How Do Knife Sharpening Blocks Work? (Explained)

Sharpening the knife

One of the most basic tools you use in the kitchen is a knife, or so you think. I thought any old knife would do when I needed to chop or cut something I was cooking.

When I started using quality knives that I kept sharp, my life in the kitchen changed. I am not exaggerating when I say having a properly sharpened knife changed everything for me when it came to meal prep. It can do the same for you.

All you need to know is how to use a knife sharpening block properly. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know to keep your knives cutting smoothly.  

Quick Summary of How Knife Sharpening Blocks Work

A sharpening block, or stone, is a tool you can use to increase your knives’ performance and longevity. Dull knives are dangerous and can tear up your food instead of cutting it. You find yourself hacking your way through food instead of slicing through it like butter. 

A sharpening block sharpens a knife by grinding the blade on a rough surface, like a stone. A pliable surface like sandpaper can also shape a knife as it has particles. 

Another process that often becomes confused with sharpening is honing. They both work to maintain the sharpness of the edge of a knife. However, honing steel is used when the knife of the blade is dull. A sharpening block works best for a knife that has been damaged. 

Different Types of Knife Sharpening Blocks

Sharpening blocks are made of different types of materials. They can be made of synthetic or natural materials. Blocks made of natural stone are the original tools used to sharpen knives. They are used less often as more synthetic material options are more consistent. They have grit and quality you can trust every time. 

Stones are typically flat blocks in a rectangular block, but each one has its own unique characteristics. There are three different kinds of sharpening stones. 

Oil Stones

These are common and traditional of all the sharpening stones. They can be natural or synthetic materials. 

Natural materials are called Arkansas Stones, or novaculite. Synthetic materials include silicon carbide and aluminum oxide. They have grades of fine, medium, or coarse. 

Oil stones must be oiled before you can sharpen them, which is why they are called oil stones. The oil may be a petroleum base, like mineral oil. It could be non-petroleum based like vegetable oil. 

When there is a solid coating of oil, there is less friction between the knife blade and stone. This allows for more fluid movement of the knife across the blade. This oil can serve more than one purpose. The oil attracts all the metal that is removed from the blade, which makes it easier to clean. 

This type of stone is affordable, but the sharpen the blade of the knife slower than other stones. 

Water Stones

While water stones are newer, they are gaining more popularity within the knife world. These stones come in both synthetic and natural material. They are similar to oil stones in that one of the popular materials is aluminum oxide. 

Water stones are softer than most oil stones. This allows the blade to sharpen faster, but the surface of the stone will wear down faster. The stone may become uneven, but it can be put back into shape. 

Water stones have this name because they must be soaked in water for some time before they can be used. The stone must be soaked until there are no bubbles. This happens because the pores are full, and the blade of the knife will move smoothly over the surface. 

There are some water stones that are ready faster because they just need to be run under water to fill their pores. 

Diamond Stones

These are metal plates that are thin and have tiny diamonds on the surface of the plate. They are the hardest and coarsest sharpening tool that you can find. There are two types of diamond stones. 

These are the most expensive of all the stones. They sharpen knives quickly and hold their shape better than other stones. They have different levels of grit, ranging from extra fine to extra course. 


These are popular because the holes in the plate catch the pieces of metal that come off the blade while it is being sharpened. 


This has a surface without holes. This is ideal for knives with sharp points. The points of a paring knife, for example, could get caught in the holes of a perforated surface. 

Step By Step Guide For Using a Knife Sharpening Block

There are a number of steps you should follow to sharpen the blade of your knife, including preparing the stone you are using to sharpen the knife. 

Step 1 – Find a Flat Surface

You should put the stone on top of a damp towel and put them both on a flat surface. This will keep the stone and towel from moving while sharpening the blade. 

Step 2 – Lubricate the Stone

Start with the coarse side up because this will be the fastest way to get the blade back in shape. Determine how the stone should be lubricated by following the directions. Make sure that you use the proper type of oil. Some stones do not need any type of lubricant. 

If the stone needs lubricant, use a small line of the lubricant in the middle of the stone. Then, massage and spread water or oil evenly on the stone.

Step 3 – Sharpen One Side of Your Knife

Holding the knife at 20 degrees, draw it across the stone slowly in a downward motion. You must move it smoothly, start at the heel and moving towards the tip. 

Do this at least five times. You may need to do this more time, depending on how dull the blade is. 

Step 4 – Now Sharpen the Other Side

Then, turn the knife over to the other side. Sharpen the other side of the knife using the same motions. 

You should sharpen this side of the blade the same number of times that you sharpen the other side. This will keep the blade consistent. 

Step 5 – Back to the Original Side

Flipping the knife to the original side, pull the knife across the stone from the tip to the heel. Do this five times. Then sharpen the second side of the knife using the same amount of strokes. 

Step 6 – Use the Finer Side of the Stone

Now, flip the stone over to the other side, which is fine, and repeat the same process as you did above. It is important to be consistent. You want to keep the knife at the same angle and sharpen both sides the same number of times. 

What is the Right Angle to Hold a Knife to Sharpen It

When sharpening a knife, it is important to ensure you have the knife at the proper angle. The recommended angle to sharpen your knife is 20 degrees. 

Even though you know the angle, it may not be easy to find. Follow these simple steps to find the correct angle. 

Hold the knife at a 90-degree angle with the blade facing down. 

Move the knife to a 45-degree angle, cutting the distance between where the knife was at 90 degrees and the table in half. 

The amount of distance that is left cut that in half one more time. This should be the correct angle. 

What Tools Do I Need to Sharpen a Knife 

While it may seem obvious that you need a sharpening stone to sharpen a knife, there are a few tools you need. 

The sharpening stone is needed, but it is important for you to select the right type of stone. If you are novice to sharpening knives, you should use a diamond stone. A diamond stone is easier to use because it removes metal faster than other stones.

This allows you to see the progress on the blade, and it does not move as slowly as others. 

A sharpening stone holder is an affordable tool but an important one. This holder keeps your stone in place while you are using it, so there is no movement. 

It protects your knuckles from being grated while you are sharpening your knives. 

Lubricant is needed to help the process of sharpening your knives. The lubrication allows for the knife to move slowly across the stone.