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With which sharpening stone should I start?

When sharpening knives it is important to start with the right sharpening stone. With which grain size you need to start depends on the state of the knife. The blunter the knife, the coarser your stone needs to be, or the lower the grain size. By gradually increasing the grain size while sharpening you make sure the knife gets sharper and sharper. But which stone should you start with? And how do you know how sharp your knife is? Below a couple of tests you can carry out at home to determine the sharpness of your knife. We use the Japanese JIS standard grain sizes in this topic.

Unable to find any damage? Immediately start with the second test!

Can you clearly see that the edge is damaged? If so use a sharpening stone with a 0 to 220 grain size (extra coarse to coarse). This grain size will quickly get rid of any imperfections. They can even re-profile your edge. As soon as you have removed the damaged parts you can continue with the second test.

Test 2: reflection test

The second test is the reflection test. Put your knife underneath a light source with the edge facing up. The places on the edge that are blunt will be reflected by the light. Unable to find a reflection on your edge? If so continue with the third test! Did you see some reflection on your edge? If so use a sharpening stone with grain size 220 to 600 (coarse to medium). Do make sure that you use the right angle to sharpen the knife! Sharpen as long as it takes to no longer see the reflection on the edge and continue with the next test

Test 3: ballpoint test

The third test is the ballpoint test. Place a ballpoint pen in front of you on a table at an angle of approximately 30 degrees. Hold the knife vertically and place the edge on the pen. Don't apply any pressure but let the weight of the knife rest on the pen. Does the knife slide off? If it does your edge is too blunt or sharpened with a wrong angle! Sharpen your knife using the right angle on a sharpening stone with grain size 1000 to 3000 (medium to fine), and repeat the rest until the knife 'cuts' into the pen. If the knife doesn't slide off you are good to go! It means that your knife is already quite sharp. You can immediately start with the fourth test!

Test 4: paper test

The paper test is perhaps one of the most well-known ways to see if your knife is sharp enough. The test is quick and efficient and you will almost always have a piece of paper lying around. Hold the piece of paper in front of you using only one hand. Use the other to try to cut through the paper from the edge. If the knife easily slides through the paper you can start with step 5! If it gets 'caught' on the paper or doesn't go through the paper at all you need to sharpen your knife. Use a sharpening stone with a 2000 to 3000 grain size (fine). Repeat the test until your knife will easily cut through the paper.

Does your knife easily move through the paper? Usually this sharpness is enough for your pocket knife, bushcraft knife or any other knife with a thicker blade. You could sharpen your knife to make it even sharpen but unfortunately this type of knife won't retain its sharpness long because these types of knives are often used for the more demanding tasks. A kitchen knife is mostly used for lighter tasks and therefore retain their sharpness a lot longer. Want to make your knife even sharpen? If so continue with the fifth test!

Test 5: tomato test

The next test revolves around cutting a tomato. Because of the relatively tough skin and soft inside this is a great way to test the sharpness of your knife. Place the tomato on a cutting board and try to cut a slice without applying any pressure.

Does the knife slide off the tomato? Use a sharpening stone with a 3000 to 5000 grain size (fine). Can the knife cut the tomato without crushing it? If it does your knife is sharp enough for normal use in the kitchen.

Bonus tests

Looking for ultimate sharpness? A sharpening stone with grain size 5000 or higher (ultra-fine) will no longer remove material from the edge. All you are doing is basically smoothing out the miniscule irregularities in the blade. As such the knife will offer even less resistance as you use it. Do not repeat the paper test after this step. This test could namely affect the sharpness of your knife. There are a couple of other fun tests you can carry out when you are polishing/sharpening your knife:

  • A famous test is shaving your arms or legs. Hold the blade in a sharp angle (almost flat) against your arm or leg and CAREFULLY try to shave off the hair. If the shaving feels rough you can continue sharpening on a sharpening stone with an even higher grain size.
  • Comparable to the ballpoint test is the nail test. You should also be very careful when carrying out this test! Hold your nail at an oblique angle and place the edge of the knife on your thumb. If the knife cuts into the nail and doesn't slide off it is relatively sharp.
  • Another test you can easily carry out is the tomato falling test. Hold the knife with the edge facing up and let a tomato drop on the edge from about 30 cm high. If the tomato is cut in half without any resistance your knife is razor-sharp! You can also try to increase the distance between the knife and tomato to look for the limit of ultimate sharpness


Looking for a polished edge as clear as a mirror? With a sharpening stone with grain size 8000 you will be able to create this mirrored edge. Another way to end up with a mirrored edge is to strop your knife after sharpening it on a sharpening stone.

If all goes well you now know which sharpening stone to start with. Do you also want to learn more about the rest of the sharpening process? If so check out the video manual about sharpening on whetstones!

Are you not sure which angle to use to sharpen your knife? We would love to tell you more about how you need to sharpen your knife using the right angle.

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