About Natural Whetstone Sharpening and Wild Whetstones
My name is Gabriel J Warren.
NaturalWhetstoneSharpening.com and the Wild Whetstones community project are the proud results of my work to provide a lifetime lasting sharpening stone experience. I coach tens of thousands of people world wide on how to get a lifetime lasting experience out of their sharpening approach.
I help beginners who are just looking to stay sharp, as well as business owners sharpening knives for hundreds of clients. In my 7 years as a professional in the sharpening industry, the biggest thing I've discovered is that less is more in terms of how many stones you own. On top of this, knowing how to use a few different strategies with one natural whetstone allows you to skip buying entire sets of man made stones. This said, I still find man made stones have their place, and once you pick up a lifetime lasting natural whetstone, the only other things you really need are a diamond plate and perhaps 1 man made synthetic stone in the lower 1000 grit range. Let's get into it!
To help you gain a functional mastery of the stages of sharpening and the most common pitfalls to avoid, I've compiled the most important takeaways I have made in my career of professional sharpening. To help you not waste your time and money on sharpening methods that don't last very long, and cause frustration read on. I am about to condense nearly a decade of sharpening experience into one writing, so grab a comfortable seat, eliminate any distractions and set aside 20 to 30 minutes to soak this in.
My products and trainings completely eliminate the frustration of dull tools and I help my clients maximize their sharpening experience in the most economic and least complicated way possible. Wether you just want to sharpen for your own household or if you are looking to start a profitable sharpening business I have got your back!
Most beginners and even expert sharpeners are spending far too much money on consumable sharpening products, that do not last and cause many difficulties while trying to maintain sharpness. These problems look like stones that wear out when you use them, as well as costly stones that don't last as long as you'd like.
In life I find that simplicity is the ultimate form of sophistication. My mission is to train people on how to use just 3 sharpening stones or less and get incredible results for all varieties of edged tools. Why just 3 stones at maximum? Because the 3 most fundamental stages of sharpening can be done with 3 stones or less. Also a bonus is that if you just want to get only one stone, You can break this into just two stages, coarse and fine and do it all on one stone with the materials I specialize in.
Hard and fine grain natural whetstone like the ones I specialize in can actually take on a few different grit levels of sharpening. I'll get more into this in a moment.
The vast majority of people on the planet are using knives and other sharpened tools on a daily basis, yet less than 10% of people know how to properly sharpen. Of this 10% of people who do some form of sharpening, I would say only 1 in 10 know how to choose a solid and long lasting set of sharpening stones.
The 1% of people who do end up mastering this always have super sharp knives and the confidence to maintain them. Some of this 1% even go on to sharpening for other people and experience the joy of solving their customers problems and making excellent income doing something they consider a passion.
Everyone knows the frustration of buying a beautiful new knife, only to find that quickly it goes dull. Often this looks like noticing how much extra pressure and effort is required just for simple cutting tasks. This is more common than not! You may notice this in the kitchen. Or perhaps in the context of wood working, or using knives or axes out in nature. This is especially apparent with abstract sharpening arts like using and maintaining a straight razor to shave with.
Learning to sharpen and understanding what tools you need can be a daunting subject, on top of this 99% of sharpening products available today wear out as you use them and eventually need to be replaced. This is good for companies selling these short lived sharpening products, but quite frustrating for the end user. On the flip side, pull through sharpening options are just all around damaging.
With pull through sharpeners, that temporary burr created is the result of destroying the proper bevel angle of your knife. Often people start here and then realize that their edge could be a lot sharper.
Before you buy that cheap $50 whetstone or even consider a professional investment of $100-$1000 with a set of synthetic grit stones consider this...
These products come with the hidden pain that you'll have to make this purchase over and over, again and again.
Man made synthetic stones require constantly re-flattening as they wear out when sharpening. If you don't flatten these whetstones you'll make your tool even more dull trying to sharpen on a dished out stone. On top of this these stones cost you extra time and frustration because with one poor sharpening stroke at too high of an angle you can actually cut a groove into them.
So where is this going? Well quite simply put in 2015 I discovered a type of sharpening stone class that does not dish out! On top of this, these stones do not soak up water and eventually crack like vast majority of man made synthetic whetstones!
My work with sourcing ultra hard natural sharpening stones simplifies and solves this complicated process! I find myself still using a 325 grit diamond plate and a 1000 grit consumable stone to make initial grinding and sharpening fast. The biggest shift for me as a professional was finding that after the 1000 grit level, natural stones are far superior to anything else!
Owning a hard and fine natural whetstone will get you the same final results as the high grit man made stones that cost $100-250 a piece and don't last!
The truth is that you do not need to buy sets of 4-10 different sharpening stones to cover your needs, truly you only need about 3 different grits used in proper transition.
Most sharpening options give less than desirable results in the short term and in the long term they get worn out and you end up buying them over and over.
For people just sharpening their own tools you will likely get a good couple of years out of synthetic whetstones, but you will be constantly flattening them and constantly worrying about exposing them to too much water and having them crack or crumble.
For professional sharpeners this is especially apparent. When I was running a sharpening service and doing thousands of knives a year I noticed that I could burn through a set of $300-1000 synthetic stones quite quickly! More often then not just from daily use, stones finer that 1000 grit would develop spider webs and crack long before I ever dished the entire stone out. This is quite a painful experience when finding that a 5000 or 10,000 grit stone that costs $150-275 wouldn't last me more than a year and a half of daily use. On top of this, I discovered that the natural whetstones I began to craft could polish as fine as 20,000 to 30,000 grit! Simply put I stopped buying any man made whetstones finer than 1000 grit.
I first started selecting and hunting down natural whetstones to cut in 2014. I began to study the art of stones and how to cut them. I sharpened with as many stones as I could get my hands on, in a thirst for understanding, knowledge and keen cutting skills.
I first began just as a guy just interested in sharpening, before I realized what an in depth subject it truly was!
In my early days I read as much as I could about natural whetstones and began to rigorously test + experiment to try and find satisfactory results from stones here in Colorado.
I began with learning to sharpen and work with whetstones on my own straight razors before I ever got into knives and axes as much as I am now. The most prized stones for creating a razor sharp edge are the purest and finest with a high hardness.
For those who want the highest level of final sharpness there is a high demand for fine grit stones. Throughout history many veins of stone in this way became natural sharpening classics. The depletion of these natural resources is what eventually lead to the creation of man made stones.
Natural whetstones are sought for their density and prized for their hardness. Many types of stones have a place in a sharpening routine, lower grit stones tend to be softer and dish out where harder stones can resist dishing, or be nearly impervious to it. For pure performance I like a diamond plate followed by a 1000 grit synthetic stone, followed by a fine natural stone.
Fine polishing of an edge or honing requires a stone of very pure and high grit to achieve the most masterfully sharp and smooth edges.
I found quite quickly that microcrystalline whetstones are much harder than sedimentary stones or man made stones. These stones also have a special advantage that no others have.
When crafting my own ultra hard whetstones I discovered that If I wanted to use a one stone sharpening solution it is possible to make a very hard stone dual grit. By preparing one surface at a fine polish and the other surface of the stone textured coarser I could actually get a multi grit effect!
This was a wonderful new advantage because accidentally gouging other stones that are soft requires the sharpener to re-flatten the stone during each use. On top of this when traveling this allowed me to just bring one stone with a coarse side and a polishing side.
Jasper, Jade, quartzite and other high density whetstones
are a very good choice as a polishing stone but they are
not limited to just that! If you are on a tightest budget but want a quality stone, don't waste your time on synthetic ones that wear out when you can get one very hard stone that doesn't wear out and can take on 2 or more different grit preparations.
Let's talk about grit and the stages of sharpening for a moment. You have 3 relative steps to craft a knife which are grinding, sanding and polishing. In terms of grit ranges these stages are known as coarse, medium and fine grit.
When I was first starting sharpening an illusion
I broke out of, was that you needed every single sharpening stone you can get in a set. So at a time when I was at the height of a razor and knife sharpening service I was doing, I had $4000 invested in a variety of man made and natural sharpening stones. While this was a good learning move, it was a waste of money for me.
That said I went overboard with stones big time to learn
as much as I could, I owned for a few years this exhausting set,
Naniwa Chosera's full set of stones, with some other Japanese Naniwa brand stones as well, 400, 600 800 1000 2000 3000 5000 8k snow white, 10k chosera, 15k Nubatama, 30k Nubatama.
I also had a full set of Shapton stones as well.
These set's might be good for people who sharpen 100+ knives a week, because you can justify the cost, but it does require that you NEVER over soak the stones
or leave wet for too long. Even with proper care I found all my man made stones finer than 1000 grit would gouge easily. Even with care to not submerge them in water, they all developed spiderweb cracks over time just from regular use.
When I came upon sharpening with jasper it eliminated the need for the huge set of synthetic stones I was wearing away with every use. I learned that if you just break sharpening back into those 3 stages, of coarse medium and fine you only need 2-3 sharpening stones at the maximum to handle all your sharpening needs in a progression.
When I discovered crafting my own whetstones the only other stones that stayed in my rotation are the trusty old 325 grit diamond plates and a 1000 grit hard synthetic whetstones. I like Naniwa Chosera for my 100 grit as it costs under $100 and doesnt have the crumbling / cracking issues that the higher grit man made ones have.
The reason for just 3 stones is that they can easily follow each other in my progression and give me the same mirror edge finish that a set of 12 stones did.
The 3 chosen and recommended stones I would give to any beginner or professional are chosen for a reason.
The 2 most important are the 325 grit diamond plate and then the ultra hard microcrystalline whetstones like jasper quartzite and jade. The 1000 grit is optional but recommended if you have the budget.
The 325 grit diamond plate is my grinding grit as well as a slurry plate for the 1k stone and the jasper / finer natural hones. Slurrying is when you abrade one stone with another and this the magic bullet for avoiding sets of 5 or more stones. Slurrying the 1k stone gives you an incredible increase in cutting speed, and keeps it flat.
The diamond plate is also a key part of my technique for my finishing stones. The diamond plate is also the magic trick to making your ultra hard finishing type stones perform at a faster and more aggressive grit range. Although jasper will not dish out, it can really benefit from being scoured with the diamond plate. When you rough up the surface of a hard stone it can actually cut much faster, close to the 1000 grit range again! This is because when scuffed up more grit is exposed!
I do extra coarse re-profiling work on the 325 because it scratches steel fast yet not super deep, making mid range sharpening at the 1000 grit level a quick transition to a toothy yet semi refined edge.
The 1k man made stones do wear away as you sharpen, but the jasper does not. So 1k grit is the perfect transition from semi coarse to medium and fine polishing. Then jasper can out perform and eliminate every single other mid range stone when it comes to rapidly transitioning to a polish.
Jasper allows you to skip the 1k stone if you want to go back to basics, and just use 1 or 2 stones to cover sharpening. This can be a little slower, but a good way to only need to buy one whetstone if you are just getting started sharpening.
Jasper can cut like a coarse grit whetstone when it is lapped with 120 grit or rougher, so I send stones double sided when 2 faces of the stone are available.
The ultimate sharpening move I found myself using comes from the Japanese whetstone tradition, creating a slurry.
Using a slurry when you sharpen increases how much grit is availble and it clears metal from the pores of your stones. With a diamond plate you can open the cutting speed and polishing speed of jasper to a very fine and fast level. The slurry allows you to take an edge from around the 1000 grit level straight to 30,000 grit or mirror level polishing.
This is the secret technique to having just a few stones, and getting the same results as expensive sets.
I found I no longer needed my full set of Naniwa Professional synthetic whetstones. I use to take my edges through a progression of 325, 400, 600, 800 1K, 2K, 3K, 5K, 8k 10k and then go to a natural finishing stone.
I stopped doing this long winded sharpening progression and sold off about $2000 of various synthetic stones, because jasper eliminated the need for tons of mid range stones.
Jasper polishes so well with a diamond plate generated slurry that you can do everything just with one stone. The final finish is done on jasper with just water until your edge sticks to the stone.
Using slurry means that with a diamond plate you abrade the surface of the stone to release grit. This technique removes a minimal amount of your base stone and gives the fastest and finest sharpening feel. Jasper is so dense you can do this light slurry technique thousands and thousands of times. I guarantee all my sharpening stones to be lifetime lasting because they don't dish out from running steel on them.
Diamond is one of the only minerals harder than jasper and the other microcrystalline stones I carry like jade and quartzite. Abrading with a diamond plate unloads the jasper of any steel from the last sharpening session, this also makes the stone faster and more engaging. As you hone it eats metal every stroke and gets finer and finer.
A noticeable advantage jasper has over all the synthetic stones, and most other natural stones, is that it is so hard it does not dish out at all when sharpening. Bringing this back to using jasper as a dual grit stone, the key is pick one side and use a rough method to abrade your jasper so it wont behave like a finishing grit. Then let the other side be your polishing side.
This is actually quite useful when done intentionally. For a finer grit feel slurry or dress the stone with 325 grit or 600 diamond, For a bevel setting type feel and much faster sharpening speed, dress the other side of your stone with 120, 220, or as low as 80 grit. I find a worn out 325 grit is the nicest feel when slurrying the fine side of the jasper to unleash the mirror like polish it leaves.
Focusing on making Wild Whetstones I found that Ancient Ocean Jasper is a world class natural sharpening stone, outranking many other softer stones in terms of being impervious to gouging by steel. This is also a huge advantage over the synthetic stones I used to own which wear out, gouge, scratch, chip easily and also can absorb water and crack.
Jasper is far more dense stone and will have none of these issues. The Ancient Ocean Jasper is a natural sharpening stone prized for it's ability to do coarse sharpening all the way to ultra fine polishing.
The Ancient Ocean Jasper Stones are mostly pure silica which is the main abrasive component in most natural whetstones. However this jasper stone has a quartz like binding that so dense it is unlike any softer sedimentary hones such as Belgian Stones, Japanese naturals and other slate varieties.
Jasper is denser and harder than sedimentary hones. It is composed of microscopic quartz, garnets and silicate crystals of a very tight and uniform grain. The stone will eat steel as you sharpen, yet it will not dish out.
Jasper can be slurried with a diamond plate to jump from an established bevel set right to ultra fine polishing. This trick works because the stone will not release grit from normal sharpening, but a diamond plate can generate a very fine effect, and it also unloads the stone of steel from the previous honing session.
I also send stones out with 2 flat surfaces so you can choose how to dress them. By having two different surface preparations, you can tackle any stage of sharpening. This stone can do this full range of sharpening due to the unique ultra hard and dense microcrystalline makeup.
For maximum fineness, allow one side to load with steel OR slurry it on occasion with a fine diamond plate.
Honing while using slurry on the fine side quickly takes the scratch pattern from a coarse initial start to a super polished mirror finish on your steel.
For the earlier sharpening stages of sharpening you can try a surface preparation of 80 grit for extra aggressive re-profiling. A quick lapping with 120 or 220 grit keeps the Ancient Ocean Jasper stone sharpening faster still a less toothy edge. (2k-3k grit level)
While understanding grit can be a little long winded, thinking in terms of coarse medium and fine sharpening helps explain how the stone has different sharpening ranges based on how much steel it is loaded with, or what surface prep it has affecting the texture and grit exposure.
When you hone with jasper prepared at those lower grit ranges, it feels more like a 800 or 1000 grit range stone for comparison. The edge will quickly come back to life and feel Sharp and toothy, but not super smooth or polished yet if you are bevel setting with jasper. Basically this is a solid foundation for a working edge and for specialty sharpening try polishing techniques. This stage is bevel setting, which needs to be done first before the final polishing stage.
The final stage of sharpening is your finishing work / polishing. I find that Jasper is a fantastic choice for beginners or experts because when polishing with slurry or just plain water is at the 30,000 grit or finer mark. On top of this, Jasper stays dead flat which keeps your edge geometry very precise.
This result is measurable by several factors. The ability to create a mirror polish, which starts at half micron sized particle. The stone's ultra fine scratch pattern is no longer visible to the naked eye, and becomes hazy and mirror like.
This fine polish reflects light perfectly and your edge will be as sharp as it gets! As long as you have established a good sharp initial bevel first, moving to fine polishing is easy and can be done in one step.
Scientifically speaking .5 micron or 30k
does this level of polish, but I won't strictly classify this Jasper stone at that grit level ONLY, because it is capable of far more finer polishing yet cuts like a 1000 grit stone when the surface isn't polished.
Jasper is a very dense rock, with a specific gravity reading of 2.5 -2.6 and a MOH's hardness reading of 6.5 to 7.5
When you get down to the microscopic gem content it starts to make sense why this stone cuts steel so well. Jasper cannot be gouged by steel, it is metamorphic quartz and silicate based.
This level of hardness and density allows it to sharpen even modern super steel's very well, a bit slower than diamond but allowing for a less scratched polish. This also saves the problem of your whetstone getting gouges and cut marks in it, which can chip or scratch your knife. When you are learning to hold the proper angle as you sharpen it is really nice knowing that your stone will always stay dead flat. You never have to re-flatten it or lap it.
This jasper stone doesn't dish out during sharpening.
Dressing the surface on occasion or even daily removes such small amount of material that you can be assured it will last many lifetimes. This is a major advantage over most of the softer whetstones on the market, which last a few years under regular use.
Thank you for your interest in this nearly lost art form. If you would like to get in touch with me I respond to the messenger option here as well as on social media, the links for which are all here on the right of your screen in the side bar. Click the social media icon links on the side bar to see my Instagram, YouTube channel and the Facebook community group Natural Whetstone Sharpening ~ Wild Whetstones Community.
Stay sharp my friends! And if you have any questions shoot me a message I am at your service.
~ Gabriel J Warren @ NaturalWhetstoneSharpening.com