Sharpening stones work through the process of abrasion. They are made from tiny rough-edged particles which, when brought into contact with with a material and force and motion are applied, will begin to abrade (rub away) the material.
Abrasion is the wearing down or rubbing away of a material by scratching, scuffing or otherwise marring its surface. Abrasion can be an intentionally controlled process or it can occur as a by-product of exposure to the elements.
Abrasives can be made from a wide variety of materials but sharpening stones are typically made from hard minerals or synthetic stone.
An abrasive material works by being rubbed or scratched against another (usually softer) material. The abrasive particles wear away the secondary material until it is smoothed, shaped or sharpened.
Sharpening stones work in exactly the same way. As you draw your knife or tool along the stone’s surface, the abrasive grit particles rub away and abrade the metal.
Varying levels of abrasion can be achieved by choosing stones with smaller or larger sized grit particles.
A stone with a low grit number will have larger particles which abrade more quickly but will result in a rougher finish.
A stone with a high grit number will have smaller particles. Small particles will abrade more slowly but will produce a much finer, smoother finish.