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Sharpening Stones

Fine Cooking Issue 85
Photo: Scott Phillips
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The stone is arguably the oldest, most venerated sharpening tool. There’s a variety to choose among: natural, manufactured, ceramic, and diamond (see sidebar, opposite). And stones come in different grits (often in kits with two or three grits, or as a single reversible stone with different grits on each side); you generally have to use at least two, coarse and then fine, to sharpen properly. Prices depend on size, material, and number of grits in the kit and range from $5 to more than $100.
We tried large (8-inch) and small (5-inch) stones, including a ceramic stone used with water, and two diamond stones, one used with water and the other used dry. And we followed the manufacturer’s directions for the recommended motion (pushing, pulling, circular stroke, start from the tip, start from the heel). Generally, the directions were easy to follow.

What the experts say

David Marks, the expert knife sharpener at Stoddard’s, applauds anyone who wants to learn to use a stone. “There’s something nice about the ritual,” he says, “and you can really customize your edge.” Marks also points out that nothing you do with a stone is irreversible. If you’re worried that you’ve done something wrong, just get some help and try again to correct any minor mistakes you may have made.

Chef Deepak Kaul, at the restaurant Rendezvous in Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that sharpening on a stone reinforces the “intimate connection” between him and his knives.

Our experience

A stone requires patience, concentration, and time. At first, we found stones challenging, but with practice we started getting good results. The hardest part is judging and maintaining the angle. (We worked without angle guides, but some stones come with them, or you can purchase guides separately.) Some of our testers also found it difficult to switch the blade from side to side and to sharpen evenly along the length of the blade. Most of us found larger stones easier to use than smaller ones. That said, if you stick with the process, you may eventually find yourself in the “stone zone”—when the motion feels natural and your hands almost effortlessly set the blade at an acceptable angle.
Pros: You can get precise control over the sharpening angle; appeals to the artisan in us; shape and size allow for easy storage.
Cons: Requires practice to do well; initially challenging to set and maintain angle (though you can buy angle guides); time consuming; water and especially oil stones can be messy.

Is it right for you?

If you’re hurried or  harried, this probably isn’t the choice for you. But if you’re a knife enthusiast or have a bit of the artisan in your soul, using a stone can be a satisfying tactile and mental experience.

Option #2: Pull-over Sharpeners

These inexpensive, basic sharpeners have a tungsten-carbide abrasive set into a plastic handgrip. To use, hold the knife steady…Read more

Pull-over Sharpeners


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