Buying a Jnat

Maruichi Stamp 1

 Some thoughts on buying Jnats. 

I purchased my first Awasedo from an online retail site. I really had no idea what to expect. I had been reading all the forum threads posted by people that were using/buying/selling Jnats and I was totally confused.

I would read one thread about one stone and then another thread would say something else about the same stone.

Big name stones were intimidating. Bigger price tags were scary. Stones with hardness levels rated for experts were confusing.

Then there was the whole Nagura thing. Where would it all end? 

I was sure that all I needed to do was to get one stone and I could figure it out.

Basically, I was right about the figuring it out part. Turns out, Jnats are just whetstones, there is no voodoo. Go figure. 

My first Jnat purchase went smoothly. I knew what I could spend so I emailed the seller, asked him what he thought would be a good stone for my needs and he made three suggestions. I chose the stone that had a shape I thought I could work with.   

I had asked about using the stone, and the basic use was explained in simple no-nonsense terms. I remember thinking to myself - everyone on the forums is going on and on and on about stamps and Karasu, and layers and all that kind of thing but this guy just says - "Make a slurry and hone the razor until it's done". 

I took that simple advice and the first Jnat edge I honed was quite good. No muss no fuss no grief and no worrying about whether or not my little Koppa came from this mine or that mine. I had a stone, I honed, I shaved. It was simple. 

It didn't matter if my stone was owned by the Emperor of Japan, used by Musashi, or stored in a Temple under a Pyramid on Holy Thursday. It did not matter whether or not my stone was yellow, green or brown.

All that was necessary was that the stone needed to be reasonably hard, shaped well enough to hone on, and I had to be reasonably willing to learn.

But I still wanted more information. That’s just part of how I am with stuff.  

I was reading a lot about Jnats online, I found an old post in a knife sharpening forum  where the author was explaining the Jnat trivia to a minutea-obsessed audience. At one point, he wrote something to the effect of; 'All of this information about strata and stamps is interesting, but - in a way - it can hurt your ability to sharpen.” 

Hmmm. I started emailing that guy. We had great email-conversations and I learned a lot from him. 

What I didn't get, at first, what this; even though Jnats are just whetstones, I needed to realign my thinking.

If I was going to 'get it' - I had to get away from focusing on the end result and get in-tune with the process. This actually works for all honing systems, but I had read too much geek-data online and I had fallen into the pit of endless discussions about microns vs grit, Tomae vs Suita, Maruichi vs Maruka, trusted sellers vs auction sites amd so on and so forth. 

It was suggested that I try using Mikawa Nagura along with my Tomo Nagura and once I had those in-hand I really got into using them. I honed a lot - I still do, almost every day in fact. The more I honed the more I learned. I kept honing and trying new things. I dismissed a lot of what had been purported to be fact by the 'online experts' and I just followed a simple common-sense-based process based on what I was experiencing as I honed. 

I honed, I learned, I got better at first and then I becaame proficient. 

And that’s it.  

Seriously - that's the entirety of what went on when I was starting out.  

That first purchase occured several years ago. Since then, I've made a few more purchases and honed on many many stones. Too many to count. Throughout this process of learning, I’ve picked up a few things along the way and I'll be passing them on as best I can here on this site.  

 Here’s a few topics that always seem to be popular. 

Stone Hardness; hardness can be an important consideration, but it's not the only thing that matters. Just because a stone is super hard, that does not mean you are going to get 'expert level' edges off of it. There are a lot of super-hard junk stones and there are a lot of uber premium stones that are a bit softer. You can get great edges off a slightly softer stone, but an uber-hard doorstop can be a headache.  

The overall quality of a stone is the sum of several characteristics and unless you hone on a stone for a while you really don't know what it is all about. Every purchase of every natural stone is similar in some regards. This should not be a deterrent to anything other than considering a very expensive stone as one's first Jnat. There's no need to own a Rolex if you can't tell time. Many people will still buy the Rolex but it doesn’t make them an expert time-teller or an authority on telling time either. 

Trusted sellers; this is a big concern. Sometimes, making a purchase on the internet is like diving off a cliff and hoping the water below is deep enough. You just never know until you make a splash. I won't speak about specific sellers here - I have no reason to pimp or bash anyone. Instead - I'll suggest getting off the instant gratification button and shop wisely. 

Buying a Jnat is a simple thing at many levels, but you have a need for a stone and then there are people who need to sell stones to earn a living; that can be a volatile situation. Ask questions - expect answers that make sense. For example - if someone says the tested a stone but it's unlapped and the stamps and labels are still there...well.... how exactly was it tested?  If the seller knows the stone you want to buy intimately - and they can relate actual user-based information about it - that's a very good thing. 

Stamps and Mines: Just because a stone is sold as a Nakayama doesn't mean it's a Nakayama. If you're spending big money for a stone - think twice, buy once. Chances are that you'll have a lot of questions, ask them. If the answers aren't straight then the stone probably isn't straight. If the seller has a history of scamming people - don't think you're not going to be the next victim. 

Prices: If the price of a stone seem to be 'too good to be true' - it's usually best to avoid it. Chances are good that the stone is not what it is purported to be. For those that like to gamble – keeping the investment manageable can help soften the blow when the Nakayama Maruka turns out to be a Norton India that’s been painted yellow. 

 

The stone is what it is.

Either it works for me or it does not.

Either I know how to use it or I do not.

If I know how to use it - I can learn more about it.

If I don't know how to use it - I can learn how to use it.

 

It's just that simple. No magic, no mystery, no pomp & cicrumstance. 

I won't get into whether or not Jnats are 'better' or 'more capable' than other sharpening systems. To me - that's not really a valid reason to get 'into' using them and it’s a ridiculous premise to argue about and one that is impossible to prove.

Using them is a personal choice - for me, it's about how I work with them, how they look, their history and their individual characteristics. 

I like natural stones, always have. I like Eschers, Coticules, Arkansas stones and many others. They're intriguing and challenging. I enjoy knowing that the tool I'm using comes from the Earth and I can pass it on to someone later on. I love knowing that they're not cheap disposable 'plastic' crap.

I like looking at them, holding them, showing them to others and being able to discuss their history. Japanese Natural Whetstones are just another avenue along that highway; no different than Arks, Cotis, or whatever.

But first and last and always –

First - I learn about how the stone works for me. 

Then I will learn more about how I can work with it. 

With time and practice - I will learn the stone well. 

Long after that – and only then - should I be concerned about Karasu patterns and Maruka stamps.  


© Keith V Johnson 2014 - 2018