Oil Whetstones and Their Amazing Durability Benefits

In Japan, it's very common to see water-based whetstones used in knife sharpening, but there are also other kinds people use too - especially in other countries.

This article is a brief introduction to the world of oil-based whetstones, how they are used and whether they are useful to you in the world of culinary knives!

What is an oil whetstone?

Much like how a water whetstone is a whetstone you soak or coat in water before sharpening with it, an oil whetstone does the same with oil instead.

However, in Japan it's rare to see oil whetstones. If you go into a knife store, they're likely to sell mostly water whetstones. One of the main reasons for this actually lies with natural whetstones.

Natural whetstones produced in Japan contained almost no oil and easily absorb water, so water whetstones have really grown on Japanese people. In contrast, whetstones produced in other countries such as America tend to contain significantly more oil, so as a result oil whetstones are more commonly seen in those places.

Differences between water whetstones and oil whetstones

The two types of whetstone are used in the same way, bar using oil instead of water depending on what kind of whetstone it is.

Oil whetstones however are characterised as being extremely hard, which is very different to water whetstones.

This changes the expected lifespan of the whetstone. Oil whetstones have very little wear, so they last an incredibly long time, but their grindability isn't as good.

In the world of Japanese knives, as the knives themselves are also quite hard we recommend water whetstones as they are softer and have better abrasiveness.

Purposes of using an oil whetstone

As mentioned above water whetstones are better for sharpening blades, and this is especially the case when it comes to Japanese blades like kitchen knives as people generally want to get them to a very thin and finely honed state.

However, we believe that differences in culture has led to differences in whetstones. In America for example, the culture of sharpening a blade to be ultra thin didn't exist as strongly at the time, and blades were sharpened in a two-stage fashion to give strength to the knife edge.

It's way more common to see oil whetstones in industrial purposes, as well as for mechanical polishing such as metal processing. This is because the wear and tear durability in oil whetstones is significantly higher than their water counterparts.

Oil whetstones have their place - but aren't often seen in knife shops in Japan

Types of oil whetstone

Like how there are two types of water whetstone used today (natural and artificial), oil whetstones are the same with naturally processed and formed whetstones, and artifically made ones. Let's go into the differences.

Natural Whetstones

Natural oil whetstones are very rarely produced in Japan.

This kind of whetstone is mainly produced in America, mostly mined from the mountains in the state of Arkansas. In fact, "Arkansas whetstones" are quite famous.

Much like natural whetstones in Japan, however, these are a limited resource. This is leading to supply and production of these stones decreasing year over year.

Artificial Whetstones

These are artificially made whetstones predominantly using alumina (A) abrasive grains.

Since these are artificial, much like artificial water whetstones, there's a large variety of grit numbers ranging from coarse to fine, and they can be made in a variety of shapes and sizes. This gives them a significant advantage over natural whetstones.

In store we only sell water whetstones, with the very occasional oil whetstone special order coming in. Feel free to contact us if you are after one however, and we will do what we can to make sure you get the stones you need.