When looking into purchasing a Belgian coticule for your sharpening needs (probably for the first time), you may wonder if this exotic natural stone will be all you’ll ever need for your sharpening duties. Well, the answer is actually yes and no – depending….
The best process for any tool you use (knife, woodworking tool, razor) is to always keep those tools maintained and in good working order. This goes without saying; however in practice for whatever reason, we all sometimes have delays in keeping up with our sharpening duties; or we may need to use those tools in circumstances that put more wear than we expected or intended (i.e. pocket knives are a great example of a tool that gets used when it shouldn’t).
So let’s look at the ‘yes’ first:
If your tools never get excessively blunt (i.e. butter knife blunt), badly chipped or need re-bevel setting (changing the angle of the cutting edge), then yes the coticule will be a great one stone sharpener for you. A coticule is wonderful stone to own and a joy to use (my favourite above all others). In fact, the coticule is the only stone I have used for some time myself. Even if your blade does get very blunt, with the help of a slurry stone and water to create slurry (mud) and by slowly diluting the slurry with water each stage until you get back to just plain water, you can actually bring dull blades back to very sharp again (you can also use just plain water, but it does take a little longer).
However, there are instances where you may need (or it is just more efficient) to team your coticule with another whetstone/s to get the job done a little quicker.
Now let’s look at the possible ‘No’ answer:
With some time and effort you can get chipped edges or re-beveling setting done on a coticule but it is just not the easiest/quickest way to go).
The issue here (and why I am making this point very clear), is not everyone (the average customer) wants to / or can afford the time necessary to do so, and it can also be frustrating if the results are not immediate. Unfortunately when this happens, the whetstone itself can be blamed as being a ‘dud’ or ‘slow’ cutter (blaming the tool not the technique).
Secondly, it isn’t always realistic in my opinion to ask one stone to do everything (even though with time and patience – yes it could). So this is more a question of efficiency – not a case of whether it can or can not do the job (there is a difference).
So if you have found chips on your blade that need removing, need to re-set the bevel from say 20 degrees to 15 degrees or have a knife that won’t cut though hot butter, the quicker option is to use a synthetic whetstone of a courser grit which will be more efficient. For example the 320 / 1000 Shaptons, or if you prefer to stay natural look into the 1000 grit La Pyrenees. This way you can complete the job and get your blade back to work asap.
If You Do Use Course Stones, What Grit Stone Can We Go From To The Coticule?
There is no set answer, however a 1000 grit to a coticule is fine or even less 400 / 600 grit works with just a little more time needed on the coticule to remove the scratch pattern of the synthetics.
At the other end of the spectrum are those after ‘razor sharpness’ (barbers straight razor sharp – the highest level).
I receive emails asking if a coticule will be the only stone needed for sharpening / maintaining a straight razor, and this is why I have added the following:
Basically, although coticules are capable of providing an edge necessary for this task, some users may find they can’t get a shave ready edge from them. In this instance, you may need to move forward to another stage to finalize and gain those few % needed. In this instance a leather strop (like the old time barbers used) or finer grit whetstone (12,000 + grit) could be included in the routine. So this needs to be considered upfront.
I am providing this information for the beginner – not so much the expert who has the technique and skill to make it work (the technique is the most important factor here). So to be fair, I cannot say one stone will be all you need – that is just a blanket statement that won’t likely fit everyone’s needs.
See how you go first with the coticule alone (eg. does the coticule give you the edge you want for your tasks?).
If not, from that point on you may consider adding to your coticule routine ‘a partner’ stone by moving up the scale to a finer grit stone (or a leather strop) for an even more polished edge (or possibly moving down the scale to a courser stone, for more heavy duty steel removal, if you find it necessary for your tools work).
This is something you can only really know once you have used the stone. Again, not getting a ‘razors edge’ does not mean the stone is a dud – they have been used for this purpose for decades – never-the-less they don’t come with guarantees (too many human factors involved).
So as you can see, there is no set ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this question unfortunately.
Belgian Blue (BBW): I wanted to mention that the Belgian Blue (BBW) is often neglected for the coticule. On average the BBW can give the same edge as the coticule, only on average it takes a little longer due to the more sparse (less concentration) of garnets (the cutting ingredient of the stones) compared to the coticule. Other than that, it seems going by recent tests done by others, the results are close if not the same! So if you are unsure of the investment in the coticule, the cheaper BBW maybe a good option to consider for your knives (coticules are still recommended for straight razors).
For most sharpening duties = yes (one coticule stone will be all you need).
Re-bevel setting, heavy use that results in an extremely blunt blade or chipping; or alternatively your looking to get straight razor sharpness = ‘possibly’ no depending on your skill/technique or the time you wish to invest.