Choosing a Sharpening Stone

Choosing a Sharpening Stone


Are you finding that your knives, scissors, or other cutting tools are dull and need to be sharpened but aren’t sure which sharpening stone to choose?


Explore the three most common types of sharpening stones: benchstones, waterstones, and diamond stones, and learn about the different finishes each type of stone imparts.




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.


Man-made benchstones come in a variety of sizes and shapes and are available in a range of grit sizes: coarse (80-100 grit), medium (150-220 grit), and fine (280-320 grit). Benchstones are durable, wear slowly, and retain their flatness significantly longer than waterstones.


Man-made benchstones are primarily available in two different types of abrasive: aluminum oxide (India stones) and silicon carbide (Crystolon stones).

Norton Benchstones

Norton Benchstones


India Stones

  • India aluminum oxide stones are favored for imparting durable, smooth-cutting edges. The abrasive grain is very friable, so the edges continue to retain sharp cutting edges with use. In addition, this friability means that India stones remove slightly less metal during the sharpening process, extending the life of your knives and tools.


Crystolon Stones

  • The silicon carbide grade used in Crystolon stones is more durable than aluminum oxide, making the Crystolon silicon carbide stones more aggressive. In removing more metal with each sharpening pass, you can speed up the sharpening process, which is preferred when the speed of sharpening is more important than the fineness of the cutting edge.


Because sharpening is frequently a progression, first repairing an edge with a coarse grit stone and then perfecting the edge with a fine grit stone, many people choose to buy a combination stone, which utilizes a coarse grit on one side and a fine grit on the other side. It is also common practice to use a Crystolon stone for initial coarse grit sharpening before moving on to an India stone and then finishing with an Arkansas stone, a natural benchstone.


Norton Arkansas Benchstones

Norton Arkansas Benchstones

Arkansas Stones

  • Natural stones have been used for hundreds of years. The most popular natural stones available today are made from Ozark novaculite (silicone quartz), which is quarried in Arkansas and cut to shape to make what are commonly known as Arkansas stones. These sharpening stones are very hard and dense and will not cut as fast or as aggressively as man-made or diamond stones. Due to their unique composition, Arkansas stones polish as they sharpen, imparting an extremely fine, smooth edge. Because of this, they are typically used as the final sharpening step after an India or Crystolon stone is used or to maintain an already sharpened edge.


  • All Arkansas stones are not alike due to the porosity and density of the mined material. Soft Arkansas (extra fine) stones are the coarsest-grained and least dense of the natural stones. They are used primarily to sharpen and hone tool and knife edges to an even, polished surface, frequently after sharpening with man-made stones. Hard translucent Arkansas (ultra fine) stones are the finest-grained and densest natural stone available and are used to produce the keenest, most precise finish possible, as well as polished, razor-like edges.


Learn how to get the most out of your benchstones with our answers to the most frequently asked questions in our guide to benchstones.




Waterstones are synthetic stones that have become increasingly popular. They are designed to be much softer and more porous than traditional benchstones, with abrasive grit from the stone forming a fast-cutting slurry on the surface of the stone during the sharpening process.


Norton Waterstones

Norton Waterstones

Waterstones should be completely soaked in water for several minutes prior to use, ensuring that the water has penetrated through the entire stone. Waterstones are typically made from aluminum oxide or silicon carbide, depending on the grit size, but the abrasive/bond combination makes these stones cut faster than benchstones and impart a much smoother finish.


Waterstones are available in a range of grit sizes, like man-made benchstones, but are usually available in much finer grits than benchstones. Waterstone grits are typically measured based on the Japanese system and are not directly comparable to grit sizes used for benchstones and diamond stones. For example, a 1000 grit waterstone is close in surface finish to a 320 grit benchstone. Additional comparisons can be found in the table below.





JIS (Japan)

Coarse Crystolon      
Coarse India      
Medium Crystolon      
    Norton 220 Extra Coarse Diamond (220)
Medium India       
Fine Crystolon      
      Coarse Diamond (325)
Fine India      
  Soft Arkansas 600 Fine Diamond (600)
    Norton 1000  
  Hard Translucent Arkansas Norton 4000  
    Norton 8000  

Table 1. Relative Sharpening Comparisons for the Sharpening Stones Discussed in This Article


Because Waterstones are softer than benchstones, they wear much more quickly and need to be flattened frequently for optimal performance.


For tips and recommendations for using and caring for your waterstones, check out our guide to waterstones FAQ article.


Diamond Stones


Diamond stones are the fastest and most aggressive sharpening stones. They are produced by bonding microscopic diamond crystals to flat perforated or solid steel plates. Diamond stones are long lasting, fast sharpening, and will retain their flatness longer than waterstones and benchstones. They can be used dry or with water or oil as a lubricant.


Because the diamonds are hard and aggressive, diamond stones remove slightly more material than similar grit benchstones and waterstones. In addition, they generally impart a less polished surface than other sharpening stones. Some sharpeners choose to use hard Arkansas or fine grit waterstones as a polishing step after sharpening with diamond stones.


What Size Sharpening Stone Should I Buy?


Once you choose the type of sharpening stone you want to use, how do you determine which size to select? In general, sharpening is more effective when you match the size of your stone to the size of the blade you are sharpening. Small pocket knives can be sharpened on 3” stones and large kitchen knives are best sharpened on 11-1/2” stones.


For the best results, choose a size that allows you to sweep the entire length of the blade across the stone in every sharpening motion.


Sharpening scissors with a benchstone


Which Sharpening Stone is Right for You?


There are many different sharpening stones, but once you’re familiar with the most common types, you’ll be able to choose the right stone for your project.


For a quick overview and comparison of the finishes produced by the benchstones, waterstones, and diamond stones discussed in this article, see our summary below.

  • Benchstones wear slowly and retain their flatness longer than waterstones. They are available in a number of formulations and grit sizes, allowing you to achieve a wide range of desired finishes depending on the type you choose.
    • India Stone: imparts durable, smooth-cutting edges
    • Crystolon Stone: produces a less fine cutting edge but sharpens quickly
    • Arkansas Stone: polishes as it sharpens for a fine, smooth edge
  • Waterstones wear more quickly and require frequent flattening, but they produce a smoother finish than benchstones.
  • Diamond stones retain their flatness longer. They are the most aggressive and remove more material when sharpening, resulting in a less polished finish.


To find the right sharpening stone for you, browse our selection of sharpening stones, and for tips and recommendations on using your stones, watch our sharpening stone videos.