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I'm a fairly experienced home cook and I'm looking to upgrade to a good quality chef's knife. I'm thinking about getting a Japanese knife (e.g. a Shun Classic) but I've heard they can take a long time to sharpen using whetstones, on the order of 45 minutes to an hour.

So if anyone out there has experience with one of these knives I'd like to know how often and how long you sharpen them. I know there are a lot of factors that determine the answer, so you can make the following assumptions:

  • Japanese style knife
  • Rockwell hardness in the 60 - 62 range
  • I'll probably be used a total of 1 - 2 hours per week
  • Mostly cutting fruit, vegetables and soft meat, no bones
  • I'll be using whetstones of 1000 grit, 3000 grit, and a leather strop
  • I want the knife to be pretty darn sharp
  • I don't plan to let it get all that dull. I'd rather have frequent, shorter sessions than fewer long ones

Update

If you're not comfortable with the above question, how about this one?

Do any home cooks out there own a Japanese knife that they sharpen with whetstones? If so, about how often do you sharpen it and how long does it take to get it pretty sharp?

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    Does this answer your question? How to know if I am stopping sharpening too early? – Tetsujin May 4 at 9:14
  • No, not really. I'm not asking how long it will take me specifically in the beginning or how long it will take me to get good at it. Obviously that depends totally on me. I just want to know what people who have done it for a while think of a reasonable time to sharpen a knife would be given all the parameters I listed. – d512 May 4 at 17:34
  • Well, re my comment on the other question, it's still a 'how long is a piece of string?' question. It took me 20 years… before I gave up & bought a 200 dollar electric ;-) – Tetsujin May 4 at 17:37
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    That would mean about 200 different answers from different people stating their experience, from that you could see a pattern. That would still be not in the scope of the site. – Johannes_B May 5 at 3:23
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    Even with your edit "pretty sharp" is subjective. I personally keep my knives razor sharp so my "pretty sharp" compared to your's may very well be different. – J Crosby May 5 at 14:55
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It does take roughly that time (45m) to sharpen a knife with a sequence of whetstones.

However, you should not need to do it often. With a 60+ hardness, just some gentle stropping once a week is enough to maintain a sharp edge for at least 6 months. Stropping takes a few minutes.

You will only need to sharpen after lots of heavy use, or if it has been damaged or poorly looked after (left in the dishwasher, used on glass etc)

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The answer partly depends on how dull the knife is when you go to sharpen it.

Most electric knife sharpeners have 2 or 3 different wheels with coarser and finer grinders, the coarser allow you to establish the angle of the edge and the finer grain refine it, similar to coarser and finer sandpaper.

The two disadvantages of sharpening with a whetstone are that you generally only have one grit or fineness to use (though some whetstone kits have more), and if you are freehanding the sharpening, it may be difficult to hold the right angle if you are sharpening for a long time.

So if you are starting with a very dull knife where the angles of the edge are off or if there is damage, it might take a lot of sharpening to establish them, and unless you're holding the stone at exactly the right angle all the time, you might not end up with a good edge.

On the other hand if the blade already had a good edge and you sharpen it frequently with a whetstone, like every few uses, then you are just fine tuning the edge and this should be fairly quick. I would say somewhere between 10 and 50 strokes depending.

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