Before ordering a natural whetstone – please read:
– Natural stones regardless of heritage, may have slight variations in colour from stone to stone (or have streaks of different colours on the one stone); or possibly small imperfections on the stone itself (but do not impact performance) from stone to stone. These cannot be helped and are all part of the make-up of a natural product.
Natural stones are not all created equal and there can be inconsistencies from stone to stone regarding cutting (steel removal) performance. To get a razor shaving edge on a natural stone can sometimes be difficult for beginners, or in some cases on some stones altogether (you may need a higher grit stone like a 12000 or leather strop to finish – sometimes not – your technique is 90% of the process). I only mention this, as it is easy to blame the tool not the technique when results are not as perfect as expected (this goes for any whetstone or skill of course).
When it comes to sharpening knives or straight razors, you either enjoy the process or you don’t (i.e. it is a chore). I personally enjoy sharpening my pocket knives and look forward to the task each and every time. There is something quite relaxing about the process that I enjoy and knowing you are control of keeping your knives or razers sharp is also very rewarding.
Over the years I have tried several types of whetstones / wet stones (water stones) and I have liked and enjoyed using most of them. A few that have stood out overtime for me are the natural stones; for which I use mostly today.
What is a natural whetstone?
A natural stone is simply the name given to any stone that is made by Mother Nature and taken from the earth. This of course is the opposite of synthetic stones which are man-made (synthetic).
Natural stones come from a few select locations across the world.
- Belgian Sharpening Whetstones (Belgian Blue BBW or Belgian Coticules)
- Japanese Sharpening Whetstones
- German Sharpening Whetstones
- Arkansas Sharpening Whetstones / Oil-stones
Apart from the Arkansas (novaculite) stones (for which you can use oil on); water is the only other ingredient needed. I do not recommend sharpening on a stone dry.
What makes a natural sharpening stones different?
The main aspects that separate the naturals from synthetics are:
- Natural stones done come with a ‘grit’ rating. They are judged more by their hardness.
- They last in most cases a lot longer and need less lapping (flattening) less often.
- For the most part, they are slower stones. In other words, they can in some instances take longer to cut steel (sharpen) than synthetics stones. This making the process a little longer.
- They can in some cases be inconsistent. Unlike synthetic stones where you will know the exact grit rating and have a good idea of how long it will take to sharpen your knife each session (stone after stone); natural whetstones can sometimes vary from stone….but this is mother nature and nothing is ‘set in stone’!
Although some may consider these to be ‘negatives’ that make synthetic the better options for knife or razer sharpening tasks, the fact is once you accept these differences, the natural stones are wonderful to use. I for one also love the idea (like my ancestors) of sharpening on a stone made in the earth just as it has been done since the beginning of time. And as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I love sharpening, so if takes me an extra few minutes or so to put on an edge, I am ok with that.
Luckily, today we also have some wonderful synthetic stones also, so your options are very wide and no matter the steel type or your budget, there is sure to be a stone suited to your needs.
And yes, you can combine both natural and synthetic stones in your routine!