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Honing On Japanese Natural Hones, an ongoing journal


Well-Known Member
Hey guys. Well, I know this website is called for a reason, but some people have expressed interest in Japanese natural hones and, since I have a couple (and will most definitely be getting more, madman that I am) I thought I might share my experiences using them.

Please remember, I am no anything, but especially not honing or using Japanese stones. It takes decades of experience to be an expert in anything (please, remember that...always...) and I have less than a year. However, I have the very good luck to have an excellent teacher, Kawaguchi-sensei, who has been honing razors on these very stones for about 40 years. I think that helps...

I'm putting this here because 1.) I'd like to contribute more to this site, and 2.) if I put it...elsewhere...I would inevitably experience backlash.

So for my first post in this (hopefully) long series, let me introduce my tools.

First, the stones.

I have two Natural finishers. 1 is a "Razor" sized hone. This means that the stone was cut to about 13.5cm x 8cm. This is a relatively standard size, and you se lots of stones this size labeled "Razor hone". Please note, this is NOT kamisori (the Japanese word for razor) but the English word, transliterated into Japanese. This is to indicate that it is intended for the Western style folding straight razor. You can see more examples of this size at aframestokyo.

This stone was a gift form my barber and teacher, a stone he purchased more than 30 years ago. He only remembers that it is a Kyoto Honyama is presumably a Maruka, as barbers in Japan are reserved the very best stones for their razors, and they are known as the best.


With this stone, I received a small "nagura." This stone is not, I believe, a "true" nagura, from the Mikawa mine in Niigata, but a smaller piece of the same stone.

The second stone is a much larger one, approximately 20.5cm x 7cm. It is a yellowish color, meaning it is probably a "Kiita" (which means "yellow board" in Japanese") and it has small brown spots, called "nashiji" (pear spots). It is a beautiful stone, and very very good.

Again, this stone is a Kyoto Honyama, but more details are lost in time. Kawaguchi-sensei guarantees that it is a rare, top quality stone, and of course I believe him.

So these are the stones I use. Next post: How I use them!
Hi Jim, [small](you already know me from the italian forum)[/small],
I'm really looking forward to hearing from you on this topic.
I was convinced by all the hype to try one of these stones. Of course I expected miraculous results from the beginning... and of course I've been disappointed so far :lol:

First off, allow me to express my gratitude that you've created this thread here, on
True, our main field of interest are the Belgian hones, but that does not mean we must confine ourselves on a island of ignorance about other whetstones. All the more when those stones are natural ones embedded in a long tradition. I think that all the natural hones have in common that a lot of their tradition is lost, or at least at the verge of disappearance.
That tradition is at present often too hastily replaced with the quantifiable logic (grit-ratings!) of modern, man-made, synthetic hones. I am convinced this does not unleashes the full potential of these natural hones.

I take humble pride in the fact that I've managed to reconnect with the traditional honing methods for Coticules, perhaps by adding a few modern insights to the procedure as well. At the same time, I often think that an old-timer with 40 years of razor sharpening experience may smile and shake his head, should he learn about this place and the methods that are advocated here, before he grabs a razor and puts and edge on it that would ridicule my personal efforts - using only his heavily dished Coticule of course - :blink:

Obviously, Japanese sharpening methods are connected to Japanese hones, (the big difference with Coticules being that the abrasive particles break down into smaller parts, a property they don't share with Coticule garnets), but I'm sure both worlds can learn from each other. That in itself make this thread a valuable one.

I also own a salmon colored Nakayama with lovely Nashiji spots, and I will be sitting here, on the front row, eager to try out what you share with us about using such a stone.

Thank you,
Thank you Jim. I'm looking forward to your series. <Eagerly awaiting further contributions>

+1 to Bart's Comments as well:thumbup:
I'm pleased that you are posting the pictures to share some of the experience with us. I notice that the details of where and when stones were mined tends to get lost, and wonder if it's because quality stones outlast the original owner.

I bought a small ransom's worth of stones in pure ignorance, by intuition and lust..and am more pleased than I could've guessed. It is better to have 'em and learn why later, was my thought, and in the following year the price nearly doubled..

It'd be nice to post pics and possibly get some info on what I've stumbled over. I'm pretty sure somebody knows more about 'em than I do .
Wonderful wonderful thread Jim
Thank you from me as well, I eagerly await an update and feel sure, that there will be something we can all learn from in the methods you use.
Awesome Jim!, and well said Bart. I think the Coticules, and the Nakayamas will get along just fine. :)

Can't wait to read your future posts.

Thank you, Gentlemen (are there any ladies present? Sorry, if so, I don't mean to leave you out), for the warm words.

James, grazie! I really wish my Italian was better...I thought I could give it a shot posting over there, but seriously--my Italian has died.

Yes, the hype is exactly that--hype. The stones are stones, not magic, not miraculous, just stones that have been deemed good polishing/honing stones for several hundred years. I never, ever want to imply that these stones are superior to any others (INCLUDING synthetics...), they just are what they are. The forces DRIVING the hype are varied, and in some cases admirable, or at least acceptable (tradition, romance, aesthetics) and in others not (ego, greed, et al). I hope you can come to terms with your stone, and find the positive in it.

Bart, dank je wel! I knew you would not be unwelcoming, but I don't want to trample on your hospitality. I agree, the tradition is being lost, but I have been very happy to see there are still some pockets of interest in honing in Japan (especially among woodworkers...and they certainly do wonders with the edges they get).

You know, it's funny you mention the insistence on comparing these stones to synthetics, as Japanese synthetic stones are designed explicitly to mimic, as closely as possible, the natural stones of Japan (anyone seen the stickers on the Naniwa Super Stones?). Thus, of course, people are going backwards when they do that...sad, huh?

I will do my best to avoid any such speculation; indeed, I will try to avoid ANY speculation, and stick to what I know and what is clear. However, there may be times that I give in to temptation, and at those times I will make it clear that I am doing so.

And before I go further, a sincere disclaimer: All the techniques I discuss, all the results I get, can only be described for MY stones. Every resource I've consulted, every one I've talked to, every thing agrees--one natural Japanese stone is not like another. In fact, one stone may change over time, as you go down in layers to deeper seams inside the stone itself. So what works for my stones may not work for yours. Then again, it might work better. The only way to understand your Japanese hone is to use it. Use it a lot. Not once or twice, but as much as possible. It will take a long time--this is the lesson I have been learning, and the source of all my frustration at the beginning of my journey.

So, let's talk about that.

Case study 1 (historical): Case Red Imp Wedge

When I first got my razor hone, the smaller blue/gray one (possibly asagi?), I was simply afraid to use it. I was awed by hype, by the reputation, and by the reverence placed on these stones by straight razor users at large. When he gave it to me, my barber did give me some advice and show me how to use it, but mostly he said "Just use it."

I didn't know it, but that was my first lesson.

Eventually, I tried it. I had read loads and loads on the net about how to use Japanese stones, seeking all the advice I could before I started. One thing that troubled me, though, was that my barber had been insistent on using slurry, and everyone elsewhere said that slurry was no good on a finisher...then I found Bart's description of the Unicot method, and thought "Hey, there's a compromise!", and went for it.

I took a Case Red Imp Wedge, a clunker razor I had had trouble with. I hadn't gotten a good bevel set, and I figured I would have to rehone it again anyway, so might as well try.

So I did the Unicot, with a Japanese natural. I followed the procedure as well as I could, through the tape and the secondary bevel, diluting and then finishing on water.

The results? Quite impressive, to be honest. It was in EXTREMELY sharp edge, but not as comfortable as I had hoped. (Bart might remember me emailing him about this...using the Unicot/Dilucot on Japanese stones).

So my first honing session with a Japanese natural was a success, more or less. The edge wasn't the magically smooth edge I was expecting, but it was very good, I dare say that up to that point, it was my best yet.

But why wasn't it better?

Well, more on that next time. This is long enough, I think...

Nice one Jim :thumbup: it is indeed a wonderful journey we undertake when we start upon the path, I for one found that only after achieving repeatable degrees of success did I realise just how simple it all was, mad innit ... lol
Keep on going Jim!:thumbup: :thumbup:

Just to stir the pot a bit:

JimR said:
You know, it's funny you mention the insistence on comparing these stones to synthetics, as Japanese synthetic stones are designed explicitly to mimic, as closely as possible, the natural stones of Japan (anyone seen the stickers on the Naniwa Super Stones?). Thus, of course, people are going backwards when they do that...sad, huh?

Designed... well I'm sure they 've put in an effort. But they've at least made a similar effort to market certain synthetic brands as such. Now, I'm not denying that excellent synthetic hones are available on the market today.
Sharpening razors is not a matter of tools, not with all the Shaptons, Nortons, Naniwas, all those great pastes, diamond lapping film, etc, that we can easily get or hands on, now that Internet has turned the world into a small village. Even information is out there (although slightly more difficult to harvest). The only thing there seems to be a shortage at, nowadays, is old-fashioned perseverance to truly master the skills required.

I often imagine that I was 14 years in 1910. Just went with my dad to town (a 5 hour walk back and forth), where he bought me my first razor and the cheapest brush in the store. After a month of shaving peach fuzz of my face, my dead is showing me how to touch up the razor. He lets me do 20 strokes on a hone, before taking it off my hands and doing it properly himself. "Next time", he says a bit grumpy, "I'll let you shave with the razor for a month, if you can't pay better attention to what I told you about proper pressure". I know he doesn't mean it. He's not that bad a guy, my dad...

Today, many buy a razor, a wood plane, a whetstone, a skillet, or you can fill in any other tool that requires experience to use. They try it on for size and blame the tool if success is not immanent. I like to think that we've set different parameters, here on And that's why I'm extremely pleased that you take it slow with this series. Give people some time to reread a post. To try something of their own. Strong-minded people usually need to try things of their own, on their own, before they can adopt the skill of a mentor. I think your barber realizes that very well, Jim. :)

Kind regards,

and there lies a large part of the pleasure doesnt it? not at all in a gloating disrespectful "I can do this and you cant" way, but in a "I learnt a true skill and you can too" kinda way

I remember when you first put the site online Bart, I read with wide eyes the sharpening Academy, the part that stood out the most and has stayed with me the strongest was "The learning curve can be compared by that of mastering a music instrument" and as always (on here you were correct

Personally I have taken a bit of a backslide with my honing skills, I cannot tell why but the last half a dozen times I cannot for the life of me hit anything over a loud violin off the hone, of course a good stropping gives me a healthy 4 HHT everytime, but go figure?

Oak trees take a long time to grow, dont they.
tat2Ralfy said:
Personally I have taken a bit of a backslide with my honing skills, I cannot tell why but the last half a dozen times I cannot for the life of me hit anything over a loud violin off the hone, of course a good stropping gives me a healthy 4 HHT everytime, but go figure?

Oak trees take a long time to grow, dont they.
They sure do, ralfy.

If it means anything to you, it's no different for me. Many times, I'm the master of my hones. But as soon as they notice me thinking that, they show me who's truly in charge... Those fluctuations of skill makes us human, and we'll have to cope with them till our dying breaths. The only comforting prospect I can offer is the guarantee that your lows will become less low. Imagine telling that to your wife: "Honey, this year my lows will be less low than last years". I bet she will be real happy.:rolleyes:

Ralfy, if you want the cliffnotes version, everything I could possibly tell you is right here in this video:

Everything else is just details. That right there is my goal, and my lesson. With eyes to see, you don't need anything else.

That being said, I'll continue with my rambling...though maybe tomorrow. Today I think I'll spend some time with my Coticule, see if I can get a few chords out of it.

Bart, indeed...on everything. Speaking of Kawaguchi-sensei, I really need a haircut...and I have a bottle of bourbon with his name on it. There may be a lesson on my near future. :)
Case study (studies?) 2: The Four Brothers, or A Mystery is Born!

After my initial partial-success with the Japanese stone, I felt a little bit more confident, but not much. Then, one day, I ran into my barber at a department store and asked him if he'd give me honing lessons. He agreed, and I went to his shop with my heart full of glee at the prospect. He showed me techniques, critiqued my honing strokes, and we had a good old time. Then, during my haircut, he laid down a challenge. He said when I honed three razors to his satisfaction, he'd give me another beautiful hone (the big yellow lovely pictured above). Excited and engaged, I went home and got to it.

I chose four razors: a Genco "Liquid Steel", a Torrey "Our 136", An F. Herder Square and a Japanese made "ABC" razor.
I honed the first 3 to 8K, and checked the edges--they shaved great. The ABC was more complicated...more on that later.

So these three razors, which were giving great shaves off of 8K, then went to my natural finisher. I took the Genco and, following what I had read on Teh Intarwebs, gave it about 20 laps with just water. I tried the shave, and noticed nothing at all. Another 20 laps, and I noticed something...weird. It was feeling worse. I tried the same thing with the Torrey and the Herder, and had the same thing. I was confused. I rehoned them to 8K, and tried light slurry. Again, I was NOT getting the results I expected from these magical stones.

I asked for help from others who were supposed to know--and got tons of conflicting advice. Some of it was helpful, some of it was well intentioned, and some of it was almost intentionally useless.

I kept trying, and kept failing, and I was getting intensely frustrated.

Except for the ABC.

Now, the ABC was a pain in the ass. It was hard. REALLY hard. It would not hone at all. Then, chatting with Glen from SRP, he mentioned he had had the same trouble with some Swedish razors, and he recommended I try slurry. I was glad to do so--I had some new Nagura to play with, and I was keen to try them. So I did.

On my Naniwa Super stones (forgive me...) I worked up a nice, milky slurry with a Botan nagura and honed away. 1K, 2K, 5K, worked a charm. I was getting a smooth, keen edge. Then, on to the Japanese natural. THinking about how hard the razor was, I worked up a nice, thick slurry, and honed away. I used the Dilucot method, diluting the slurry as I went and finished on water.

The edge was spectacular. In fact, it was good enough to be the first razor to pass my Barber's challenge, when I took them in to show him. The others, of course, failed. He gave me advice, tips, and encouragement. And he showed me how to do it again.

And I finally had an idea of where I had been going wrong.

Anyone care to guess?
JimR said:
...............And I finally had an idea of where I had been going wrong.

Anyone care to guess?
Well, it appears you didn't try the other razors with slurry on the finisher.
Or the steel in the Japanese razor is much different from the western razors... any one of those could throw you off.
My guess it you didnt give the other 2 enough on water, it is often the case that keeness drops of to start with, it could be that you didnt get the edges sharp enough before trying to polish or just that you need a little slurry with your stone, I would have to say the most likely is the use of synthetics first, they dont always leave a finish that lends itself easily to finishing on a natural, so it could be a few things I think?

Either that or your posture was wrong ;)
Gentlemen, some excellent responses.

Gary, he looks at the edge. He says he can tell from the color of the edge...I know it sounds weird, but I've handed him around ten razors, and his edge assessment has been spot on in terms of the shave. So, yeah, he can tell by looking.

Ralfy, you make some of the same points that I heard across the street. Remember, I was getting very good shaves off of the 8k before I went to the finisher. As for the number of strokes, I thought the same thing. I took two of the razors up to 70 laps-and according to the guys who do things like count strokes it should have only been 20-40.

And yes , of course my posture and attitude were all wrong. ;)

Smythe, you know, the difference in steel is something I focused on as well (and was told I was "blaming my tools" becaue of it).
And it is related, I think, because as I said above-the hardness of the steel changed the way I approached honing the razor. And the change, of course, was slurry.

When my barber gave me the hone, and when he taught me how to use te hone, he was very clear: heavy slurry was necessary.

I had been listning to everyone except my teacher: the conventional wisdom was that slurry is not useful for polishing, so I was avoiding it. I had tried slurry on all the razors, but it was thin slurry and I ends up with lots of water only passes. My barber had told me that without slurry, the edge would be rough. I just hadn't listened.

If you watch the video I linked earlier, you'll notice he raises slurry for a good long time. It's clearly important to him, and as he's done this a hell of a lot longer than any of the guys telling me NOT to use slurry, he wins.

Once I started doing what he told me, I finally started getting the edges I thought I should be. What's more, I found that the Japanese homes are much more versatile than people give them credit for, as long as you use them right.

So the key is slurry. And more on how I use it and the results I get later.

However, this is a good time to remind everyone: I can NOT recommend anything about using your own hones. These hones might be unusual or even unique, so please don't think I'm advocating everyone go out and say "Jim told me to use heavy slurry!" cause I'm not. At the same time, if you're having disappointing results, maybe slurry is something to try.
That's really interesting, Jim... I have honed two extremely impressive razors on my Japanese stone, and I used a heavy slurry on them. Good to know that the slurry may have been a contributing factor. I was happy with the results, but I wasn't sure what I did to achieve them :rolleyes: