Tomo Selection

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Tomo Nagura - Thoughts & Facts


Many theories about what Tomo Nagura are, and are not, exist. Some seem to contradict each other, a few seem to be ideas that have been ‘invented’ by users and yet other ‘rules’ appear here/there on a regular basis. 

There are no rules.

 Iwasaki and the ‘True Tomo'

Iwasaki referenced the definition of Tomo Nagura in his booklet on sharpening Wakamisori. His thoughts were that the term ‘Tomo Nagura’ by users in Okayama prefecture was correct in that the meaning meant ‘paired hone’ or a piece of the Honzan. 

My personal interpretation of that translated passage is this; the usage of Tomo Nagura in Okayama seems to not have been the one single universal understanding across all of Japan. While Iwasaki felt this was the one ‘truth’ – it appears that it was not the ‘only truth’. Otherwise, I don’t believe he would have singled out Okayama. Iwasaki was a great man, but that doesn’t mean he was always right. 


It has been claimed that the term Tomo is a derivative of Tomo-To, which translates to ‘And Friend’.  This could very well be interpreted as ‘paired hone’ – or a piece of stone that the user cut off the Awasedo/Honzan for the purpose of using it to create an abrasive finishing slurry using only particles from the main stone. 

At the same time, I’ve not found the practice of cutting a piece of the Honzan off to make a Tomo to be something that anyone is doing. The Jnat users I communicate with find the idea of cutting the Honzan for a Tomo to be somewhat less than ideal for a number of reasons; possibly damaging the stone is one consideration. The other being that a mix of different particles from two different high-quality stones will produce a more highly refined edge.   

In the modern ‘real’ world –Tomo Nagura are not thought of as a ‘piece of the Honzan’; users leave the Awasedo whole, as purchased, and they select pieces of stone cut to be used as Tomo Nagura to go along with it.  These Tomos are, or should be, ‘Awasedo quality’ stone. Lower quality pieces of stone sold as Tomo Nagura; are usually less expensive options that may work fine for tools,  but will often not allow the user to achieve the desired result with razors or other highly refined edges. 


 My Theory

Many people don’t seem to give much thought to choosing a Tomo Nagura – while others tend to put a lot of thought and effort into the process. The concept of the ‘marriage of steel/stone’ speaks loudly here; whether or not any or all of the theories about Tomo Nagura can be proven one way or another has yet to be seen though; there seems to be too many unknown and known variables to consider and factor into any possible equation. 

I’ve had a good amount of first hand experience with cutting Jnats and using the a piece of the Honzan as a Tomo Nagura. While I’ve only had one such experiment fail, those cut-off pieces do work well. 

However –using pieces of stone cut from other Awasedo works much better for me. Personally – I do believe that mixing stone particles, the combination of different shapes, sizes, friability, etc – all factors into the recipe and the result have always been keener, sharper, smoother edges. 

Do I have scientific proof of this? No.

Do I have a YouTube video and SEM images to back up my claim? No.

Why do I not have irrefutable proof?

Because I rely on my own personal experiences to ‘prove’ my points to myself. 

What I do have is years of experience honing on a ton (literally) of Jnats and hundreds of razors honed successfully that I reference as my benchmarks when choosing a Tomo Nagura for any Awase.

For me – that’s good enough.


 How Do You Know Which Tomo is Best? 

Until you try a few - you don’t.

You have to try one, then another and then another and compare.

This is the only way. There are no pre-purchase tests that will guide you.


 Commonly Asked Questions

Can you mix Kiita with Asagi? Yes

Can you use harder Tomo on softer Awasedo? Yes.

Can you use softer Tomo on harder Awasedo? Yes.

Can you use a Nakayama Tomo on a Shobudani Awase? Yes.

Can you use one Awase to to raise slurry on another Awase? Yes

Can I use a slurry stone from a Coticule on the Awase? Sure, what the hell – try it out and see what you can do with it. I don’t think you’ll get the edge you are looking for but it’s always posible that – just maybe - you will learn something and who knows? You may nail down a new technique or style.

 The obvious 

A softer Tomo on a harder Jnat will yield slurry that is predominantly from the Tomo.

A harder Tomo used on a softer Jnat will yield slurry that is predominantly from the Honzan.

A Tomo that is equally hard at the Honzan will yield a mix of some proportion that I have no way to qualify accurately, but is probably a 50/50-ish mix.

A Tomo cut from the Honzan will yield only particles from the Honzan.

What do the obvious observations mean? 

Not much really.

Some people will claim that they know what the perfect combination should be for everyone.

My opinion - try one Tomo and see what happens.

Then try another one and see what you can do with that combo. 

I believe - there really is no one single way or formula to determine which combination of Tomo and Honzan is going to be the absolute best combination. 

Try stuff – use different stones and techniques.

“Great things can be learned through experimentation.”

Do note – can does not mean ‘will’.

Learning is up to the user. The stones are just vehicles for the process.

The one and only rule I have for buying anything related to Jnat honing is this; I don’t buy cheap crap and expect it to be as good as the real thing I passed over while trying to save a few bucks. I see cheap stones and Nagura all the time. I avoid that stuff like the plague. Value trumps cheap every time.

 There are plenty of options for non-finishing Tomo selection – for example, you can use a piece of soft Aoto or Suita on a very hard Awase, you may even find that you can finish well when using those options sometimes, but I’d suspect that you won’t usually find that to be true.


 I usually have a fair number of Tomo Nagura to choose from. I constantly buy new pieces and broken stones to cut up into Tomos. I enjoy the process of trying out new combinations, and techniques. To me – that is what honing razors on Japanese Natural Stones is all about – having fun.

© Keith V Johnson 2014 - 2018