When you’ve invested in a nice set of Japanese knives, there’s a whole lot more to ownership than the deft handling of your new blades.
You need to know how to take proper care of them! While there are certainly electric sharpeners, being able to sharpen your knives on a whetstone can help to ensure that your investments stay razor sharp and always perform at their best.
It takes a little practice, but first, you’re going to need a few tools and that’s where we are hoping to help today. In this article, we’re going to talk about the best whetstones for sharpening Japanese knives, and along the way, we’ll tell you a little about the process.
After that, we’ll show you our favorites, throw in some buying tips and a little advice for beginners, and in the end, you’ll be well-prepared to get what you need to start building your sharpening skills on your own!
Without further ado, let’s explore the best whetstone for Japanese knives and why these tools are so important to your kitchen cutting magic!
Proper maintenance of Japanese kitchen knives is a MUST
In Japanese culture, knives are much more than simply sharp pieces of metal to chop up your food. A proper edge doesn’t just cut, you see, it also helps to preserve the natural flavors of food.
For instance, if you attempt to cut a tomato with a blunt knife, while it looks to cut, that tomato is also inadvertently crushed in the process of slicing it. This is a huge no-no in Japanese cuisine, because ‘crushing’ is going to change the natural structure of the vegetable.
Now consider that same tomato, sliced with razor precision, so that you can still see the seeds suspended perfectly as if looking at it through an x-ray. It’s a very simple example, but you get the idea – knives that are perfectly sharpened give you complete control so that you can preserve as much of the natural flavor of foods as possible.
With that in mind, the next thing that you need to know is how to properly sharpen your blades, and while it takes practice, the basics of it are fairly simple, so we’ll go over them briefly before we get to the tools that you’ll need to do this on your own.
Sharpening 101 – a Quick overview of the basics that you need
Sharpening Japanese knives is a little bit different than sharpening your basic European varieties in some ways, but for practical purposes the way you do it is basically the same. European whetstones require oil, but Japanese whetstones are a porous kind of mined or synthetic ‘waterstones’.
Rather than oil, these typically require a 5 to 10-minute soak in water and then they are ready to use. Sharpening is done with different grades of ‘grit’, which shaves the metal at different degrees of intensity to help you produce a razor-polished edge.
Your 3 main grades are:
- Arato – The coarsest stones, designed to shave the most metal for repairing chipped or otherwise damaged blades.
- Nakato – This is the medium-grade ‘sharpening’ grit that can put an edge on a blade and even do some minor repair work.
- Shiageto – This is the finest grit, suitable for perfecting a sharpened edge and polishing up the blade.
We’ll elaborate briefly on each in the sections below to help clarify the grades of grit and specific uses.
Arato (Coarse grit) whetstones
Your Arato stones are the coarsest of the lot, rough enough to shave little micro-chunks off of your knife and these can get you in trouble if you aren’t careful. They’re supposed to be this rough, however, so that when you chip a knife or it ends up bent, you can shave and straighten it back to a usable edge.
The Arato is any grit that is UNDER 1000. The lower the grit, the rougher it is.
Nakato (Medium grit) whetstones
The Nakato whetstones are going to be any grit between 1000 and 3000, with the lowest grit being the roughest of the bunch.
The 1000 grit is your chief sharpening stone and you’ll be using it the most to get the hang of sharpening. A few quick passes of your knives across its surface, if done at the right angle, can instantly restore an edge that’s just been dulled a bit with heavy use.
Your knife won’t look shiny – that’s Shiageto’s job – but ideally, it should be able to cut a neat strip off of paper once you know what you’re doing, and that’s pretty darned cool!
Shiageto (Fine grit) whetstones
Shiageto is any grit over 3000 and usually, we’re talking a range between 4000 and 10,000, but there are MUCH higher finishing grits – you just won’t need them now.
When you are just learning, the super-expensive high-grit stones might be nice to have, but you probably won’t be ready for them just yet. So stick with something in the 4000-10,000 range and you’ll still see amazing results without having to resort to expensive overkill.
When you are sharpening a stone, there’s a lot of wear and tear on it.
While it shaves your blade, a small amount of slurry is made, which consists of water, stone bits, and steel shavings. This can help in sharpening, but it needs to be cleaned out, and as your stone is wearing down, the middle can become much deeper than the rest of the stone.
Your flattening stone fixes that – you run it over the sharpening stone and it levels the surface so that it’s ready for sharpening again.
The Nagura stone could be used as a flattening stone, but it’s less efficient for that.
With a Nagura, you can clean quick buildup, or you can generate a little slurry before you sharpen to help speed the process along. The sharpening perks of slurry are a little more advanced, however, so you won’t necessarily need a Nagura right away, but you WILL need a flattening stone.
Now that you know what the stones do, we’ll give a quick piece of advice. You’ll see natural waterstones on the market, but you should wait before getting those – genuine waterstones are rare and mined at great expense.
Yes, they are FANTASTIC, but we recommend that you hold off and build your skills before investing in a natural stone.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the best whetstones on the market so that you can get started in building your own sharpening kit to take care of your sharp and shiny new Japanese blades!
The best whetstones for Japanese Knives
In the sections below we’re going to share our favorite whetstones with you and include a little bit of information on each so that you know exactly what you are getting. After the descriptions, we’ll also share how each product was rated by people who purchased them and to keep things fair and balanced, we’ll also share the not-so-stellar 1-star reviews as well.
It’s only fair – after all – so let’s get started with those stones and you can see what you think.
King Coarse 300 grit repair whetstone
Lower grit stones are an important part of your whetstone collection and this King 300 grit stone lasts a long time and really gets the job done. King is one of the best-known whetstone brands for sharpening Japanese knives and with this stone, you have a rough enough grit to effectively repair chips and other damage that your knives will develop over time.
Looking into the reviews, a whopping 82% of customers gave this stone 5 stars, while another 7% were willing to call it a ‘4’. Praise for the product included statements such as ‘it can easily replace coarse stones of up to 600 grit’, ‘it far exceeded my expectations’, and ‘Amazing value in a ‘splash and go’ stone’.
On the flip side, in the 1-star reviews (of which there were 6%), we’re happy to report that they only consist of one stone that was damaged in shipping, and 2 reviewers who were unhappy that the King stone was synthetic. This is not King’s fault – genuine waterstones are mined and quite rare, so overall the reviews for this product were pretty stellar!
Yoshihiro Professional Grade Toishi 1000 grit
This Yoshiro Professional Grade Toshi is our next addition to the list and it’s a fine whetstone indeed.
Your 1000-grit stone is your ‘go-to’ stone in every sharpening collection, as it gives you enough grit for sharpening up your knives to the point where they are usable, so you want to make sure that you’ve got a solid one. This particular stone is rated for Sushi chef’s knives, so it’s exactly what you need to keep your own Japanese blades sharp and shiny best.
Note: This does NOT come with the base, which must be purchased separately.
Going into the review, the Yoshihiro was well-received, with a stellar 89% giving this product 4 stars and no negative reviews, although to be fair the review pool was modest 16 customers polled. Still, Yoshishiro has been in business for 100 years, so we can definitely recommend this 1000 grit as a stone you’ll be happy to have!
Sharp Pebble Knife Sharpening Stone Kit-Grit 1000/6000
Next up we have this Sharp Pebble sharpening stone kit with a combination of 1000 and 6000 grit and it’s a nice little kit for beginner and veteran sharpeners alike.
With this grit combo, you can give your blade a good sharpening with the medium-grit 1000, and finish it off with the fine 6000 so that it’s razor-sharp and shiny. Along with the combination stone, you also get a base with an angle guide, which can help to ensure that you’re always holding the knife at the proper angle and it covers 4 degrees – 15, 17, 20, and 22 – exactly what you need for most Japanese knives.
Wandering off into reviews, we see that the Sharp Pebble got 5 stars in 72% of the reviews and 4 stars in 18% of them, for a solid 90% of happy customers. One of the most repeated phrases for this was share-worthy and simple – many kept saying it was a ‘great find’.
Moving on to the negative territory, only 3% were unhappy with this set, with a user named Ken advising that his crumbled. That said, we encourage you to read the long list of happy reviews as this we definitely agree that the Sharp Pebble is a ‘great find’ and that you’re going to love it.
KING KW65 1000/6000 Grit Combination
Just in case you’re worried about Ken’s negative experience with the Sharp Pebble (and we still say it’s great!), we wanted to include this similar offering from King. With this combo stone, you get your 1000 and 6000 grit for both sharpening and finishing and while you don’t get angle guides like the Sharp Pebble, it DOES come with a handy plastic base and a name you already trust.
Scooting over into reviews we see that the King had a solid 78% of 5-star reviews with another 14% giving this product 4. This particular stone option was described as a ‘good stone’ by many beginners and veterans alike, which is always a good sign.
Flipping the 5-star coin to the 1-star side, however, 2% of customers were less enchanted with the product. Most of the negatives, however, had to do with their stone arriving broken after shipping it through the post, though one user complained of clogging. As far as clogging, however, this is something easily remedied with a Nagura stone so we’d have to say the King rated very well overall.
Norton Whetstone 1000/4000 grit
As you get a little more experience you’ll learn to work with other grits and eventually find your favorites.
This Norton whetstone can help you with this with its combination of 1000 and 4000-grit stones. 1000, of course, gives you your ‘general purpose’ grit, while the 4000 helps you for finishing the blade with just a little more bite than you would get with a standard 1000/6000 combo.
So, how did it do in reviews? Well, 81% liked the Norton, with 58% giving it 5 stars and another 23% giving it 4. Praise of this whetstone included phrases such as ‘cuts fast and leaves a clean finish’ and ‘great stone, but flatten it first!’.
As far as negative reviews, 8% did not like this whetstone, although one of the 2 reviews was a shipping complaint that advised they received the wrong stone, while the other negative review was from a customer that felt that the 4000 grit was too clumpy (which flattening can help with if this proves to be the case!.
GoodJob Multi-grit complete sharpening kit
We wanted to include some sets in this article and this Goodjob Multi-grit sharpening kit is a real gem. It’s got everything that you need, from coarse to fine, and a whole lot of extras so that you have an instant ‘sharpening corner’ you can set up out of the box! Here’s what you get with this set:
- 2 combo stones with 300/1000 grit for one and 3000/8000 grit for the other
- 1 bamboo base
- 1 non-slip rubber mat
- 1 angle guide
- 1 flattening stone
- 1 adjustable honing guide
- 1 leather strop
- 1 leather strop for honing
- 1 pair of cut-resistant gloves
- 1 polishing compound
It’s pretty fantastic for a complete set, but let’s see what the reviews said on this. As it turns out, 72% of customers liked this enough to give it 5 stars, while another 20% gave it 4 for a total of 92% of the 644 reviewers being happy with this product!
That’s great to hear, but looking at the 1-star reviews, 2% of reviewers weren’t as crazy about this product. Complaints in the 1-star section mostly had to do with customers saying that this was made in China and a few received chipped stones.
Overall, however, the Goodjob had a nice reception in reviews so we recommend giving them a read if you are considering this product – this set would really be a shame to miss out on.
HJYC Whetstone kit
Our next kit is an offering from HJYC that is similar to Goodjob, although not as comprehensive in its contents. What you get with this set is the following:
- 2 whetstones of 400/1000 grit and 3000/8000 grit
- 1 angle guide
- 1 bamboo base with a non-slip bottom
- 1 flattening stone
- 1 Ax sharpening puck
While it’s a little more spartan than the Goodjob, this kit does provide you with what you need to repair, sharpen, and finish your blades, and we’ll have to admit that the ax sharpening puck is a pretty cool addition that you can store away in your workshop for tools.
Review-wise, the HJYC got 5 stars from 71% of reviewers, along with another 17% grudgingly admitting that it deserved at least a 4. Praise was all overboard, but the popular consensus was that this was a ‘good set’ and ‘great for beginners’.
Moseying on down to the Bad Review Ranch, we found that 4% of the 492 reviewers felt differently about this product. The only listed bad review complained about slurry on the stone, stating that the grit must be wrong, although ‘sharpening slurry’ is actually the norm with water stones. The slurry is made of shavings of stone and steel when you sharpen and can actually help with sharpening, although you want to clean the stone with a Nagura later.
As such, the reviews for this product are quite good and it’s a kit worth considering if you want just the bare bones that you need to sharpen your Japanese knives.
Yeopasda Sharpening kit
Not all Japanese knives are tiny and that’s where this Yeopasda sharpening kit can really come in handy – it’s got oversized sharpening stones! Here’s a look at what you get inside its blue gift box sleeve:
- 3 large sharpening stones with grits of 400/1000/6000
- 1 non-slip base
- 1 Angle guide
- 1 pair of cut-resistant gloves
- 1 Rust removal compound
- 1 set of leveling/flattening stones
Overall, a great deal for keeping your larger knives nice and sharp, so how did they do in the reviews? Well, the Yeopasda received 725 reviews and 73% of those gave it 5 stars and another 19% gave it 4.
That’s 92% favorable which is definitely what we like to hear. As far as negative reviews, 2% of reviewers did not like the Yeopasda, with one customer advising that their stones wore out too fast and another reviewer felt that they spent more time flattening their stones than sharpening them.
Make of that what you will but we feel that the positive reviews definitely carry the heft in this case!
Vecu Polishing Whetstone 5000/10000 grit
Finishing your Japanese knives to a razor sharpness and mirror shine is an important part of the sharpening process, and this Vecu polishing whetstone can help you to get this done. This double-sided stone comes with a 5000 and a 10000 grit, perfect for the finishing process, and it also has a rubber non-slip holder so that you’ve got everything you need but the pre-soak in some water!
Out of 438 reviews, 69% who bought this item were happy enough to give the Vecu 5 stars and they got 4 stars from another 15% of those polled. User ‘Lettuci’ felt that this was one of the best stones that they’ve found on Amazon, and many others felt it was both a robust, useful stone and great for beginners.
In the 1-star category, however, 5% of reviewers were not happy with the Vecu, with the chief complaint being that they felt it was not a true 10000 grit. We wanted to make sure to share this with you, but be sure to peruse the reviews on your own if you don’t feel confident – it did really well overall and we’d be surprised if you weren’t happy with this stone.
Sharp Pebble large flattening stone
Well, look at that, Sharp Pebble has made our list again! This time it’s with a useful flattening stone that we think you’re going to like. Flattening stones are a must-have for your sharpening set, as they help to keep your whetstone working at its best.
When you sharpen your knives, the surface of the whetstone gets scraped, and this can make the stone uneven (especially in the middle) over time. With this Sharp Pebble flattening stone, you can rub it on the whetstone in-between sharpenings and this will help you to keep your whetstones nice and level.
It’s quite a stone, too, and not like other flattening stones that we’ve seen. The Sharp Pebble comes with a diamond patterning for proper flattening, as well as a dual grit, AND it’s double-sided.
In the reviews, 88% of reviewers were quite pleased with this product. 69% were happy enough to give it 5 stars, and another 19% were willing to part with 4.
Moving on to the 1-star category, however, 6% of 1175 buyers reviewed were not so happy with this product. The main complaints cited were that it wears out too quickly and there were also complaints of receiving chipped and (in one case) a malformed stone.
88% good in a pool of 1175 is still pretty good in our eyes, but be sure to review the 1 and 2 stars on your own to see if you agree.
Best newbie tips for quickly building your sharpening skill
While the biggest factor in how fast you learn is going to be practice, here are a few tips to help you quickly build up experience and avoid a few common pitfalls:
- Your stone instructions will tell you how long to soak it. It’s usually 10 minutes and you should resist the urge to simply ‘splash and go’. The water needs time to soak in and you can damage the stone if you’re impatient.
- Get an angle guide to learn the perfect angle for sharpening. Your Japanese knives usually have a single bevel and a 10-15 degree angle, but check their instructions for the manufacturer-recommended angle and use the guide to show you exactly how to hold the blade.
- Don’t use the coarse unless you need to repair your blade, because you’re shaving off steel and reducing the life of the knife each time you use it.
- Flatten your stone after using it and let your stones dry after you’ve washed them before you put them away.
Buying information for sharpening stones
If you are buying stones at a market, then we’ve got a few quick tips that can help. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Look for brands you trust, not just Japanese Kanji writing – the grit of the stone is your best guide since you can’t read Japanese. Don’t get it if the grit isn’t listed unless you can already estimate by touch.
- Be leery of ‘natural’ Japanese stones that don’t come with documentation – there are a lot of fakes out there, so you need to do your homework first.
- Consider starting with a ‘newbie’ kit – you’ll get everything you need and you can build your stone collection as your skills improve.
Our favorite from the product list today is easily the GoodJob Multi-grit complete sharpening kit. It has absolutely everything that you need, from stones to angle guides and more, and the reviews provide a little ‘backup glow’ that reinforces it. It’s a basic set that will get you started the RIGHT way and the fact that you have enough gear to set up a dedicated sharpening workspace means that you’ll be much more likely to USE it instead of getting frustrated and stopping before you can build a little skill.
If you like the ‘cut of its jib’, then the Goodjob definitely won’t let you down!
Before we conclude this article, we wanted to share a few frequently asked questions as a little ‘knowledge parting shot’ before we go on our merry way. Below you’ll find those questions and answers so that you can cross them off your list!
Which natural Japanese whetstone is best?
Everyone has their favorite, but for practical purposes, the stones mined from Shapton are certainly among the best. They remain flat for ages, their coarse stones are cut with excellent speed and efficiency, and their finishing stones are nothing short of exquisite.
How often should you sharpen your knife on a whetstone?
Typically you’ll be sharpening your knives only once or twice a year, as quality Japanese knives are extremely well-made and tend to hold their edges for a very long time with standard use.
Is a diamond whetstone better?
Diamond whetstones are strong and fast, with the coarsest varieties being a great way to save time on repairs – they’re really much faster than synthetic waterstones in that regard. They’re also more expensive, though, so wait a little while before you buy and try them.
Today we’ve explored the wonderful world of Japanese whetstones to find the best whetstone for Japanese knives. Our favorite was actually a package deal called the GoodJob Multi-grit complete sharpening kit, but all of the whetstones that we’ve shared today are of excellent quality and well worth adding to your collection.
Just be sure to start small – you need to practice the basics – and as your skills grow then you can certainly upgrade your collection and further develop your mastery of the fine art of Japanese blade sharpening.
It’s a skill that will go straight to your table, so it’s definitely well worth your time and effort to learn! Until next time, get started practicing and we wish you the very best!