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Thread: Sigma Stones

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Los Angeles, CA

    Sigma Stones

    LV has two new waterstones in their catalogue -- The Bester/ Imanishi (spelling?) and the Sigmas. Anyone have any experience on how they stack up? Compared to the Naiwa superstones and/or Shaptons. I have Nortons and am thinking of trying another finishing stone-- Hopefully something that doesn't require as frequent flattening. I have 01 and A2 plane irons and 01 chisels.

  2. #2
    With what you've stated, you'll be best off with the bester/imanishi stones if you want to go with a soaker, shapton pros if you want to avoid soaking.

    All of the stones you've listed will cut A2 and O1 without issue.

    The sigmas that LV has are geared toward high speed steels, and it appears from all write-ups about them that they take care of high speed steel with efficiency maybe similar to diamonds, but they are soft stones and the speed difference on high carbon steel will not be nearly as much - not enough to warrant the extra flattening they'll require.

    I have used (own or owned, actually) bester, naniwa super stones and shaptons, and all of them cut everything you've listed with ease. I can't comment on the imanishi stones unless they are like the besters. Besters are porous, thirsty (but soak quickly), fast cutting and stay flat for a long time. For practical use, I still like the shapton *pros* the best (not that excited about glasstones). No soaking, meaning if you're in the shop for a half hour, you need no forethought to use any of them - you just go to them, spritz the surface and sharpen. They cut A2 and high carbon steel as fast or nearly as fast as anything, leave a very uniform scratch pattern at the edge, require little flattening, and are ready to use as fast as you can squirt a mist on them. They also obliterate any traditional japanese tool steels (the white, blue and boutique blue steels).

    There are US and japan market stones. I have some of both. I can't tell a difference. There is a huge difference in price, though.

    *I think* Shapton says that the 12k is a 1.2 micron stone and the 15k pro is 0.98 micron. You will not be able to tell a difference in use if there is one, and the 12k stone can be had for as little as $85 shipped if you look around (ebay, etc) and get it from japan. If you use microbevels or hollow grinds, the 1k and 12k are all you would ever need, and if you want to go finer than that (I don't know why you would for woodworking), you could go straight to LV green stuff on MDF. I am not aware of an artificial stone that will create an edge superior to the green stuff on mdf, and I have used the shapton 30k stone (which I think is generally a waste of money unless you're in a contest with someone).

    There's nothing wrong with soaker stones unless you like to work like I like to work (I may have an hour here or there to work sometimes, and I have no interest in soaking stones or dealing with grit contamination on my fine stones or putting them in separate containers to avoid that. I like sharpening to be a sub-minute activity).

    The shaptons are very hard and non-porous and do a good job of allowing you to work in both directions if you work freehand - without much concern of gouging the stones. They have some stiction and are a little more dense on the surface than a soaker, but technique overcomes that easily. You can sharpen a hollow ground chisel extremely quickly on them by working the chisel in a side sharpening pattern through the fine stone and then taking a few short strokes with the finest stone to get the scratches perpendicular. I would say from the time I arrive at the stones to the time I walk away with a hollow ground chisel that starts fairly dull, it's probably 30 seconds to hit the bevel 1k and then 15k, and lap the back about 10 strokes.

    The only other way to match that kind of speed is to use diamonds, and I'm convinced the edge isn't as fine with them in a two step process, and the scratches aren't nearly as uniform.

    The naniwa superstones are a lot the same, but they don't cut quite as aggressively and are a lot smoother to use - the feel of them is almost like a medium hardness natural stone (i understand naniwa worked to get that feel on purpose). The shaptons will cut HSS with some skill (they will make it sharp, they will not hog it like diamonds, but they will make it sharp just fine with microbevels or a hollow grind - you don't want to have HSS without the ability to power grind, anyway), but I hear the superstones won't do it so well. I never tried the one I had on HSS.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
    Burlington, Vermont
    Quote Originally Posted by David Weaver View Post
    The naniwa superstones are a lot the same, but they don't cut quite as aggressively and are a lot smoother to use - the feel of them is almost like a medium hardness natural stone (i understand naniwa worked to get that feel on purpose).
    Makes sense. I recently ordered three of the Naniwa Superstones; it says "Fine sharpening-taste as natural stone gives." on the packaging. Makes sense now.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Rincon, GA near Savannah
    How well do the Sigma Power Stones cut D2, cpm-v3, and cpm-v10? I'm hoping to get some Ray Iles D2 plane blades, and as soon as John Payne is able to get his chisels and blades through testing and into production, I'll have some great cpm-v10 blades
    I'm just trying to get setup for sharpening those hard blades. I think diamond paste on a steel plate would work to cut those hard edges.

    I've read some great stuff from Stuart Tierney blog where he's testing a bunch of stones. But I'm just not sure what to make of the results so far. But it does look like the Sigma Power Select II are good for the hard metals, I'm just not sure if the higher grit sigmas are good for the hard metals (3000/10000).

    Anyone have some advice on what to try on these new hard metals?

  5. #5
    I would imagine the entire line is good for hard metals, that's what they're designed for. It looks like stu cut the entire flat bevel with the 1k stone, which is something no sane person would ever need to do, but it does show that they cut aggressively. Even if the higher stones are a little less aggressive, they should have no trouble. If stu's recommendation isn't enough, the fact that LV decided to offer them to cut their HSS irons should be convincing.

    Diamonds on steel will cut anything, including carbide - you will never find a steel that diamonds don't obliterate. Even when you hone HSS on a diamond hone, it files it off like it's plain steel. Nothing cuts deeper or faster than diamonds, but you have to try them and see if you mind the feel. I like a stone better, there's something missing from the feel on a steel plate.

    I have the RI D2 mortise chisels and they are no problem to sharpen on shapton pros or a muddy kitayama stone I have. they are not close to as difficult to sharpen as M2 HSS.

    The harder the steel, the better the idea to use power sharpening to do all but honing a small area, no matter the stone. Microbevels or a hollow grind, and of what you mentioned, a lot of stones should handle everything except maybe the V10. I saw reading WN that someone with a lot of experience had no issue using plain old kings for V3.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Milton, GA
    I just placed an order with Stuart (Stu) at Tools from Japan recently. I am hoping that Stu is ok since I assume he was in Japan during the disaster. I want to be able to cut the new tougher metals too.

    I ordered:
    1 x Sigma power ceramic stone #120
    1 x Sigma power ceramic stone, 3F Carbon #700.
    1 x Sigma Power 'Select II' ceramic stone, #6000 grit.
    1 x Sigma Power 'Select II' ceramic stone, #10000 grit.
    1 x Suehiro 'Free size' waterstone base, single rod with tray.

    I have a Shapton 2000 Pro stone that I purchased way back when the 1000's spent a long time out of stock. The Sigma power Ceramic stone, 3F Carbon #700 is a unique stone in that it cuts much more like a Select II. Stu felt that the Select II stones in the higher grits do not have the same softness/wear issues that the lower grit stones suffer from but cut just about any steel faster. I think the Sigma Power (SP) stones that Stu sells are an improvement over the Bester stones.

    I had a problem with one of the two Shapton stones I bought, a #8000 Pro. It took a fall and broke into pieces. The Sigma stones are much thicker and tougher than the Shapton stones, which is the main reason I went with them.

    I am sending all the good vibes I can toward Japan.
    Last edited by Mike Holbrook; 03-12-2011 at 7:32 AM.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Kagawa, Japan.

    You might want to take into consideration that I am a Sigma shill here...

    The Sigma Select II LV has (and not all the grits) are designed specifically for tough steels like powder metal and High speed steel. They chew through less tough steels in the same manner, and in my very limited experience may get the job done faster and easier than even diamonds manage.

    But, the coarser stones don't exactly stay 'flat'. the way they work is to constantly expose fresh, hard abrasive. I'd think they stay about as flat as Norton stone do, maybe a little better. The key difference is that they'll behave the same regardless of what the steel is. The only reason they are not rated as a seriously dishing stone is because they are so stupefyuingly quick to get the job done, and do it before they have a chance to seriously dish. The finer grit stones are much harder than the coarser #240-#1000 and dish much less. I know the #6000 is about as sweet as they get, and may well be the very finest #4-6000 stone on the planet, because it's fast, flat and nearly clog resistant. Anyone who's used a stone in this range for back flattening knows that you can't have flat/fast and clog free in one stone, but the Sigma Select II comes awful close.

    The Bester stones are very hard, stay flat but are quite old in design now, and their composition is lacking just a little. They are good stones though, and certainly stay flatter than Norton. Not a bad choice at all. A little hard and unresponsive for my liking though, like sharpening on a polished steel plate.

    Dave loves his Shaptons, but won't believe me when I say the coarse stones don't need soaking, but the finer grit stones (#5000 and up) do benefit from soaking, and Shapton also recommends this, which is the only reason I tried it, and found out that they respond VERY favourably to a 10 minute soak before use. But not less or more than 10 minutes. PITA if you ask me. 10 minutes soaking for 2 minutes work.

    But, since the title says "Sigma Stones", you can't leave out the Sigma Power ceramic stones...

    They aren't the fastest, or the flattest or the cheapest to buy. They aren't always a dream to use, and they just aren't perfect.

    The problem is, they do everything you want, without having any significant warts. Every single synthetic stone I've ever used (and it's over 50 now) has problems, and most often the reason for the problem is easy to identify. With the Sigma ceramics, it's much, much harder to work out where they can be improved, and it's not just one stone, it's the entire range.

    And that's why I believe them to be the very best stones available at the moment for 'standard' steels like O1, A2 and Japanese tools. They do everything very well as opposed to doing some things well/great and other things poorly/badly.

    It's really difficult to relay this without looking like an informercial. Maybe I'll send Dave a Sigma one day soon and change his outlook.

    Stu, the Sigma shill, and really glad I don't have to fudge the facts about them.

  8. #8
    I have a backlog of stones to figure out! besides, i'm probably the only person in the world who is one-up on stu tierney on the stone exchange - a title I'd like to preserve!

    The shaptons may benefit from soaking, but they work very well without it. I'm too lazy to do it - as you point out, 10 minutes would never work. I remember being disappointed that they weren't smooth like the old king gold and the kitayama are with some nagura, but it didn't take me long to figure out how to use them. They do work better if you dress them and leave a little slop on the surface, and like a nakayama stone, the only thing you get out of them while you're working is black stuff, and you have to preserve that slurry. I've gotten to the point where I don't even bother freehand to make the slurry (it's not needed with a microbevel at all).

    What we have in the world of sharpening stones is a problem that many of them work very well, especially on the steels that most people use day to day. Most of the differences in the stones can be overcome by technique. I've seen so many opinions about some of the stones - especially the 5000, they are all over the place on that, but that stone to me is very valuable as an interim step with a japanese iron, and if you side sharpen on it, no stiction. I can step right up to a natural stone after it, or I can go to the 15k, or in theory naniwa's soaker (which I still have to figure out to get a better edge than the shapton - i think i need to learn to use the mud)

    Those things may change if the HAP40 / M4s and and such take hold. The range of stones people will want to have will narrow, and I suspect the ultimate winner will be a stone with a hard surface but with pores, and with a durable abrasive.

    did you get to play with a HAP40 when you were with the tsunes? I was kind of surprised to see Tsune say that they didn't recommend it for softwoods - as fine as the grain structure is (<6 microns?), I think with some fine diamonds, you could make one awfully sharp. I guess even if the grains let go, it could still be a smoother prior to a one-pass finisher. It would save a lot of time on the stones and let you really preserve the edge on a nice white steel plane.

    It'd be nice is sigma could get their stones into the wwing stores over here, instead of those norton and king/ice bear combos. While I have a fondness for the king brick, because it was my first stone, there's just no reason to buy them now unless you find them for 50 cents somewhere (i still have a soft spot for the 8k stone, though, but it's very soft).

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Kagawa, Japan.
    You hold that dream Dave, because that's all it is.

    4 feet behind my head there's about 3 dozen stones, waiting to go out. But on the fridge (where my stones live) the Shapton pile is 2 feet high. The Sigma pile is almost 2 feet high, double row. There's a Chosera 5K on the floor somewhere, probably mating with a 6K Rika (don't ask, that's not sold outside Japan yet!), there's a Sigma #240 ceramic somewhere else, and a few other tasty morsels just kicking around.

    In the end, you know as well as I do, there's virtue in nearly every stone out there. Finding how to exploit and use these plusses to the best advantage is the trick.

    But I prefer to not have to fuss if I don't have to.

    (And just between you and me, the Sigma 13K is a honey. Works like a Shapton Pro 12K, but never does anything worse than load up after you should have backed off the pressure. A couple hard passes, lighten up and it's done. Just porous enough to let the water sink in, but not porous enough to soak. Next stone I get should be a Chosera 10K, but I have serious doubts it's going to take the gloss off the 13K, the Sigma is just that good. And yet pointless, because it's so fine that it's not needed most of the time. Oh well...)

    Tsune only mentioned to make sure you use white alundum on the HAP40. I'd have to believe the heat treat has left it slightly 'soft' to sharpen, just so it can be done with conventional gear, but not too soft to sacrifice durability. Next time I'm in there, I'll get to play and make sure I take a full compliment of stones with me, especially the Select II. Funnily enough, I had an A2 blade with me, sharpened off the Sigma 6K, and he was impressed. I thought the edge just so-so, but if they're liking it in there, who am I to judge?

    The HAP40 is fine for softwood though. The recommendations are for here, not there. They do tend to be a little OTT with this stuff, whereas most folks reading this won't be too worried. I'll be taking most of the recommendations with a grain of salt, but I do understand the recommendations. When they say 'takes a good edge', it's so far beyond what can be coaxed out of most steels it's ridiculous.

    But I've got run of their stuff when I get in there next. It's just finding the time. I suspect they'll be busy pumping out planes for the rebuild up north that'll kick start, and a lot of folks with lots of disposable income who want to buy up big wile the yen flow free, which is good for them.

    (Don't get upset. When Kobe happened, folks were working away on one house, and then having money thrown at them to come build someone else's house. A few thousand a day, and often they'd pick up their tools and walk down the street. For a young person with construction skills, Sendai and surrounds would be where I'd head to make a lot of money real quick. Be careful though, you might get anchored down in the area as well, as many young folks from Canada and the US found out...)

    Ice bear... Anything with an animal in the name makes me cringe...


  10. #10
    Join Date
    Mar 2007
    Fayetteville, GA
    Joel - O1/A2/D2 are all sharpen pretty quickly on typical Shaptons/Norton/Bester that I own. Each have their own trade-offs. I have a small HSS plane blade that takes a little longer on the Shapton. Work flow is an important factor though and should be factored in because more often, sharpening is not a planed activity.

    I favor stones that do not require soaking in my shop such as the Shapton Pro. When a tool gets a little dull, I first hit the strop. After a few times, a short walk to the sharpening station and I can typically get back to work in 2-3 minutes including clean up. I own some Bester (500/1000/2000) and Norton (220/1000) but those rarely got used because they all require some soaking. Under this scenario, I doubt that the Sigma II would be any faster than the Shapton Pro unless the majority of your tools are HSS. One could argue that the stones could be left soaking but none of the manufacturers recommend it.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Kagawa, Japan.
    Quote Originally Posted by Tri Hoang View Post
    One could argue that the stones could be left soaking but none of the manufacturers recommend it.

    Sigma stones can be left to soak indefinitely. That's the official line. If they get filled with algae, boil them.

    No, the actual official line is "of course they can be left in water. They're like a coffee cup..."

    I'm not sure about the Select II, but I'm cycling ceramics through the freezer now, and no harm done after a dozen freeze/boil cycles.

    (The term 'indestructible' comes to mind...)


  12. #12
    If the IIs are really 100% abrasives, and sintered, I'd be surprised if they didn't tolerate a soaking.

    there is one term that confuses me some that I see a lot, and not just on fujibato's auctions. He has some 6000 stone that he calls manufactured by "magnesia" process, and it must be softer because he claims it will fall apart if it's left in water.

    I've seen other people say a stone is made by the "magnesia process", all are in japan. I wonder if it's something that google translate doesn't hit.

    I can save you some money on the chosera 10k for woodworking tools (though I know the razor guys and knife guys like to hit you up, too), at least on standard steels - I don't think there is a practical advantage with it over any other finish stone, but it does what it says it does as long as there is some mud on it (it cuts a high polish with a smooth feel, though not as smooth as the 12000 superstone). If it doesn't have the mud, it is kind of sticky (like a king or kitayama with no slurry on it and not quite enough water), especially with a big japanese iron. It should prove to be more than the shapton on steels tougher than A2 and D2, though - we'll see. I like to run those up through the shaptons and then hit them quick with powered leather, and i still haven't seen a stone that matches that for initial sharpness.

    The one thing I don't like about shaptons is the way their price is stepped up a couple of times vs. what it is in japan. It appears over there that it's a stone priced like a lot of the others (aside from the trinkets, like the DLRP and the 1/2 micron stones), but over here it's made out to be something exotic and, for example, a 15k shapton pro is priced double what a kitayama stone costs from a knife retailer. I don't like that.

    The glasstone 16k at $100 is hooey when there are always sellers from japan selling the 12k pro for $80-$90 shipped here.

    I know about the rikas, obviously have never seen one, just words about it. Has a good reputation as a sleeper on the knife boards, and usually the knife fanatics are more picky about stones than we are.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Kagawa, Japan.
    Select II have no binder to speak of, that I (or anyone else) is aware of, and I have to say it's correct until I hear different from Sigma. They are soak tolerable, but because there's no binder worry about them encountering freezing. The regular ceramics are freeze tolerant. Possibly the Besters might be too, but I'm not going to stick a Bester in the freezer for now...

    Interesting about the Chosera. If that's the case (and I'll take your word for it, thank you very much!) then, well it is a nice position to be in with the 13K being quite possibly the nicest to use superfine stone available. It really doesn't stick, is hard and stays flat. I'm still waiting to hear back from someone, but it might be one of the exceptionally rare stones that can be taken 'off the stone' and pass some of the razor sharpeners tests. Those guys (and they're all guys) get pretty serious about it, and I know I can take a chisel off the stone and pass their hanging hair test (level 2, split the hair), which is eye opening to say the least.

    Magnesia is something I've never used, and don't have any plans to. Stands to reason they'd be fragile though, but probably offer a cheap way to make a consistent stone in a ceramic process, at the cost of big warts. I've never seen a truly expensive one, all things considered, but they're rare even if they're still made today.

    'The Rika' is marked #5000, works like a #2-3000, needs soaking and is soft. But it's smooth, cuts super fast and for knives, is danged near perfect. Never clogs and the love is in how it works and how it feels, not how it gets the job done, which for tools is not that good. If you can tolerate it being as soft as a King, then it's wonderful, cheap too.

    Problem is, there's 2 more stones in that line up, and they're the ones I need to take a look at.

    Absolutely worth it, so long as you can handle the mud, which there is a lot of. Kind of like a King Neo, super fast but muddy, muddy, muddy. The mud is sticky when flattening, but not when sharpening, so the love holds so long as you don't flatten it.

    I don't know what's going on at Sigma or Shapton. They're both in Tokyo and probably got shook up pretty well. Just hoping they're all ok up there now. And we gotta turn off our lights and extra electrickery things at 6PM because they're going to shunt our power up to them folks.

    Gotta get some printing done now...


  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Rincon, GA near Savannah
    So now I'm wondering what would be Stu and David's recommendations for O1 and A2 sharpening stones (like Sigma Power, Sigma Select II, Naniwa superstones, shapton, diamonds on a plate), and what would they use for hard stuff like HSS, cpm-v3, cpm-v10?

    I'm getting the idea that the Superstones would work ok for O1 & A2, but Naniwa Chosera or the Sigma Power would be even better than the Superstones.
    And the Sigma Select II stones would be great for the hard metals (or diamonds on a plate).

    I really hope the superstones are at least as good as the shaptons?

  15. #15
    I like the shaptons better than the superstones, but I like hard stones. Other people might have a different opinion. You *can* cut HSS on shaptons (V10, probably not), even though they are not idea (speaking of the pro stones - glasstones should be off the menu in my opinion, and yes, I have used them, and I still have one of them).

    I like the chosera 400. I'm still figuring out the 10k, but at this point, I would say you can find a quality edge on a woodworking tool for less. If I find out it cuts HSS like carbon steel (haven't had a chance to see) without being overly soft, then I might back up on that.

    For HSS, for straight irons, I just use the shaptons and finish off with a leather belt (used to be a disc, but someone offered up a leather belt grinder on here for a good price, and I have a good bit less chance of having the iron dig into the wrong side of a disc and fly into my nads). For the curved iron HSS plane I have, I use a fine grit belt (like 800 or something) and then finish the edge with a loaded leather belt -loaded with honing compund.

    I have used diamonds on a plate. I wish I could come up with some smart system that worked great and very economically with its flatness on all of those tool steels and still had the nice feel of a natural stone, but I've got nothin as far as that goes. I guess if I didn't have a belt grinder, I'd have to sets of stones - one for the easy stuff, and one for the hard stuff.

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