So I bought a couple of Japanese knives...
... and now I see that I need to be proactive in keeping them sharp. So I bought a stone that was recommended on here- a Suehiro 1200...
The directions on the stone said that I actually needed 2 other stones, an 800 (coarse) and a 6000 grit finishing stone. Are all these necessary? If so, I'm spending more on stones than knives! Please advise...
Short answer, no.
The 1200 will give you a good edge. The higher stones may improve the cutting edge but the higher you go adds more polishing. Not that there is anything wrong with that but a lot of people would be perfectly happy with the edge a 1200 provides.
800 and lower remove metal faster which would speed up the process if you had a very dull or damaged knife.
You can't get a lower number stone to do what a higher number will do but you can get a higher number to do what a lower can, it just may take a lot longer and with more wear to the stone.
Most people would prefer to have a range of stones to suit their needs. But a 1000-1200 stone would most likely be the stone people would opt for if they could only have one.
Your advice is right on. But just to prevent the odd lurker from misconstruing your advice, I must nit-pick one point:
"You can't get a lower number stone to do what a higher number will do but you can get a higher number to do what a lower can, it just may take a lot longer and with more wear to the stone."
In a technical sense that is true. But it''s easy to misconstrue. I could sharpen 24/7 on a brand new 8000 grit stone until it's worn down to nothing, and it still wouldn't do as much grinding as I could do in 10 minutes on a 500 grit stone. After a point, using a high grit stone as your main sharpening stone just doesn't make sense. A 1200 grit stone is fine though.
Sorry for the nit-picking.
"The directions on the stone said that I actually needed 2 other stones, an 800 (coarse) and a 6000 grit finishing stone."
It depends. Generally speaking, no. A coarse stone is useful if your knife is very dull or if you like to reprofile your knife edge to a very different angle. Even then, I would go for a lower grit like 500. A finer stone can give you a finer edge. It is not necessary for many people. To give you a measurable benchmark, most of Shun knives are finished with a 1000 grit setting:
"Regular shun pro is finished on a sharpening machine using 1000 grit, just like the rest of the Shun line. "
When you go for stone higher than the standard 800-1200 grit range, then you are seeking something much more refine than most factory edges.
If you do want to go for a higher grit stone one day, then I would suggest a 3000-5000 grit in your case.
To expand on my statement, I just purchased an inexpensive J-knife. It's a Tojiro Shirogami 210mm white carbon steel and cost about $50.
I did my own sharpening and put a 10 degree bevel on each side, taking it through the progression of stones from 250g to 4000g and then stropped to polish and refine the edge.
The sharpening equipment cost way more than the knife but that knife is cutting like a dream and holding the edge longer than I expected. A quick strop brings it back to nearly where it was after my sharpening session. I could be happy with this knife for years.
There is a difference between a cheap knife and a crappy knife. This is a cheap knife with good steel that sharpens easily and holds up well to use. I gave my daughter some old German knives that I don't use. They sharpen up well but can't hold it for very long. No matter how much these knives cost they are crappy knives by comparison.
Put your money and time into sharpening gear and technique. You can start with your current knives which will cut like a razor compared to what they are like now after you sharpen them. Then move on to a better knife and you don't have to drop a wad of money to get that either.
:) Do you think your Tojiro ITK Shirogami is better or my Tanaka Aogami? Should we have a battle?
I agree with scubadoo here. There is a difference between inexpensive unpolished knives like his Tojiro Shirogami (white steel) knife and polished crappy steel knives. I had an opportunity to sharpen some knives for a few of my friends once.
Among the knives I were sharpening, the Kiwi knife has the worse handle and the least refined finish. However, it is made of a better steel. I don't know exactly what steel it is, but I could tell it is a better knife steel because it formed a better edge. Sometime you really cannot judge a knife based on its price, its look, its handle...etc.
Back to your stone comment, your 1200 grit stone is more than enough for now. If you feel the need to improve the edge further in the future, then buy extra stones in the future -- not now.
"... your 1200 grit stone is more than enough for now. If you feel the need to improve the edge further in the future, then buy extra stones in the future -- not now."
I completely agree with Chem's statement here (and SanityRemoved's post up above). I have the 1000 grit & 6000 grit stones, & the 1000 "sharpens" while the 6000 "polishes." Obviously, polishing is still removing material & so by definition is also sharpening. But it's completely unnecessary for keeping the edge in a refined state of sharpness.
If I were only going to have one stone, I think it would be the 1200 you (Clarkafella) have got. Add an old belt to use as a strop & you're all set. :-)
Chemicalkinetics, I don't do battle with friends
Clarkafella would do well to listen to you. You provide a lot of sound advice.
So those Kiwi knives sound like a bargain if you can sharpen them well. I can take a crappy handle if the steel is good. Better than the other way around.
"Chemicalkinetics, I don't do battle with friends"
Hmm, I think you got the relationship mixed up. cowboyardee and you basically taught me much of what I know about knives. So you are really my mentor. However, the apprentice has to surpass his master in order to become the next Sith Lord. :P
When I first learn to sharpening, I was under the impression that the knife edge is dictated by my highest grit stone and was focusing on the high grit stone. In reality, it is more complicated and the my initial impression was wrong..
As I learned more, I found the lower grit stones play a much more important role than I have initially thought -- for many reasons. For one, if you are into reprofiling the knife edge, then the lower grit stone is what set the new angle. More importantly, the final edge is not really dictated by the last stone, by the last good stone – the stone which fully polished your knives.
Let's say we have a sharpening system of a 1000 grit and a 10,000 grit stone. The 10,000 grit stone will take forever to polish the 1000 grit edge. At the end, the cutting edge is more like a 1000 grit stone even we have applied the 10,000 grit stone.
Now, let's say we have a sharpening system of a 1000, a 2000, and a 10,000 grit stone. Again, the 10,000 will be very slow at polishing the 2000 grit stone edge, so at the end, the knife cut like it is polished on a 2000 grit stone. My first stone was a 1000/6000 grit stone and I always felt the 6000 side was ineffective in polishing the 1000 grit, and that my cutting edge is still more like a 1000 grit finish cutting edge.
Congrats - I'm sure that you will be very happy with that stone. Just please consider getting used to it on one of your cheaper knives first. I also agree that the 1200 stone is probably the only stone you'll need unless you have a bunch of other knives that need a lot of work or you want to entirely reprofile their primary bevels.
There are other options, instead of finishing stones, for taking your edge to a much higher grit or even a mirror polish. It would be worth your time to read up on stropping with chromium oxide on a scrap of leather (usually glued to a wood scrap). Stropping can also be done with dmt diamond pastes. Or using 3M abrasive films. Or using very fine grit industrial grade sandpaper - the kind used for car paint finishes. There are a fair number of places to get these. And this will allow you to take your blade to WAY beyond 6000 grit if you really wish to do so.
All these options,except for the dmt diamond pastes, will be very reaonable - compared to "one more stone". Lee Valley Tools is one source for most of this stuff, except perhaps the sandpaper. Auto places and maybe places like home depot/lowes might have the latter. I'm not entirely sure.
But ... a used mousepad and a few sheets of sandpaper or abrasive film and a piece of glass ... and too much time on your hands ... can give you a "food lightsaber", with a convex edge. My own ambitions haven't reached that far but I really like reading about the guys that do this stuff.
There are some serious sharpening experts on bladeforums.com that discuss all these techniques in detail, with images and even some videos. It's a great resource.
I agree with many of the other posters here. A 1000-grit waterstone and an old leather belt with some chrome oxide smeared on it will keep your knives nice and sharp -- maybe not "zen master light saber" sharp, but at least "amaze your friends by chopping celery in the air" sharp.
IMO, keeping your knives sharp doesn't have to be as involved a process as the Japanese tea ceremony -- unless of course you're enjoying yourself, in which case, go for it!