True honyaki blades are indeed a special breed of knife. Very often they are hardened beyond practicality making them a true menace to maintain. However laborous these blades may be to keep sharp, I have come to love them unconditionally. I don't know whether it is the myth behind them, the excellent craftmanship, the excellent performance or the sheer beauty of these knives that has won me over. Probably it is a combination of all these factors. The fact that I just love to sharpen my knives probably helps a lot too. These are the honyakis to be sharpened in this test. From the top, a Kasahara Shiroko #2 honyaki 300mm yanagiba and three Aoko #1 honyaki knives from Jyunichi Takagi.
|The honyaki blades used in this test of Japanese waterstones|
In this excercise I have experiemented with some of the Japanese waterstones that are said to be best suited for sharpening honyaki blades. Based on my experiments I have found the stones that I find best for the task of getting my honyaki blades up to exceptional sharpness and to get that totally scratchless almost sand blasted surface on the bladeroad of my yanagiba. From the bottom of the below picture we have a #1500 grit White Aluminum oxide ceramic stone called a WA stone from Iida tools, then a #5-6000 grit WA ceramic and then I switch to Japanese naturals.
In the middle to the left is my large Aoto from Iida tools, and to the right an Aizu stone from Maxim at Japanesenaturalstones. Both stones are truly remarkable medium sharpeners. Second from the top to the left is a Takashima Myokakudani from Aframestokyo.com, a soft prepolisher with exceptionally even grit. To the right you see the characteristic red Nakayama Akapin from 330mate.com. A very soft but agressive and yet very fine stone. This is my "rescue" stone when I get these hard to remove scratches from man made stones. On the top left we have the very soft and very fine grit Hakka. A legendary finishing stone for honyaki. Also brought to me by Maxim at Japanesenaturalstones.com, and finally on the top right, an Oohira from Maxim also. The Oohira is what I believe to be a tomae; medium soft, fine grit, and I included it for comparison to the Hakka.
|The candidates for the honyaki sharpening "dream team"|
My trading agent in Japan told me that he always starts out with a special kind of synthetic stone to do the ground work on the blades. A #1500 grit White Aluminum oxide stone called a "WA" stone. The aluminum oxide is some of the hardest abrasives in man made stones except for diamond. The abrasive in this stone is very densly packed and leaves a very consistent scratch pattern. It is a very efficient and hard stone and it will easily correct any issues with the blade road and flatten the back side perfectly. It is very important to resolve all issues in this stage to be able to get a perfect result in the end. As you can see from the below pictures, the WA (White Aluminum oxide) stone is very agressive even on these very hard steels, making it perfect to do the ground work on the blades.
|WA #1500 on Shiroko #2 honyaki|
|WA #1500 on Aoko #1 honyaki|
|WA #1500 scratch pattern on Shiroko #2 honyaki|
After this successful start I decided to apply the #6000 WA to erase the scratches from the #1500 WA stone. This finer stone actually caused more issues than it solved, so I left it out alltogether. Maybe a softer man made stone of finer grit would have performed better, but I did not go further on this and decided to switch directly to the Japanese natural stones after the #1500 WA.
Next up was the natural medium sharpeners. The Aoto and the Aizu. Both rated #2000-5000. I did not know which was the finer of the two, so I briefly tried both, and found that tha Aizu was both harder and a bit coarser than the Aoto, thus I began with the Aizu. This beautiful white stone with its olive green dots is a wonderful performer on hard steels and removed the scratches made by the #1500 WA with ease, leaving a dense and fine scratch pattern.
|The Aizu is a fairly hard and agressive stone|
|Aizu leaving a very nice and homogenous scratch pattern|
|The Aoto making a dense very fine slurry|
|The finish from the Aoto leaving not much to be wanted|
|The Takashima Myokakudani|
|Closeup of the Takashima|
|The Takashima makes a very dense and creamy slurry|
|Closeup of the Takashima finish|
|Hakka stone, deceptively plain looking|
|Hakka closeup. Notice the red scattered renge|
|Hakka slurry is almost like fine clay|
|Hakka silky finish|
|A very high quality Oohira from Maxim|
|Oohira finish on the Hakka finished bladeroad. |
Note the very fine but visible scratches
|My personal honyaki dream team of Japanese waterstones|