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Naniwa waterstones rock! This is the best I can say. I’ve used many brands of waterstones, but have fallen for Naniwa brand. All of the stones sharpen quickly and dish (wear out) slowly. Exactly what one needs in sharpening stones.
Think of knife sharpening like sanding wood. One starts with a coarse grit sandpaper and moves onto finer and finer grits. Each finer grit achieves a smoother finish. The same goes for knife sharpening. Start with a coarse grit to regain the edge of the knife and finer grits to refine the edge. The higher the grit the smoother the edge and the silkier the cut feels.
My current set-ups are:
For European Knives (or more correctly all non Japanese knives):220 grit (Imanishi) and 1000 grit (Chocera or Naniwa hard type) and leather strop or honing rod. This is all you need for European knives. I find any higher grit stones make the cutting feel smother, but the longevity of the sharpness is decreased.
For Japanese knives :220 grit (Imanishi), or 400 grit (Chocera), 1000 grit, 4000 grit (Yellow Lobster), 8000 grit (White Pearl), 10,000 grit Superstone and leather strop. I like this system for harder steel kitchen knives (like the powder steels and white and blue carbon steel) and wood working tools. I also think this is a great set-up for those just learning to sharpen as the 4000, and 8000 stones are harder therefore more rugged as less experienced users can inadvertently gouge or damage softer stones.
Or :220 grit (Imanishi), or 400 grit (Chocera), 1000 grit, 3000 grit (Chocera), 5000 grit (Chocera) leather strop. I prefer this progression of stones for softer steel knives (like Molybdenum Vanadium and yellow carbon steel), very precious knives where the look of the blade road is as important as the sharpness results and my personal knives. The Superstones give a more refined edge on the knives and the highest visual polish. You can get a great ‘mirror’ polish with these stones.
For carbon steel knives these synthetic stones do a great job, but I’ve been messing around with natural stones. Carbon steel and natural stones go together like pizza and beer, it is the future. I always have a few natural stones kicking around the shop and will be offering a few options here when I can get a reliable, consistent supply.
This is my opinion of the stones and the set-ups that I use for different blades. It is not necessary to use all of this kit. I do because this is my job. I say find what you are comfortable with and experiment yourself. It is, after all, about personal preference. Liberty Hall!