Monday, 27 February 2017

Coarse Stones - Have no Fear


     I believe that many people who are interested in learning to sharpen knives by hand are apprehensive about the use of a coarse stone in their setup. They fear that the stone will remove too much metal and make mistakes happen more quickly and will damage the knife.

    I felt this way, although I started sharpening knives about 40 years ago It is only in the last 8 years or so that I really started to get a good grasp on the subject and through a lot, and I mean a lot of reading and research and talking to the right people that I really understood the process. It is normal to think that coarse stones are going to create problems, however......once you start to gain confidence, you will soon realize that coarse stones will SOLVE problems, and you will wonder how you ever sharpened without one.

   The purpose of this article is to help you put any fear aside and enlighten you on the subject of coarse water stones and what they offer.

Naniwa Professional 600 from Pauls Finest

    I use coarse stones ranging in grit from 120 to 600, there is a nice 800 grit stone by Naniwa Professional but I have not bought one yet.

    My favourites are the

     Naniwa Chosera (Professional) 400 and 600,
    Shapton Glass 220, 320 and 500, the Shapton Pro 320.
I have used the Nubatama 150 and I like that and also the Naniwa Aramusha 220 which I loved.

   Now for the purpose of this article, I would suggest that you stick to the 400 to 800 range.

     The key to eliminate the possibility of damaging your knife with a coarse stone is pressure, using it wisely. I can honestly tell you that I have never damaged a knife on a stone, even when I just starting out. Common sense will take over all of the negative things you may had read or seen on the internet.  These stones are an integral part of any sharpening setup and I will also shoot a video on the subject.

     When you are starting fresh, it may be your first few days of sharpening by hand, I do recommend using a 1, 000 grit stone at first just to get a feel for it but that won't take long. Practice increasing and decreasing pressure while holding your angle and doing this on both sides of the knife.

Why Coarse Stones

     Theoretically, if you sharpen your own knives only, once you get them sharp you would never need to go to the coarse level. Also, you can sharpen your knives from dull to sharp on a 1,000 grit stone.
      Once you get into sharpening, it will be natural for you to expand your collection of water stones and you will end up with at least three, coarse medium and fine.  A coarse stone is important because it's abrasive power has the ability to remove fatigued metal a little faster than the slightly finer 1,000 grit stone. It is extremely useful for setting the bevels and laying a good foundation to finish your sharpening on. You can also repair chips with a coarse stone and fix broken tips.

     There are a couple of other very nice benefits. When you sharpen a knife, your goal of course is to get it sharp again and to do that you need to follow some steps. The most important step, once you get going is Burr Formation. With a 600 grit stone for example, that burr is going to form relatively quickly and it is pivotal moment in the process, once you formed a burr on both sides of the knife, you know it is going to get sharp. 

Naniwa Extra Large Akamonzen 1,000

       Also, if you learn to modulate your pressure as you sharpen and that is not hard, you can get your knife extremely sharp on that coarse stone.  As you know I used four levels of pressure on my first stone and  once the burr is formed, it is all about burr removal and by the time I have finished my pressure stages on that 400 grit stone for example, the knife is quite sharp, much sharper than it was when I started.

     That is not all, after all these years of sharpening it is still a great feeling moving from the coarse stone to a medium grit stone, and since the knife is quite sharp already, that 1,000 grit stone is going to produce a startling edge. You could move to a 2, 000 grit stone from the coarse stone as well.

    Knife sharpening involves many things, and coarse stones are among those. In most case they are just a logical step in the process of making a knife sharp and it is just about using pressure wisely. Of course, if your knife is sharp and you just want to tune it up you don't have to use the coarse stone but  again, pressure is your friend. Lighten up as necessary and use more pressure when you are forming a burr and once that burr has formed you never need to use heavy pressure again on that knife.

    Remember, we are pretty smart, our common sense is going to guide us through many many sharpening obstacles and it is important to have obstacles and then learn to overcome them. You're not going try and embed the knife in the stone and you will be careful, that will come with instinct.

Now, having said all this, if your budget, desire allows you to get one stone, buy a 1,000 grit water stone, it is the perfect grit to get started.  You could also get an 800 grit King stone for 30 dollars if you just want to see how it feels.

Just do not use a grinder like the owner of this knife did.

Thank you very much for being here. I will make a video to accompany this article.



  1. Hi Peter great article as usual. After some 17 years on an Edge Pro, I am just starting my journey with free hand stones. Total newbe, but I have been almost exclusively focused on my Nubatama 150 since Christmas and am only now venturing to my next stone the Kohetsu 800. I tried the 800 pretty early on but it felt more slippery, with way less feedback than the 150 & the bevels I had struggled to establish got trashed. So with help from GKTGF here's my take on starting with coarse stones.

    You get the results / outcome of your work (good or bad) much more quickly. Coarse stones provide greater resistance and thus feedback to my inexperienced hands so that I know what to look for in terms of feel. Also I use less strokes to get to any given point so there is less chance for "wobbling" errors to take over. All this helps improve muscle memory.

    So now as I move into using my 800 grit stone, I am getting much better results & consistency than my earlier attempts. Once I get the feel of the 800 and some muscle memory built up on that I will progress to my next stone.

    Just my view from the grinding face!!

    Cheers Grant

    1. Thank you Grant. I really like your comments here, great way to explain the goodness of coarse stones, one of them that is. Your para 2 is right on the money.

  2. Another fine article Peter. I love my Naniwa pro 400 stone. At first I was a little apprehensive about removing too much material, but as you say, be careful with the pressure.
    Keep the articles coming.


    1. Thank you Dave. I think I am on my 6th Naniwa Chosera/Pro 400, it's probably my all time favourite coarse stone.