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European Natural Stones

Note: Specific Gravity (SG) ranges are listed for stones here mainly to help identify them. One stone having lower SG than another doesn’t always mean it will be softer than the higher SG stone. Many stones from Europe (specifically UK) can be hard to identify, and SG ratings helps to narrow it down if you get them). Always keep in mind SG is a measure of density, not hardness nor fineness.

Coticules, Belgian Blue Whetstones, La Lorraine (Belgium)

There is a lot to talk about with Belgian whetstones and it will be broken out into its own page. Check here for more information on them.

Thuringian Waterstone / Escher (Germany)

These are a clay shale stone which comes out of the Thuringia region of Germany and are the most sought-after razor hone of all others from Europe. The stone was formed in the upper Devonian (375-385 million years ago) period made of very fine particles of various Clays and quartz crystals which went through a metamorphic process. Thuringian stones were pulled from multiple quarries around the Thuringian Forest in Eastern Germany (which is now a Protected Wildlife Sanctuary) on a ridge that runs South East from the Werra River near the valley of Rodach River and separates the forest from the Franconian Forest. WW2 greatly disrupted the ongoing production of these stones, with the last mine going out of business in 1966 before the area was made a preserve. Thuringians are in the range of 10k+

All Eschers are Thuringians but not all Thuringians are Eschers as it goes. Escher Company (Escher & Co, Escher & Sohn, Escher & Son, J.G. Escher, & Sohn, JGES) was a specific seller of stones which were known for their maticulous QA process was considered very high and as such their products carry an understanding of quality to them. They did not mine the stones themselves but worked with the small local miners to source product. You can find Thuringians which are equal to Eschers in all quantities, but buying an Escher will ensure you get a very nice stone. This has also translated into pricing, and Eschers per gram may be one of the most expensive stones in the natural whetstone market today.

Thuringian comes in a range of colors that sometimes – but not always – delineate the quality of behavior of the stone. As with all natural stones, you can only increase probability of certain performance rather than ensuring it if you are unable to test the stone personally. The reputations broadly as are follows; the colors are identified most clearly by how the slurry looks on your hand rather than the exact color of the stone:

  • Yellow-Green (Softest, Fastest, Lowest Fineness) – Most Expensive and Rare
  • Blue-Green (Soft, Fast, Medium Fine) – Usually claimed to be the best.
  • Light Green (Hard, Slow, Fine) – Not commonly marked as such, often look grey to the eye.
  • Dark Blue (Hardest, Slowest, Finest) – Least Expensive and Most Common

There are modern day “Thuringian Slate” stones you can find being sold which are not the same as the older Thuringian / Escher stones. The same area that was mined in the past is no longer accessible for that activity, so it is only a related stone being sold. It is often very black, with small golden pyrite non-toxic inclusions in it which is considered lower quality and grit. These are often considered 6-8k analogous stones. Specific gravity can range from 2.65 to 2.85.

Charnley Forest Hone (UK)

These are novaculite stone which come from Mount Sorrel quarries, the two most famous being Thringston Village and Whittle Hill. The area these were pulled from are now a protected “Natural England National Character Area” and no stone will be pulled from them again. Sometimes also called Leicestershire Oilstones, Cutlers Oilstones, or Chorley Stone. The stone was held in high regarding during the 1600s as a superior grade stone to much else available in the surrounding area of Cole Orton. It was very difficult to mine and as such did not get much regard at the time on the international export. It is hard to say when the last (Whittle) quarry closed down, but the best guess is the early 1900s. These stones are very fine grit (10k+) but can have a reputation of being slower cutting than the more widely available and similar Arkansas and Cretan stones. Unlike Arkansas and Cretan stones though, Charnley Forest hones benefit from slurry generation – the slurry they generate is fine enough to improve the edge and cutting performance without ruining the razor’s apex unlike most other novaculite stones. Usually, one would work the razor with slurry first, then spend a good amount of time on it with water only like a mix between JNAT and Arkansas techniques.

These have a blue-green-grey hue to them along with characteristic red striations, stripes, or dots throughout the stone. Stones from Whittle Hill are the most sought-after variety, often being more irregular in shape or rounded on the bottom though it can be difficult to tell – often looking trapezoidal in shape with the largest face being the sharpening surface. The non-Whittle Hill stone are often a bit softer and lighter in color and more likely to have “Khaki”-like colored areas and more splotchy red spots.

They can usually be divided into a few categories that old manuals discuss:

  • Green with Black Dots or Lines
  • Green / Blue with Red Lines
  • Bright Olive Green
  • Green with Layering
    • When wet, single layer appears underneath surface in another direction.
  • Green with Multiple Layers
    • Same as above but multiple directions are present underneath when wet.

Stones should be closely evaluated as the darker ones are considered better, but the dark areas can also have dark inclusions in them that are harder than the rest of the stone. Inclusions may not always be toxic (harder than surrounding stone) and each must be tested. Old manuals suggest that the solid green versions which are darker with less or no lines are the best versions – but versions of each can be exceptional. Specific gravity tends to be in the 2.65-2.75 range.

Cretan / Turkish Oilstone (Greece)

These go by many different names including Cretan Oilstone, Turkish Oilstone, Levant Stone, Candia Stone, Pierre Du Levant, Pierre Du L’est, and Ladakona. All of these originated from the eastern quarry on the Island of Crete which was once part of the Ottoman Empire creating the confusing array of names. It is a type of Flint stone which has been mined since the days of Ancient Greece and may be the oldest quarry in the world. It is made up of 96-99% Silicon Dioxide (SiO2) and pulled from the quarry at the Elounda mountain. The layers of stone there are 4 to 15 cm thick and vein between calcareous minerals. The stone looks very lite white/grey in color and when oil is added, turns a very dark grey/brown/black hue. The whiter stones are more desirable as they are faster cutting without sacrificing fineness. Cretan stones range in the analogous 6k-8k range, as with many stones requiring oil to reach the higher end of the range. Specific gravity tends to be in in the 2.6-2.7 range.

Tam O Shanter Scotch Hone (UK)

Sometimes called the Scotch or Snakestone Hones, these along with the Water of Ayr could be considered the classic main whetstone of the United Kingdom dating back to the 1700s. The Tam O Shanter organization also retailed other stones under their own name such as the Dalmore Blue, Dalmore Yellow (Mikado). The Water of Ayr (WoA) stones and Tam O Shanter stones, or sometimes called the Montgomeriestone Hone or Soutar Johnny Stone, are related and from the same company and were briefly sold under the same Tam O Shanter name leading to some confusion. They originate from different minds and have since been delineated as the “Tam O Shanter” being used to refer to the variety of stones which are speckled, less fine, and softer. This speckled stone is also sometimes referred to as the “White” variety. These come from the Dalmore quarry. These are analogous to an 8-10k stone. Though these are oil stones, they were originally suggested to be used with water or saliva. Specific Gravity tends to be in the range of 2.45 to 2.60.

Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker

Water of Ayr Scotch Hone (UK)

The other side of the Tam O Shanter / Water of Ayr coin, this is the darker, finer stones produced by Tam O Shanter which will have no speckled and be dark grey in color. In France these were referred to as the Pierre Rouge stone. These are preferred for razors over the other Tam O Shanter hones. These are rarer and were produced in lower quantities than the speckled Tam O Shanter stones. These stones were known for having a tendency to crack or split, unfortunately unlike JNATs sealing does not help this problem. Though these are oil stones, they were originally suggested to be used with water or saliva. Thse are analogous to a 9-11k stone. Specific gravity tends to be around 2.7-2.75 range.

Dalmore Blue & Dalmore Yellow (UK)

Quarried in Craiksland, Ayshire this stone was sold through Tam O Shanter but not mined by them. These are a fine sandstone which is analogous to the 3k-5k grit range and considered a prefinished for razors or good knife/tool stones. They tend to have a very characteristic swirling layering to their visible surface of the stone and are very easy to identify. It has a light and dark blue structure which can sometimes show as greenish or greyish. To reach the higher end of the spectrum they will need to be used with oil. Specific Gravity tends to be in the range of 2.55 to 2.60.

Far less popular than the Dalmore Blue, the Dalmore Yellow is a coarser stone with a yellow/tan color and lacks the banding of its Dalmore Blue sibling. It is a soft sandstone with an analogous grit range of 1-2k, so very aggressive comparatively and much more of a tool stone. These can work well as a bevel setter, though are fairly rare to find. These rare easier to find in the Tam O Shanter combination dual hones, but still not super common.

Llyn Idwals & Grecian Hones (UK)

From the quarry near Bethseda Wales, this stone is similar in use and look (though without the characteristic red streaks) to the Charnley Forest stones. It often has a reputation for being a bit harder but not as fine as the Charnley Forst stones and has been in circulation since the 1790s. They are typical blue or blue green with various swirls or patterns within, often accompanied by black speckles or dots. Llyn Idwal have been historically more expensive and as such less pervasive in the market. Despite being harder, they are considered a bit lower in grit and more aggressive than the Charnley (but slow as far as stones go in general). It is a novaculite stone – again similar to the Charnley – though in use it behaves much more like an Arkansas novaculite stone would where the slurry is aggressive, and the surface conditioning is of critical importance to the blade’s performance. It was at one time sold by Salmen as a different type of Yellow Lake Oilstone, and any “blue colored” Yellow Lake stone would be a Llyn Idwal. These stones can finish razors but are at the coarser end of that range and benefit from oil use. They also seem to perform and look very similar to much of the Vermont Slate coming from the US. Specific gravity tends to be 2.7 to 2.85 range.

Grecian hones are at least related to or may be a type of Llyn Idwal stone and may have come from the same region or even quarry. The two usually look and feel quite similar but with minor differences, with the Grecian hone being softer, coarser/faster, and typically of more solid coloring with less swirling patterns within the stone.

It seems likely that this was a way of selling the same origin stone but differentiating the qualities of the stone. It may be better to view them as a spectrum of the same origin stone. As such, usually we call one stone a Llyn Idwal if it is harder and finer, and a Grecian if it is softer and coarser. Grecian hones will be lower on the specific gravity range more in the 2.6-2.7 range.

Welsh Slate / Yellow Lake Oilstones / Dragons Tongue (UK)

The original Yellow Lake was produced by AB Salmen and pulled from a quarry at Llyn Melynllyn (Yellow Lake). This is the purple variety which is typically a little finer than the other varieties discussed below and was generally produced before they were boxed for sale. Very similar stones are also sold as Yellow Lake (and are from the same geological seam of slate) which comes in a few different names and are all forms of Alberllefenni Slate from Alberllefenni, North Wales. Miner since the 1800s, it is still currently in production in the form of “Dragons Tongue” by Inigo Jones Slateworks, though on average it is accepted the older stones solder under the Yellow Lake designation were a bit finer (this is likely due to higher QA of Salmen rather than the stone actually being at all different, current Dragons Tongue is basically a byproduct of their commercial architectural mining and as such stones are vetted less). It was sold by AB Salmen as well in two sizes, the larger yellow box and the smaller red box version. I have also seen it go by Idwal Yellow Lake as well. The tend to be middle of the road hardness for Slate, usually around 2.75 Specific Gravity. They range in the analogous 6k-10k range and are suitable for knife (with a steady hand) and razor work. The higher end of the range is typically achieved through the use of oil. Yellow Lake stones not from the Llyn Melynllyn location are typically dark blue grey in appearance with a very neutral visual texture to them. This stone is viable with both water and oil, but as the name suggests was traditionally used with oil.

Silkstones (UK)

A somewhat similar stone to the Welsh Slate above, there are differences though in how it looks/feels/performs comparatively. A good chance this is the same Silkstone that comes from the Sheffield area, specifically Dronfield is where it seemed some small quarries were. This seam though runs through Whiteland, Gleadless, Norfolk Park, and then descends into the Sheffield Valley. Unlike other stones, it is very hard to determine this stone’s exact location in the UK and this is – thus far – a best guess. It tends to be a bit less abrasive, more reflective at the surface, and provide more feedback than the Welsh Slate / Yellow Lake family of stones. The color is also usually darker, more of a grey black comparatively. Silkstones by name were only officially produced by Cambrock, though it is highly likely AB Salmen also put out a Silkstone product based on comparisons of stones by the community. The analogous grit of Silkstones is similar to Yellow Lake as well, maybe being a tad bit higher than the 6k-10k range and similarly get to the higher end through use of oil – but water is still viable for functional use.

La Lune (France)

This is a sedimentary slate which is typically a wine red/purple color but sometimes can have green mineral spots of Chlorite throughout. They are analogous to a high grit stone (10k+) and are known for being a little faster than average slate and nice to use as finishers for razors or knives. A group of individuals has recently (2021) started bringing this stone back to the market under a similar but revised name and logo. Specific gravity tends to be in the 2.8+ range. Background is below:

It was in Fumay that the slate trade unionist Albert Anciaux (1896-1978) specialized in cutting slate in the form of whetstone, after having worked with Lorent Bouvy in Haybes. He worked there until the 1970s before handing over to his son-in-law, Robert Cantin (1927-2012). The workshop, located at a place called the Village nègre (Saint-Gilbert gap) closed in 1984, it is still visible today under the responsibility of the municipality.

While some of the stones produced were distributed locally, most of the production was intended for the company “F.Ghelfi & Cie Birolleau reunited”, specialist in “Manufacturing & Assembly of Grinding Wheels, Stones for Sharpening and Polishing”. The sharpening stones produced in Fumay join a catalog made up of stones originating from several regions and marketed under the common name of “Pierre la Lune”. We are talking about more than 50 tons of stones produced at the time.

Rozsutec (Slovakia)

This is a sedimentary sandstone from Slovakian Mala-Fatra Mountains. It is known for being hard, consistent, fairly fine and aggressive. It is around a 6k stone, but can go up to 8k+ with oil and lack of pressure. These are newer to the market and not well known outside of their region in Europe but can be found on the international market. The stone often has visible layers to it which variate between muddy brown and grey.

Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker

Green Shadow / Black Shadow (France)

Not a vintage whetstone like the rest but a newer addition to the market, these are two versions of slate coming from the same private family quarry in France. The Green is considered lower grit and softer, around 10k while the Black is higher grit and above 10k. It is not ideal for knives but can make good razor finisher hones.

Credit: Ken Hamaker
Black Shadow
Credit: Ken Hamaker

Vermio Hone (Greece)

From the Vermio Mountains in northern Greece, this is a slate razor finisher of a deep blackish hue. They are said to have a fairly unique edge they put in, and are in the 8K+ analogous range. Information is scarce on them.

Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker

Glanrafon Hone (UK)

Another Welsh slate, though it is substantially harder than the other stones it commonly is compared to. This was sold at one time as a Charnley Forest Glanrafon Stone, though they were from different locations, and this is not really what we think of as a Charnley Forest hone. It often looks like the cross between a Dalmore Blue and a Llyn Idwal, with very dark but thin lines squiggling through it in bands. It feels like ceramic in the hand and of the Welsh slates is the hardest to flatten out. This hardness lends it to being a very slow stone. It is very uncommon to find these.

Pyrenees / Pierres Stone (France)

A mid-level stone still in production out of France and around the grit range of 3-5k. They sell two different whetstones which fall within that range, the Hard and Semi-Hard versions. You can buy the stones in a variety of shapes and sizes for different uses.

Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker
Credit: Ken Hamaker

Frankonian Hone (Germany)

A regional hone of lesser quality to the Thuringian / Escher hones. These are very rare and coarser grit as well as softer than the Thuringians are, being more in natural to a Coticule and would be a pre-finisher. They were hard to mine and as such did not achieve the same international fame as their Thuringian cousin.

Saxonian Oilstone (Germany)

Actually, produced by Escher in very limited numbers in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It came from the same area Thuringians come from but is a very distinctly different stone, looking very white/grey and being used with oil. These are incredibly rare stones.

Fiddich River Stone (UK)

A regional stone which looks a lot like a coticule with dark lines spreading out throughout it, often accompanied by black dots too. It is a very pretty stone, and very uncommon. A fine level razor finisher.

Bentheim & Gildehaus Stone (Germany)

These are a functionally defunct sandstone that you can find throughout the Netherlands and Germany both in whetstone and construction stone form. These were used as coarse grinding wheels with the Gildehaus stone being almost pure white and the Bentheim stone being reddish/tan. I have yet to find one being sold in the wild, but there is a museum about it in Germany: http://www.sandsteinmuseumbadbentheim.de/

Spiegelberg Whetstone (Germany)

Very old whetstones which stopped being produced in 1911 and started being mined as early as 1694. It came out of the Steinheim property of the Jux forest. It is a fine-grained hard sandstone of a tan color with sometimes blue strips running through it. The old whetstone mine is an attraction in Germany you can visit: http://www.wetzsteinstollen.de/english-version.html

Gwespyr Stone (UK)

From the Gwespyr village in Flintshire of North Wales, this is a carboniferous rock which has been mined since Roman times and shipped all around the world. In practice it is a fine-grained yellowish-green tinted sandstone which has a very powerful cutting power. It sits between the Dalmore Yellow and Dalmore Blue in fineness, so something around a 2-3k. The last quarry still in action was owned by Delyn Metal and was still active as of 2015, though its status has fallen out of common favor. I am unsure if the mine is still active.

Moughton (UK)

An interesting siltstone stone out of Britian which did not see widespread commercial use but was known in the area. This stone looks like a Dalmore Blue and a Charnley had a baby. It has the pattern and base color of the Dalmore, but the bands are purple/red like the Charnley stripes. Unlike the Charnley stripes though, the rings are caused by oxidization of ferrite-iron within the stone. This material also gives it enough grit to be successful at a wide range of grinding tasks and are known to be very hard. This stone was popular for scissors and razor sharpening and is around the 6k-9k analogous range. It is a very visually attractive stone and rather rare to find for sale.

Further Information