Natural Japanese sharpening stones, purely subjective and your results will surely vary. Here are some thoughts.
Big A(makusa), 220 x 70 x 60 mm, hard but feels soft and kind of "sticky" on the steel. Used by itself, the stone is slow, starts at about 800 grit or so then starts to form a thin slurry and if you leave it alone, will finish out at a final polish of around 2000-3000 grit mirror. Kind of an all-in-one stone, but it is slow. It stays pretty flat, but to speed things along, I use either a diamond plate nagura to get things started or, lately, an old favorite artificial mystery stone that gives a great hazy finish to the jigane. I bought mine cheap (about $30 or so) from Mark at chefsknivestogo.com and I expect it will last about forever.
Looking at these photos reminds me that I need to try using a different face as the sharpening surface. Some stones work better using the flat grain side, others are best with the long grain side. The face that I have been using is neither one nor t'other but tends toward the flat/long grain, so I need to spend more time trying the shorter grain side and see how that feels.
This was my first (Japanese) natural and even though it was faster than the old clogged oil stone (or sandpaper, uggh!) that I had been using, it felt slow and rubbery (for lack of a better word) and I didn't really like it a whole lot. I have artificials in the same grit range that work very well, but for some reason I keep using this guy. Being so slow to dish, you can use it for working the backs of chisels and plane blades and it's big enough to use with a guide, which can come in handy for setting a new bevel angle. It is cheap AND you won't screw it up. Very broad range for one stone and I think that it makes a good "beginner" stone because if you focus on good technique, you will get good results. If I am prepping a new blade or a really abused tool that needs a lot of work, I will use a man made stone, but if I want to just relax and enjoy making something sharp, this is the rough stone that I use. I use it every day.
|Showered up and ready for work|
It may be that the reason that I use this stone everyday is because it works just fine using only a quick spritz of water. You can soak it if you want (it helps slurry production a bit) but it is very much a "splash and go" stone. It's silly but if I need to soak a stone before using it, I tend to put off sharpening till later but conversely, if I start with THIS stone, before I know it an hour has passed and my hands are stuck in this funny claw shape and won't move. Not an hour on just this one stone! God! Not even I am that masochistic! This one just gets me rollin'.
|Lets sharpen something!|
|Start with a 1200 grit diamond stone finish|
|Not much happening after 30 seconds|
So as I mentioned earlier, this stone works better if you use a slurry to get things started.
|Use a diamond stone to make a thin slurry|
|30 seconds later and most of the scratches are gone|
|Stay with it long enough and it will give a nice, dull mirror finish|