Cooking can be a wonderful sort of way to find your zen. You’re in the kitchen with amazing smells all around you. You’re handling beautiful, fresh food, and you’re following a set of directions to create something amazing.
But that zen can get interrupted if you’re having to fight to get your knife through the skin of a tomato. Having a sharp knife is crucial to happy cooking, and the best way to keep a sharp knife is to use a clean sharpening stone. Read on to learn how to keep your sharpening stone – and your knives – in cutting-edge condition.
Importance of a Sharpening Stone
It’s difficult to understate the importance of having a good sharp knife when you’re cooking. Dull knives mean rough cuts, less precision, and a greater risk that you’ll wind up with a serious cut. Sharp knives, counter to what many people might think, reduce your risk of injury and help you be more precise in the kitchen.
There are a few different tools you can use to sharpen your knives, but one of the most popular is a sharpening stone or whetstone. This allows you to hone and realign the edge of your blade to form a new, fine edge on your knife. It does take some skill to use a sharpening stone properly, so make sure you do your research and use care.
Why Clean a Stone
When you use a sharpening stone, you’re using the grit of the stone to shave away tiny filings from the blade of your knife. These filings can get embedded in the porous surface of the stone. As the surface of the stone gets filled in with filings, it can lose some of its ability to grind away your knife’s blade to a perfect, sharp edge.
When you clean your stone, you’re flushing away those tiny metal filings that have gathered on the surface. Think of it like a plate for grating garlic or ginger; when the plate becomes filled with ginger, it’s less effective at grinding more material off the root. When you brush the ginger out of it, you can grate more easily.
How to Know When to Clean Your Stone
Unless you’re keeping a very close eye on your sharpening stone, it can be difficult to know when it’s time to clean out those filings. In general, if you start seeing any sort of metal dust on your sharpening stone, you should clean it. You may also notice glossy gray streaks showing up on your stone.
Even if your stone doesn’t show visual signs of wear, it’s a good rule of thumb to clean it every ten sharpenings or so. This will make sure it stays in good shape and keeps your knives sharp. Make sure when you clean it to place a rag under the stone to catch excess filings.
Cleaning with Honing Oil
One of the most common materials to clean a sharpening stone with is honing oil. This oil may be used as a lubricant during the sharpening process. It’s a specially formulated oil designed to carry away metal filings from the stone, keeping your stone clean and ensuring that every stroke of your knife across the stone is smooth.
To clean your stone with honing oil, pour an amount of oil the size of a quarter on your stone. Using circular motions, rub the oil across the face of the stone, coating the entire surface. As you work, you’ll see small metal flecks start to show up; wipe these away as you go, and then rinse your stone with water and pat it dry.
Cleaning with Soap and Water
If you prefer, you can skip the honing oil part of the operation altogether. Even if you regularly use honing oil to sharpen your knives, your oil may be water-based. If this is the case, soap and water may be the best thing to clean your stone.
Mix up some warm soapy water and coat your stone with it. Using an old toothbrush or a scrubbing sponge, start using those same circular motions to gently scrub the surface of your stone. Rinse the stone as flecks start to appear, and when no more emerge, dry your stone with a towel.
Cleaning with WD-40
You might be familiar with WD-40 as the tool to make anything that should move, and isn’t, move again. The product works so well because it’s a penetrating oil; it worms its way into all sorts of nooks and crevices and flushes out metal particulates. This also makes it a great tool for cleaning sharpening stones.
Start by coating your sharpening stone completely with WD-40, making multiple passes if needed. Then get some steel wool and start swiping it over the surface of the stone in short, focused strokes. Repeat this process as needed, and then rinse and dry your stone when you’re done.
Flatten Your Stone
In general, when you’re using a sharpening stone, you’re going to use mostly the middle bit. The ends don’t get used as often in sharpening, and while the stone is grinding down your knife, your knife is also wearing down the stone. Over time, even if you’re using diamond sharpening stones, you can start to get a divot in the middle of your stone that can result in badly sharpened knives.
It’s important to flatten your sharpening stone every so often to keep it working its best. If your stone doesn’t come with its own flattening plate, use a piece of 100-grit wet-dry sandpaper. Wet your stone thoroughly and drag it over the plate or sandpaper until it looks flat and there are no metal filings.
Discover the Joy of a Sharp Knife
Having a sharp kitchen knife is one of the simple joys in life, and having a good sharpening stone is key to keeping a sharp knife. It will take some practice to learn how to use it, but in time it will become an important ritual in your kitchen. Caring for your cooking implements and having the right tools to do so will make you a better and happier cook.
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