Lots of guys on Badger and Blade have been trying to get me to try my hand at honing on Jnats, or Japanese Naturals. I have shaved with some Jnat edges that were very comfortable, and pretty sharp, just not quite as sharp as I get with my pasted balsa finish. About equal to, or a smidgeon sharper, to me, than the edge I get off a 12k Naniwa and oh so close to what I get from 1u lapping film. So for sharpness, not much reason for me to try a Jnat. For comfort, well, maybe. A well executed Jnat edge is pretty hard to beat, for comfort. On rare occasions I gift or sell a razor and if it is to a newbie, my diamond edges are awfully sharp. Sharper than unskilled hands should be learning to shave with. A Jnat edge on the other hand is still pretty sharp, but the comfort level is off the chain.
One thing has always held me back from trying Jnats: the cost. I like a big honing surface, at least 2-3/4" wide and a minimum of 7-1/2" long. A very hard, fine Jnat suitable for finishing razors, in this size category or bigger, typically starts at about $300. Then on top of that, the stone doesn't work alone. It must have slurry stones like a coticule does, but in the case of a Jnat the slurry stones, commonly called Nagura, are often of a different rock than the hone. Some are softer and coarser, and are best for raising a midrange slurry for refining a bevel. Some make a finer slurry, for finishing. Some make the slurry from themselves, and some raise a slurry from the hone. Some guys use more than one hone to hone a razor, using them in a progression. Anyway, high quality Naguras can cost over $100 each. So let's say $300 stone, and $200 in Naguras. That's all you need... nothing more! Except that AD, or Acquisition Disorder, often kicks in and guys end up with $5k worth of Jnats.
Well I happened upon a small hoard of Jnats being auctioned on Fleabay and threw out a couple of snipes, and picked up a nice looking NOS (New, but Old Stock) Awesado for a hair over $100, and a Mejiro and a Koma Nagura for another $120 or so, and one of my Badger and Blade buddies gifted me a nice Karasu, and so I had what one might regard as a pretty decent progression of slurry stones to go with my new Jnat, from medium-ish to fine, in the order mentioned.
On examining the newly arrived stone, I immediately noticed that it was not even close to flat. No surprise there. But it looked as though it were deliberately lapped that way. There was no dishing, only some convex action. The corners and one end were lower than the relatively flat area toward the center. So, I tried honing a vintage Bismarck on it. I used all three slurry stones in progression, finishing with clear water, and meh. The edge sucked. At least by my standards. The next day, I lapped the stone and tried again, with marginally better results. The razor barely treetopped at 1/8" and I expect a razor to treetop fairly well at 1/4". That edge was maybe okay for a newbie's first straight shave, but not for me.
Several attempts followed, skipping the water, fewer laps and less stiction, dry laps to finish, and none would make the razor treetop at 1/4". I stropped on the diamond pasted balsa, and restored the edge nicely, just to make sure it wasn't the razor to blame. Then I decided to take some microscope pics of the various edges I put on the razor with jnat and with balsa.
Bottom line, I am not impressed at all by my first Jnat. I will send it to one of my badger buddies who specializes in Jnat honing, and see what he thinks of it. I am sure that his skill level will coax a better edge out of the rock, but I don't think I will be chasing the Jnat dragon any time soon.
My Jnat buddy did indeed coax a little bit better edge out of the Awasedo, but it is still not on par with a Method edge. I have also shaved with some other Jnat edges that were pretty sharp, many almost as sharp as a Method edge, and a couple that were maybe fully as sharp as a Method edge. None exceeded the sharpness of my best Method edges and in fact, no other non-Method edge has shown me more pure cutting power than the Method edge. A good method edge well handled also gives up little if anything to the Jnat edge in way of comfort.
None of that, of course, invalidates Jnat honing. The traditionalism and history aspect, and the pride of mastering Jnat honing, are sufficient satisfaction for many to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on stones. Same goes for other natural stones, or synthetic stones. Honing can be a very pleasurable activity, and in pursuit of greater pleasure, it is perfectly okay to buy and use other honing media even if it is less efficient or more costly or gives slightly lesser results or takes longer to learn. I prefer film and balsa. I present and recommend film and balsa, as per The Method. That does not mean that I don't respect other methods or that you should not pursue them. Only one thing: stick with one style of honing and master it, before trying something else. I see a lot of beginners dashing back and forth between coticules, arkies, thuris, slates, Shaptons, Naniwas, blah blah blah and they never catch on and never find satisfaction.
I still firmly believe that a first time honer will do best by carefully following The Method, at least for his first couple dozen razors. Stick with it, master it, and THEN experiment with other stuff. That way you know you can always come back to The One True Method.