Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Give him this knife sharpening kit made of the finest Arkansas whetstones and he’ll struggle with it for a few months, but after that he’ll filet his fish with a finely maintained knife for the rest of his days.
Sharpening your own knives falls somewhere between a useful skill and an art – and as artist’s tools go, Dan’s Whetstones are up there with the best.
They’re made of natural novaculite – aka Arkansas Stone – quarried and shaped in in the Ouichita Mountains, near Hot Springs, AK. Native Americans quarried these stones for thousands of years, making them the area’s oldest industry. When early American settlers arrived, they already knew novaculite’s effectiveness as a grindstone for sharpening and shaping metal. During the industrial revolution, Hot Springs was the center of an industry, shipping novaculite slabs to metalworking factories worldwide.
Eventually, synthetic grindstones – cheaper than the real thing – replaced Novaculite in most industries. Although Arkansas Stone remained second to none for hand-sharpening knives and tools, most of the quarries and pits across the Ouichita Mountains were abandoned.
Enter Dan Kirschman, a traveling mining engineer. Posted to the Ouchita Mountains in the 1970s, he began digging and making his own novaculite whetstones as a hobby. It may have been the area; it may have been the stones, but when it came time to move to his next posting, he decided instead to stay and and start a business manufacturing whetstones. He also started buying land: Dan’s Whetstones now owns 500 acres of Arkansas quarrying land, from which every chunk of novaculite is blasted out of with black powder.
Dan’s Whetstones come in many shapes and sizes. The Tri-Hone sharpening kit pictured here features three different grades of stone: one block of coarse, synthetic silicon carbide, and two blocks of Arkansas novaculite, graded medium and fine. (They’re handily labeled for reference). The kit comes with a wooden base and a bottle of honing oil. It’s good value and everything you need to learn knife-sharpening, traditional-style.
So how does it perform? Once you’ve got the technique down, a dull knife can be honed to a near-razor edge in a couple of minutes. It does take some practice though, because the angle of the blade is critical. Here’s a quick video tutorial from Dan’s Whetstones, who make it look easy:
PS: If this looks like too much to learn – hey, we don’t judge! – this pre-angled Lansky sharpening kit is a great alternative.