A little bit about color stones and stratas

There are 2 main types of layers in the Kyoto mines, and each type contains several varieties of stone. The Tomae type has dozens of individual layers. The Suita type has several different individual layers. Within those layers are varieties of stone which are specific to the type. For instance the Tomae type has layers of kiita, asagi, karasu, goshu, iro, namito, asia and so forth. The Suita type has layers of those named like tenjyou, hon, shiki, shiro and so forth. So there’s no renge in tomae, and no kiita within the suita layers.

Asagi is one of the more common Tomae layers. Asa means pale, Gi (same as Ki in kiita) means yellow, so literally asagi means light or pale yellow. So within the mine systems at different depths you will find asagi with more or less Gi. It is the clays or binder that possess the color which adds color casts to the stone, the cutting silica grit particles in the pure form are essentially clear or colorless. Therefore Continue reading

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How, why, who: grading awasedo in Japan

To begin with since the World War 2 a lot of the strictly defined relationships between maker/wholesaler/retailer have become fuzzy.

It used to be before 1950 or so, that each had his own niche and that was where you remained just as your father did in the trades.

The miners were at the low end, the retailers at the upper and the wholesalers made their profit in volume. Each party graded the stones as they went along, the miners in piles, the wholesalers in stacks Continue reading

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A peak into the past and the future regarding Jnats.

In the past few years I have noticed a large influx of hard gray stones marked Oozuko (Ozuko) flooding the U.S. market that have come from one particular wholesaler in Kyoto. Although the Ozuko mine has been closed for 90 years these stones appear to be newly slabbed and freshly ink stamped (Ozuko never stamped their stones) and then retailed to the various blade forum members by one particular retailer/importer. This influx of stone just so happened to coincide with the recent English translation of Honing Razors and Nihon Kamisori , a booklet written in the 1950’s for the Japanese Barber Trades by the renowned blacksmith Iwasaki Kousuki of Sanjo.

At the time when Iwasaki-san wrote his pamphlet for the barber school, the most famous of all the awasedo bearing mines, the Nakayama was just then digging their last tunnels for extraction. All of the other major and famous mines had closed some 50 years earlier, but still Iwasaki-sans greater interest was in providing Continue reading

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As The Mines Closed

      I am continually amazed at how many of these gray stones now new on the market are stamped Ozuku. Brand new stamps, brand new paper labels on what look like brand new stones all attributed to a mine that was closed in about 1920. Someone has an enormous stockpile of stone in storage and brand new generic stamps (Ozuku never stamped their stones) and I suspect that not all the stones are from the Ozuku. When these fresh to the market stones are simply gray with no skin on the back it is hard to tell which mine they are actually from. I would like to explain something about hard gray stones.

Think compaction.       All of those famous mines, now closed, began digging and extraction at the very upper elevations at the mountain tops where the stone was easily found as the strata lay bare and not below the topsoil. As the shaft was dug and the vein depleated the miners were forced to move down the mountain side (actually steep hills) in order Continue reading

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A bit about Nakayama

Nakayama is the most famous of the mines in part because; of the ancient history surrounding the mine, the previous owners marketing skills, and the extremely fine quality of the stones from that mine.

Kato-san who owned the mine from the 1920s into the late 1960s stamped many of his stones with his own personal ink stamp while most of the other miners simply wholesaled in bulk their stones with no mine markings or ink stamps to consolidators who marketed them with ink stamps registered to the wholesaler without regard to mine they originally came from.

Kato-san was particular about the Continue reading

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Where’d they come from.


Maybe you have read that the sediment that formed these sharpening stones mined for 800 years in the outskirts of Kyoto was spewed as dust from a volcano. I have not, nor do I have the means to prove for sure that the particles were spewed into the open during a Pilinian event as airborne dust, or as some have said they were dispensed as floating dust particles ejected from an underwater volanic vent. In anycase the fact that the heavier and larger particles settled first or closest to the source is logical and that the smaller finer particles settled last or farthest away. It has been stated that the layering of these sediments took a very long time to accomplish, somewhere in the 1mm per 1,000 year range.

I am a theorist, not a trained scientist in any specific field like geology, and my gut feeling or speculation tells me that the particles were released into the air in an event similar to the Pompeii Herculaneum Mount Vesuvius incident (an excellent explanation here), Continue reading

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Blade Show in Yasugi

On the Japan Sea coast in western Japan near Matsue in Shimane prefecture is the small but important steel town of Yasugi, the home of  Hitachi Metal speciality steel works. Every spring a few square blocks of Yasugi are set aside to host a blades show, and sellers and buyers come from all over to mingle and renew old relationships and to buy and sell vast quantities of anything to do with knives.

This is mostly a knife show with some tools and sharpening media, food & drink and even a classic car show thrown in to boot. Besides the streets which are lined with booths of sellers and craftsmen sharpening and restoring knives the Hitachi Museum also hosts a group of highly skilled custom knife makers for an indoor venue within walking distance on the Hitachi property nearby.

At this show about 25 custom knife makers displayed a wide variety of both folding and fixed blade knives in a gallery type setting of booths and displays. A few of the bladesmiths as I found out also sell at overseas shows like the popular Atlanta Knife Show.

Because I am keen on the sharpening aspects, at the outdoor show I mostly followed the stone path and vistied with the stone dealers. I also observed a lot of sharpening going on and especially in the one alley that was set aside specifically for restoring and sharpening kitchen knives.

 This space was manned by a host of blacksmiths and bladesmiths who would for a nominal fee totally finish off any knife in a professional manner.

click to see larger photos


Almost everyone at the sharpening station had some form of a syntheitc and a natural stone, all shaped and rounded or flattened to their own specifications and there was not a lot of chit-chat going on, just focused sharpening. There was also an area set aside for heat treating knives using small charcoal fired kilns and anvils for shaping and forming.

There was also a lot of sharpening going on in the street booths both as sharpening services or as demonstrations by vendors with varied sharpeing stations including power wheels and hand stones. I did not see any of the craftsmen flattening their stones on site with diamond plates but I did see lots of bowed and cambered stones.



Of course there were some interesting stone to look at,

and I do have a fondness for karusu, 

I really missed out on taking more photos of the knives at both the outdoor and the indoor show but here is a sample.


A couple of conclussions here. Although I did not take any photos at the indoor museum show I did notice that many of the blades shown, although handmade and fancy, were patterned on outdoor survival type knives with roots in the classic swords and daggers of ancient Japan. The treatments were updated and refined but the shapes and sizes were definitly symphathetic to the old shapes. Also I noticed that, and I am going to use this word again, the root stone or base stones that knife sharpeners use are not based entirely on the image of truly flat, and that as you can see some are to the contrary. Although they may have been there tucked away, and there was the wholesaler for Tsunesaburo selling them in a booth, I did not see any diamond plates being used. Here again I suspect that the old timer sharpeners cherished his best stones enough to refrain from grinding off haphazardly good userful grit. A flat stone must be important in some knife honing tasks, but curved seems to be OK to some degree for general work.

All in all it was a good show, it rained but with some retreat it did continue. It began with families and early birds blessed with a clear sky at the crack of dawn, and faded to covered booths and talk amongst the hardy of hand and spirit.   Alx

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Shaveing in Japan

The very first time I ever shaved in Japan was New Years Day 1979 and it was in a public bath in a small city named Komastu, yes the tractor companies home base. It was a little tense at first, not because I was again like in a high school shower, no it was because most of the guys here in this bath house were yakuza, and they knew that I knew who they were. Lots and lots of body tatoos just like your would imagine. The thing is that the ofuro bath house was just down the street and around the corner from their office building, and it was the nearest one to my house. I ended up going there at least 3 times a week for 6 months and off and on for the next few years.

I shaved with a straight razor back then, and old German blade with a natural color bone handle, I still have it. And this was the razor I took to the ofuro. I was the only one there with a western straight but a lot of men did and still do shave with these little, but very sharp disposable straights. Of course I had a small strop with me too, no tatoos but at least I had a strop. Well, a small strop. But they didn’t have one!

From that very first day until today I have felt that shaving at a japanese bath house is one of the very best places on earth to shave, and I always get an excellent shave when I do. To begin with you have just soaked for 10-15 minutes in abnormally hot, hot water. Usually in the 42-46 degrees Celsius (110-115F) range, so talk about hydrated beard stubble. Then you got the endless supply of even hotter water if you want it to rinse in, choices in free shaving cream and your own little sit down to shave at mirror. Have you ever sat down to shave? Here are photos of where I bathed and shaved today on the 17th floor of my hotel. click on the photos for larger versions.

The soothing mineral water, an outdoor pool where I sat in the rain, and again I got a excellent relaxing shave afterwards. Alx

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Sharpening notes Pt.1-?

Hello M. *

I think it’s fantastic that you have inherited an authentic Japanese tennen toishi from your father. You might be the only one here who can stake that claim. The tomae strata stone that you have is from the Yamashiro area, a little valley just west of Kyoto and most likely from the town of Umegahata, and it could very possibly be from either the Nakayama mine or the Shobu mine. Each of these mines and others nearby share the Hon Kuchi Naori, a section of the Tamba Terrane that in some spots displays a rolled or ball form in the stratas configuration. If I could examine the back of the stone I could most likely pin it down.

Here is my example of a tomae with a kan pattern.


The strata is tomae, the ring pattern is kan or wood grain like as in tree rings. This is most assuredly a very hard stone and with out question it would benefit by the use of a nagura stone. To raise a slurry you have 3 options: the tomonagura you have, a Gifu nagura, or a diamond nagura. Each has benefits and drawbacks. I suggest that the tomonagura you have will do the trick, but you should also try raising a slurry with a diamond nagura like a fine DMT or an Atoma 600-1200. The diamond DN nagura has the unique feature of creating a slurry that is an exact match in composition to the host stone because it is made from the host stone. The quality and fineness of your host stone I am sure will provide you with all the features you are looking for in a slurry.

Here is another example of the kan pattern, this stone is very, very, very hard and from the Narutaki mine.

Unless you have created a perfect bevel on each side of your razor with a middle stone like a 5k, 8k synthetic, using your final very hard tomae stone will be an uphill challenge. So set your bevels carefully, examine them with a microscope if you can and make sure that they join at the edge and then you can go on to using your beautiful Jnat. You should be able to shave some hair after setting your bevels with the synthetics thus proving the meeting of the bevels at the edge.

The synthetics are very aggressive and in their cutting action they do not usually relinquish a slurry on their own without some coxing. The bevels they make however are very flat and true which is what we want them to create. You can try to shave off these flat bevels but they can be harsh. This is in part because of the razors really flat bevels abilities to lay so very close to the skin. I think you will find that if you incorporate a slurry into your regime while honing, the bevels will become ever so slightly rounded, and this will provide you with a slightly rounded bevel that rides a hairs breath above the skin surface and will thereby create a more comfortable shave.

Here are some photos taken at 350 power of several stages in honing up a razor. First is the bevel setting using a 5,000 grit stone on a blade that was not too dull to begin with. The 5k scratches in Photos #1 lead all the way to the edge of the blades edge but are “foiled” or prevented from affecting the extreme edge because the steel at that area is so flexible and thin that is folds out of the way rather than being abraded by the 5k grit. As the blade is turned over to set the other bevel this foil edge folds again in the opposite direction and our of the grits reach. This foil is a false edge of unsupported steel that will crumble immediately under any stress.

The next photo #2 represents the speed of the stone with a slurry incorporated, practically all of the deep long and distinct 5k scratches are removed with just 20 one way strokes. A stone can be hard or soft but the cutting speed is determined by the grit; its sharpness and friability, the grit content per weight of the stone, and the hardness of the grit particles in relation to the steel being cut.

The next photo #3 shows some progress after 20 more 5 inch strokes with not weight on the blades edge, just the guiding hand on the back of the spine. The long deep synthetic scratches are replaced by the short shallow scratches left by the tennen toishi, the bevel is beginning to round a bit and you can see that the microscope cannot stay in focus following a longer scratch because of the convex bevel and the short depth of field (focus) of the lens.

The #4 photo shows the results of the simplest form of stropping, the palm of my hand. The results are: the false edge has worn off and the true edge is reveled as much more linear form, and the grit impregnated in my palm (leather) strop has abraded with very shallow scratches the edge and flattened some of those closer scratches. This photo also displays the final results of the speed of the stone, the removal of 6k scratches comfortably within 40 short strokes.

Photo #5 begins to show the effects of using just plain water with again the moderate hand pressure. Not much change here as the grit particles are not encouraged to cut but to instead polish the blade. May users will spend several hundreds of strokes polishing their blades.

Photo #6 shows only a slight modification to the edge and the blades bevel, but, if you go back into the first 3 photos you will notice focus sharpness of the long scratches and now in this photo the inability of the microscope lens to follow these long scratches. This is an indication of the bevel curving into a convex form.

Just to pull this all into perspective I have added a photo under the same 350 power magnification of an adult human hair taped flat against the blade. It is out of focus because of its thickness and the thickness should be about 100 microns.



A slurry made up of grit as fine as the host stone also accelerates the sharpening process because the very nature of a slurry is that it is self generating, the loose grit frees up bound fresh grit during the sharpening process so it can provide fresh sharp particles. The grit of Japanese naturals is a friable material meaning it cleaves and chips into smaller pieces, and because of this the slurry in use is continually refining itself, becoming finer and finer as the grit particles crumble. They do not crumble because they are soft, but instead because they fracture along their crystalline inclusions, something that synthetics do not do readily.

Many razor users begin with a slurry when using their Jnats and continue as the sharpening session progresses to begin to dilute the slurry in steps that eventually end up with a clear water solution on the stone that acts as a lubricant. What is happening to the razors bevel during this stage is that the cutting or abrading action is slowing down while a polishing effect begins to occur. The normal biting action of the grit is diminished under just clear water as the grit is now being engaged while still bound up tight in the stone (not free and rolling around in a slurry), and the friability nature of the stone has stagnated to a stage where the surface grit is becoming rounded in profile. Rounded grit is less aggressive, and bonded grit just gets duller and duller coupled with the fact that if any swarf of steel particles are removed or ground off from the blade it may become imbedded in any voids of the porous surface of the stone.

This last clear water honing stage is popular because it gives the bevels a look and feel that is similar to the profile provided by those made with synthetic stones and the edge is actually sharper. But at what cost.

An edge composed of two converging perfectly flat bevels is an easily understood geometric shape, two sides of a triangle. A cutting tools edge is at that intersection where two planes meet, and it can be relatively sharp or dull. But the 3rd dimension of a blade is the material or meat behind the edge found as those two planes recede and it is made up of steel. This steel can be strong or weak, or weakened or strengthened. Weakened by loss in temper, rust, micro fracturing etc., or strengthened by cryogenics or again, geometry, as in the form of a secondary bevel or micro-bevel. The thicker the steel is and the closer to the edge that the thicker the steel is, the stronger that edge will behave.

Another form of a secondary or micro bevel is a slightly convex bevel plane, this can increase the thickness of the steel directly behind the edge considerably and especially if both the bevels are slightly convex. The beauty of natural stones is that the slurry generated during the sharpening process or created from a nagura is that this thickness to the bevel is increased in direct relation to the fineness of the grit particles in the slurry which are acting as miniature blacksmiths. An amazingly subtle curve can be accomplished with no directional hand movement from the person holding the tool.

This engineered graceful convex bevel can help to create a longer lasting more comfortable shave. Another way to form this convex bevel is by stropping a blade on leather or linen. With or without added abrasive dust or sprays, almost any strop will harbor and contain various environmental contaminates that can act as abrasives. The very nature of stropping encourages a somewhat curved edge bevel as the somewhat cushion surface of the leather gives way under even the slightest pressure of the blade and this is why in part (besides the removal of a wire or burr edge), that a stropped blade will feel more comfortable than one fresh off the hone. The foreign grit found in a used strop may not necessarily be finer than the stones grit and therefore might not improve the actual edge, but it will affect the geometry of the bevel.

To sum up the above I would suggest that honing a razor is a preceedure that at best follows observable steps that lead to a result close to that which was achieved previously. If you build a repeatable system you are on the road to better edges. If you are unable to to observe closely as in the above photos, them you must replace a visual with a tactile system based on some form of empirical evidence.  good luck,  Alx

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Ripping a board using japanese saws

In Japan long rips from a few inches to 20 feet or more are done with the board raised up about a foot or higher off the floor on blocks or shorter sawyer stands. A good dark sumi ink line helps and a sharp, perfectly tuned saw is imperative. All the cutting is done bending over and pulling the saw handle up to your chest as you are walking backwards on the top of the lumber. Out of respect for the wood and to keep it clean I take off my shoes and in Japan you are trained to do this. If you are ripping a narrow board you can have a second board alongside for stability, but your foot pressure near the cut prevents chattering. The cut line does not progress between your feet but out beyond your forward foot, and you shuffle backwards instead of walking backwards. Have a good ink line to follow and also ink the endgrain clearly with your vertical line. You will need to blow off the sawdust as you go along with strong puffs.

To begin the cut it is good practice to while looking down, lean over the end of the stock and at the bottom/underside of your drawn line on the endgrain, accurately nip the bottom/edge of the board on the endgrain surface with a shallow cut along the side of the line you are going to follow. This is most easily done with the smaller crosscut teeth on your ryoba, nip the bottom edge then nip the tip or corner of the top edge endgrain, then go back and nip the bottom edge a bit more so you begin to build the cut line as it develops on the endgrain up from bottom to top until they meet in the middle of the end for the board. This makes a shallow accurate cut line on the end of the lumber. In this way your first full power strokes will be perfectly vertical while riding in the shallow accurate cut line you just made. Don’t get too anxious with the first strokes, keep them light and accurate.

Remember that your power strokes are on the pull and that your most accurate nip strokes are also on the pull. On heavy timbers this endgrain set-up is obvious, but even on sheeting or thin stock it is good to always follow the same method. This first vertical power cut stroke from the underside to the topside at the end of the lumber has to be true or you are screwed to whole way. It is not a bad idea to have a line snapped on the underside of the board too so you can check for drift in your cut as you go along by flipping the board over. If you cut consistently drifts left or right then you saw set is off or you have a missing tooth or a broken tooth tip or two. With a well tuned saw you can cut forever on one side of the line with no problem of drift, even with your eyes closed. Don’t cut down the middle of the line, bad form. Cut on the waste side so you can plane or finish the cut surface later to dimension the wood. For westerners with long legs you find that a lot of japanese hand work is hard on the back because so much is done at floor level or bending over, the tools are designed this way, but with a developed sawing stroke ripping this way is very accurate and much of your labor is taken up with the larger leg muscles.

A couple words of caution. Knots in the wood are hard and can act like stone to fine hard saw blades and will chip or break teeth. Good and great saws break easier then cheap saws as a general rule. Look your lumber over and know where all the knots are, so when you approach a knot area slow way down like from 30 miles an hour down to 3 mph in the vacinity of knots and when sawing through knots proceed at 1 mph speed and only with the rip teeth. Even when cross cutting a board, when you need to saw through a knot, use a rip saw and go slow to save yourself much anguish. Crosscut teeth break easier, so use the rip teeth in knots.

Also in general saw slow, let the saw do the work, don’t torque the saw handle to curve the cut and most of all do not flex or bend your blade in the passive down stroke, you can easily break off a corner of your saw or even break it in half. Again, good saws and really great handmade saws are very hard and brittle and break easily, don’t tempt fate.    Alx

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