Using Stones to Sharpen Knives

My first experience sharpening knives with bench stones was easy and effective.

Reader Contribution by Caleb Regan
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A little over a month ago, the editorial team here at GRIT was engaged in a fairly spirited debate – they usually are spirited in my experience – regarding the proper manner in which knives are sharpened.

The discussion stemmed from Tom Larson’s knife sharpening article. Although a couple of us had sharpened knives before, the difficulty arose with trying to craft the words and sentences so people would know exactly what was being done, especially since being right and left-handed plays a big part in this skill.

This led us all to agree – after four of us editors spent a considerable amount of time sitting in a circle with props, sharpening plastic spoons and such on our personalized bench stones (our hands) – that the package for our online edition of the story should include a video.

The need to sharpen my skinning knife was imminent, so the timing couldn’t have been better for me, and I set about trying to acquire a bench stone that would sharpen a skinning knife.

I sprung for it last year and bought myself a new Gerber knife since I’d always used a grinder to sharpen knives. Come to find out, sharpening with a hand stone, and even a strop, is much better than grinding. Grinding your knives can overheat and damage the temper of the steel, and knives once able to shave hair off your arm are rendered dull. The worst thing that can happen to your knife through grinding is for the blade to become curved in places, making it completely ineffective. I was ready to try manually sharpening my blades.

First on my list in setting out to find a bench stone was Sharpening Supplies, and those folks didn’t disappoint. I was immediately attracted to a very cool-looking Hard Black Arkansas Stone (Model HB376). It came in a wooden box and is beautiful to look at, plus the stone is a hard black Arkansas stone so it’s for achieving the sharpest of edges.

But after talking with Manager/Owner John Carmona, he urged me to also consider a combination stone, since he worried that the hard black stone was so fine it’d be tough to employ when dealing with extremely dull knives. He was absolutely right.

Within two business days, I not only had the Hard Black Arkansas Stone in Wooden Box but also the Norton Combination India Sharpening Kit, which includes a combination stone (this one was 8-by-2-by-1 inches), sharpening stone oil, and a black case (Norton IM50 Case-Black) that sits on four little rubber stoppers so you don’t have to hold the case in place when sharpening.

The case is more useful than one might think, since with it you’re allowed to sharpen without using a hand to hold the case in place – very important when trying to keep your extra hand out of the way and your fingers unharmed.

Come to find out, the hard black stone is great to use, but I could have gotten away with just the combination stone. I wouldn’t want to now though, since the hard black stone provides such fine, smooth sharpening that your knife truly will take hair off your arm like never before. I was sharpening last night to the point that I was out of knives and all my blades looked and cut perfectly, but I was so pleased with myself I couldn’t put the stones away.

In the future, after dealing with hides, I will turn to the coarse side of the combination stone (black side), then the finer side (red) before putting the finishing touches on my Gerber with the Hard Black Arkansas Stone. All three made my once-dull knife look and cut just like new once again.

I can only imagine how useful the stones will be when I resharpen blades for filleting fish, an experience that only goes as smoothly as your blade cuts.

Former editor Caleb Regan, and his wife Gwen, live in rural Douglas County, Kansas, where they enjoy hunting, fishing, and raising and growing as much of their food as possible.

  • Updated on Jun 29, 2022
  • Originally Published on Dec 3, 2008
Tagged with: black stone, blade, knife, knives, Reader Contributions, sharpen
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