Japanese Waterstones - both natural and synthetic - are known for their quick-working qualities, not only for Japanese tools, but also for their Western equivalents. The small particles that do the cutting are loosely bound together in the stone, and so during sharpening, the surface particles are quickly washed out, allowing new, sharp, particles to start working on the blade. These waterstones must be lubricated only with water! Never use oil!
Our large selection of stones will allow the connoisseur to find, from among the many famous manufacturers, the ideal stone for their need. Because every manufacturer formulates their stones to emphasize a different mix of qualities, and those qualities can vary widely between the different stones, for an optimal sharpening stone set, most woodworkers need stones from several different companies. If one gets to know the characteristics of certain types of stones, sometimes one producer will provide all the stones one needs, and in some cases that can be an advantage. But there is no correct solution for any situation: the stones must fit one's need and work style.
On the other hand, such a large selection can make it hard to choose a workable combination, and so we offer this small guide to assist you to make at least a good beginning.
Matsunaga, which produces the brands KING and SUN TIGER is perhaps the best-known manufacturer in Europe. Its strongpoint is producing very traditional soft stones that abrade quickly to reveal new sharp cutting particles. These kinds of stones must be dressed very often to keep them flat and effective.
The CERAX-Stones from Suehiro are a little harder, and so are not worn down as quickly as with the classic Japanese water stones. With the 8,000 grain stone, one can obtain perhaps the best-cutting edge with a mirror polish on chisels and similar blades. Suehiro also makes a small combination stone for those who do not sharpen tools all that often and are hesitant to spend so much for a CERAX stone.
The stones from SHAPTON are probably the hardest Japanese sharpening stone of all. They will remain flat for a long time, and so when one is looking for a relatively coarse stone to cut quickly without needing flattening very often, these are probably the best choice. The finer-grained stones also work very well. But the SHAPTON stones do not provide the mirror surface the softer stones can.
The biggest advantage of the NANIWA-Stones lies above all in their fine-grained waterstones. With no other stones can one achieve as perfect a mirror polish.
For rough sharpening - to grind off chips in the edge or for when the blade is unusually dull -- stones from 120 to 400 grain are called for. We recommend stones with a grain between 120 and 240 in this case.
For normal sharpening, stones between 700 and 2000 grain are used. We recommend stones between 700 and 1200 grain.
To take off the fine scratches and the burr left by coarser stones, and polish the surface, one can use stones starting around 2000 grain. Above that there is theoretically no upper limit, but at the same time stones above about 10000 provide no measurable practical improvement in the edge. It is also interesting to note that above 8000 grit, there is no Japanese measurement standard. With all the stones labelled as having a finer grit, one simply has to take the manufacturer's word for it.
For those who have reasonable experience with sharpening, we recommend a finish stone of 8000 grit. If one is not certain, or for beginners, stones with a grit between 3000 and 6000 will produce acceptable results.
So, in principle one needs at least three stones if one has to do significant amounts of sharpening. One to grind, one to sharpen and one to hone.
For someone who sharpens blades only occasionally, and knows that they will not need to grind out a chip in the edge of the blade, for instance, a combination stone will suffice. The size that one chooses depends mostly on a trade off between cost and speed. The bigger the stone, the faster one can work. The smaller stones work just as well, they just take a little more time.
There are many different possibilities to assemble a good sharpening set for every use and budget. You can have a beginner set of 3 stones for less than 50 Euros or a professional set for more than 300 Euros.