Have you ever noticed how sharp Japanese knives are, when they come out of box? They are indeed extremely sharp. Thousands of years of craftsmanship combined with modern techniques present these masterpieces. So, keeping these knives top notch condition is requires skill. It takes lots of patient and practice to learn how to sharpen a Japanese knife.

Among many other ways, in this article we will give you step by step lesson how to sharpen Japanese knife on a whetstone. Let’s start….

Why you need to sharpen knife

It is important to ensure that your knives are sharp so that they are able to cut through food with less slippage, regardless of whether you are a professional chef or a weekend food enthusiast. The following are some reasons why you should keep your knives sharp:

  • Sharp blades enable you to cut more food in less time. 
  • When it comes to the appearance of raw foods, a sharp blade is imperative for chefs.
  • When a blade is dull, it slips on food and increases the risk of injury.
  • See the difference between a dull blade and a sharp blade when you slice basil or sushi. If the blade becomes dull, it presses down on the food, causing it damage on a cellular level.

  • Sharpening a Japanese Knife

    It is important to note that sharpening methods differ between Japanese knives with a single edge and those with a double edge. Here, we will outline the steps for sharpening a Japanese knife.

    In order to begin, you will need:

    • Knife
    • Whetstones
    • Towel/cloth

    First you need to prepare before you start sharpen,

    Submerge your whetstones into water. In my case, depending on the condition of the blade, I personally use 3 types of whetstones. Grit 400 (Arato/rough) for creating new edge, grit 1000 (Nakato/medium) for clearing edge and grit 3000 or higher(Shiageto) for polishing the edge. Soak those stones until air bubbles come out. It generally takes about 10 minutes.

    If your knife doesn’t cut well during daily use, sharpen it with a medium whetstone and a finishing whetstone. If you feel you need to create new edge start with the rough whetstone, form the new edge and then sharpen using the medium whetstone and finishing whetstone to remove bluntness and polish the edge. To prevent the whetstones from slipping, a wet towel should be prepared.

  • Once set up is ready, lets go through the steps of sharpening:

Step 1:

Let’s assume your gyuto totally messed up and you need new edge for your knife. Start with arato and face side of the knife. For the Japanese knife sharpening angle will be 10° to 15° which is about 2 coins high. Use the whole blade and whole stone surface while sharpening. When you have sharpened the blade several times, run your finger along the side. If you feel it catches your finger (referred to as a “burr”) then you are making progress.

Step 2:

Repeat the same process doing the blade face side down. This time your target will be remove the burr. It is good practice to pick up your side of the knife blade. While starting with the stone either start from the bottom or from the tip of the blade.

Step 3:

Keep repeating the process for few times, once you are comfortable enough that you have a new edge, move up to your medium stone and repeat steps 1 and 2. What the medium stone will do is, clear all the rough edges created by the rough stone and smooth the edges. Be sure you keep cleaning the stone with water the whole time.

Step 4:

Then the only job left is to polish the edge. Once you start with polishing stone you need to have more patience as the stone’s main job is polish the edges.

Step 5:

It is recommended that you apply an oil coating to the newly sharpened knife after carefully washing it in hot water and wiping away the moisture carefully with a dry cloth. You may also wrap the knife in plastic or similar material and store it in a dry location.

These are pretty much straight forward steps how you sharpen your Japanese knife by hand. If you want to sharpen a yanagiba start with flat surface first once you feel the burr, then start with the edge surface. Start with rough stone then move to medium and polishing stone.

The most important points to keep in mind when sharpening a knife

  • Make sure you do not cut yourself when touching the blade directly.
  • If your knife made with high carbon steel make sure you clean it thoroughly.
  • In the event that the blade is sharpened too thinly, the blade will develop nicks and the cutting edge will lose its sharpness quickly.

Be safe and enjoy your cooking! Until next time!!!

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