Japanese water stones – both natural and synthetic – are known for their superior sharpening performance, not only for Japanese tools, but also on their Western equivalents. The loosely bonded abrasive grit is washed out very quickly, as it blunts during the sharpening process; this exposes new, sharp, particles that can get to work on the blade. Water stones are lubricated only with water! Never use oil!
Our large selection of stones from many well-known manufacturers will allow connoisseurs to find the ideal stone for their needs. Because all manufacturers formulate their stones to emphasize a different mix of qualities, and because these qualities can vary widely between different stones, most woodworkers choose stones from several manufacturers to build up an optimal set of sharpening stones. Then again, once you get to know the characteristics of certain types of stone, you may find one supplier who will provide all the stones you need. Sometimes this can be an advantage. But there is no one size that fits all; each stone must fit your needs and work style.
A large selection of stones can make it hard to choose a workable combination. That is why we offer this brief guide to help you get off to a good start.
Matsunaga, with its brands King and Sun Tiger is probably the manufacturer most familiar to European consumers. Its strongpoint are traditional soft stones that abrade quickly to reveal new sharp cutting particles. These kinds of stone must be dressed very often to keep them flat and effective.
Cerax and Suehiro stones from Suehiro are a little harder, and as such do not wear down as quickly as the classic Japanese water stones. The 8000 grit stone will perhaps give you 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 reluctant to spend extra for a Cerax stone.
The stones from Shapton are probably the hardest of all Japanese sharpening stones. They will remain flat for a long time. They are therefore the best choice if you are looking for a relatively coarse stone that cuts quickly without having to be dressed repeatedly. The finer-grained stones also work very well. But Shapton stones do not provide the mirror finish you can achieve with softer stones.
Best among the Naniwa stones are undoubtedly their fine-grained water stones. There are no other stones that achieve such a perfect mirror polish.
A sharpening experience close to that of natural stones is yours to enjoy with Bester water stones from Imanishi in Kyoto. Bester water stones are of medium hardness, require a moderate amount of wetting and get to grips quickly with the job at hand.
With its premium series Select II, the whetstone manufacturer Sigma Power Corporation from Tokyo addresses users of high-alloy steels such as HSS. These stones, too, are obviously intended to engender a grinding experience similar to that of natural stones. The special production process is expensive, but the Sigma Select II probably has no equal when it comes to demolishing steel.
The Juuma sharpening and honing stones offer a simplified working principle while at the same time ensuring the highest possible quality in the offered grits. Juuma Cobalt Blue stones are made of an aluminium oxide and a bonding agent. Adding cobalt serves to slow stone abrasion and increase the speed of sharpening. The speed bonus is especially marked when stoning blue steel (blue paper steel that is often used for Japanese planes and chisels). The cobalt gives the stones their blue colour. Juuma is our proprietary brand. Juuma sharpening stones are produced by a renowned Japanese whetstone manufacturer.
We tend to recommend natural Japanese water stones only to experienced users who are thoroughly familiar with the synthetic Japanese sharpening stones. Natural stones are not to everybody’s taste and there are inevitably many uncertainties with regard to their grit grade, which cannot be determined exactly, their hardness and their suitability for certain types of steel.
For rough sharpening – to remove chips along the edge or to restore an unusually dull blade – you will need stones from 120 to 400 grit. We recommend stones from 120 and 240 grit in this case.
For normal sharpening, stones from 700 to 2000 grit are used. We recommend stones from 700 to 1200 grit.
To take off the fine scratches and burrs left by coarser stones, and to polish the surface, you can use stones starting at around 2000 grit. There is theoretically no upper limit, but stones above about 10000 grit achieve practically no measurable improvement in the edge. It is also interesting to note that above 8000 grit, there is no Japanese measurement standard. For stones labelled as having a finer grit, you simply have to take the manufacturer's word for it.
If you have reasonable experience with sharpening, we recommend a finishing stone of 8000 grit. If you are in doubt, or are a beginner, stones from 3000 to 6000 grit will produce acceptable results.
For all practical purposes, if you do a significant amount of sharpening, you will need at least three stones. One to rough-grind, one to sharpen and one to hone.
If you sharpen blades only occasionally, and know that you will not need to remove a chip along the edge of the blade, a combination stone will suffice. The size you choose depends mostly on a trade-off between cost and speed. The bigger the stone, the faster you can work. Smaller stones work just as well, they simply take a little longer.
There are many different options for assembling a good sharpening set for every use and budget. You can buy a starter set of 3 stones for under 50 euros or a professional set for over 300 euros.