New To Sharpening? What Grit Whetstone Do I Need For My Pocket / Kitchen Knives (Sharpening Grit Progression)?

A Basic Guide For Choosing Whetstone/s (Natural Or Synthetic).

I have created this post to provide general answers for those visiting the store, that maybe looking for a whetstone or whetstone set to sharpen and maintain their kitchen or pocket knives, yet are unsure where to start. More detailed answers can be provided to suit individual customer needs; however this is a good overview to get you started.

Whetstone brands, sharpening mediums (diamond, oil or water stones – natural or synthetic) and grit progression (from 180 up to the finest 30,000 grit), may lead to confusion as to which stones to buy for your sharpening needs. Understandably with all those options it can be confusing and could leave you wondering if this process is worth the hassle. Well don’t worry; this post will try to provide some basic guidance.

Regardless of the whetstone/s you do purchase, your technique will dictate the result 90% of the time (i.e. blame the technique not the tool).

To make this process of selection easier, I only stock high quality whetstones. Where there is an option to do so, I always select the professional version, 1st grade or select (highest grade option) over the standard or economy version from the manufacturer. This helps to ensure that these whetstones will do their part in helping you to keep your knives sharp. Yes, you will pay a little more but the difference is very little when you consider the years of use you will get out of each stone (course grit stones can wear more quickly).

Secondly, when it comes to whetstones, you should not base your selection on the cheapest stone you can find, quality does count. A whetstone is just as important to a knife as petrol is to a car (in my opinion). There is no point in buying expensive Japanese or German kitchen knives if they can’t be maintained. A four hundred dollar knife teamed with a cheap $15 whetstone may not offer the best result. As the old saying goes, a cheap tool will be the most expensive tool you will ever buy!

Kitchen or Pocket Knives:

Pocket knives and kitchen knives are utility tools born to do certain tasks that will in turn impact their ability to stay sharp for long periods.

Of the two knives, a pocket knife on average will get the widest ranging and edge damaging tasks (and will usually be the most abused). From cutting rope, string, cardboard boxes, parcels, household, workshop or outdoor duties of all kinds; compared to a kitchen knife which will (or should) only come into contact with food (which makes kitchen knives a little more predictable to how often they may need maintenance).

Cutting cardboard for an example is a quick way to dull an edge on a pocket knife; as is slamming a kitchen knife down on a hard surface when you slice and dice. Through daily use they both will dull sooner or later and will need touch-ups to maintain their working edge (even high quality steels). This is the exact reason why we should have our own whetstone/s on hand to keep our knives in ready working condition. The fact is, letting any tool get too dull (blunt) not only makes them less efficient as tools; but also increases your maintenance time when you do finally get around to sharpening them.

Regular maintenance is the key!

One more point on this: if you keep a regular sharpening routine and care for your knives (not abuse them with tasks they were not intended for), you can get away with literally one stone for most tasks. One of my favourite sharpening stones can help: The Coticule

Natural Stones:

Have You Considered Looking At Natural Stones For You Sharpening Needs? If Not, You Should!

dans-8-x-2-extra-fine
Black Arkansas – A Great Finishing Stone (polish)
Coticules - my favourite!
Coticules – my favourite!
Belgian Blue - the coticules brother (taken from the ground with coticule
Belgian Blue – the coticules brother (taken from the ground with coticule

La Pierre Des Pyrénées  – Belgian CoticulesBelgian Blues (BBW)Arkansas Novaculite

Natural stones do not come with grit ratings like the below discussed synthetics. That is not how their cutting ability is judged. Overtime as a reference only, most naturals have never-the-less been given approximate grit ratings to help a buyer get an idea. These should be taken as estimates only.

There are four natural stone options available in this store, that can provide you with a great cutting edge for your knives:

Belgian Stones: Natural stones like the Belgian Blue and Coticule will use slurry to increase their ‘grit’ range.

slurry-1
Slurry stones are odd-shaped off-cuts of the larger stone they are used on.

What is slurry: slurry is created when rubbing a smaller stone (of the same type called a slurry stone) onto the surface of the larger stone (with water) to create a light muddy liquid (a slurry).

Using the slurry method, as we progress in our sharpening, we slowly add more water to the mixture, diluting it down to just pure water alone at the final stage (the slurry is gone).

Slurry stones create a milky muddy liquid
Slurry stones create a milky muddy liquid -this white liquid mud is coticule slurry

This slurry makes these whetstones quite versatile allowing them to provide a wide range of sharpening duties. You do not need to use slurry of course, but using slurry simply increases the range they can perform. Using varying degrees of pressure with just water alone can also be done.

The Stones:

A Belgian blue is a very dense stone and with water alone is a polishing stone, a slurry stone is needed to ensure good cuttgni action

Belgian coticules are can be between 4000 – 8000 (range when slurry is used).

Both are more than capable at gaining an edge on pocket and kitchen knives and keeping an edge on those knives. Will the edge be sharp enough for me? I can’t say. These are natural stones and there can be slight variance in result, however your technique will be the deciding factor.

How do they work? Both the Belgian blue and coticule whetstones have garnets naturally impeded within the stone which provides the cutting material. These garnets remove steel quite easily and leave a nice polished edge. The only difference is the BBW has less % of garnets across the stone compared to the coticule, which makes the BBW a slower cutter – on average. Of the two, the coticule is the preferred stone; however the BBW is much cheaper (size vs size).

If you are looking for only one stone for your pocket or kitchen knives (and do need stones that will repair chips or re-profile edges), these are a great place to look and will last for many years of duty.

La Pierre Des Pyrénées : The La Pierre Des Pyrénées is a natural stone from Saurat France. It has a grit of approx. 1000. This makes the La Pyrenees a great stone to use up front when more steel removal is needed for knives on the real blunt side. La Pyrenees comes glued to a piece of BBW (Belgian Blue), so you can use the La Pierre Des Pyrénées first, then jump to the Belgian Blue (BBW) next.

If considering Belgian stones for your sharpening needs, here are a few possible selections:

Coticule + slurry stone (only this stone is needed for most tasks).

Or

Belgian Blue + slurry stone (only this stone is needed for most tasks – a little slower in cutting action than the coticule)

Or

If you find your knives are quite blunt, consider the La Perennes as a first option to speed up the process. It will get the job done quicker before you start on the Belgian stones (and you get a BBW with it!).

As follows:

La Pierre Des Pyrénées/BBW combo -> Coticule (this set will give you the widest range of cutting ‘grits’ in the natural stone range). As the BBW is so smooth and dense, it can with water be used after the coticule to polish also if needed.

If you find you need something even courser (repair chips, re-profile) you will need to look into the lower grit synthetic whetstones. Alternatively, if something extra is needed after the coticule, you could consider the Leather strop.

Arkansas – Novaculite: is another natural stone and is from the Ouachits Mountains in Arkansas USA. The stones I offer here are 1st grade. There are lower grades, but if you want the best result, you get the best stones!

They are available in three ‘grit’ sizes (medium, fine and ultra-fine). Rather than using slurry to create variances in ‘grit’ like the BBW and coticule, the Arkansas simply come in three levels to accomplish the same task (more like the synthetics).

So the process is simply:

Medium FineUltra Fine

*The only downside to Arkansas stones is they can be slow cutters on newer / harder steels.

If you have overly dull or damaged blades, course grit Kirschen or 3201000 is recommended to begin the process before any natural stone is used (only to make the process more efficient).

Synthetics:

When Deciding On Which Synthetic Stones To Use, How High A Grit Do I Need To Go?

There is no set rule (however 30,000 grit is the highest grit available) when it comes to sharpening your knives.

A few very simple questions may help you decide:

  • Your budget? (the finer the stone, the more expensive)
  • Your tools usage? (what are you using it for, some tasks just don’t need ultra-refined edges)
  • How often are planning on sharpening? (regular is best and reduces the stones you may need to maintain them)
  • And regardless of the above, simply how far you wish to go in your sharpening process? (some love the idea of using multiple stones and don’t mind the extra work of adding the finer stones; while others only want to do the minimum amount of sharpening and get out of there asap!)

So before we go any further, I wanted to make it clear you can buy from 180 to 30,000 grit stones and use them for your knives. The issue here (and why I am doing this post) is to show that is not always necessary for the average user to do so (there is a difference).

So As A General Guide Rule Only: If you are looking to sharpen and maintain a pocket or kitchen knife, as a general rule you can stop at the 5000 synthetic grit stone. This will be more than adequate for most uses. Above 5000 grit and you are getting more into the polishing stages and moving away from the actual sharpening stages (there is some, but you are removing very little steel).

Simply, the added benefit of using higher/finer grit stones over 5000 for pocket or kitchen knives becomes less noticeable as you progress up the ladder. It is however a personal choice – again there is no rule!

What If Overtime 5000 Grit Is Not Enough?

One great benefit of whetstones is you can always add another stone to your progression until you reach the level you are satisfied with (so they are versatile like building blocks – just add one either side of the grits you already own to extend their range). If you find 5000 is short of what you want, you can always add the 8000 and 12000 later – easy!

This is why it is better to select up to 3 stones to begin. More times than not – that is all you will ever need for most tasks!

Can you use naturals and synthetics? Yes – read more?

Ultra-Fine – Polished Edges: Depending on your cutting tasks, an edge that is too polished may not be the better edge: e.g. like certain food prep duties. Some tasks are actually easier if there are some ‘teeth’ or ‘a bite’ still left on the edge to help the cutting action.

Another point to remember when putting a highly polished ‘razor edge’ on a utility blade, is that those ultra-sharp edges can dull more quickly.

You may have seen barbers use a leather strop on their straight razors in between shaves? The reason this is done is to maintain that ultra-sharp polished edge necessary for shaving and to help keep the edge aligned (can get misaligned easily). These polished glassy edges necessary for the task of shaving are actually quit fragile and without constant stropping and regular sharpening on a stone, will lose that ultra-sharp edge relatively quick.

Now imagine that same ultra-sharp (fragile) edge for food prep (hard vegetables) or outdoor use (cutting rope)? It just wouldn’t last long at that high level when used on harder objects and would begin to come down to a lower grit edge very fast. This is also influenced by the angle of the bevel to be fair.

What Is The Lowest Grit Stone To Start? It Depends On The Condition Of Your Knives To Start.

As mentioned above, if you don’t abuse your knives with tasks they were not intended for and keep up to a regular sharpening routine, grits under 1000 are rarely needed:

Whetstones Under 1000 Grit (most steel removal): If you have a blade with chips, blunt as a butter knife with no life whatsoever or you wish to change the angle of the bevel (say from 20 to 10 degrees) then stones under 1000 grit will allow you to achieve those tasks most efficiently and most quickly. Trying to achieve these tasks on finer stones can be done if you have some-time to spare, however as the saying goes – right tool for the right job!

Remember:

  • Ensure you take care with any course grit stones, as these stones can scratch the surface of the blade if you angle is too shallow.
  • You will lose steel quickest on these stones, so work smart.
krschen-water-stone
Kirschen 180/400 Grit

The lowest grits under 500 (180, 220, 320, 400) will remove the most steel quickest, and are only needed for the above tasks (chip removal, excessively blunt knives or re-profiling). The Shapton 320 grit Pro  or Glass are both suitable for these tasks.

Unless you find your knives in these before mentioned predicaments, these low course grit stones are not necessary for average knife use and really only a recommended purchase if/when needed (you may never need them).

1000 Grit Whetstone: Once you use a 1000 grit stone, your knife will be sharp – real sharp, but it will not be overly polished or ‘super’ sharp. Many knives out of the factory can be at around this level and for many duties this is a perfectly good working edge and for some duties all that is needed.

The 1000 grit provides enough steel removal to help in restoration jobs and fine enough to make a knife working sharp. The 1000 grit is a great stone on its own for those after one simple synthetic stone to cover two bases and who are not looking for the ultimate sharpness. You can easily add stones either side of the 1000 grit if/when needed. This makes the 1000 grit a very versatile stone. The 1000 grit is most popular for these reasons.

1000 Grit To 5000 Grit Whetstones (where the bulk of sharpening happens): This is the area where most sharpening stones are purchased. In this area you have stones that can revive blunt knives (1000) and take them to an extremely sharp edge (2000-5000).

A good synthetic 3 stone set to consider for knives is:

10002000 5000

5000 – 8000 Grit Whetstones: It is from 5000 grit we begin to get a polished edge and less steel is being removed. From here you will see less and less noticeable advancement. However, don’t think this means you are not getting a sharper edge, you are. However about 80% of your sharpening is done up to 5000 – not over.

Although stones from 5000 on-wards remove less and less steel, you will be slowly gaining that glassy edge (if your technique has been correct), which in turn makes it sharper. The very factor that makes broken glass so sharp is the same element we are looking for post 5000 (an edge free of any inconsistencies, micro teeth and a perfect polished glassy edge).

So following on the above 3 stone set would be:

(Under 500 only if serious grinding of steel is needed) 1000 – 2000 – 5000 – 8000

Finishing on the 8000 grit will give 95% of user’s satisfaction. Only extremely minor advancements on the edge will be gained from:

10,000 – 30000 Grit Whetstones: Stones over 10,000 are purely polishing stones with near no steel removal. They are the area straight razor users go to get all they can from an edge. Every % counts and is the reason these stones are used by many.

For knife users, these high grits may not be needed or necessary at all – unless you really want the last % of perfection your knife can give! Many do, and this is why they are available at this shop

If you are unsure which whetstones maybe most suitable for your needs, please email for a more detailed answer specific to your request. 

Disclaimer: this post is only a basic guide for those looking to purchase whetstones at Interesting Gear Australia, yet are unsure where to start. It is not intended in anyway to be used as a reference for whetstones that are not sold on this site (other brands); as I can only give recommendations on stones I have used (the stones on this site). This post is to be strictly used as a guide only. There is no guarantee given or implied to any whetstone performance for any knives, nor does this post try to answer every possible question on whetstones and their use with knives.

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Care & Maintenance Of Arkansas Whetstones

Arkansas whetstones can be used with honing oil or Just water during the sharpening process

Arkansas stones are also called oil stones. This simply means they can be used with oil as the lubricating ‘liquid’ (but not any oil will do).

You can use whetstone honing oil, or  a high grade (food grade) refined mineral oil can be used for lubrication (do not use heavy oils, motor oils or vegetable oils on these stones as they can cause clogging or go rancid overtime).

The oil will not only provide lubrication, but will also help to suspend the metal particles removed during the sharpening process, reducing clogging (swarf build-up) on the Arkansas whetstone surface.

When the sharpening process is done, add a few more drops of oil over the stones surface and wipe with a clean cloth. This will help to remove most of those metal particles and remove any excess oil.

If overtime you wish to clean the oil stone surface further, you can use soapy water/detergent and a stiff brush to clean, rinse with water when done, dry.

Water or Oil? Any Benefits?

There is no real benefit to using oil over water in my opinion (or vice versa) on Arkansas stones, accept oil does help reduce swarf build-up due to the viscosity of the oil (but not stop it).

I personally prefer using water (or water and a few drops of washing up detergent – but not a bubbling foam) during the process, simply because it is a less messy solution and when the sharpening is done, the stones can be dried without the worry of oiliness. The fact is, the end result depends on the technique – very little is based on the lubrication method. So the option is yours.

If you do choose to use water for lubrication, like any whetstone used with water, swarf (metal particles) can begin to build up on the Arkansas stone surface. This is a normal and expected result, not a fault of the stone. As mentioned, this does not happen as quickly when using oil, which gives oil that benefit (but all stones regardless of lubrication method will eventually show this buildup to some degree depending on your routine).

———————–

Metal particules (swarf) on the stone surface can build up overtime.
Metal particles (swarf) on the stone surface can build up overtime.

If you find your Arkansas whetstone surface getting this swarf build-up overtime it is possible to remove some/most of the swarf with soapy water/detergent and a stiff brush alone (as described above for the oil stones), but you may find the surface needs the following process for the better result if the brush and soapy water aren’t giving you the desired result:

  • Lots of water and approximate 220 grit wet/dry sandpaper  (you may need to experiment higher or lower to which is best for your specific stone). Place on a flat/level surface. Placing the sandpaper on a level/ flat surface will ensure the whetstone also remains level during this process and will help to stop any unevenness forming.

Rub the Arkansas stone surface over the wet sandpaper (alternate between up and down, diagonal and side to side) until the swarf is removed. You continue to add water throughout this procedure to keep the stone and sandpaper clear.

When this process is complete, you can use water (or soapy water) to wash the stone clean one last time.

Using this method should give you a swarf free surface now ready to use for sharpening again. Try not to allow the swarf build-up to get out of hand, as it gets harder to remove. If not, see the lapping step at the end.

Remember to always ensure the whetstone is completely dry before storing in the custom wooden box. The wooden box itself is not waterproof.


Although the same process can be attempted for lapping/flattening the Arkansas stone if/when it begins to dish/wear (gets uneven), it is not always successful due to how tough Arkansas stone are. Sandpaper seems to fall short of doing this task well. For this task, some people find cheap silicon carbide hardware store stones can do this lapping better, so consider that option if the sandpaper and water are not working for you. Alternatively many find a coarse diamond plate effective also. So please keep those two options in mind if you find your Arkansas overtime needs leveling. Keep in mind it takes an extremely long time to make an Arkansas uneven. Some depending on use, could a decade or more.

Tip: For Translucent and Black Arkansas stones, one great way i use to keep them clean and to give the surface back a little bite (if it feels to have smoothed out too much), is using water and a coticule slurry stone. The slurry stone is a little more coarse than both Arkansas surfaces, and does this job very well. But don’t over do the rubbing, we don’t to cause unevenness.

Luckily Arkansas are tough and long lasting, so these issues are few and very far between.

 

 

 

Disclaimer: This guide is based on my experience and use of Arkansas stones only, it does not guarantee or imply perfect results. There is more than one way to maintain and clean these stones, these are just the ways I use and find effective, and have listed for Customers as a basic guide. If you have purchased Arkansas stones from this store and have any questions or concerns on the use or care of these stones please email me.


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A Knife From My Collection

A friend commented the other day that I must have many knives, and with so many whetstones how do I get to use them all?

As I sell whetstones, it could be assumed I may have/use a large variety of knives and also use a large variety of whetstones to sharpen them all. Although over the years I have used many different knives and enjoy using a variety of stones, the fact of the matter is I use a very small rotation of knives and whetstones to sharpen them.

Like most people who use knives and whetstones, I have my favourite/s that I always use due to their above average performance.

So today I am going to show you one knife I use very often and the whetstone I use to keep it sharp.

–The Spyderco Cat–

spyderco-cat-1

If you are familiar with Spyderco knives, you will have noticed many models are named after animals – cool idea! This specific model is of course named after a cat!

First some specifications:

  • Length: (complete open) 150mm
  • Length: (closed) 90mm
  • Blade Only: (62mm)
  • Handle Material: G-10
  • Steel: 440c (update: new models now use a different steel called CTS BD1). This post is specific to the 440c model as I haven’t tried the new model with CTS BD1 myself.

I find the 440c steel used on this model easy to sharpen, stays sharp for a good period of use and so far no issues with rust. Now that point on rust is very important, as I am living in a very humid climate and to top that off, this Spyderco Cat touches water (fresh) nearly every day in one way or another. So for this reason I more than pleased with the 440c rust resistance (on this model) and its edge retaining ability.

Sharpening:

cropped-coticule.jpg
Belgian Coticule

When it comes to sharpening this knife, I use a coticule whetstone from Belgium. Yes, just one simple stone, not multiple.

The coticule is a natural stone from the Ardennes and uses garnets within the stone as the cutting (sharpening) medium. These garnets work well on just about any steel and provide a wonderful edge on pocket knives.

The cotciule is said to be about 6000 – 8000 grit; however as it is a natural stone this is only a rough guess and I find I can get just about any blunt knife back to sharp on the coticule alone. In my opinion, this stone actually covers a much wider grit range, well outside this grit-estimate even with water alone (no slurry dilution, just adjustments in pressure). I will also say in my opinion only, of all the stones I have used, this is about the closest stone I personally believe could be considered a “one stone hone. When you using a natural stone (regardless of origin), you just have to always consider that there can be variances from stone to stone.

Coticule + Spyderco Cat = Sharp!
Coticule + Spyderco Cat = Sharp!
strop-spyderco-cat
Leather Bench Strop

After I use the coticule on the Spyderco Cat, I always finish on my bare leather bench strop (you don’t actually need to strop as the coticule leaves a great edge on its own, however the strop gives those few last % for those after the finest!).

Although I wanted to show you one of the knives I use most at present, the other more important reason for this post was to simply show that even though I have a larger than normal whetstone “pool” to select from (and could use many a stone to accomplish the task), even I still only need a couple of simple tools to keep this knife sharp. In other words, it does not in any way have to be complicated or even overly expensive to keep your knives sharp.

So if you have knives that are blunt and/or you are considering purchasing a knife for yourself, keep in mind with a little time and patience the skills to use a whetstone can be obtained.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on which stones maybe suitable for your needs, as each person may be looking for something different and there are options to suit.

Coticule / Leather Bench Strop + Spyderco Cat
Coticule / Leather Bench Strop + Spyderco Cat = good team!

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Is A Coticule Stone All I Need? “One Stone Hone”

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…. coticule-pic-1

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.

‘Razor Edge’

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.

bench-leather-strop-wide
Leather Bench Strop For Polishing

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).


Summary

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.

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Do You Need To Match Whetstone Brands?

When ordering whetstones for your sharpening needs, it can be a daunting task to figure out which stones will suit your tools best. On top of this question you may wonder if it is necessary to match all the whetstones to the same brand?

The honest answer is no – you do not ‘have’ to use the same brand stones throughout your sharpening progression. In an ideal world – yes it would be better, but for basically one reason only:

Each company rates their whetstones at a specific grit (eg: 1000 grit). This in theory is fine, however in practice brand A’s 1000 grit whetstone may not match brand B’s 1000 grit whetstone.

If you mix and match too much, there is a small possibility you may get closer grit finishes than you expect (e.g: Brand A 1000 grit maybe closer to a 800 grit finish and Brand B’s 500 grit maybe closer to a 700 grit finish). So you can see the difference on your tool is no longer a 500 grit difference as you first thought – but in fact only 100 grit (so your buying two stones that could potentially be sharpening very close to each other and in turn you make no real advancement). This can actually be more an issue when mixing diamond abrasives to whetstones using aluminum oxide for a simple example. But never the less should be mentioned just to to fair.

Now, that is the only real negative outcome (although not that bad anyway). The positive side to mixing is increasing your options. Let us say you buy a Coticule or purchased a set of medium, fine and extra fine Arkansas natural stones. All is well as you keep up with your sharpening duties and these natural stones are all you need. But one weekend, you really ding your blade and chip it, or you work with your knife or tool all weekend and it gets extremely blunt and now won’t even slice through hot butter, or you wish to change the angle of your bevel from a 20 degree to 15 degree each side. These things do happen. Now, you may with sometime be able to restore your edge with a natural Coticule or your Arkansas set-up, but it will take considerable time to do so. So in this instance you really need to jump brands and go for a nice course synthetic stone or two, to get you back on track to either restore that very dull edge, remove those chips or change the bevel.

After you do this, you can go back to the natural coticules or Arkansas as usual. So in this example, mixing was necessary and was not a problem at all – it helped. In this instance, just ensure you rinse the tool well between stones (as you would anyway) to ensure all the slurry and swarf (steel particles) are washed away first and are not carried onto the next stone. This way each and every stone is approached with a clean blade.

If unsure, you can always ask!

Lapping (Flattening) Your Natural Coticule Or BBW Whetstone When It Wears Down (Dishes)

This post is based on lapping a natural Coticule and Belgian blue only.

When you purchase a coticule (or BBW) from this store, you will overtime need to ensure it stays flat for the best results, (just like all whetstones of all kinds) so it does not dish.

Coticules and Belgian blue stones will stay flat for a long time with just regular use, however I do recommend to straight razor users to lap the stone before using it for the first time (they may not always come completely level from the factory) to ensure a nice flat/level working surface for your razor. You will need to do this process over the life of your coticule/BBW stones anyway, so starting upfront is a good idea. Lapping and whetstones go hand in hand – this you can’t avoid regardless of the stone you use (any brand etc.).

The below guide lists a couple of methods to do this process! You may choose an alternative however.

What Is Dishing?

Dishing is simply the process of a whetstone slowly wearing away at the point of most contact with the blade (most common area on a whetstone for dishing is right in the centre, the place we usually focus our passes most). Over a period of time all whetstones / water stones will begin to get dishing. Whetstones break down overtime – this we cannot avoid!

This dishing of the stones surface can happen on both natural and synthetic stones. However, synthetic stones are most affected and the courser grits are most affected within that group. I have found that the natural Arkansas whetstones are least effected of all the stones.

How Often Do You Lap A Coticule Whetstone To Prevent Or Correct This?

Lapping is done on a fairly regular basis. Some do this before each and every sharpening session (for coticules and BBW stones I think this is too often however, as they do not wear that quickly).

This regular lapping has benefits:

  • Will keep the whetstone constantly flat for best sharpening results.
  • It is much easier to lap a stone that is already quite flat.
  • Allowing a stone to dish too much, makes the process longer and in turn a courser lapping stone/plate will be needed to bring it back level (remove the high points).

Like most tasks, keeping on top of this process will make it easy and quick!

If you looking for the easiest way of lapping / flattening your stones, please see ceramic lapping stone, or the diamond plate. Either of these combined with water will do a very good job easily and quickly.

A slightly more messy way is to use:

Wet/Dry Sandpaper:

Draw pencil lines over entire surface area – these lines will rub off easily when lapping and give you a good guide to whether you are lapping over the entire surface evenly.

One method of lapping is to use wet and dry sandpaper on a level surface. Using this method, draw lines across the surface of the stone with a pencil as seen in the photo. This part of the process won’t be needed for the BBW stones however, as the darker BBW stone will hide the pencil lines, making them too hard to see.

Now with some wet and dry sandpaper of approximately 320 grit placed on a flat and level surface (and with plenty water flushing the surface throughout the process to reduce clogging), simply rub the stone over the wet sandpaper.

When you see the pencil lines all evenly disappearing / and then gone, you are near flat. Ensure the surface you place the wet and dry sandpaper on is of course level or you may cause more unevenness!

Post lapping – flat and ready to go!

Wash and rinse well with more water when done, and you should now have a nice flat coticule ready to use.

Diamond Plates:

Diamond plates are a very popular method of lapping whetstones (synthetic and natural) due to their very level nature (assuming the plate is of quality). They also provide a good cutting speed when lapping to make the process quick and simple. For lapping Belgian stones 320 – 600 grit is the usual standard.

Diamond plates are also the go to for the harder synthetic stones like the Shapton stones sold here. More on the Shapton lapping here.

Always use water to flush/rinse the stones/plates when lapping!

For general lapping duties of any whetstone, you will find some whetstone manufacturers make lapping products for their whetstones. If this is the case, they are a good place to start.

Belgian stones do not come with specialized lapping stones and why the above methods are listed. Always follow manufacture directions regardless of the diamond plate you purchase for this duty, to ensure the best result – and if unsure ask them.

Lapping Also Removes Swarf Build-Up!

What is Swarf? Overtime as your tool / blade begins to wear down from the sharpening process; you will notice a black build-up on your whetstone. This is called swarf (steel shavings/particles). Coticules and BBW stones do not suffer from this issue to any real degree – however this is still a possibly on other stones and therefore mentioned.

Swarf on the stone

It can begin to clog the whetstone and will also need to be removed regularly. Water flushed over the stone throughout the sharpening process, will not be enough to stop this swarf build-up overtime (it can get into the surface).

Slurry stones can also remove swarf, but are too small for regular lapping duties.

What Size?

Regardless of the whetstone being lapped, for best results use a lapping stone/plate that is the same size or larger than the whetstone you are flattening. If you use a smaller stone you have to ensure you fully move it up and down (and circular movements from corner to corner) to ensure even and equal surface coverage. Again, if this isn’t done evenly across the entire surface, your lapping stone/plate will actually cause further dishing and unevenness.

Do Lapping Stones Need Replacing?

Yes, lapping products regardless of the medium used or product cost $ will over time need to be replaced (but very rarely in the case of diamond plates) simply because they too, wear down overtime. As they are wearing down the whetstone, in return they are being worn also.

Will This Process Make The Whetstone Surface Course?

Usually lapping is done with courser grits to the whetstone itself, so after lapping you may notice for the first few sharpening sessions the surface is more course than usual. This will wear away. Or to speed this up, use a slurry stone to help smooth the surface.

Just like you need a whetstone to sharpen a tool; your whetstone needs a flattening stone to keep it functional also.  If you don’t flatten the whetstone with one of many possible available options for this task, your stone will not be as use-able and produce poor sharpening results.

The main rule here is to ensure the product you use to lap Belgian stones with is flat/level itself. If not, you are literally trying to flatten an uneven surface with another uneven surface and this will not produce good results. The principle of the exercise is the same regardless of the ‘brand/product’ used.

 

Disclaimer: This is strictly a guide only, it is not presented as the only way, or necessarily the most effective way to lap a coticule; nor is a perfect result guaranteed or implied.

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Synthetic Whetstones / Water Stones

Synthetic whetstones / water stones (man-made) make-up the bulk of all sharpening stones available today. There was a time decades ago when natural stones (from the earth) were the only available option for keeping your knives, razors and tools sharp and ready for use. Many people remember their grandparents sharpening kitchen knives on a large rock on the bench. Times have changed, and now there is a huge selection of synthetic stones to help you with all facets of sharpening.  From initial bevel setting to final mirror polishing, there is a stone for you.

However, don’t assume because the synthetic market is larger than the natural stone market, they are always better – that is not so! Natural stones can be just as effective in producing a sharp edge. Like all tools, it comes down to your personal preference, more so than the product.

One benefit of synthetic stones is the easy to follow grit ratings. Unlike naturals, synthetic stones come with a set grit rating on each and every stone. Of course, different brands using the same grit are not guaranteed to be actually equal! The lower end of the scale (less than 1000 grit) is for general sharpening tasks; where’ as grit numbers in the 5000+ are used in the final stages of sharpening and beginning stages of gaining a polished edge. Depending on your intended tasks for your knives or tools, will also dictate how high (refined) you need to go.

Synthetic stones are also consistent. What is that? Consistency means that every time you sharpen on a specific whetstone / water stone (let’s say 5000 grit), you will get a similar result each and every time (from that same grit / brand and your technique holding true of course). This can be slightly different to natural stones, where the finish can sometimes alter from stone to stone.

Which stone to use?

If you have decided on synthetic stones for your sharpening needs, then how sharp your knife or tools initially are, will dictate how low a grit you need to start at. If you try to sharpen a blunt knife on a high grit stone (5000+), although it can be done, it will take some considerable time. The idea with sharpening in an ideal situation is to do minimal amounts of sharpening on each stone – moving up to the finer grits each stage slowly (the course levels are used to remove the most steel > quickly, while for refining you move up the scale).

If you are looking for a sharp edge for utility tasks (this is where most pocket knives land), up to 5000 grit is usually more than enough for this purpose. The higher the grit, the more polish and less steel removal.

When selecting a progression / combination, one easy method (although not set in stone by any means), is to ‘double’ your grits. For example:

500 – 1000 – 2000 – 4000 – 8000

Like natural stones, synthetic stones require the same ingredients to success:

  • Patience
  • Technique
  • Practice
  • Caution
  • Care
  • And lastly – never blame the stone > 99% of the time, it is the technique.

Lapping:

Keep in mind synthetic whet/water stones will need to be lapped (flattened) on a regular basis to ensure they stay  – flat! If they are not lapped, they can develop a convex ‘dip’ in the stone called dishing. The larger this dishing becomes, the longer it takes to flatten the stone.

Soaking:

Always read the directions on the packaging regarding the length of time needed to soak your ‘specific’ stone before use. However, most synthetic stones are simply wet and work; or in some cases (unless otherwise stated) a 5-10 minute soak is all that is required before you can begin (remember to also keep the stone wet throughout the sharpening process also). Unless stated, never leave them soaking in water for too long, as the water in some instances can begin to break down the binder that holds the brick together, making soft and later crumble.

By the way, a whetstone actually translates to sharpening stone – not wet (water) stone – although you of course can use water.