The Nest of the Lotus Flower

I seem to keep working my way through the sharpening stones, and it was time to order up so new ones. I had heard some good things about Sigma Select II stones, and tend to like ceramic stones a fair bit, so I ventured a contact to Stuart Tierney at Tools from Japan. Stu is one of those fellows who who will really take the time to answer your questions and writes quite detailed emails. i like that. I told Stu that I would wrote about these new whetstones, and he gave me the stones at a very reasonable price in some exchange for a plug here on Carpentry Way.

My recent stones were a mix of brands. A New Kent 1000, a KitaYama 2000, a Shapton Pro 5000, and a Naniwa (Ebi) 10,000 stone. The Naniwa has a bit of talc or something like that in it which gives it a feel I like fairly well, but the stone wears down fairly fast. I’m on my third one and was looking for an alternative.

I ended up getting three Sigma Stones, from left to right, a 1200 grit, a 6000 grit, and a 13,000 grit:

The 1200 is described on the box as a ‘middle stone’ (中砥) however I tend to think of stones under 2000 as more or less coarse. The 1200 is a decent size (210x75mm) and nice and thick at 25mm:

The 1200 is a ceramic designed for high speed steel and powdered metals, which other brands of ceramic stones can struggle with I have found.

The 6000 comes in a different box for some reason and is also a ceramic. The stone has fine pink dots on it and has some writing on one side:

Whatzit say? Well,  “人造蓮華巣板仕上砥”, or jinzō-renge-suita-shiage-to“, which is man-made (人造) lotus flower (蓮華) ‘nest-plate’ (巣板) finishing (仕上) stone (砥). Lotus flower presumably refers to the colored pattern on the stone. ‘Nest plate’ or suita is a word normally applied to natural stones and refers to stones which have streaks or dots of color in them, that is, incursions of other material, which might mean a soft stone substrate with little hard bits in it or other configurations. In this case, the term renge-suita (蓮華巣板)refers to the pattern of incursions looking like a lotus flower.

Here’s a picture of a natural stone of the renge-suita type:

Next, the 13,000 Sigma Select II:

I have been running a variety of blades over these stones for the past few weeks, including white steel blades, blue steel blades, super blue steel, and western A2 steel as well. The results have been uniformly impressive, These stones are all fast cutting, do not dish quickly, and do not clog. A perfect world of artificial stones if there ever was one. These three are my new favorites and I have put my other stones away for the time being.

Just to give an idea, here are some pictures of a Funahiro paring chisel through the three grits.
First, after the 1200:

Then the 6000:

And the 13,000:

A little blurry that one as it was tricky getting the camera to focus on the mirror.

A few different chisels, of differing steels and makers, taken through the rounds with these three stones:

Another addition to the sharpening set in recent weeks has been a DMT DiaFlat sharpening plate:

This plate comes with a certificate guaranteeing flatness to within 0.0005″, and the diamonds come mounted on a good size chunk of steel plate:

It’s a hefty piece of metal, and needs no additional hand pressure to flatten stones:

This plate seems a tad coarse to begin with and leaves scratches on the stones, but like many diamond plates it settles down after awhile and isn’t quite so aggressive. This plate replaces my sandpaper on granite plate method I’ve been using for the past year (after the failure of my Shapton Glassstone diamond plate). The sandpaper gets messy quickly, and the wet/dry sheets don’t last all that long so eventually it isn’t all that cheap a way to go. With a flat support plate for the paper, it can be very accurate however. I’ll go with this diamond plate for a while. An advantage to the plate of course is its portability (in comparison to a 3″ thick granite 12″x18″ surface plate at least!).

Sharpening is one of those unglamorous but vital aspects of woodworking with hand tools and a rewarding activity in its own right. It’s a bit sad that almost all of the western magazine articles one comes across about sharpening involve how to make it quick and easy, a chore to be overcome as quickly as possible. I would suggest that to truly progress in sharpening – or any skill-based activity – one must abandon the idea that is is some sort of burdensome task to be grudgingly got through, or gotten through with the aid of gadgets and little thought, and move to a place of being present and engaged with the activity. Sharpen, use the tool, observe, adapt, Repeat. In time you figure a few things out, and discover more things you didn’t know. That’s how it goes.

Thanks for coming by the Carpentry Way. I’ll say in closing that if you are looking for some new sharpening stones, Stu at Tools from Japan is a great guy to deal with and will give you patient help and great advice. Highly recommended. On to part II of this rock talk.

15 Replies to “The Nest of the Lotus Flower”

  1. Wouldn't 0.005″ not flat enoug for stones? I had a similar diamond plate, it wasn't flat to begin with. I flattened my stones, which turned them convex in turn causing my plane blades to be concave. I went from a granite slab to the stone….and right back to the granite slab. I know what you mean by the paper not lasting long, it really doesn't, but at least I know my stones as as flat as they can be.

    I'd be interested to hear how this new flattening stone works out for you in the long run!

  2. Nick,

    Thanks for your comment. I goofed up in my typing – it's flat to 0.0005″. not 0.005″. Seems plenty flat enough for me. I'll amend the post.


  3. Chris,

    I recently purchased the same set of stones, with the exception of the coarsest stone being a #1000. I actually find that stone a little slow cutting for my preference, a bit tedious, but agree with your analysis that they are very fine stones. Very quick off the coarse stone is something that I like. Stu, I also found to be a real good guy to purchase from, and we could chat about some various things.

    For people initially learning to sharpen, observing that change in pressure with your hands is often an important part of the process that will give better coverage of the blade, and also will allow increased speed. Finding that out can much further things along. Most people tend to have more strength in one side of their body than another, and it isn't so easily self recognizable, and that can have an effect when both sharpening and planing. Possibly such a tip should be worth at least a few dollars….. Help pay for all your time put into your informative blog.

  4. Chris,
    You do not list any very coarse stones. I seem to often over extend my tools causing small chips in the edges. With a #220 pink “arato-kun”, it can take quite a long time to correct an edge. I am ordering a Sigma Select #240 and #400 from Stu, hoping to make the process faster.

    Do you use a wet wheel or Tormek on your japanese blades?


  5. If paper was 1.25$ a sheet. It would take 160 days for the prices to equal out, if you were using a sheet a day, I like sometimes do. How long do these stones last for? If its a few years then it's totally worth it to buy this stone, if it's the same one lie neilsen is offering.

  6. I have heard there are a two or more lines of Sigma Stones. The line sold by Lee Valley are different than the ones Chris purchased. Do you ned to soak the Sigmas. The Sigma dispay on Lee Valley claims they are soft but cut very fast. DJY states the 1000 grit is too slow if I understand him correctly. How do Sigmas measure up to Shapton pros?

  7. Dennis,

    thanks for chiming in and not surprised that you are also liking these stones. I'd be interested to compare the 1000 to the 1200. I've been using a New Kent 1000 for the past couple of years, which cut fast enough for me, and I find the 1200 just as nice.


    thanks for your comment and questions. I have one coarse stone, a Shapton which is medium blue in color (around 320 grit, IIRC), but I almost never use it. I have learned to sharpen with greater frequency and not “overextend” the tools. I invariably take the tool to the 1000~1200 grit stone first, and go from there. Sometimes with planing, where 'slightly dull' can be problematic, I'll start a re-sharpening on a 2000 grit stone.

    I don't own a grinding machine. I occasionally avail myself of one when needing to trim the ears on a plane back some, as I find doing so on a stone makes for gouging the surface too much. Upstairs in my building there is a Tormec, and I've used its buffing wheel before to clean tarnish and rust off of something – it worked well.


    I don't know yet how long these stones will last. That is likely to be different for different users of course. How often a person Sharpens relates to how often they use hand tools, how clean a result they seek. Most woodworkers I've seen rarely sharpen and are content with tools which are not sharp.

    With my old set of stone, I can go through a softer stone, like a Naniwa 10,000, in less than a year easily, but a hard stone, like a Shapton 5000 Pro has served me for 3 or 4 years now. In general, the coarser stones usually abrade away more quickly, and need more frequent re-flattening. I haven't has these Sigma stones long enough to know how they will last, but they seem to resist dishing pretty wall and are plenty thick – thicker than most other brands. So, I imagine getting more than a year at the very least. Time will tell.


    what am I missing? I went over the post again and couldn't find any typos, so, please point me in the right direction.


    yes, you are correct that there are two lines of Sigma stones. I'll try to get Stu to post a comment in response to yours as he knows these stones far better than I do.

    As far as comparing to the Shapton Pro stones, in this case I am now using the Sigma 6000 largely in place of the Shapton Pro 5000, and I would say I prefer the Sigma so far. I haven't used the other Shapton Pro stones in a while, in fact I have a brand new 2000 Pro on the shelf, but had been preferring the KitaYama 2000 to it.


  8. Ward, I got a follow-up from Stu in answer to your question, and it was sufficiently lengthy to merit another post altogether. Click the link about to 'Part II'.



  9. Chris:

    Just a quick note on your mention of how western woodworking articles seem to look at sharpening as a “chore” – I happen to use it as a form of meditation every morning even if only for 15 minutes. Learned from a couple of american carpenter's who learned from Makoto. It has caused me to become more accurate in all of my woodworking – both using sharper tools and possibly the patience of respecting proper effort.


  10. Chris,

    thanks so much for the amazing blog. I have a pertinent question to me… are you meaning to say you flatten backs as you go, on the stones?? Why do you show the (excellent) Ura of the chisels in the picture?

    I normally use a kanaban. Odate's book told me to use a lot of force on the kanaban, like, bodyweight over it, which works obviously, but I gouge the crap out of it sometimes on an off-stroke. Any advice on kanaban (or stone!) flattening use, quality necessary of kanaban, etc is very helpful. So call me rough, but… I gouged my kanaban badly, but since the burr does this, the iron is relieved. Since it is relieved, there is a self-leveling-cement effect when the abrasive slurry gets in there, and I have been using my gouged kanaban (sparingly) but to my knowledge, without any consequence, since the relieved areas don't jump out to unevenly wear my steel, and the general flatness presides (as checked by straightedge). BUT I have chisels I am scared to use on it so any advice is very helpful.

    I have read several posts of course and have another question.. I love the point about the chipbreaker second bevel. I have a lovely new plane from Tsuenesaburo. It came WELL set, to my knowledge.. it is the standard angle (is it 38 or 42 degrees).. I guess short question is, real world terms, should I be able to get the glassy finish on an entire piece of Jatoba? Because I got glassy in parts, well satin perhaps, and tearout in others.. and want to know if I should try harder on setup. I did sharpen (and improve shaving), did not flatten (it wasn't recommended yet) did not flatten or sharpen CB, and have seen some light scratching perhaps on some corners on the 70deg CB surface corners. Depth adjustment of this plane has been marvelous, thanks to excellent Dai I presume, and I believe the blade is in the correct position. The blade is Super Blue.

    Also I enjoy your article on the tripod chipbreaker but do not think it is complete without a picture of a fine shaving of hardwood!!

    Thanks for your epic contribution to woodworking!!


  11. Will,

    I do not normally flatten the back of chisel or plane blades “as I go”, as flattening only needs to be undertaken when the front edge of the hollow becomes “threadlike”, what they call ito-ura. When it is time to flatten, I do use stones for the task and not a kanna-ban. I have used a kanna-ban in the past however I find working with the grits and all a bit messy. If you keep the stones scrupulously flat, they work fine for flattening I have found.

    I don't agree with Odate's technique of using a lot of force to do any flattening or honing operation. The more force one uses, the less sensitivity one has to what one is doing. Maybe Odate is physically slight and feels like he needs to use a lot of force (?). Clearly, you have been using too much force if you have actually gouged the plate by sharpening.

    Should you “try harder on set up”? Well, I don't know about trying harder so much, but from your description it sounds like you are new to Japanese planes and have only partially set up your plane. Either that, or it come partially set up. I found your description a little confusing actually. Jatoba is tough to plane and given your comments I would suggest you will need to be patient in teasing out the sort of performance from your plane that you hope for. All the best in your endeavors!


  12. Chris, thanks so much for your outlook. Scrupulously flat indeed! Do you subscribe to the it-takes-3-to-make-a-flat stone theory of rubbing them against each other, or exclusively prefer your diamond (or any plate)?

    As for Odate's prowess, from experience of trying, I kind of believe the opposite.. I think it is very difficult to maintain that kind of control on the kanna-ban when he is depicted like riding entirely atop the tool when the slightest off-angle stroke would allow one of the 3 burr sides to dig in. I mean I GOUGED it. And yes it's a mess 🙂

    Without too much detail about my on/off 10ish yr experience w/ Japanese tools, much of which would horrify you so I won't speak of it.. in summary it was a question inspired by the “Chip off the Block” insight about bedding angles.. for some real world reference I am now familiar with! question being.. should I be able to plane the Jatoba well with a near-properly set up, sharp, super blue steel, good quality plane at 40 degrees? You're absolutely right tho.. the higher the quality of tool the longer it takes me to get top performance out of it. And then it's a “wow” moment. Followed by that same quote for quite some time.

    And also I tracked back further to the minority of posts I missed and found .. you give a GREAT chisel set up which answers some of the questions. I definitely feel silly when I finally blurt out something and its covered, but it speaks about the size of this body of work!!

    As an aside to that article, I have a Yamahiro paring chisel I got new, and it had the exact same Ura condition, which due to my lack of experience, took a bit of time to diagnose… I was scared I was seeing something wrong! I guess the fear came from knowing I can't put steel back on the chisel. In fact the top of the Yamahiro was also identical and took some time. I guess it's good to know he's consistent!

    You don't use guides, correct? Do you use a natural finishing stone for any tools?

    It is always difficult to thank one for such great contribution as well as expert advice!


  13. Will,

    Again, thanks for your comment, .i don't subscribe to the idea of using one or more sharpening stone against the other. Whichever stone in such a group is coarsest will have the greater portion of the abrasion, and if that coarse stone is not flat then it will make the other stones a shape which cannot be flat. I think using the classic three surfaces or edges against one another does work perfectly when the aim is to check those surfaces against one another for straightness or flatness works fine, but not when abrasion is involved. A stone could be twisted and yet one could rub a softer stone against it until it was in perfect accord with the twist.

    I never use sharpening guides, save for working with the blades on my marking gauge, which are bent over at 90 degrees and are too small for me to get grip on. For those, I have made small block of wood with notch that the blade can fit tightly into, and then move the stone instead of the blade. Otherwise it is all freehand.


  14. Chris, thanks for the advice!! “Scrupulously flat” .. I have to quote that again!! I think another version is “meticulously flat”. I don't have as much confidence in my flattening (am used to the 3 surface approach, and agree with your analysis) so I think I'm gonna get a Tsunesaburo kanna-ban anyhow, mess free with purchase 🙂

    Freehand is best!! I'm somewhat glad to hear this is your preferred method when looking at your beautiful edges; it makes one realize the potential of the technique. Plus, those guides are a pain to drive!


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