering the edge and bevel angle takes some practice, but once mastered, this can be a rewarding skill to have.

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Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.