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Natural Japanese Whetstones

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

Note: I brought this to another thread, because it's too tangential for the original one.

 

Further Note: I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, an expert on natural whetstones. I hope anyone who is will weigh in and correct and/or amplify what's said here.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Phaedrus View Post
The natural stone business...now there's a whopper!  I'm assuming you mean natural waterstones as opposed Arkansas' and the like.  I don't have much experience with them.  But I think I'm probably going to take the plunge soon.  I say that with great trepidation- after buying 30 synthetic waterstones the last thing my wallet needs to is to catch the fever over naturals.


Well, yes and no, Phaedrus.

 

A few things to know about naturals. First of all, at any grit level, they vary widely in hardness and durability. This is partly dependent on the type of stone, but not entirely. So you can have two stones with the same name, grit level, shape, size, and everything, but one wears and the other basically doesn't. I don't know of natural stones wearing as fast as even the slowest-wearing synthetics, but certainly the average natural aoto does wear noticeably. That means the whole routine --- grind, ha ha --- of flattening and whatever, at least potentially. Further, grit levels are always approximate, and hardness and durability too can only be judged through use or by an expert. Flaws in a stone are sometimes obvious and sometimes not, and in some cases they matter a lot and in some cases they don't.

 

The result is that any stone can only be effectively rated by an expert. It's no good looking and seeing, "hey, this is a natural aoto, size X, so that's the thing for me." It could be fabulous and it could be cr*p. Even if you are an expert, you can't do more than make an educated guess based on a grainy photograph on line --- you need to handle the stone, look closely, see what it does in water, grind on it a bit, and so on.

 

So you should never, ever buy a natural stone from anyone you don't have excellent reason to trust. If the seller is a Japanese professional whetstone retailer, there are ways and means to make sure he's legit, such as membership in one of the whetstone guilds, but most of these people do not do a lot of overseas business nor work in languages other than Japanese. There are certainly exceptions, of course.

 

Assuming you're dealing with a reputable dealer, to a great degree you will get what you pay for. But even there you've got the problem that not every purchaser is looking for the same qualities in a stone. Sword-polishers, for example, are interested in somewhat different things than are kitchen knife sharpeners. The best thing would be to consult with the dealer about your needs.

 

That said, a good natural stone can be an excellent investment if you take the time and care to make a good purchase.

 

In particular, if you get a hard, durable stone, of a sufficient size to sharpen effectively, and an appropriate nagura or koppa to develop an initial slurry, you have probably just eliminated ever needing another stone at that approximate grit level. This is because if the stone is of good quality and fairly hard, it simply won't wear out. I have a very hard Asagi stone, somewhere in the range of 15k JIS, that the previous owner used every single day for about 40 years and never succeeded in wearing to any significant degree.

 

So, Phaedrus, if you have some 30 synthetics, consider what this whole collection cost you. Ignore the coarse stones for a minute --- they're cheap enough. Now let's suppose you bought 3 naturals, rating somewhere around 1k, 6k-8k, and 15k. Say you spent an average of $200 apiece (that's a lot for the 1k, cheap for the 15k, so call it even). Now suppose you never buy another stone at these levels. Are you saving money? Yes --- in the long run. Probably you'd save money even if the set of three cost $1000. But what about the short run?

 

And of course, before you drop $400 on that beautiful natural polishing stone, are you sure that this dealer is reputable and knows what he's doing --- and understands what you want and what you're going to do with it?

post #2 of 12

Arkansas stones are not natural waterstones, but they certainly are natural stones.  And while they expose their abrasive to the knife in a different way, they have a few things in common with Japanese (and many other) natural stones. 

 

Those include an edge which is comparatively more sharp than shiny, and cmparatively more slippery.  Also, as Chris explained, finding good ones is highly contingent.

 

BDL

post #3 of 12

Because natural stones are , well, natural, there is always the risk of a larger grit particle ingrained in the stone, thus rendering the stone useless--kinda like a hole in a china cap.

 

As you can see, I'm not all that educated in natural stones, and have no desire to spend the money to educate myself, but mainly becasue I don't know anyone who can "babysit me" when it comes to stone purchases. 

 

It's not that I don't mind forking out $200 for a stone, it's the risk of getting a lousy stone.

 

For the record I've gone through my "Cheap King stone" phase, and have now graduated to a mono-crystalline 600/1200 diamond stone and  4,000 and 8,000 Norton waterstones. 

 

It might take me a few years to wean myself out of this stage, and I'm always open to new options, just afraid of the risk of the naturals, and don't feel right un-loading them off on someone more ignorant than myself.

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
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post #4 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by boar_d_laze View Post

Arkansas stones are not natural waterstones, but they certainly are natural stones.  And while they expose their abrasive to the knife in a different way, they have a few things in common with Japanese (and many other) natural stones. 

 

Those include an edge which is comparatively more sharp than shiny, and cmparatively more slippery.  Also, as Chris explained, finding good ones is highly contingent.

 

BDL

 

I only mentioned Arkansas stones because I wasn't certain what the OP meant by "natural stones."  Old timers in my neck of the woods would always be referring to an Arkansas or a Belgian Coticule.  Of course fans of Japanese knives and stones would mean natural waterstones.  At any rate my comments weren't addressing the merits of one over the other but merely determining which type the OP was referring to.
 

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #5 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChrisLehrer View Post

 

In particular, if you get a hard, durable stone, of a sufficient size to sharpen effectively, and an appropriate nagura or koppa to develop an initial slurry, you have probably just eliminated ever needing another stone at that approximate grit level. This is because if the stone is of good quality and fairly hard, it simply won't wear out. I have a very hard Asagi stone, somewhere in the range of 15k JIS, that the previous owner used every single day for about 40 years and never succeeded in wearing to any significant degree.

 

So, Phaedrus, if you have some 30 synthetics, consider what this whole collection cost you. Ignore the coarse stones for a minute --- they're cheap enough. Now let's suppose you bought 3 naturals, rating somewhere around 1k, 6k-8k, and 15k. Say you spent an average of $200 apiece (that's a lot for the 1k, cheap for the 15k, so call it even). Now suppose you never buy another stone at these levels. Are you saving money? Yes --- in the long run. Probably you'd save money even if the set of three cost $1000. But what about the short run?

 

And of course, before you drop $400 on that beautiful natural polishing stone, are you sure that this dealer is reputable and knows what he's doing --- and understands what you want and what you're going to do with it?


I wonder if you misunderstood my comments.  The only reason I would be reluctant to try natural stones is because I have an addict's personality where gadgets are concerned.  As much as I love Japanese knives, lately I've been more into trying different stones.  Synthetic stones are addictive enough, and it's easy to burn thru a pile of cash pretty quickly.  The last thing I need to get hooked on naturals since they're considerably more expensive.  And something you fail to consider, Chris, is that I would no more just buy 3 naturals and call it done than I would 3 synthetics.  The whole point is to try different things.  Grit is just a number, and one that doesn't tell you all that much, even with synthetics.  Take three 1ks- say, a Chocera, a Shapton GlassStone and a Bester.  While they're all ostensibly the same grit each one will give you a different type of finish.  And that will vary from knife to knife and steel to steel.  This is especially true, IME, with Aratos.  It's amazing how a given 120 grit can work amazingly well on certain steels and not be worth a damn on others.  I can only assume that this will be even more prevalent with naturals.  So just arbitrarily picking three good natural stones and calling it a day isn't likely to get you the best performance.

 

Since naturals are, well, natural just choosing a good vendor isn't always a guarentee of quality, either.  Even a stone from the best vein in the best mine can have an occlusion hidden within that will render the stone useless with wear.  Short of putting it thru an MRI I don't know how you'd avoid that!  But I agree- you have to have a trusted vendor.  I would buy mine from a guy who's been to the mountain where the stones are quarried and has a personal relationship with the man that owns the mountain.  He's a solid guy and really knows his stuff.

 

I hate to even begin to debate the merits of synthetic vs natural.  I simply don't have enough experience with the latter to make any pronouncements.  But a few are obvious.  Synthetics are more uniform- the product is very consistent.  My Chocera 10k will be just like yours, probably even if I bought mine a few years before or after you did.  Synthetic stones are also much, much cheaper.  And you don't need to be a geologist to analyse them.  The naturals may give a superior finish and will wear slower.  Yes, you probably can use a stone for the rest of your life.  I think for the casual sharpener natural stones are probably overkill.  If you have high end honyaki knives or are a sushi chef it might be worthwhile.  Of course, I want to explore them simply because they're there.

 

The first one I get will probably be a natural Blue Aoto.  It will give me something new to play with.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #6 of 12
Thread Starter 

Oh dear, Phaedrus. It's like that, is it?

 

Okay, let me give you a very small piece of advice.

 

DO NOT get into naturals. Really. Honestly, I'm a friend, I like you, this is an intervention, we all love you here. DO NOT get into naturals.

 

Here's why.

 

Once you get a really good one, you'll fall in love. They're amazing. Everything that is irritating about synthetics isn't true of naturals, like flattening and soaking and all that stuff. Pull out stone, flick water, rub with nagura, sharpen. And then you get this weird hazy-shiny finish that is scary sharp but oddly durable, at least with your best knives. I can't explain it, but for some reason this ridiculously hard stone polishing I've got makes my knives very sharp and they stay that way longer --- and I'm comparing to choceras, remember. What that thing does to my Masamoto KS is disturbing.

 

Now me, that makes me want to find some friends for this stone. I want a sorta 8k-ish one, and a sorta 3k-ish one, and a sorta 1k-ish one. Coarse stuff, I'll use synthetics, they're cheap, who cares. But the thing is, once I've got stones I love at these levels, that's it for me. I'll just play with my toys again and again and again.

 

Then there's you. You do this, you'll start wanting to buy more of them to compare. And you know what? That fabulous finishing stone I've got, which was given to me as a present by a very nice man who used it for 40 years and isn't sharpening much any more, would probably cost a good couple hundred smackers on the open market. And it does have one serious flaw: it's very, very narrow, which is irritating when sharpening a long knife. Furthermore, naturals rise in price dramatically as they get bigger, because the larger the flawless area, the rarer the stone. So you could be looking at an addiction that will eat your wallet, then your car, then your house.

 

Don't do it, okay? I don't want to see in the news that you've been arrested after brutally murdering some poor slob FedEx guy who delivered your 87th natural stone, but because he was delivering it to the cardboard box you've moved to, under the bridge, he slipped and dropped the package and the stone cracked.

post #7 of 12

Haha!  I'll try to remember the guy in the big brown truck is my friend!  I think at a certain point getting into naturals is inevitable.  With so many of us we keep going further down the rabbit hole til we die, go broke or someone does stage an intervention.  And of course, I keep to the company of some notorious enablers.  Jigs, stones, strops, belts, felt...if it can be  used to sharpen I've tried it or it's on my list.  No matter how nice the naturals are I'll be using mostly synthetics for the forseeable future, certainly at least until I graduate from school and, God willing, find a real honest to goodness grown-up job.  Seriously though I'm a pragmatic sort of person so I don't expect I'll get too carried away.

 

My last purchases were a 30k Shapton Pro, a half thickness Naniwa Aotoshi 2k Green Brick & a Naniwa 8k "Snow White."  But my next sharpening purchase will probably be a 1x42" grinder.  While my love is waterstones & high HRC knives, sadly more and more of my actual sharpening is Wusthofs and house knives.  I'm sort of on the cusp of making the transition from doing it as a favor to doing it as a sideline business.  That may or may not expand depending on a few factors that I won't go into just now, but either way I want a better grinder for repairs than the HF 1x30" I'm using now.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
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post #8 of 12

Isn't the Junpaku (snow white) great?  It doesn't feel as good as the SS, but it's so fast. 

 

I'm a big fan of both Naniwa 8Ks as penultimates and/or as final stones.  Chasing the 8K with a Kitayama (which you probably have) makes for a great performing and great looking edge. 

 

Both are 8Ks are nominally 1.2u -- that's the JIS standard, so... duh, right? 

 

My impressions are that chasing my SS with the 1u (boron) paste results in an edge which is not necessarily any sharper but somewhat more slippery and refined -- very brightly polished and more like a natural -- the junpaku is probably the same. 

 

But since adding the HA strops to my bag o' tricks, I can get a little more aggressive in terms of pressure and SPM (strokes per minute) with my 8K, since I'm not too wooried to about the polish and will deburr after the final stone anyway.  Maybe that's partly responsible for the better edge.  Don't know, and haven't figured out a way to isolate enough of the variables to construct a meaningful experiment.

 

Going to a finer strop or stone with my French carbon knives, like 0.5u, is pretty much wasted because corrosion caused by air contact alone will blunt the blades back to the 1u level within a week or so.  They do hold 1u for awhile though. 

 

BDL


Edited by boar_d_laze - 10/4/10 at 10:53pm
post #9 of 12

I've not tried the Kitayama.  I realize some like the stone but as I cast my net far and wide I found the acclaim wasn't univeral.  What do you think of it?  Perhaps it should be on my list.  I already have three 8k's that I would rate as superior, so I would need some convincing- as a poor student, I no longer have access to money growing on trees.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #10 of 12

BTW, if I haven't mentioned it before I have a tremendous amout of Mylar PSA abrasives, going as fine as .3 micron.  I try not to be dogmatic and let the knife suggest the tool and technique.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #11 of 12

It all depends what you're looking for at the grit. 

 

A Kitayama is more like a natural stone than almost any other synthetic.  It seems to work best in combination with another ultra-fine, either as a lead in or a follow up.  KC likes to chase it with a Naniwa SS 10K.  I don't have one anymore, but when I did I liked it as a final stone after either of my next finest stones -- which at the time were a Norton 8K and a Shapton Pro 5K.   Dave Martell was using his Kitayama (and still may be) to chase an SS 10K.

 

It's fair to say that all three of us liked the sort of "friction free" feeling you get from a Kitayama finished blade. 

 

It's not a fast stone, slow actually -- although if you post you'll find many idiots with no grasp of sharpening experts who jump right from a 1K directly to a Kitayama and swear by it.  It's not a very bright finish.  Although a lot of sellers rated it that way because it does have some 12K grit mixed in, it's not a 12K.  Dave and KC are both right, that the stone really works best as a partner to another ultra-fine, which could seem redundant and obsessive.  It's not quite at the level of the Emperor's New Clothes but you have to be a fairly proficient sharpener and cutter with good knives to really get what the stone is all about. 

 

It's also not a Honyama, which is the natural it is supposed to be most like; and the difference is noticeable on very hard carbons like the Shiro and Ao series Hitachis.  Or... so I'm told.  I've never been able to put those kinds of knives together with those stones.

 

As you know, the whole sharpening thing is more than just keeping your knives sharp.  It's a hobby.  And a trendy hobby at that.  Kitayamas got lost in the last wave of Chosera enthusiasm -- which seems to have crested and now be receding.  I mean if Choseras were the best and everyone knew it (while a few eccentrics were shouting about the SS), how good could a Kitayama be?

 

Maybe those are a few of the reasons acclaim is less than universal.  

 

When I replaced my waterstone kit I thought about getting another one, but the sticker shock of buying four good rocks at the same time was overwhelming, so the (heavily discounted) SS 8K was the last stone.  Since acquiring a really well appointed stropping kit to follow the SS, the 1u boron oxide chaser does something similar with less effort.  Shiny, too.

 

BDL 

post #12 of 12

All stones go thru their fad phase, and the Kitayama had its turn.  Once the crowd moves on to The Next Super Stone the good stones still remain.  While the Shapton Pro and GlassStones are now so passe as to seem quaint they're still terrific stones.  The Choceras will probably still reign as the best synthetics I've ever used, even when the forum guru's have moved on to other stones.  I don't really pay much attention to the hype/stone-of-the-month chatter anymore.  There are a few "insiders" and pro whos opinions I value, but for the most part I sort of find my own way.  For me it's not necessarily about "best" since that's a moving target- the best for one steel may not be the best for another.  The best for one purpose may not be the best for them all.  It's all about horses for courses.  And sometimes it's just about using different combinations just for fun.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
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