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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.
To take off the fine scratches and burrs left by coarser stones, and to polish the surface, you can use stones starting at around 2000 grit. There is theoretically no upper limit, but stones above about 10000 grit achieve practically no measurable improvement in the edge. It is also interesting to note that above 8000 grit, there is no Japanese measurement standard. For stones labelled as having a finer grit, you simply have to take the manufacturer's word for it.
I do have to question the grit ratings of these stones. I didn't notice anything before using them, but after a day, the 2000 grit actually felt courser than the 1000 grit side of the other stone. Whether that could be a byproduct of other factors or an indication of the more obvious, being that the grit ratings aren't accurate, I don't know. But that seemed to be the main criticism of cheaper whetstones, that their grit ratings often aren't accurate. Or maybe it's less a problem with accuracy and more a difference that most synthetic stones might have in common when being compared to much pricier natural stones?
The company is to be commended for including links to instructional videos in the package. Those videos lay out clearly how to get the most from your Whetstone sharpener stone. Once you get up to speed you’ll likely enjoy the process and at the same time achieve professional quality results time and again. Sure, it’s not fancy and doesn’t have a sleek, chrome plated design but it works.
In most cases, the sharper, the better. The sharpness of your edge is determined by the angle (the lower the angle, the sharper the edge) and how fine of a grit you choose for your final honing. Since you have already determined your angle many steps earlier, now you just need to know which grit you can stop at. This again depends on the use of the knife. In most cases, go all the way to the finest stone that you own as this will give you your best edge. The only exception would be a knife used to cut soft vegetables like tomatoes, as a slightly more coarse edge will provide more of a tooth pattern for easier cutting.
Today, however, there is a whole new generation of mechanical sharpeners that are far more forgiving for those who may not use perfect technique. At the same time many more people have become accustomed to sharpening their knives this way and the average novice of 10 years ago is now the seasoned pro. It is still possible to damage knives with an electric sharpener, but you would have to either be trying to damage the knife or have some type of accident in order to do so.
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.