Shigefusa 270mm kasumi yanagiba with custom, by me, desert ironwood handle

26 Aug 2011

Atagoyama Kiita with Kan, true #24 grade finishing stone

Since I started collecting and using Japanese natural stones, I have focussed mainly on performance which I believe is the #1 factor to look for in a sharpening stone. It doesn't matter if a stone is large as a brick if it can't remove metal and sharpen the knife properly. Not to say that large stones don't work. Problem is that a large natural stone of excellent quality will be very very expensive. Especially larger stones from the more famous mines like Nakayama, Shinden, Okudo, Oohira, Oozuku or Shobu seems to reach ridiculous prices. This is mainly because most of these mines are heavily exploited or closed long time ago, so the stones are very rare, if not impossible to come by.

Regardless of the price I just can't help looking at the big stones. Ever since I started collecting these wonderful rocks, the #24 size stone has had an almost magical attraction on me. Finally I could not resist any more and I decided I needed at least one. Question was how to get a good quality #24 size stone that would not ruin me or force me to sell my car.

The answer actually came in two parts. Maxim from reviewed a stone from the Atagoyama mine a while ago. This mine has not yet reached pop star status or astronomical prices and the stones are still fairly available in large sizes. Maxim rated this his all time favourite finishing stone for kitchen knives. The Atagoyama sounded like the perfect stone to go for. A real dark horse in the field of high end Japanese natural finishing stones. The only problem seemed to be where to score a true grade #24 high quality Atagoyama.

Shortly after, the second part of the answer emerged out of thin cyberspace. Masaru san from Hides export advertized three large Atagoyama stones for sale. All were #24 size 3kg++ and stated to be of good to very good quality. The stones were still rather costly but the cost to size ratio was fair I thought. A quick check with Maxim told me that the price to quality of the stones offered from Masaru san was not only fair but actually very very good as even these stones are getting increasingly hard to find in these sizes and of this level of quality.

Two of the stones were asagi like stones and looked pretty nice, but the last one offered instantly caught my eye. A 3.1kg stone with Kiita color and Kan pattern. I sent an e-mail to Masaru san with an enquiry which he responded to almost instantly. He said: "The Kan pattern is a pattern of single or multiple concentric rings in the stone and is said to be a sign of a very high quality stone with increased power. The Kiita or light tan to yellow color has no relevance for the sharpening qualities of the stone but the light color makes it a lot easier to see the swarf and mud building on the surface making it a lot easier to monitor the sharpening process." It was fairly obvious to me by now that the #24 grade Atagoyama Kiita with Kan pattern was the one and only rock for me. 
Atagoyama (in the middle) compared to my monster 4,5kg Aoto from Iida-tool (left)
and my large 2,5kg Aizu from Maxim at Japanesenaturalstones (right)

You can easily see the Kan pattern like parts of concentric circles on the stone
So to cut an already too long story short. I ordered the stone of my dreams from Masaru san at Hides export. A week later it arrived to my house. That is pretty quick from Japan to Norway. The stone was wrapped like it was prepared for high altitude air drop delivery and arrived in perfect condition. Masaru san was a really great person to do business with. He e-mailed me regularly to hear if the stone had arrived, if I liked it, how it performed and all that. Very good and personal service indeed! I can recommend his services any time. When ordering products this expensive from the other side of the world it is very reassuring that the seller takes interest in your purchase.

The stone was even more beautiful than in the pictures. It was large and it was magnificent! In addition to the kiita color and the Kan pattern I noticed a lot of black lotus evenly scattered throughout the stone like very small vanilla seeds. On the underside the stone was covered with a beautiful skin with some scattered chisel marks. It almost looked like it is iron clad. It actually felt like it was iron clad as well. The stone also felt a lot heavier than expected judging from its size. It felt really massive.
Here you can really see all the features of the stone. The Kiita color, the Kan pattern and the black lotus.

Look at that magnificent skin. I love it!
There were two rows of kanji on the stone. The kanji looking like 一本撰 reads "Ippon-sen" and means #1 selected piece. The long big one 愛宕鉱山合砥 reads "Atago kouzan awasedo" which means Atago mine finishing stone, and 二十四型 which means #24 grade or size. Last kanji is not visible on the picture.

I was really excited about this stone. To see what it could really do in a stone set up I decided to take one of my edges down a bit and resharpen it from #1500 WA stone through my hard and fine Aoto and finish off at the Atagoyama. After doing the ground and middle work on the blade moving to the Atagoyama, the first thing I noticed was the hardness of the stone. It was a lot harder than I had expected. Comparing to my other finishing stones I would rate it at Lv5(-).

Due to the hardness, the stone requires some sharpening experience with hard Japanese natural stones. I would not recommend this as a first natural stone to the fresh sharpener. The use of a Nakayama tomo nagura helped a lot. I also tried with Iyoto nagura for prepolish with great success. Without the use of a nagura, building a slurry took a little time, but as soon as the slurry built, the feel of the stone was great. It was very smooth but I could still really feel the work it did on my blade. 20-30 passes on the stone resulted in a very light slurry heavily loaded with black swarf. After 50+ passes the slurry had built to a dense dark olive slurry that really made the sharpening experience enjoyable. When raising the blade a little bit I could instantly feel when the work was done as the stone suddenly "sucked" the steel in. It was like trailing the edge on a wet rubber block that suddenly went dry. It is the exact same feel I get on my Oohira shiro suita.
20-30 passes gave a light slurry mostly from metal swarf suspended in near clear water.
50+ passes on the stone resulted in a dense dark olive paste. A very efficient stone.
The resulting grindmarks on the bladeroad soft cladding were visible but very dense and shallow. On the hard steel the stone gave a very nice and very light haze polish. The largerscratches are residue from the #1500 WA as I did not use enough time on the Aoto. I will redo this part and update the pictures at some time.

I have no idea what grit this stone is. Compared to my other stones I would rate it in the #8000-#20000 range somewhere. However, the resulting edge is the absolutely sharpest and keenest edge I have ever been able to do straight off a stone. Just a few final passes on the stone to make a micro bevel until the blade was "sucked" to the stone gave me an edge that was really scary sharp, shaving hair totally without pulling. It felt like I was actually trailing the edge on my arm, but the edge was leaving a very close shave. That was just spectacular. Later tests have shown that the Atagoyama performs equally well on both carbon, honyaki as well as stainless. Especially VG-10 and my blue #1 honyakis from Takagi gets that evil edge from this stone. Global knives from Yoshkin with its CROMOVA steel also took an incredible edge straight off this stone. No need to strop. A perfect all round finisher with remarkable sharpening qualities.
My very keenest edge to date, straight off the Atagoyama.
Residue scratches are frome #1500 WA stone and me being lazy :o(
A nice hazy mirror.
To sum things up a bit: This Atagoyama has really got me impressed. Both because of its beauty and sheer size, but especially for its versatility and excellent sharpening qualities. This is probably the last finishing stone I will ever need. It has all the qualities I have been searching for in a great finisher and it will last me several lifetimes. Right now I can't imagine ever wanting a sharper blade than this stone is able to produce either.

That said, it will obviously not be the last finishing stone I will ever want :o) You guys know how it is... We always look for the next high ground.