Appalachia

Are Whetrock Skills Falling by the Wayside?

whetrock-skills

When it comes to using a whetrock I don’t have a clue. Fortunately, I’ve never needed to know how to use one because I’ve had whetrock experts around me my whole life.

The Deer Hunter can sharpen a knife like nobody I ever seen, well other than Pap.

The Deer Hunter said he first learned how to use a whetrock when he was nine years old. He was at deer camp and watched one of the men sharpen his knife.

Come Christmas The Deer Hunter asked for a knife sharpening set and he’s been doing it ever since. The stone in the photo above is an Arkansas Stone and it came with the first kit he received that Christmas long ago.  He’s sharpened on it for at least 4o years and it’s not wore because of the density of the rock.

using-a-creek-rock-as-a-whetstone

Pap always kept his whetrocks by his chair. I remember seeing some of his that were worn to where they swagged in the middle. In other words he believed in keeping his knives sharp and wore out whetrocks in the process of keeping them that way.

When The Deer Hunter and Pap thought they had a knife as sharp as they wanted it they both used the same test to see: if it was sharp enough to shave the thick hair on their arms it was ready to go.

Years ago Pap started using a rock from the creek as part of his whetrock arsenal. You can see the rock in the photo above. It’s the only thing The Deer Hunter asked for after Pap died. Now he keeps it by his chair and uses it, just like Pap did.

Tipper

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    Quinn
    January 21, 2019 at 4:39 pm

    I’ve always got a knife in my pocket because I use one every day – for opening bales of hay, and other little tasks. I wish someone had taught me how to properly sharpen blades, but I had to teach myself and although the blades do get sharp I’ve always wondered if I’m doing it “right.” I use two stones for different edges- a large one that I found on the property (which, after reading the comments I’m going to try using on a hoe next Spring) and a small one that I found in my Uncle Frank’s tool box when I inherited all his tools many years ago. That little one is a nice size for sharpening my hoof trimmers.

  • Reply
    Theresa
    January 19, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    Dad and Gram both used a whetstone to sharpen the knives at home when I was growing up and like other things, I learned how to use them. Also learned how to use a sharpening steel, but I prefer the whetstone. I’ve been whining about that since I haven’t had one for years and have had to make do with the stone. My husband the other day presented me with a lovely whetstone, each side a different smoothness! Yahoo, this man knows how to keep me happy. (Gee could it be cuz we’ve been married 41 years come April??)

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    January 19, 2019 at 11:17 am

    Tipper, my daddy had a whetstone and he was always sharpening his knives on it. Actually, he had several and after he died I kept his whetstones and his pocketknife. I still carry the knife in my pocketbook now, not because I use it, but because it meant so much to him. He was always demonstrating how sharp his knife was – on the hair on his arm, on a small twig, or even an apple. He kept all knives and tools on our homeplace sharp as a tack. I have grieved over not having a sharp hoe to use in the garden since he has been gone. When he was alive we had several wooden hoes with very sharp (but lightweight) heads. You could deal with weeds quickly and efficiently. Now, the hoe I have is a heavy, dull, ineffective tool that I don’t enjoy using. I don’t know how to sharpen it and I don’t think that would even help because it just doesn’t feel right in your hands. I miss my dad so much, and this discussion of whetstones is bringing back a lot of memories.

  • Reply
    G'pa Bub [Stephen Daniel Suddarth]
    January 19, 2019 at 7:31 am

    That’s a Soft Arkansas Ouachita stone he’s using in the top picture above…by the way if you get an Arkansas stone -just one, thats the one to have.

  • Reply
    G'pa Bub
    January 18, 2019 at 11:22 pm

    The best oil stones come from Arkaksas or Belgium but Japan makes some real good waterstones, and of course the new fangled Smith’s Diamond [tiny diamonds set in stainless steel]. I use Arkansas Ouachita [washita]stone -White stone then [the hardest] Black stone, those three in that order can produce a surgical edge, all lubed with oil, and
    cleaned after every use. The way to sharpen is totally by feel, good hand strength is a must, every pull or push of the blade must be at the same angle. Never leave the stone loose while sharpening, secure it to a bench by tacking down a strip of wood to stop the stone from moving. It’s all about making a good second bevel on the blade. Once this is learned you can sharpen chisels the same way.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    January 18, 2019 at 10:54 pm

    I’ve always called them whetstones, and I have one, but I’m no good at using it. My son sharpens my knives when they need it.

  • Reply
    Gigi
    January 18, 2019 at 9:52 pm

    When i was a kid, i would watch my dad sharpen his knives and to test to see if was sharp enough, he would shave a little bit of his hair off his arm. He sharpened his knife on a whetrock. I can do it and learned from my dad. I have my own whetrock.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    January 18, 2019 at 7:04 pm

    It is becoming a lost art! My younger brothers can sharpen really well. Mama and daddy both could sharpen a hoe that would cut your toe off if you weren’t careful, but it made garden & field work much, much, easier. Some of our hoes were very narrow from years of sharpening.

    I can’t do it but I do occasionally sharpen a kitchen knife on the rough bottom of a coffee mug.

  • Reply
    Tamela
    January 18, 2019 at 3:10 pm

    Never heard it called a whetrock before – we always said whetstone – and we use machine oil on it too. Dad and Grandpa sometimes used the electric grinder in the shop but always finished off on the whetstone. I learned to use one as a “tween” because Mom didn’t sharpen her kitchen knives and I wanted to use a sharp knife. Learned later that the hard plastic cutting boards she used made the kitchen knives dull more quickly; I only use wooden boards nowadays.
    I wonder what the “old folks” used to use to sharpen knives? Grandpa used a leather strap to sharpen his razor blade; I’ve heard horse rush could do a little good but was best for cleaning pots and scrubbing off rust; but what kind of stone/rock is used to make a whetstone/rock – – guess I’ll “google” it. . . .

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 18, 2019 at 11:57 am

    Does the Deer Hunter know about the ceramic rods from inside a big (1000 Watts+)high pressure sodium light bulbs? They work great for putting the finishing touches on a blade. I thought he might have encountered them in his line of work. I used to have a couple but have misplaced them over the years. If he has access to some I would like to have a couple.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    January 18, 2019 at 11:46 am

    I have 6 kitchen knives and a bunch of pocket knives that haven’t seen a grinder or knife sharpener since they left the factory. I always put my own edge on my knives. My favorite whetrock has a course and a fine side. Once I get the angle the way I want it on the course side I never put it back there unless something drastic happens. Most of the sharpening is down on the fine side. Then I use an 800 grit sandpaper followed by 1200 grit. I even have 2000 grit it I want to polish the blade.
    Sharp knives are safer. The sharper the better. If you let the blade do its job and just steer it, you will be safe. If you have to apply very much pressure then you need a saw or a chisel. Most cuts are caused by using the wrong knife or by using the knife wrong.

  • Reply
    Annette Casada Hensley
    January 18, 2019 at 11:38 am

    Sadly, I believe that the days of using a whetrock or whetstone to sharpen knives are dying. Likewise, I believe that the days of every male carrying his prized pocketknife in his pants pocket at all times are also disappearing. These disappearances are probably great symbols of how times are a-changin’.

  • Reply
    Dana Wall
    January 18, 2019 at 11:17 am

    I have the two sided “whetstone” Dad taught me to use as I was growing up in Iowa. Great memories of the oil smell and the sharpening process. I still use it regularly.

    All us boys had pocket knives and carried them to school without a thought. We often played “mumble-the-peg” during recess in elementary school. My computer dictionary has this entry:

    “Mumblety-peg (also known as mumbley-peg, mumblepeg, mumble-the-peg, mumbledepeg or mumble-de-peg) is an old outdoor game played using pocketknives. The term “Mumblety-peg” came from the practice of putting a peg of about 2 or 3 inches into the ground. The loser of the game had to take it out with his teeth”

  • Reply
    Shirl
    January 18, 2019 at 9:37 am

    My whetrock sits in the kitchen knife drawer totally unused, mostly because it’s owner doesn’t know how to use it properly. You’d think I would be an expert on it’s use after watching Dad sharpen his knives daily. I often though it must have been a relaxing pass time for him. He traded knives, watches and guns. Some of his knives would have thin and narrow blades if he kept it long enough. He also tested his sharpening skills by shaving a small area on his arm.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    January 18, 2019 at 9:17 am

    It’s the only way to have a really sharp knife. I have a stone for sharpening my sewing scissors.

  • Reply
    Vanessa
    January 18, 2019 at 9:09 am

    That’s pretty neat to use a creek rock, do you know what attributes it had over other neighboring rocks? My husband uses his weekly.

  • Reply
    Alica
    January 18, 2019 at 9:00 am

    It sounds like it’s a treasure for the Deer Hunter to have and use!
    I’ve never seen a whetrock used, but my Dad still pulls out his steel to sharpen my Mom’s kitchen knives! It might be similar?

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    January 18, 2019 at 8:58 am

    That whetrock is special because of what it represents.

    Pap and the Deer Hunter sound familiar. My Dad had the same test for knife sharpness. Guys form their own relationship with their pocket knife or hunting knife, depending on their attitude about them and how they use them. To some men if they handled your knife and found it dull their respect for you would go down a notch or two. In their minds they would suspect you of being shiftless.

    And not all whetrocks (I never say whetstone, that is a fotched-on word) are equal. I would still love to find one with just a work-a-day grit for restoring a working edge (no shaving edge, that is a good indoor rainy day job). The size of the grit has everything to do with what kind of sharpening is being done. Seems that idea has mostly passed out of common sense. My Dad had a double-sided stone; fine grit on one side and an oilstone on the other. The oilstone side was for finishing off to the shaving test.

    Good memories.

  • Reply
    Pat Dobbins
    January 18, 2019 at 8:42 am

    It seems like now a days if knives get dull they go buy a new one or they send them off to let someone else do the sharpening. My son learned to use a whetstone in Boy Scouts. My husband still uses one and always carries a pocketknife like his dad did. And I remember as a kid dad always sharpening his pocketknives and he also kept moms kitchen knives sharp.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    January 18, 2019 at 8:31 am

    I was taught how to do this when I was about 10 but have never had to use it. Like you I always had someone else to do it for me. Those were the days when everyone carried a knife. I still carry a small one in my purse but don’t think I have used it for anything except cutting off a string handing down from my coat about two years ago. As kids mumbly peg was a great after school game. I am sure kids today are not permitted to carry any kind of knife. Probably a good thing.

  • Reply
    harry adams
    January 18, 2019 at 8:24 am

    I would love to know the correct way of knife sharpening. I have read articles but none can convey what a person can teach. I have never been able to achieve satisfactory sharpness.

    I noticed the use of the word “swagged” in the article. did it come naturally during writing?

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    January 18, 2019 at 8:23 am

    Tipper,
    Yes, I believe whet rock skills are falling by the wayside…Sooo, I asked my husband how long has it been since he saw anyone using a whet rock? He said he saw a guy down at the Co-op sitting’ there sharpening a knife just recently…than added you sure don’t see that much anymore! When he saw him working on his pocket knife he thought the same thing.
    I used to love to watch my Dad sharpen the knives around the house…He liked to do them all at once…The big butcher knives, paring knives and his pocket knives…He had a large whetstone and held it between his knees. He always said if it wasn’t done right, you could ruin a knife. He also had a couple of little ones he carried in his truck. He constantly carried a pocket knife, which was like a part of his hand in his everyday living, so he always had a whetstone handy…He tried to teach me how to sharpen a knife after I asked about the movement, going one way and down on one side..checking, rechecking then turning and doing the other side, etc. etc…I tried, don’t think I ever really got the knack of it…
    Yep, I don’t think a young man today would even know what a whetstone really was or used for…unless, they come from a family of hunters, carpenters or famers…My Granddaddy had a huge round stone that operated by foot power pedal. He used it to sharpen all the tools around the farm. Axes, hoes, clippers, and hedge trimmers…Back in the day, a good whetstone was essential on a farm…scythes, knives, etc. had to be kept sharp to help keep one from working their self to death. A dull blade makes for some hard work…lol
    Thanks Tipper,
    PS…Back in the fifties, I used to watch Dad sharpen the old rotary blades on the wooden handled push mower…then say to us kids, “You got a sharp blade, so it won’t take no time to mow the yard!” Are you kidding me! That was hard work, even when we took turns pushing the thing! Now days, electric and gas mowers with push or pull front or back wheels…and riding mowers make mowing easy! We have it made today and still complain about mowing a field or lawn…Some things never change I guess!

  • Reply
    Leon Pantenburg
    January 18, 2019 at 8:07 am

    I agree with Pap and the Deer Hunter – if a blade can’t shave, it isn’t sharp enough.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    January 18, 2019 at 7:48 am

    This is one of the traditions that benchmarks a way of life, the Appalachian way of life. If you didn’t have a sharp knife you couldn’t gut and skin a deer or any other animal to feed your family. I marvel as I watch the Deer Hunter sharpen his knife, he’s really good at it. Most of the time I use and electric sharpener for my knives but if for some reason I need one really sharp I take it to him to sharpen for me. I never learned the skill. It’s an old way that will soon be gone.

  • Reply
    Colleen Holmes
    January 18, 2019 at 7:34 am

    My dad called them a whetstone. I still have his. It’s the small things in life that counts.

  • Reply
    Vann Helms
    January 18, 2019 at 7:18 am

    I remember that Daddy would put drops of machine oil on his rock. He said it protected the rock and the blade. I was always amazed how the rock would absorb that oil. There was a distinctive scent that would rise from the rock while he was sharpening his blade. Funny the little things that you can remember….

  • Reply
    Betty Jo Eason Benedict
    January 18, 2019 at 7:17 am

    Too Funny! You could just as easily be describing my husband…….never without a knife in his pocket……..a “sharp” knife, whetstone by his chair and check progress by shaving a little hair on his arm……,it must be in the genes as our son seems to have inherited the habit! I’ve often heard spouse say that a dull knife was the dangerous knife. Thanks

  • Reply
    Nance
    January 18, 2019 at 7:09 am

    I enjoyed this post. I have my dad’s wet stone, as he called it. I don’t use it every day but I should.

  • Reply
    tmc
    January 18, 2019 at 7:02 am

    Yep, gotta keep em knifes sharp, and a first aid kit nearby, I was cleaning a turkey one time and might near cut the end off my pointer finger on my left hand, makes it difficult to chord a guitar the nerves were no doubt damaged.

  • Reply
    Sheryl A Paul
    January 18, 2019 at 6:27 am

    What a lovely way to remember Pap daily

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