Oil Stone Vs. Water stone: What's The Difference? (2023)

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Sharpening stones are the favored method of sharpening many kinds of knives. Kitchen knives, especially Japanese kitchen knives, are most commonly sharpened on sharpening stones. The stones require a certain skill level to be attained to use them effectively.

But once this skill has been acquired, it gives a greater measure of control over the shape and sharpness of the edge of the knife. But what is all the hype about these stones, and what is the difference between an oil stone and a whetstone?

Whetstone is a name that is used to describe sharpening stones. There is no difference between a whetstone and an oil stone because an oil stone is a whetstone. There are different types of whetstones which include water stones, oil stones, ceramic stones, and diamond stones, to name a few.

The topic of sharpening stones is already a fairly confusing topic, especially where newcomers to the knife sharpening game are concerned.

The naming of various types of stones and the incorrect use of the names of the stones has contributed to further confusing an already confused issue. We will try to bring some clarification to this topic by giving the correct naming terminology and discussing the differences between the various sharpening stones.

If you are interested in checking out the best whetstones for your knives we recommend and use you can find them by clickinghere(Amazon link).

Oil Stone Vs. Water stone: What's The Difference? (1)

Oil Stones And Whetstones: The Confusion

Much confusion has come into the knife sharpening sector with the use of the term “whetstone.” A whetstone is not a wet stone. That single letter “h” in the word changes the connotation of the term completely.

The word “whet” means to sharpen. The official definition of the word means to sharpen a knife or a tool by means of grinding or friction.

It is the same spelling when used in the phrase “to whet your appetite,” which means to sharpen your appetite with anticipation.

Because the pronunciation of the word wet and the word whet sounds similar enough to be indistinguishable, the difference in meaning is often only communicated well in written form.

The pronunciation has led to people in the knife sharpening sector incorrectly assuming that a whetstone is a water stone.

This is incorrect because the term whetstone incorporates all sharpening stones that use grinding or friction to achieve a sharp edge on a knife or tool.

The long and the short of it is that an oil stone IS a whetstone!

For the sake of completeness, and if your intended query was the difference between a wet stone or a water stone and an oil stone, we will make a comparison of these two whetstones.

We will also include a brief summary of the other whetstones available that are commonly used among the knife sharpening community.

Oil Stone Vs. Water Stone

Oil stones and water stones are sharpening stones that both come in a wide range of grits, and they use a lubricant as part of the sharpening process.

The purpose of the lubrication on these stones is to lift the waste material or swarf off the surface of the stone so that it does not clog up the stone a reduce the cutting ability of the stone.

With some modern sharpening stones, you can choose which lubricant, either oil or water, that you would prefer to use on the stone. These stones can be made from the same material, but the preference for lubrication is left to the user.

On other stones, the manufacturer will specify whether water or oil is the preferred lubricant for the stone. In most cases, the commercially manufactured stones that are compressed into abrasive stones will work with either oil or water.

Sharpening stones that are made from natural stones will, in most circumstances, be waterstones, and using oil on these stones will render them unusable.

Some manufacturers make sharpening stones that can accept either water or oil as the lubricating mechanism to eliminate the swarf during the sharpening process. With these stones, the manufacturer will indicate that the choice is yours to make.

However, once you select a particular lubricant for the stone, either oil or water, you need to stick with that lubricant for the stone for the lifespan of the stone. You cannot switch to different lubrication once you have used one or the other on the stone.

Generally, you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendation of which lubrication method to use for the particular stone.

TIP: Using a lubricant with a whetstone is a topic that receives much debate in the knife industry. To use or not to use a lubricant? Find out which stones require a lubricant and which lubricant is best for your whetstones in the article below:

Oil Stones

Most stones that are used with oil as a lubricant are stones made from Novaculite, aluminum oxide, or silicon carbide. The stones made from Novaculite are often called Arkansas stones.

The aluminum oxide stones are sometimes referred to as India stones and are a popular whetstone type because they cut fast, produce a good, fine edge, and are relatively cheap.

The silicon carbide stones are sometimes referred to as Crystolon stones. In the past, these stones have also been called carborundum stones.

Carborundum is a term that is not frequently used for silicon carbide stones anymore, but you may still see some manufacturers listing this term on their descriptions.

These stones cut very fast but are generally much coarser and harder than the other stones types, but they are also relatively cheap.

The lower cost of the aluminum oxide stones and the silicon carbide stones make these two types of stones the most common combination of stones to get a full range of grits to use as a whetstone set for knife sharpening.

Water Stones

Water stones range in price from cheap to ridiculously expensive! The most expensive water stones are the ones that are made from a natural rock as opposed to a manmade substance.

The natural rock versions are highly sought after and work really well, but their cost often puts them out of reach of the average person who wants to sharpen their kitchen knives!

There are synthetic or manmade waterstones that are much more affordable, however, and these water stones are generally made from aluminum oxide.

This is similar to the India stones we mentioned in the oil stone section, but the difference in the water stone version is in the binder material that is used to bind the abrasive material together.

The aluminum oxide stones that are produced for use with water are generally softer stones than the ones produced for use with oil as a lubricant.

The softer nature of the stone makes it cut more efficiently because the old layer of abrasive is worn away quicker to reveal a fresh layer underneath.

The disadvantage is that the stones will wear down quicker than the oil stones. The comparative softness of the water stones also means that they are prone to uneven wear, which means they require flattening more frequently than oil stones.

The most well-known and the most expensive water stones are Japanese water stones. These stones are mined from natural deposits of sedimentary rock in the Narutaki District of Japan, north of Kyoto.

The Japanese water stones are normally only owned and used by people that own and use equally expensive Japanese kitchen knives. For this reason, the most common water stones are aluminum oxide water stones.

TIP: You may have wondered if whetstone must be wet or dry during sharpening. This is a common question asked by many sharpeners. Find out the answer in the article below:

Do Sharpening Stones Need To Be Wet? Complete Breakdown

Oil Stone Vs. Water Stone

So when it comes to making a choice between oil or water, which should you select as your stone and lubricant combination of choice.

Let’s take a quick comparative look at these two stone types and lubricants, which may help you make a selection based on your circumstances and requirements.

For the purpose of comparison, we will focus on the water stones that are made from synthetic aluminum oxide rather than the expensive natural versions.

Oil StonesWater Stones
Cutting speedOil stones have a relatively
slow cutting speed,
making the sharpening process longer.
Water stones cut faster than oil stones,
making the sharpening process faster.
DurabilityOil stones are harder and wear much slower.
Oils stones wear evenly. Less need for flattening.
Water stones are softer, which
makes them wear out faster.
Prone to uneven wear.
Require more frequent flattening.
PriceBeing constructed from manmade products,
the oils stones are relatively cheap, other than
the very hard, black Arkansas stones.
Manmade water stones are about
the same price as oils stones made
from the same materials.
Natural rock water
stones are extremely expensive.
Mess factorOil is messier to clean up after sharpening,
and it is also a factor that makes
the oil stones are less portable for use in the field.
Water as a lubricant is easy
to clean up after sharpening.
Water is easier to use in the field,
which makes water stones more
suitable for portable

TIP: Using leather for stropping knives is quite popular among sharpeners as the finishing step in the sharpening process of the knife. Check out the DIY guide about stropping knives with leather in the article below:

How To Sharpen Knives With Leather: A DIY Guide

Personal Preference In Whetstones

As a beginner in the knife sharpening world, you may still be unsure whether to choose water stones or oil stones to start with to sharpen your knives and tools.

Even though the water stones wear down faster than oil stones and have a tendency to wear unevenly, they don’t wear down so dramatically that you need to replace them frequently. They just wear faster than the oil stones.

This fact, and the fact that the water stones make the sharpening process faster and cleaner, my recommendation is that you start with a set of aluminum oxide water stones to whet your appetite for knife sharpening. See what I did there?

It will be easier for you to learn the skills required for sharpening on a whetstone using a water stone rather than an oil stone.

Once you have learned the skills and become proficient with sharpening stones, you can give oil stones a try and see if you prefer them to water stones.

TIP: Are you looking to buy a new whetstone? Check out our recommendations (we personally use the first three ones):

Our PRO choice whetstones combo (Amazon links):

Our budget choice (Amazon link): Sharp Pebble Extra Large Sharpening Stone Set

What Grit Stones Should You Start With?

Whether you choose to start with oil or water stones, you are going to need a set of stones ranging in grits in order to completely sharpen your knives.

The grits of stones can be divided into three main categories; fixing stones, sharpening stones, and finishing stones.

  • Fixing stones.

These are coarse stones in the grit range of 120-grit to 300-grit. These stones are used to repair knives with very damaged edges such as chips and gouges in the cutting edge.

They are very coarse and remove a lot of material very quickly, but you will need to go to higher grit stones to get the knife sharp.

  • Sharpening stones.

These are less coarse stones in the grit range of 400 to 3000-grit. You will need a couple of stones in this category with increasing grits to put a sharp edge on your knives.

  • Finishing stones.

These are stones that are very fine and will polish the cutting edge of the knife, sometimes to a mirror finish. The grit for the stones in this range is 4000 to 12 000-grit stones.

Stones in the range of 4000 to 6000 grit will give a low to a medium mirror finish, while stones in the 8000 to the 12000-grit range will give a full mirror finish to the edge.

Often, the stones come in sets where one grit is back to back with another, higher grit. Buying these styles of stones works out cheaper than buying individual grits.

A good range of grits to start out with for your oil stones or water stones would be the following.

  • A fixing combination stone of 120-grit / 300-grit
  • A sharpening combination stone of 400-grit / 1000-grit
  • A finishing combination stone of 4000-grit / 6000-grit

These three stones will give you a good working whetstone set, whether oil stones or water stones. You will be able to repair damaged knives, sharpen knives and hone knife edges to be razor-sharp!

TIP: Choosing the right whetstone can be tricky sometimes so that’s why we wrote a complete guide about buying whetstones. So if you are looking for a great whetstone check out the ultimate guide in the article below:

How To Choose And Buy A Whetstone: The Ultimate Buyer’s Guide

Other Whetstones

Of course, there are other stones to choose from in the whetstone categories apart from oil stones and water stones.

Other types of whetstones include diamond stones and ceramic stones. Each of these stones has its advantages and situations where they perform better than other stones.

Diamond Whetstones

Diamond whetstones use a coating of industrial diamond chips as the abrasive compound. The diamond chips are usually bonded onto a metal plate which acts as the base for the stone.

Many people would expect that the fact that these stones use diamonds is abrasive that they would be very expensive.

This is not the case, however, and these whetstones are pretty affordable, although they are generally more expensive than water stones or oil stones. Diamond whetstones last a long time, so the additional expense is warranted for the additional longevity.

They also offer a number of advantages over the other whetstone types.

  • Diamond whetstones stay flat and don’t need to be flattened like other oil stones or water stones do.
  • The diamonds are very efficient cutting abrasives, so they work fast.
  • Diamond stones can be used dry, with no lubricant at all, which makes them great as a portable sharpening option out in the field.
  • They can be used with water as a lubricant if you so wish.

Diamond stones are available in mono-crystalline and poly-crystalline forms. Of the two, mono-crystalline diamond stones will have better durability.

If you are interested in diamond stones as an alternative, the following grits would be recommended as a complete set of diamond stones to do all the work you need to on a knife edge.

  • Fixing stone. A diamond stone of 400-grit.
  • Two sharpening stones. One of 600-grit and one of 1000-grit.
  • A finishing stone. A diamond stone of 1200-grit.

Ceramic Whetstones

Another manmade style of the whetstone is ceramic whetstone. While these stones are whetstones, they are of a higher grit and are generally considered more as finishing stones rather than sharpening stones.

Ceramic stones do a very good job at polishing and honing the edge of a blade, but the blade would have had to have been sharpened on one of the other stone types first.


In conclusion, All sharpening stones are whetstones, but there are various types of whetstones, of which oil stones are one.

The choice between oil stones and water stones is very much a personal preference, but if you are a beginner, it is recommended that you start with water stones.

This is because they sharpen the knives faster, and there is less mess and fuss when using these stones.

If you are in need of truly portable knife sharpening solutions, then a set of diamond stones would be the preferred solution since it is possible to use these stones dry or with a little water.

TIP: Speaking about the other whetstones, did you hear about Kuromaku whetstones and Glass stones made by the Shapton company? We personally really like these whetstones so check out their comparison in the article below:

Shapton Kuromaku Vs. Glass Stone: What Works Best?


Oil Stone Vs. Water stone: What's The Difference? ›

The difference between a water stone and an oil stone is the binder that holds the abrasives together. Water stones are softer than oil stones. This softer binder promotes faster cutting because the old abrasive material breaks away and is replaced with fresh sharp material.

Do whetstones need water or oil? ›

Despite the sound of the name, the term “whet” means “to sharpen,” and no oil or water is necessary to use with this stone. Whetstones, like other sharpening stones, usually feature two sides with separate grit: one coarse, and the other fine.

What type of sharpening stone is best? ›

Overall, the Sharp Pebble Premium Whetstone impressed us as the most efficient sharpening stone for both professional and novice home cooks alike. The dual-sided sharpening stone features both coarse and fine grit levels, which allows it to sharpen ultra-dull knives and hone super-sharp edges.

What is a oil stone used for? ›

Benchstones. Benchstones are the most commonly used sharpening stones and are also known as oilstones or whetstones. As the term oilstone suggests, a thin layer of oil is typically used as a lubricant on this type of stone to enhance sharpening performance and to keep the sharpening surface from loading or glazing.

Can an oil stone be used with water? ›

All “oilstones” can be used successfully with water (or soapy water). And oil, spit or water can be used inter- changeably on all whetstones (including synthetic stones).

Can I use WD-40 on my sharpening stone? ›

Use WD-40 to Coat Your Stone: The specially formulated oil spray known as WD-40 is great for cleaning sharpening stone, as well as serve different purposes. Spray the oil on the surface of the stone and ensure you coat the entire surface with the oil.

How long should I soak a whetstone? ›

Rough and medium grit whetstones should be soaked in water for 10-15 minutes prior to usage. When using fine stones, simply splash water on the stone as you sharpen. If you soak fine stones in water for too long, they can begin to crack.

How long do water stones last? ›

For those that use them regularly, it's likely the stone will last from ten to twenty years. It is more common for stones to require a cleaning than to be worn out.

What whetstone do chefs use? ›

Best for Everyday Knives: Chefic Whetstone Sharpening Stone

The Chefic BearMoo Whetstone Premium 2-in-1 Sharpening Stone features two different grits on the two sides: a 3000-grit side for the initial sharpening and an 8000-grit side for polishing and honing the blade edge.

Do knife sharpeners ruin knives? ›

Even the adjustable ones are not well suited to all knives. Electric pull through sharpeners remove way too much metal and shorten the life of your knife by years. Ceramic wheel sharpeners tend to take chips and chunks out of thin Japanese blades.

How do you clean an oil stone? ›

Your oilstones may be cleaned in a solvent such as kerosene, mineral spirits or even lacquer thinner. They may also be flattened and/or renewed by placing a sheet of 60-grit wet/dry sandpaper on a wing of your table saw or on a piece of glass. Rubber cement will anchor the paper in place but allow easy removal.

What is a water stone for sharpening? ›

Water stones are a tried-and-true tool used to repair, sharpen, and polish kitchen knives. There are different types of whetstones — natural and synthetic, oil- and water-based. All whetstones must be thoroughly cleaned and dried before storage, and flattened after every few sharpening sessions.

What kind of oil do you use on an oil stone? ›

Mineral oil is an ideal candidate for sharpening because it is light and does not harden or go rancid. A light oil is desirable because a heavy or viscous oil will interfere with the sharpening action of the stone.

Can I use 3 in 1 oil on a sharpening stone? ›

3-in-1 or mineral oil should work for oilstones. I wouldn't use a vegetable oil, and certainly not a drying oil. The 3-in-1 was what i was hoping to hear. Water.

Will oil ruin a whetstone? ›

Oil is viscous, does not evaporate, and can harden into a varnish. From the sound of it, Japanese waterstones, are soft and large-pored; just the sort of thing a metal powder loaded semi-drying oil could soak into, polymerize and ruin.

Do you need to wet a sharpening stone? ›

Conventional wisdom says that using water or oil with a sharpening stone is better than sharpening dry because the fluid helps float away the swarf, or waste material, and prevents the stone from clogging.

How do you revive a sharpening stone? ›

How to 'Resharpen' a Sharpening Stone - YouTube

Which side of whetstone goes first? ›

If your whetstone has a coarse and fine side, begin with the coarse side. The same goes if you have multiple whetstones.

How often should you flatten your whetstone? ›

Waterstones and oilstones wear at greatly different rates: The softer of the two, waterstones, dish out faster and need to be flattened more often. We recommend flattening them at the beginning of every sharpening session-it's a 15-second job in most cases. Flatten oilstones about every 10 sessions.

What is the best angle for knife sharpening? ›

In fact, a 20 degrees angle is often considered the best sharing point for most knives. It is our experience that kitchen knives sharpened to 17 to 20 degrees cut very well and are still durable. For pocket or outdoor knives, a 20 degree angle would be on the low side of ideal.

How do you maintain a water Stone? ›

It's important to wash your stones with water after each use, to remove the excess material and debris. After washing them, dry the stones well with a cloth. It's important to let the stones air-dry overnight before storing them.

How do you care for a water Stone? ›


It is best to store natural stones and fine ceramic stones dry. Medium and coarse grit ceramic stones that are used frequently may be stored indefinitely in water and taken out for immediate use. Protect water stones from very cold temperatures as they may crack if frozen.

How do you maintain a wet stone? ›

You will want to dampen your whetstone just prior to sharpening your knives. This would mean dampening it with water for 20-30 minutes beforehand. You can also leave it to soak in a small bath of water. While you sharpen your knife be sure that your whetstone never goes dry.

Are whetstones better than a sharpener? ›

A lot of tools can bring dull blades back to life, but professional chefs and experts agree that the best knife sharpener is a whetstone. That's because every time you sharpen a knife, you remove metal from its edge, wearing away at your precious blade.

What is the last thing you must do after sharpening a knife? ›

You'll know to stop sharpening your knife when you feel the burr on both sides of the blade. The last step in sharpening is to remove the burr. This is done by simply repeating the same steps, only this time with less pressure.

Do you sharpen a knife in one direction? ›

If you're using a small portable sharpener, stroke the blade in nearly a straight direction. Remember to always cut into the stone and never pull or drag your edge backwards. The blade edge should face in the same direction as your stroke. So, you're essentially moving the metal away from the edge.

Can you sharpen a knife too much? ›

It is possible to sharpen a knife too much. Each time you sharpen a blade, you are removing material from it and shortening its life span. Excessive removal is a problem if you use the wrong sharpening tool or apply too much pressure during the process.

Do whetstones need to be wet? ›

We recommend purchasing both a coarse and fine grit whetstone. First, you will soak your whetstone in water. Fine grit whetstones only need a few minutes of soaking; some chefs do not soak their fine grit stones to prevent any risk of cracking. Coarse grit whetstones should soak for 15 to 20 minutes.

Do you wet a sharpening stone? ›

Use your stones wet. The stones used wet worked far better than the ones used dry, the only exception was the 220 grit waterstone which performed the same.

Do you soak a 3000 grit whetstone? ›

First, you shouldn't soak 3000 or over grit stones before use. Yet, you can splash some water if that's really necessary. Plus, bear in mind that you shouldn't use oil or any other type of lubricants or grease, but use only water for lubricating the whetstone.

Do you soak 8000 grit whetstone? ›

Using a whetstone is a process. You'll need to soak it in water for 10 minutes, then sharpen both sides (unless it is a single bevel), and then honing both sides of the blade can take 30 minutes.

How many times can you use a whetstone? ›

Will my whetstone wear out? Coarser stones wear faster, but they still last a very long time. A 1000 grit whetstone can accommodate more than 350 sharpening rounds. So, if you sharpen 5 knives twice per year, that's 35 years!

Can you use olive oil on a sharpening stone? ›

Yes, you can use olive oil because it is similar to the vegetable oils we have mentioned in the sense that it tends to be light and will not leave a rancid or foul odor on your honing stone.

Which side of whetstone goes first? ›

If your whetstone has a coarse and fine side, begin with the coarse side. The same goes if you have multiple whetstones.

Do you sharpen a knife in one direction? ›

If you're using a small portable sharpener, stroke the blade in nearly a straight direction. Remember to always cut into the stone and never pull or drag your edge backwards. The blade edge should face in the same direction as your stroke. So, you're essentially moving the metal away from the edge.

What angle should a knife be sharpened at? ›

17 to 22 Degree Angles

In fact, a 20 degrees angle is often considered the best sharing point for most knives. It is our experience that kitchen knives sharpened to 17 to 20 degrees cut very well and are still durable. For pocket or outdoor knives, a 20 degree angle would be on the low side of ideal.

Can I use 3 in 1 oil on a sharpening stone? ›

3-in-1 or mineral oil should work for oilstones. I wouldn't use a vegetable oil, and certainly not a drying oil. The 3-in-1 was what i was hoping to hear. Water.

Are cheap whetstones any good? ›

Buying cheap vs expensive Whetstones Q&A part 1 - YouTube

How often should you flatten your whetstone? ›

Waterstones and oilstones wear at greatly different rates: The softer of the two, waterstones, dish out faster and need to be flattened more often. We recommend flattening them at the beginning of every sharpening session-it's a 15-second job in most cases. Flatten oilstones about every 10 sessions.

What is the best way to sharpen a knife? ›

The Best Way To Sharpen & Clean Knives (And The Worst) | Epicurious

Do you push or pull when sharpening a knife? ›

Push vs. Pull! Best way to sharpen??? Work Sharp Precision ...

How do you tell the grit of a whetstone? ›

Understanding Whetstone Grit Ratings - YouTube

How often should I sharpen my knives? ›

Do I need to sharpen and how often? Your knives should only need to be sharpened every few months depending on how often they are used – I would also recommend having your knives professionally sharpened every 1-2 years.

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