Recommendations for my 1st Natural Stone

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Mark Tomaras

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I am still a relative beginner with about 7-8 months of focused water stone sharpening practice. I currently am using Suehiro Cerax stones (1k, 3k, 6k). I also have a few mm left on my first stone, a course one from the Aritsugu store in Kyoto. My 1k is getting thin and I was thinking to try a Naniwa Pro 1k to experience something different, and to replace my Aritsugu rough with a Shapton 320.

Then I started reading about natural stones. I will be traveling in the USA for a couple of weeks in Feb, and I noticed that Japanese Knife Imports sells some natural stones for about $200: an Oouchi and a HIDERIYAMA are available at this accessible price point.

My question is, for a relatively new water stone sharpener, what is your recommended way to introduce a natural stone into my sharpening routine? Would it be a hard fine stone to follow or replace my 6k? Would it be something to compete with a 1k for normal sharpening but reserve it for my finest knives?

Lastly, do natural stones last way longer than manufactured stones like my Cerax? I don’t like the idea of these high prices if they dish easily, need serious flattening, and wear out quickly.

Or should I wait a couple of years to gain more experience before venturing down this path?

Thanks!
Mark
 
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Whatever jnats JKI has are the ideal ones for a kitchen knife. They are medium - hard and feel like a 5-6k.

You can use it with any knife. Natural stones finishing stones usually last longer than same size synthetics. Depends on the hardness though. The ones at JKI are similar in density to splash and go stones synthetics I've used. They are worth it, and I've tried a couple other jnats not from JKI.

The benefits of the jnats for me have been increased sharpness and edge retention and a slighly smoother and less dragging surface finish.

There are natural stones that wear very fast but they are usually coarse or medium grit stones.
 

Mark Tomaras

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The Oouchi from JKI is a really good value. It feels like a finishing stone maybe in the 6k range, but actually leaves a lot of bite. It will probably also last you a lifetime.
Thank you. So would I use this instead of my 6k Cerax or after it? Could I jump from a 1k to the Oouchi? Or better to progress with 1k-3k-Oouchi?
 

cotedupy

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Well here's a question with a million and one possible answers, but then that the fun of it eh! Let's start with a few things that I think most people would agree with...

Yes - you should be looking at a finisher. There are (almost) no natural stones that will be as good as synths at around the 1k level.

Yes - basically all naturals will last a lot longer than Ceraxes.

No - you don't necessarily need to gain more experience. Some natural stones are quite difficult to use, others quite easy. The single most sensible and important thing though, as you and others have said, is to get something from someone (like JKI) who knows what they're about, and will be able to give you good honest advice.

---

Now some more personal opinions...

I wouldn't get a Japanese natural stone for sharpening, because they're not actually particularly good for it in comparison to some other things. Japanese stones are unarguably the best polishing stones out there, but they're mostly too slow to be really good stones for general purpose edges on double bevel knives, imo/e.

If I had to nail my colours to the mast - I think you should get a coticule.
 

Mark Tomaras

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I wouldn't get a Japanese natural stone for sharpening, because they're not actually particularly good for it in comparison to some other things. Japanese stones are unarguably the best polishing stones out there, but they're mostly too slow to be really good stones for general purpose edges on double bevel knives, imo/e.

If I had to nail my colours to the mast - I think you should get a coticule.

Thank you for the thoughtful reply!

Question, if I bought a natural stone that is in the 6k-8k range, wouldn’t that fall into the polishing category? So then your recommendation that I don’t buy a Japanese natural zone for sharpening is a little confusing to me. I think it’s just the subtleties of language. Of course I did ask in my post about using a natural stone in the 1K range, but now that I see that we are talking about a recommended use in the 6k-8k range. So please clarify your recommendation if you don’t mind so I understand because you certainly put some thought and time into this post and I want to get the most out of it.

Next question, you sneakily dropped in that recommendation for a coticule. I had never heard of one. Google brought me to their site and I can see if they are stones made in Belgium. I must say that I am very happy to remain in Japan with my needs for sharpening for a while. I have a healthy obsession with all things Japanese, my Japanese knife collection is growing, and my sharpening skills using Japanese knives and Japanese stones is still at the beginning. So as I mentioned I’m happy to be in Japan for now.

However, that nice sounding little word that comes from a beautiful country famous for chocolate, well I have to say, you added a dose of intrigue. Please tell me more! Why do you like them? What are they all about? If you recommend one, would you recommend something like a 1K?

Thank you very much!
 

Kawa

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Happy to read along, might be handy in the future for me.

Having said that. Wearing a stone in 7-8 months :goodjob: you are on a roll!
 

Mark Tomaras

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Happy to read along, might be handy in the future for me.

Having said that. Wearing a stone in 7-8 months :goodjob: you are on a roll!

Thank you! Do I suspect there have been times that I probably used far too much pressure and probably overcompensated with the flattening stone hence the premature ware.
 

VICTOR J CREAZZI

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I must say that I am very happy to remain in Japan with my needs for sharpening for a while. I have a healthy obsession with all things Japanese, my Japanese knife collection is growing, and my sharpening skills using Japanese knives and Japanese stones is still at the beginning. So as I mentioned I’m happy to be in Japan for now.
I think this is your answer right here. I'd follow this obsession for now and get a coticule later.
 

Fellax

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After some experience with both Belgian and japanese stones i would also say that Belgian blue with matching slurry stone provide one of the best edges for the price point.
Anyway once you try a natural it's easy to fall into te rabbit hole and decide to try all the stones you can find.
 
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I just bought my first two jnats this past week, so from jnat n00b to jnat n00b, I can tell you a few thing I've learned along the way
  • JNats are not usually graded by grit but by level (1-5) that define the hardness
  • There are grit numbers usually indicated, but this is a range because jnats can go from soft to hard depending on how it's used
  • The slurry that is produced when sharpening can be a lot or a little depending on the stone selected. Slurry can make sharpening/polishing faster and easier
  • Some medium jnats could go from 2k to 6-8k depending on how much slurry it produces and how it's used. This largely depends on the stone and the seller could hopefully share this info
  • To create a slurry, you need to start sharpening. If it's too slow to get a slurry, you can use something like the Atoma #140 to flatten it a bit and then it'll create a slurry faster
  • Most Jnats are splash and go stones. Some do require soaking, but I don't think it's as common
  • Each stone feels different, and much like knives, they depend on the kind of feedback the user wants
  • There are usually some small cracks or chipping on the stone itself. They don't usually impact the performance but they have to be smoothed out because the blade could get stuck in a chip
  • Some things to consider is whether the stone leaves an even scratch pattern, or whether it provides a mirror or kasumi finish
  • Much like knives, stones seem to be a rabbit hole of its own and you can end up buying dozens to find the right one
  • Synthetic stones are better for adding a new bevel or thinning. Jnats are better are putting back a crisp and toothy edge
Having said this, I purchased an Aoto Red and Yamagata Kazuma few days ago. They are medium and possibly in the 1-2k grit range. The Aoto gets very slurry very quickly and is fun to use. The Yamagata needs very little water and doesn't get very slurry at all, but also has great feedback. I'm debating on whether I need a harder stone. These two jnats put a very nice edge on a few of my knives so far.

I have Naniwa Pro 800/3000 stones too that I really like. My beater knife had some serious chipping that the jnats took forever to remove but the Naniwa 800 got it done within a few minutes.
 

Delat

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Question, if I bought a natural stone that is in the 6k-8k range, wouldn’t that fall into the polishing category? So then your recommendation that I don’t buy a Japanese natural zone for sharpening is a little confusing to me. I think it’s just the subtleties of language. Of course I did ask in my post about using a natural stone in the 1K range, but now that I see that we are talking about a recommended use in the 6k-8k range. So please clarify your recommendation if you don’t mind so I understand because you certainly put some thought and time into this post and I want to get the most out of it.

I believe he’s using polishing in the sense of polishing the surface of a blade after thinning, or simply changing the surface look like creating a kasumi finish. This is separate from what you’re thinking of as polishing an edge.
 
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Or should I wait a couple of years to gain more experience before venturing down this path?

Maybe.

- All stones, natural and synthetic are compromises. No silver bullets.

- As a general rule, naturals are not something you can describe as 100% consistent, i.e. one Aoto might delight, another Aoto might leave one with a strange look on ones face.

My best advice on naturals is if you have a vender near you, take a couple of your own knives and try a few. See if you find one you like.

Next best. If you have the money, buy a few. If you don't have the money, buy a verity of natural slurry stones, much cheaper, and play with slurry blending on synthetics which can be endless fun.

Good luck. The stoned world is a yummy place.
 
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ChrisCrat

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I must say that I am very happy to remain in Japan with my needs for sharpening for a while. I have a healthy obsession with all things Japanese, my Japanese knife collection is growing, and my sharpening skills using Japanese knives and Japanese stones is still at the beginning. So as I mentioned I’m happy to be in Japan for now.
I'm not trying to dissuade you from your Japanese fascination, but why count out a stone only based on the location of its quarry? I admire the Japanese for their craftsmanship; They make top-tier stuff for the various rabbit holes I seem to have fallen down.
Knives, fishing tackle, jeans...Japan makes the best.

This brings me to natural stones.
As much as certain countries and their people can excel at craftsmanship and engineering, their abilities are not necessarily reflected by natural resources of their country.
Good natural stones can occur anywhere in the world. As much as I like getting my knives and fishing reels from Japan, watches from Switzerland and shoes from Northampton I am fairly indifferent to the geographical origin of a natural whetstone. Natural stones are a product of nature, not the people of any country. As such, perhaps natural stones could be excused for not being Japanese? What matters (to me) is that a stone is good.
 

nexus1935

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I wouldn't get a Japanese natural stone for sharpening, because they're not actually particularly good for it in comparison to some other things. Japanese stones are unarguably the best polishing stones out there, but they're mostly too slow to be really good stones for general purpose edges on double bevel knives, imo/e.

Thanks for this perspective. I've always been tempted to dabble in natural stones, just to see what I'm missing. I don't polish knives though, and am just looking for finishing edges for everyday cooking, so I may not get the full value of natural stones. Guess I'll just continue ogling the Uchigumori thread, lol
 

tcmx3

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minority opinion Im sure but if you want to save money in the long run, just replace your 6K with a big, well-shaped slightly harder (so 4-ish) suita or a kiita.

my personal favorite stone for edges is an Okudo suita. it's kind of a buy once, cry once stone though.

but then I also disagree with many folks around here about what level of refinement is appropriate for a carbon gyuto. to me a lot of the edges people are putting on their knives are just way too coarse, and I as a home cook have the luxury of not needing to quickly put an edge back on my knife before the rush. I personally find the harder suitas, and some of the nicer tomaes, to be ideal for cutting a mix of proteins, vegetables and herbs.

fwiw though many suitas arent super duper pure and therefore arent amazing for polishing so you can get a lot of stone for the money.

I find Jon's oouchi and hideriyama too soft for edges in general personally. I usually use my softer stones (e.g. Maruoyama shiro suita) for polishing, my hardest ones only for edges (that Okudo, an Aiiwatani asagi that is an immense amount of stone for the money), and the medium hardness ones get used for both, though there are some exceptions. that's just my preferences though; I find harder stones easier to sharpen edges with.
 

HumbleHomeCook

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Based on some of your other posts, I would recommend getting fully confident in your sharpening techniques with synthetics before worrying about Japanese natural stones. That in now way is meant to be derogatory, I had just seen you mention still having some struggles. A natural stone won't fix that.

The only naturals I own are Arkansas stones. I generally finish all my knives on either a Shapton Glass 2k or 4k.

Point being, a Japanese natural stone isn't necessary. But, by all means, if it is something you'll enjoy then have at it and again, I'm not trying to be a jerk. Just offering a little different perspective.

:)
 
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Thanks for this perspective. I've always been tempted to dabble in natural stones, just to see what I'm missing. I don't polish knives though, and am just looking for finishing edges for everyday cooking, so I may not get the full value of natural stones. Guess I'll just continue ogling the Uchigumori thread, lol

I have some naturals and JNats that see very little use these days because synthetics are just so good, but if you did want to dabble, see if you can find a chunk of Aoto and use it to make slurry on your finisher of choice and strop on that.
 

cotedupy

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Thank you for the thoughtful reply!

Question, if I bought a natural stone that is in the 6k-8k range, wouldn’t that fall into the polishing category? So then your recommendation that I don’t buy a Japanese natural zone for sharpening is a little confusing to me. I think it’s just the subtleties of language. Of course I did ask in my post about using a natural stone in the 1K range, but now that I see that we are talking about a recommended use in the 6k-8k range. So please clarify your recommendation if you don’t mind so I understand because you certainly put some thought and time into this post and I want to get the most out of it.

Next question, you sneakily dropped in that recommendation for a coticule. I had never heard of one. Google brought me to their site and I can see if they are stones made in Belgium. I must say that I am very happy to remain in Japan with my needs for sharpening for a while. I have a healthy obsession with all things Japanese, my Japanese knife collection is growing, and my sharpening skills using Japanese knives and Japanese stones is still at the beginning. So as I mentioned I’m happy to be in Japan for now.

However, that nice sounding little word that comes from a beautiful country famous for chocolate, well I have to say, you added a dose of intrigue. Please tell me more! Why do you like them? What are they all about? If you recommend one, would you recommend something like a 1K?

Thank you very much!

As @Delat said - I was using the word 'polishing' to mean an aesthetic thing done to the main bevel of a knife, rather than final edge refinement. Sorry for the confusion, as you guessed - it's one of those words that can be used in different ways in regards to knives and stones.

And I definitely don't mean to try to put you off jnats! There are lots of people who've replied to this thread, and on the forums generally, with a load more experience than me who love them. For example @tcmx3 is someone whose posts about sharpening I've learned a lot from, and who clearly holds no truck with the fad of low grit, mega-bitey, edges that I confess I do quite like. And if you prefer the kind of finish he describes then there's probably nothing better than a harder, finer jnat like many Okudos, Nakayamas &c. As I say - there really are a million and one answers... and a lot of fun to be had!

But to answer your question about coticules anyway...

I don't suppose that anyone here would deny that cotis are one of the world's great sharpening stones. And they're also one of the oldest, if not the oldest in terms of documented historical use and continuous production - people have been using them for a very long time indeed, and for good reason.

Coticules are almost unique in terms of natural stones in that the large part of their abrasion is based on garnet, rather than silica like jnats and pretty much everything else. Garnet is a bit harder than silica, and it means that even quite fine coticules cut relatively quickly, and also that coticules have quite a wide range of effective grit level in one stone, depending on how you slurry and work them. They're also, for a natural stone, quite easy to use as they tend to be a bit softer than comparable level Japanese stones, as well as markedly cheaper. Definitely worth looking into once you've properly fallen down the rabbit hole!
 
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Marcelo Amaral

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If you are confortable spending the money, i say go ahead and try it.

I find that sharpening with naturals gives me an edge that is at the same time finer, but with more bite. That means i feel less the teeth while cutting, but the edge has no problems with skin from tomatoes, peppers etc.

Usually naturals are slower and, in my opinion, they are about finesse in the sense they need a thin behind the edge, good quality blade in order to make a difference.

On the other hand, the stone i use more frequently is a 300 synth to thin blades that are not as thin behind the edge as they used to be. I feel that to have a thin behind the edge blade is crucial for the level of perceived sharpness i like.
If you don't have a 300 synthetic or a coarser stone, that should be a nice thing to have. Jon has a Gesshin 220 stone that meets my criteria on that area.
 
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