In addition, the most prized of the natural Japanese Water Stones are quarried in the Narutaki District north of Kyoto, Japan and are commonly available as either bench stones or pocket stones in grits ranging from 120 to 12,000. On the other hand, synthetic water stones are made from Aluminum Oxide and commonly available as either bench stones or pocket stones as well in grits ranging from 220 to 8,000 and, although this is the same abrasive material used to make India Oil Stones, the difference between the two is that the binder that holds the abrasive together enables Water Stones to be much softer than India Oil Stones which, in turn, promotes faster cutting because the worn abrasive material breaks away more quickly and is replaced with fresh, sharp, abrasive material more quickly. In addition, because water stones do not become glazed or loaded with swarf like oil stones can, new abrasive particles are constantly exposed as the stone wears so it continues to cut consistently. Plus, they can be lubricated effectively with water (rather than oil which can ruin some water stones) which combines with the fine particles of abrasive from the surface of the stone to form a slurry which polishes the bevel as the stone cuts. However, it should also be noted that Water Stones do become uneven significantly faster than other types of whetstones although, their softness does make them easier to true again.
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Now you may wonder, if a finer stone produces a better cutting edge why do I need a coarse stone at all? The answer is that finer stones work much more slowly than coarse ones. The amount of metal a fine stone removes with each pass is much less than what a coarse stone removes. If you have an edge with a good shape to it from a coarse stone, this is not a problem because the fine stone doesn’t have to remove much metal to improve the edge. If the edge is dull, it will take many times longer to reshape it with a fine stone than it would with a coarse one.