Treatise on Razor Honing 2012

 The title is a tongue-in-cheek play on a booklet I've seen on the web. 

What this really is, - just my thoughts in a rambling format. 

As it's said, take what applies, and let the rest fly! ....

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Treatise on Razor Honing - 2012

Basically - this year I found myself moving toward Jnats almost exclusively.

A lot of what I've experienced along the way has been enlightening.

At this juncture - I'm committed to using a full Nagura progression on a Jnat as a means to refine an edge. 

I will use synthetics, and/or Coticules also - but more as a 'variety is the spice of life' thing.

My synthetics have been relegated specifically to 'bevel setting' status; the finest synth I own is a 3k. There are times when I miss the 5k and I may repurchase that stone in the future.

I've worked with synths for a while - I don't enjoy edges that are finished on those stones.

I can get a pretty good edge with a 12k SS or a 10k Chosera - but neither edge is quite 'there' for me.

I don't like using pastes to overcome the liabilities of synths either; they're too messy and the extra steps and stuff just annoy me to no end. 

Coticules, on the other hand, are wonderful stones and a well done edge off a Coti is fantastic to shave with.

Concerning oil on Cotis - some time ago I read a thread on another forum where someone was discussing the use of oil on those stones. This was years ago - I forget when exactly - but I do remember a self-proclaimed Coticuler stating that if you can make 'the' edge with oil then you can do it without oil; that the use of oil was for someone that had not mastered their stone. I'm not certain about that being true or not, but it does seem to have some logic behind it.

What I do know is that I don't use oil and I've never felt the need to.

This is not to say that I never had problems figuring out any Coticule - I have in fact had great difficulty with some. In the end though - I've been able to nail edges that work well for me, including edges off stones from the feared La Grise vein. At this time I have two very very sweet vintage Cotis that came to me from a good friend and a few 4x2" pieces I picked up from Jarrod at the Superior Shave. I also have an 8x3" BBW, but I use it for lapping other stones more than anything; occasionally I'll use it to finish the edge on a paring knife though. 

I tried a few Chugs out this past year. They're not 12k and I really didn't enjoy any of them. They are cheap - but there are better options out there. 

I also tried some auction-site slates. I already had a DT - it was plausible as a middle-grit option but not a finisher. The Purple Welsh Slate faired better as a finisher and I found it to be equal to or better than the greenish/black slate sold as being 15k. That stone wasn't 15k btw. Not even close. It was a decent finisher - capable of delivering a smooth edge but it ain't the bees-knees of finishers. 

Thuringians - For me, they're very capable of putting on a very well done edge. I have two of them and I'll probably keep one or both. Originally - I picked up my first Thuri to overcome the harshness of the 12k SS. I've owned a good number of them at this point, most of which I've sold. I'm not convinced that a Yellow/Green is a better Thuri than a Dark Blue one - I do think that different people hone differently with different stones and someone may get along better with one than another. Presently - the Thuris i have now are relegated to the task of touching up a Coti edge when it degrades to 'that' point where stropping alone is no longer effective.

For me - Thuris are insanely easy to work with. IMO - they are not capable of setting a bevel or working outside of the finishing zone. I've read differing remarks about their versatility though; I still can't imagine using one to set a bevel. Never. But - stranger things have happened in this world so maybe there are magical Thuringians out there that can be used that way. Mine are purely finishers though. 

Arkansas stones. My Surgical Black Ark is one of the finest finishers I've ever used. When the edge is handled correctly initially, from bevel to pre-finish - the resulting edge off that stone is miraculous; smooth and keen like heaven. Seriously - it's that good. However - it does take a couple/few hundred laps to get there though. I've sold off my middle-grit Arks this year because I prefer to work with other stones when establishing an edge. That is not to say that they're not good enough or whatever - they're fine stones and they do a great job. I just have preferences that pointed me in other directions. The SB Ark stays with me though. It's been neglected since the onset my using Jnats but I know it'll return to regular duty again. I've owned it since the 80s...I must have used 50 sheets of w/d to lap it and I nearly killed a DMT in that process also. No way am I ever going to part with that stone. 

Still - as I mentioned above - the bulk of my hones and honing efforts are with Jnats and Nagura.

I made that decision during this past year - mostly because these stones engage my senses at a level that I truly enjoy. 

In the beginning I was truly confused about these stones. There was so much unbelievable rhetoric on the web that I didn't know what to think. Initially - I didn't want any part of them. Milemarker60 pushed me off the cliff though - we were PM'ing and he commented something about getting an edge like I get with the Ark but the Jnat taking less time to get there. Then Rick said something like - they're Cotis on steroids. Well - that did it and I bought one from Takeshi; a hard-ass Nakayama Kita Koppa that drove me nuts for a while. Once I figured it out - I knew I was onto something special. Not better, not superior, not like that at all - just something special that I was about to really sink my teeth into. 

I bought a few more stones - different types, and developed a few contacts in the sword-polishing community to discuss Nagura with. I also started emailing with So, Takeshi, and a few others in the business. Pm'ing with members here on B&B helped me learn a lot very quickly. I bought and read some books on sword polishing and at that point I had started to think about the Jnat process almost obsessively.

I bought stones and Nagura from the usual sources, and little by slowly I was developing a style (of sorts) that was allowing me to get the edges I was dreaming of.

I've managed to secure a decent arsenal of Awasedo and Nagura at this point. I've developed a bit of snobbery when it comes to Nagura - more than I have with the Jnats themselves to be honest. For me - the bulk of the success lies with the use of Nagura. So far as the Awase is concerned, I prefer harder stones over softer ones. Super hard stones are a serious challenge to work with when you're trying to get all that stone can offer. I don't agree with the 'experts only' designation for those stones though - anyone can use one of them. Maxing out on it takes some skill but that doesn't mean a novice can't touch the stone.

Anyway - the Nagura rabbit-hole has proven to be quite deep for me. I've sold a bunch to clear the bench top off and I'll probably continue to reduce the collection a bit further.

Concerning Nagura - I enjoy the Nagura progression and more importantly I've experienced and fallen in love with the edge refinement that they allow. While I can cut back on the steps, and jump over one or more sessions - I've found that my best (finest/sharpest/smoothest) edges come from using Botan, Tenjou, Mejiro, Koma and Tomo Nagura.

I do have a very cool Chu Nagura that was gifted to me by a friend - I can use that to bridge over all but the Koma and Tomo actually.

So far as stamps on Nagura are concerned - I think there's merit to buying Asano Nagura at many levels. I also know for a fact that there are unstamped Nagura that work very very well - that piece of Chu being one of them. Some Nagura stamped 'Mikawa' but without Asano stamps are also very very good to use. 

So far as Tomo Nagura are concerned - I have a bunch and I use all of them. Whether or not a Tomo should be harder or softer than the Awasedo is a question for the ages but I find a slightly softer Tomo to be best for me most, not all, of the time. It's certainly easier to use a softer one, but I have one stone that I must use a harder Tomo on. Actually - I use an Atoma 1200 to slurry that one because I don't think I'll ever find a Tomo that is harder than that stone. 

Learning to work the slurry the way that the feedback indicates I should seems to come naturally to me. The edges I'm producing on a regular basis are incredible, and the process feels quite comfortable. Using Nagura - I've been able to learn what to do when I want to fine-tune the edge also. If I want a crispy or a buttery edge - the change in the honing process is subtle and simple. Throughout this year - I've tweaked my approach here/there - and I've learned a lot through experimentation and networking with a couple of Jnat users also. Simply sharing ideas and results with a friend has proven to be a key factor for me.

Keeping my mind open to new ideas and techniques is critical to the learning process. I aspire to be a student forever. 

Concerning the Awasedo - I've had a bunch and now I'm settled. That doesn't mean I won't be trying/buying another one but I am in fact set up well. I have a couple super hard Nakayamas, and some not quite as hard Shirotos/Ozukus. I also have a killer Okudo Suita that astounds me every time I use it - the speed is amazing and the visual is seriously intoxicating. I also have a dark brooding Okudo Asagi that I picked up from Alex; it seems to be magical. What I mean is that i can do no wrong on that stone ever - honing on it is like pulling on a favorite pair of sneakers for the big game. My travel hone is an Ozuku that can compete with all of the stones that I own on every level. It is quite a nice stone to work with too - looks wise it's another intoxicating piece. 

Maruka stamps are elusive - and highly sought after. I've had a few stones with those stamps - all were very good. However - that doesn't mean that I think Maruka stamped Nakayamas are superior based on the stamp. Every stone has to prove itself - we don't shave with stamps. The aforementioned Okudo I wrote about came to me unstamped and you'd be hard pressed to find a better stone to work with. I just picked up a light blue Nakayama with a ton of Goma and it's a ridiculously fine, fast, and ridiculously hard - it's a killer stone and it wasn't all that expensive either. 

As for Kita, Asagi, Karasu etc - I don't think it matter much so long as the stone is uniform and clear of cracks and bad inclusions. I've honed on Karasu, Kita, Goma, Kan, Nashiji and all colors and patterns were fine for me. Sure - some hard-ass Karasu can scratch, same for some Ozukus - some Kan patterns are invasive and the particles are also known to scratch. This is the liability of natural stones though. I would never say that all of any color or pattern are good or bad or whatever. Each stone has to be tested and proven. 

A few observations;

Often is the case where plain-Jane Jnat can outperform the prettier offerings.

No one needs to plunk down big money to get a great stone.

A Tomo Nagura is essential, but the rest are not unless you want to do a full progression.

Fake Asano-stamped Nagura are known to exist - as are fake Nakayama stamped Awasedo and so on.

Super hard stones are for anyone. Have you ever seen a Surgical Black Arkansas stone sold as 'for experts only'?

While there are good deals out there to be had - there are also pitfalls in shopping for a stone by price alone. All that glitters is not gold.

An inexpensive stone can be a true bargain, or it can be a migraine beyond description.

In the world of cheap - there are poorly cut stones, not-so-obviously flawed stones, stones with hidden toxic inclusions, etc.

Asking a seasoned Jnat user a million and one questions before planting 300 bucks on a Buy-It-Now option on a LV 5++ whatever makes a whole lotta sense.

Great inexpensive stones do exist - but it always pays to know as much as possible before spending a dime. 

That's about it. Sorry for the long read, any typos or disconnected thoughts; I got jazzed up today from wiping 2 days of whiskers off my face with a 6/8 Bismark I honed last night.

The edge is sublime - the shave was stellar. And that is what it's really all about for me. 


© Keith V Johnson 2014 - 2015