Okay, one last question before sending off my first order to CKTG. After much consideration, I finally decided on the Kono Fujiyama White #1 Gyuto and the Terayasu-Fujiwara White #1 Petty.
That left sharpening stufff with which to drive my wife crazy. Briefly, would an all natural progression work well - I love natural stuff in general, and have a highly treasured hard black Arkansas stone - or should I go with, oh, say, an Ume 1000 and a high grit natural for finishing?
I have a coarse J Nat, then an Amakusa, then Aoto and a bunch of finer stones. I have done this progression, but it is slower. I would say got for a Latte 400, Nubatama Ume Medium 1K, a mid level J nat or synthetic (Aoto or Rika 5K?), then switch to the J Nats at the higher grits.
There are other medium grit Japanese Naturals, like the Meara, Binsui, etc that can also work, but I would start synthetics and jump to J Nats after the 1000 grit stage at the earliest. If you are doing Kasumi finishes, the Latte 400 works great to establish the dark grey look and other Nubatama's were created to act/finish like J Nats, but be more consistent quality wise/feel wise since every J Nat is different, even from the same mine/mountain/strata.
When you get into finishing stones, you will find that some stones "like" the knife/steel better than other stones. Some work wickedly good on white, but so so on blue, or vice versa. That's the fun of J Nats
I shot Ken a msg, I am sure he can help out here since he deals with both synthetics and J Nats and can explain the differences in the Nubatamas, ie like where there are 4 or 5 1K stones
I'm pretty much using an all-natural progression of stones now. Full disclosure -- i'm not a pro anything, so my knives rarely get to the level of dull-ness where I really need a coarse stone, except when I'm trying to "flatten" a new knife, like a yanagi.
Echoing what the other guys have said, I found that synthetics tend to work better until 1k or maybe even 2k. By better, I mean they tend to leave a more even scratch pattern and they generally cut faster. Good coarse naturals are very hard to find... believe me, I've tried.
For heavy work on a bevel, I might start with a 300-800 synthetic, then maybe a 1000 or 1200 synthetic, or a binsui or ikarashi, depending on how much time I want to spend. Then from there I'll go onto an aoto or other mid-grit natural and then finish on a soft muddy stone like a hakka for a nice kasumi finish.
BTW -- I'll be putting my lightly used Meara up in the classifieds later today.
Tim, thanks for the message. I've been a bit low profile lately trying to get some orders out.
So let's start at the beginning post. While Arkansas stones (Black, translucent, etc) are good stones for softer steel European blades, they aren't a first choice for some of the harder steels found in Japanese knives. This is where Japanese naturals 'shine' as you have a wider range from coarse naturals (arato), medium grit naturals (nakado) and polishing stones (awasedo). The Arkansas stones are more mid grit finishes for softer steels.
So where to begin naturals vs synthetics? This is a fascinating question, made all the more interesting with the availability of Nubatama stones, which play so well with natural stones.
Taz's (Tim's) first response - I agree that jumping from a 1k stone eg the 1k Medium speckled Nubatama Ume - or any other 1k stone - to a polishing stone is too big of a jump and I would recommend something inbetween. If you went with a synthetic, I'd suggest the 2k or 3k Bamboo. These give a finish specifically compatible with natural stones finishes. If you go with a natural stone, there are various aoto stones, a topic worth a whole discussion as there are many aoto and they are a whole category of stones or other Nakado including Tajima, Igarashi, Binsui, Ebisu, etc.
Coarse natural stones include Amakusa (moderately coarse), Ohmura (Kyushu is what I prefer, medium coarse stone), and Hirashima (very coarse). For carbon steels, I like going down to an Arato stone. The Ohmura is not as coarse or aggressive as a synthetic 'Ohmura' which is just a 150 grit synthetic stone, but it starts to develop the contrast of a kasumi finish earlier on. In a sequence of videos starting with an 180 grit Nubatama to remove some very coarse diamond scratches, I do a remaining all natural sequence on a Moritaka Aogami super (blue steel) gyuto starting with the Kyushu Ohmura. It is a surprisingly versatile stone in that it starts out at about 180 grit but it refines it's mud giving you a far finer finish - and a natural finish - than a synthetic Ohmura. Naturals do take a bit longer and a bit more skill to extract maximum performance from them, but they span a grit range rather than a single grit so you get a finer final finish for your efforts. The final scratch pattern of a natural Ohmura is vastly better than a synthetic 150 Ohmura stone to follow with a finer stone. A high quality Ohmura also wears more slowly.
It is unfortunate that synthetics get named after naturals in that it makes a false introduction to 'the real thing', but it is a widely done practice.
Whether to go natural or synthetic at lower grits is a personal choice. If you enjoy using naturals and the effects that it gives - and I do - it is a pleasurable experience.
This of course is just the tip of the iceberg of a larger subject of using naturals.
Please look over this thread and the videos in it: