Shigefusa 270mm kasumi yanagiba with custom, by me, desert ironwood handle

8 Mar 2011

2x Nakayama Aka-pin review. Variations on a theme...

I bought two Nakayama Aka-pin stones from in the same batch. The long and thin one was stated as a Lv3 stone and the wide and stubby one as a Lv2+ stone. Not looking at the size, the two stones look and feel very similar to each other. Roughly the same colour and the same lotus pattern, similar surface feel and fairly similar in hardness. I thus expected them to be relatively similar in performance and use. I could not have been more mistaken. The two stones, however similar would prove to be as different as two stones can possibly be, being approximately the same hardness and grit.
The two Nakayama Aka-pins looking very similar.
I name the top one Aka-pin #2 and the lower one Aka-pin #1

Nakayama Aka-pin #1 close-up

Nakayama Aka-pin #2 close-up

For this review I used my trusty Kasahara Aoko #2 kasumi usuba from Iida Tools (as usual). Using the same knife for all my stone tests makes it easier to compare the results and posible to compare results over time.

I started out with the #1 stone. It is long and narrow and quite thin, but very clean and without significant cracks. Just a few hairlines in the board. The surface is red to orange and full of darker lotus patterns. It is a nice looking stone.

I was amazed by this stone from the first time I used it. I sprayed the stone with a little water and started sharpening. The stone pulled metal filings from the first stroke leaving the metal particles floating in clear water on the surface. I was really amazed by the efficiency of this stone. After about 30 strokes, a dense dark grey slurry built up making the sharpening experience really smooth and creamy. The dark colour of the slurry is due to a significant part of it being removed metal. 
A dark grey slurry coloured by the metal filings

Metal filings floating in clear water after a few strokes

The real surprise came when inspecting the result of the sharpening session with the Aka-pin #1. A totally smooth and even scratch pattern and excellent contrast between ji and ha showed up under the slurry. I could not believe my eyes. Could a stone this fast, agressive and soft be this fine? Obviously it could. It was obvious to me that this little stone was of excellent quality and that the price paid was a bargain.
An almost flawless result from the Aka-pin #1
Next up was the Aka-pin #2. A somewhat larger stone. Wider and thicker, but a little shorter. Approximately the same colour, but Aka-pin #2 have some really nice ring formed lotus patterns that I have learned should be a sign of better grinding force. Could this stone possibly be even better that Aka-pin #1? If so, I would be a very happy dude, indeed.

I started sharpening the same way. A good spray of water on the surface and on with the steel. It was soon apparent that this stone was not only a little softer than Aka-pin #1. It was a lot softer and a lot more thirsty. I had to soak it for a couple of minutes to be able to keep enough water on the suface to build a slurry.

The sharpening feeling was quite similar to the Aka-pin #1 except the Aka-pin #2 gave up a slurry a lot faster than the previous one. The slurry was a light tan to orange colour without signs of grey, showing that this stone was not even close to the efficiency of the #1 stone. I sharpened a while on the slurry hoping to see an even finer result on the blade road due to the softer stone and apparently less agressive abrasives.
Stone coloured thick slurry showing no trace of metal filings
I was totally wrong in my expectations. The stone left a significant scratch pattern on the blade road and with a lot less pronounced contrast between ji and ha. I tried the stone on my VG-10 gyuto and my Aoko #1 Santoku just to see if it was equally poor on all steels, and it was. This stone is absolutely useless as far as I can judge it. It has a nice look, but as a sharpening stone it is absolutely without value. It will make a nice paper weight at work reminding me to never taking anything for granted when buying stones on the internet. If it had been an expensive stone I would have returned it, but as the return shipping in this case would be considerably more expensive than the stone itself, I'll just write it off on the lessons learned account.
A very significant scratch pattern for a stone this soft.

So what have I learned from this endavour? Never to judge a stone by its looks. Never to expect anything from a stone before I have actually tried it. That two very similar stones from the same mine and strata can perform very differently, and finally that buying stones on the internet is a gamble where you can make real bargains as well as really poor deals. Luckily the bargains have greatly outnumbered the bad deals on my behalf so far. That said, even the bad stones provide me with experience and knowledge about the complex world of Japanese natural stones.

Be prepared to do a few mistakes to score the good stuff. You can of course remove a lot of the risk by buying certified and expensive stones, but personally I find the treasure hunting very exciting and I urge you all to try and find your own jewels amongst the heaps gravel out there. Win or loose, it is exciting anyhow, and highly educational.



  1. Experience is the best you can get for you money :)

  2. great review and i totally agree with Maxim

  3. That is very true. I love to experience new things. Especially when they differ greatly from my assumptions and expectations.

  4. it happens all of the time... for example, aoto. I'm always searching for a great one... i've tried maybe 10-15 different ones at this point... i found one i loved but it was out of my price range. They are all aoto... in fact, all from the same mine and same dealer... many looked nearly identical, but the feeling was different and noticeably so.

    Its part of the fun/headache with naturals... you've got to test each one... and even then it changes with time as you wear away the stone.

    lets call it fun for patient people ;)

  5. I have found the change in the stones to go both ways. Some rocks changes from mediocre to very good and other stones change the other way around. This can be very frustrating. Especially when your favourites turn into shait. It's almost as painful as getting out of a relationship :o)

    You are right about Aoto. A good Aoto is very hard to come by these days, and when they come around they tend to be very expensive. Mr. Tomohito IIda at Iida tools got me a marvel of an Aoto, 10 pounds, totally clean and very efficient and with a really creamy slurry, but it cost me the same as a Shigefusa 300mm kitaeji yanagiba.

  6. Thank you Harald for sharing your toishi "treasure hunting" journey. I have enjoyed following your adventures.

    I have also been on my own quest 'to try and find my own jewels amongst the heaps of gravel out there', but with less success than you have achieved. So, I'm picking up some clues from you.

    Have you acquired any new stones recently?


    1. Hi Neil.
      I have not gotten any New stones lately. I believe I have the stones I need for most sharpening situations. However, I try to improve my sharpning skills on the stones I have got to get the full potential out of them.

      Good luck on your endeavours.