Belgian Coticules 101

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Belgian Coticules & Belgian Blue Whetstones

Technically, Coticules formed from a type of maganiferous shale that had, as a result of lithification, produced a notable amount of garnet crystals within its matrix. Other noteworthy minerals in the geological batter are mica and quartz. 

The sedimentary layers that evolved into these Coticule-bearing layers originated 470-ish million years ago during the Lower Ordovician Epoch. Deep-current deposited bits of matter slowly ‘morphed’ into layers upon layers in the Earth’s crust, and - in some locations – Coticule beds were born. 

While Coticules can be found all around the world, the type that we, as razor honers, are most interested in comes from Belgium. Once – there were several quarries and many Coticules were taken from those mines. Today – only one quarry remains – the one at Ardennes. To this day, the quarry’s owner and family run the operation in the same traditional fashion – with a focus on delivering a quality product and ensuring that their customers are satisfied.    

What is BBW?

Belgian Blue Whetstone. This is a sorta-similar type of stone that’s blue (doh), and it’s also garnet-based.  Many theories exist – some say they’re as good a hone as a Coticule, others say they are not as good, some say they’re slow, and yet others say they’re better than Coticules because they cost less. For the sake of sanity, and to give me an option to create another page another day – I’ll avoid getting too deeply into this subject here. Suffice to say this – some Coticules come with BBW attached naturally, or glued to slab of BBW. If you have one – try it. See if you like it.

 Back to Coticules

What makes these Coticule hones from Belgium so special? For starters, these Belgian stones have the right ‘mix’ of garnets of the right size, and the deposits allow enough raw materials to be excavated regularly. Thus far, Coticules found in other areas have not proven themselves to be as fine, as abundant, or as effective as the examples from Belgium. 

What about the garnets? They’re spessartine garnets, high in manganese and very small. Lots of people get all caught up in microns and nanometers and the pseudo-scientific inspection of these stones. I – do not. I will not say a Coticule is this/that grit because my thinking is not so linear here. I can tell you that I’ve used a Coticule to refine an edge honed on a 12k synthetic – when done, that edge was both sharper and smoother. But I won’t say a Coticule is ‘finer’ than a 12k synthetic. They’re different stones, with different abrasives and trying to compared synths and naturals that way seems to be a waste of time. Moving along now…. 

Q - How does one hone a razor on a Coticule?

A - Any way you want to.

Seriously? Yes - Seriously. 

Stop looking at honing like you’re following a recipe to bake a cake. 

There are many Coticule honing methods out there, some use slurry, others do not, some use oil, others use only water – and a few don’t use slurry or water or oil.  The moral of the story is this – there are many ways to skin this cat – the one that works for you is the one that’s best for you. Me – I tend to use a variation of the ‘Dulicot’ method; basically, I make a mid-thickness slurry and hone for a while and gradually I thin it out until I'm honing on almost-clear water. One might call this ‘trace slurry’ (I do) and then I’m usually good to go. 

I shaved with my very first Coti edge and I really enjoyed that shave/edge. Anyone can do it, if not the first time, then the 2nd or 3rd time or whenever they get there. There’s no race, no rules, no winner and no diploma. Just do it and you ‘will’ get ‘there’. 

I know, I know – everyone wants answers….. rules…. exacting data…. 

Pfft – get over it and learn how to enjoy what nature has provided for you.

Each stone is it’s own unique microcosm of honing wizardry and all you need to do is find the magic and let it out.

Accepting that as fact will speed up the path to success. Trying to assign numbers and charts to everything will raise one’s shaving forum post-counts, and keep them busy until the next ice age comes. They might even wind up with a cute nickname as a result of their efforts.

Meanwhile– those that accept Mother Nature’s imperfect delivery, lack of directions, and odd sense of humor will be shaving happily.    

© Keith V Johnson 2014 - 2018