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Sharpening a knife is a very controversial subject, and each person has their favorite method. For some, this is a whetstone. Some of these whetstones are sometimes referred to as water stones. Because water is used in conjunction with some whetstone to sharpen the knife, you may wonder if you could leave your whetstone in the water so that it is pre-soaked each time you need to use it.
Some whetstones can be kept permanently in water, while for some commercially manufactured stones, this is a problem since they can soften and break down. Buy the best quality stone you can if you want to leave the whetstone in water, and always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for storage.
To understand whetstones, some terminology around these sharpening stones needs to be clarified, and the distinction made between whetstones, oilstones, and waterstones. It may also surprise you that lubrication on a whetstone is not a requirement, even though it is commonly used.
If you are interested in checking out the best whetstones for sharpening your knives we recommend and use you can find them by clicking here (Amazon link).
What Is A Whetstone?
The “whet” at the beginning of the word whetstone has the unfortunate result of sounding like the word “wet.” This leads people to believe that a whetstone requires water to be used effectively.
The word “whet” in the English language actually means to sharpen a blade, so to whet a blade means to sharpen a blade. This has nothing to do with the lubricant that is used in the process.
A whetstone can be used as an oilstone, where oil is used as the lubricant, or it can be used with water as the lubricant, in which case it can be called a waterstone.
A distinction in the stones needs to be drawn here between a whetstone that is lubricated with water and a Japanese waterstone.
With a Japanese waterstone, water is the only lubrication method that can be used on these stones as a lubricant. The oil will not work on these stones; it makes them less efficient.
The Japanese waterstone is a natural rock sedimentary rock that has a mix of silicate particles mixed in a clay base. These stones are mined in Japan for specific use and sharpening waterstones.
Once you have chosen your lubrication method, you should stick to that method with that stone. In other words, if you have started using water on your whetstone, you should not change to oil on the same stone.
Why Do We Soak A Whetstone?
Whetstones can be made from natural stone or commercially manufactured. In either instance, the stone is porous, allowing it to soak up water or any other lubricant used.
Whetstones can actually be used without a lubricant such as water, but most people who use these stones use a lubricant.
The lubricant makes the stones more efficient, decreases the amount of wear on the stone, and to carries the tiny metal shavings, called slurry or swarf, away from the edge of the blade being sharpened.
The reason the whetstone is soaked in water is so that the stone can absorb the water, which then slowly comes out as the blade is being sharpened across the surface of the stone.
If the whetstone is soaked in water, it lessens the amount of water that the person needs to continually pour onto the top of the stone during the sharpening process.
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):
- Fixing stone: Whetstone SHAPTON Ceramic KUROMAKU #320
- Sharpening stone: Suehiro CERAX soaking whetstone: Medium #1000
- Finishing stone: Whetstone SHAPTON Ceramic KUROMAKU #5000
Our budget choice (Amazon link): Sharp Pebble Extra Large Sharpening Stone Set
How Long Can You Soak A Whetstone In Water?
Whetstone manufacturers recommend that you soak your whetstone for at least 15 to 20-minutes before you start to sharpen your blade on them.
This time duration is to give the water to penetrate deeply into the stone and reduce the amount of additional water you will need to put on top of the stone while you are in the process of sharpening.
A properly soaked whetstone will only require a handful or two of water to be added to the surface while you are sharpening or to wash away some of the debris on top of the stone.
Top Tip: Keep a spray bottle of water at hand during your sharpening and spritz the stone every now and then to wet the surface and wash away debris or swarf.
Some people that are new to using a whetstone may wonder if it will do any harm to soak the stone in water for a longer period of time. If you soak it for an hour, instead of the recommended 20 minutes, will it affect the stone’s performance?
A whetstone can only soak up a certain amount of water-based on the porous structure of the material. Once the stone has reached the maximum capacity of the water that it can absorb, it will stop absorbing water. It is not possible for the stone to absorb too much water.
Leaving the stone in the water for a longer period of time will not diminish the stone’s sharpening ability or its performance in sharpening your blade.
So, if you can leave the stone in water for a longer period of time, would there be any harm to leaving it permanently in water so that it is ready for use whenever you need it?
TIP: It happened to everyone. You accidentally drop the knife and it caused a bent knife tip. But what to do when it happens? Check out the simple methods on how to fix a bent knife tip in the article below:
Can You Fix A Bent Knife Tip? Try These 4 Simple Methods
Can You Leave A Whetstone In Water?
Since a whetstone can only absorb a certain amount of water, is there any harm in leaving the stone in water permanently?
There are two sides to this question because, with some stones, you can soak them permanently, and with others, it is not advisable, and with others, there are some complications that can arise.
- Some stones can degrade. Some whetstones are made from a certain material that does not do well when permanently in water. The stone starts to disintegrate if it is left too long in the water. This is the case with some synthetic stones, where the bonding agent breaks down with excessive water exposure.
- The stone may crack. If your experience cold temperatures, the water may start to freeze, which will expand within the stone and may cause the stone to crack.
- The development of mold. If the stones are not used for a long time, or the water is not changed on a regular basis, it could lead to the development of mold and algae, and the stones may begin to smell.
Not all the stones will degrade in water if left to permanently soak, but you would need to check the manufacturer’s recommendations for your particular whetstone.
Many people who use sharpening stones on a regular basis will keep them soaking permanently, but they know their stones and buy stones that can handle this.
They would also change the water on a regular basis or add ingredients to the water to discourage the growth of molds, such as a drop or two of dishwashing soap.
With some whetstones, it is actually the reverse problem, and you should not let them dry out completely since this can reduce their effectiveness and lifespan. With some stones, drying out too fast or irregular drying can also result in issues with the stone.
Some stones can take more than 24 hours to dry out, and if you store a stone that has not dried correctly, it encourages the growth of mold on the stone.
The main determining factor that will determine whether you can soak you can leave your whetstone n water or not will be the type and quality of stone that you purchase.
If you frequently use your whetstones, rather buy ones that can be perma-soaked rather than ones that will have a problem with being in the water too long.
If you are not a frequent whetstone user, you may want to opt for a stone that can be dried out and stored in between uses.
The more expensive whetstones will come with a set of instructions on how to use and maintain your whetstone and the best method for storage.
The cheaper stones often do not come with specific instructions regarding whether the stone can be stored in the water on a permanent basis or not.
With these types of stones, some experimentation will be required to see whether they will hold up to extended soakings or not.
TIP: Taking care of whetstones is very important because otherwise, you may destroy your whetstone. Check out the most common mistakes on how you can ruin your whetstone in the article below:
5 Ways To Ruin A Whetstone (Avoid These Mistakes)
Unfortunately, for the question of whether you can leave your whetstone in water or not, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
The material the whetstone is made from and the quality of the stone will normally determine whether the stone can be stored permanently in water or whether you should dry it out after each use before storing it.
As you can see, there are a lot of variables when it comes to whetstones, which is why there is a lot of controversy around their use and storage in the knife-making and blade sharpening community.
The best way to try out a whetstone is to buy as good a stone as you can afford, and as a beginner, you will probably not use the stone frequently, so my recommendation would be to dry it out after use and store it in its box.
TIP: Would you like to buy a new whetstone? Whetstone can be an expensive investment. Check out the main reasons why expensive whetstones are better than cheap ones in the article below: