Choosing A Right Whetstone
The traditional Chinese whetstone is also called oilstone. In modern days, there are various sharpening tools, but the traditional knife sharpening masters always carry only two sharpening stones – the first being a coarse-stone whetstone (grit 600 or so) for edging and thinning, another one is a fine-stone whetstone (grit 1000-1500) for fine grinding and polishing. Before you start grinding or polishing anything for your own use, it is essential to first pick a good whetstone. A whetstone should not be too rough nor too smooth. Using one that is too smooth makes the grinding more difficult, using one that’s too rough makes it easy to damage the knife edge. Normally, we recommend ordinary whetstones, as they’re both economical and practical. When you pick one, go for one which has coarse sand on the rough side(the feeling, just like touching a cat’s paws. ); while on the fine side, test it with your fingers to check if it’s flat.(Petting a little puppy’s belly?!)
(Here’s a tip: The best thing to do would be to pick an oil stone in your courtyard or in the countryside, pour some water over it and start grinding. It’s an easy step to start with. )
Blunt or Sharp
Let’s now look at the two different sides of the kitchen knife.
* When you hold it with your right hand, the side that your thumb touches is called the ‘inner edge’, and the other side is naturally the ‘outer edge’.
* Then, you may check the blade and see if it has become blunt. Let yourself face directly at the blade, making the surface of the knife about 30 degrees to your view. If you see a white line on the blade, it means the knife has become blunt.
* Prepare tools such as a whetstone and water. If the knife edge is not too blunt, it can be improved with a whetstone made with fine rock. If the edge is blunt, that is, if there is a gap, or the knife edge is turned, it must be repaired quickly with a coarse whetstone.
* Generally, we grind our knives at home, and there is often no specific holder for whetstones. We may place a towel or thick cloth under the whetstone.
* There is a small trick with this step – before we sharpen the knife, we can soak the whetstone for 20 minutes, this will make the sharpened knife even sharper and more long-lasting.
* A traditional Chinese kitchen knife can be used for cutting, slicing and chopping.
* The first third of the blade is used for cutting, the second third for slicing and the last third for chopping.
* When sharpening a knife, you need to apply different angles between the kitchen knife and the whetstone, and this must be done according to different uses of these three parts.
* If we sharpen a usual, home kitchen knife, the procedure is relatively simple. We just need to apply a smaller angle for the first two thirds of the blade, and a larger angle for the last third.
* When you are ready to start sharpening your knife, sprinkle some water on the whetstone and the blade, and press the knife surface tightly against the whetstone. When you see the rear part is slightly tilted, apply the pushing and pulling motion to grind the knife.
* When grinding the knife, remember to apply your strength evenly. Wait until you see mortar on the surface of the whetstone before you sprinkle water again (it’d be better to reserve some mortar liquid as this can facilitate the sharpening).
* Make sure the two surfaces of the knife, also its front, middle and rear parts are grinded evenly. Such an action ensures that the knife becomes straight, flat and sharp.
* The key of grinding your knife is to push lightly and pull hard.
* When grinding your kitchen knife, we must first grind the inner edge, then the outer edge.
* When grinding the inner edge, the kitchen knife and the whetstone must be at an angle of 8° to 10° (the smaller the inner blade, the less force needed when cutting food). Keep this angle consistently when grinding the knife back and forth.
* Then, grind again the outer blade surface, so that the kitchen knife and the whetstone are at an angle of 10° to 15° (the angle of the outer blade surface is larger than the inner surface, this is to ensure that the cut food can be smoothly separated from the kitchen knife).
* Also, keep the same angle when grinding the knife back and forth. Continue grinding until the blade line is thin enough.
* After each grinding, you can use your thumb to scratch the edge to see if it is sharp enough.
When grinding a bone cleaver, the outer blade and inner blade surfaces are to be kept at the same angle with the whetstone, which is about 20°.