Kitayama synthetic was my first whetstone ever. I got it back in summer 2008. I was experimenting with the new sharpeners and sharpening techniques, desiced it was time for sharpening stones, and famous Japanese whetstones were the first candidates for testing. Technically I didn't really need it, practically I am very glad I bought it. 12000 grit stone, which is what I thought Kitayama was, has approximately 1µm size abrasive particles, or you can cal it 1µ mesh. By then, I've been using micro-abrasive films for several years. Films did cover all of my sharpening needs for fine and very fine edges. Aluminum Oxide, which was the fines micro-abrasive I've had then has 0.3µm mesh. Other abrasives consistently in use were 15µm and 5µm Silicon Carbide films. So, I figured after 5µm I could do an extra step, and use 1µm sharpener, as an intermediate step.
Kitayama Grit Confusion- That is quite curious. Neer seen so far the same thing happening to any other stone. Half of the stores in US have Kitayama listed as 12000 grit(1µm), and the other half has the same stone listed as 8000 grit(2µm). That's been a case for over a year. Now, considering that most of the people in US aren't quite fluent in Japanese, even those who use Japanese whetstones. On top of that, the box doesn't indicate the grit. That lead to the widespread confusion about two different Kitayama whetstones on the market. In fact, those two are the same :) And, according to "stone guys" from Japan, the true grit is 8000. However, there's a catch, which by the way, is a good one. Kitayama stone has natural whetstone powder in it, so once you start sharpening, the mud abrasive particles break down and the resulting polish and edge are more like 12000 grit. So, perhaps it'd be correct to say that Kitayama has a range of 8000-12000 grit, just like natural whetstones do. I have no idea when or how this all started, but in any case, if you are looking for Kitayamas and can't decide between 12000 and 8000 grit, then don't worry, they're the same, it's been already decided for you ;) As far as I know, the only other stone produced by Kitayama isn't even sold in US, and it's 1000 grit.
General- I don't really remember the price of this whetstone, but it was relatively cheap. Definitely less than 100$. Compared to natural whetstones of the same size and grit that's several times cheaper, easily. I've seen comparable size/grit whetstones well over 1000$ too. Anyway, this is a relatively cheap whetstone. As it's synthetic, it comes in perfect shape and form. Dimensions are 200mm×75mm×25mm. one thing I am not really happy about, the stone comes with its own, wood base. I didn't think about that detail when I was buying the whetstone, but eventually it turned out to be a nuisance, that is if you have more than one stone. Base makes the stone almost twice as high, which in turn means extra shelf space and extra weight, soaking in water is a trouble, cleaning the base is a trouble, wood I suspect will rot eventually. If you only have one stone, it's no big deal, but if you use multiple stones, all the cons multiply, and most likely a person with several whetstones, would also have an universal stone holder or a block. So, it's an extra, not really needed. Even if you only have a single stone, wet towel will do just fine as a base. Skip the base if you can, don't repeat my mistake.
The box also includes small nagura stone. Naguras are small, coarser stones, synthetic or natural, used to flatten the surface of the whetstones, and primarily to create the mud on the surface, which is where you sharpen the knife, in that mud. Here is the magnifyed shot of the nagura stone, Although the paper included with the stone advised to use nagura for flattening, I personally, feel that it's be too slow for any serious surface flattening. DMT 8XXC 120 grit will do much faster. For minor maintenance type job, nagura will do just fine. After using this stone about 9 month, pretty intensively for someone who's not a sharpener by profession, it still didn't need surface flattening with 8XXC. Nagura so far maintained perfectly flat surface. For the record I've sharpened very hard and abrasive resistant knives on it, examples below, in performance section.
To use Kitayama whetstone, you do exactly the same as you'd do with any other whetstone. Soak in water for ~15 minutes. I've experimented with soaking times and I think even 15 minutes is too long. Although, I always soak it for 15 minutes or so. As fas as water consumption goes, it's worse than Aoto Natural whetstone, but a lot better than Bester 500. One thing you really have to keep in mind is that Kitayama stones contain Magnesium salts, which dissolves in water. Therefore, leaving the whetstone overnight or for prolonged periods submerged in water will quickly deteriorate stone cutting ability and render it useless!
Performance- Now, the cutting performance is a complicated matter. Overall, I'd rate this stone as a good cutter. I don't have other stones of the same grit to compare directly, but from what I've heard from other knife guys, it works faster than Norton 8000 and gives better polish/finer edge, but it's slower than Shapton 12000 grit stone. However, from my own experience, in other words, how fast I could raise a burr with this stone, and how much metal it was removing from the blades, I rate it as a quite fast cutter. Although, at those grits you don't remove a lot of metal as usual. If you have to, then you're using wrong stone!
The list of knives I've sharpened with Kitayama K includes some very hard and wear resistant knives: Aritsugu 300mm Honkasumi yanagiba - 65HRC+, Aritsugu A-Type gyuto 60-61HRC, but very wear resistant steel, Watanabe Honyaki gyuto - 63-65HRC, honyakis are notoriously hard to sharpen, and perhaps two of the most difficult steels to sharpen CPM-10V Utility Hunter by Phil Wilson(64HRC) and CPM S125V Meadows Semi-Skinner By Phil Wilson again, this one at 65HRC. Due to the huge volume of vanadium carbides those two are exceptionally wear resistant and very difficult for any stone. For all of those knives, I got the excellent, mirror polished, hair whittling sharp edge. I can't really say one knife was harder to sharpen than the other, with the exception being CPM S125V steel. It did took the final polish slower. Considering the elemental makeup of that steel and the fact that most of the knifemakers simply refuse to work with it, because it's so hard to process, I'd say Kitayama performed very well.
Another thing I have to mention here, was the sharpening experiment with the Global GS-40 Paring Knife. The other day, which was couple weeks after I've sharpened Aritsugu Honkasumi yanagiba, which frankly is a major PITA to sharpen(cutting bevels is really difficult on a steel so hard), I've decided to test the stone on much softer Globals, 65HRC+ on Aritsugu Yanagiba vs. 58HRC on Global paring. After a few strokes I could see removed metal all over the stone. Basically, I took the knife finished with 1200 grit to the 8000 grit stone. On most of my kitchen knives that simply will not work, they're too hard. For Global Paring it was absolutely doable. In less than 30 minutes I was finished. Raised burr from both sides, polished edge and was ready to move on to 0.3µm abrasive film. Doesn't make much sense with the steel at 58HRC, but I do it anyway. For comparison, I took Phil Wilson's CPM-10V knife, which was also 1200 grit and tried to do the same. Pretty much zero results after 10 minutes or so. The mud didn't get any darker. I could see nothing, in terms of removed metal particles. The steel itself is very wear resistant and then it's hardened to its max, 64HRC. You get what you pay for, very good edge holding on CPM-10V knives and so-so on Globals. So, that is the price of easy and frequent sharpening, you loose that much more metal. As a disclaimer or whatever it is, you shouldn't do the same. For me it was a test of the stone and comparison of two steels. Otherwise, it causes excessive stone wear and there is no reason to do that, i.e. take very rough edge to this fine grit whetstone.
Conclusions- Very good whetstone. Cuts fast, wears very slow. Water consumption isn't very high, still needs more water compared to natural stones, but costs few times less. It's the smoothest feeling synthetic whetstone I have. yes, high grit is contributing to that, but it's not as simple as just the grit number. Aoto 2000 grit whetstone that I got from Takeshi, is at least 3-4 times rougher, but when sharpening with it, it still feels more gentle and smoother than 8000 grit Kitayama. Overall, for a synthetic stone Kitayama is a very solid performer and provides very fine edge, even when compared to identical grit stones. You can get that from various sources on the net, Dave at Japanese Knife Sharpening definitely has them for a good price.
Last updated - 09/01/11