Our Authoritative Treatise Upon Coticules
Far and away my favorite hone, Belgian coticules are communicative, repellent of metal, given to wear rather level (unlike waterstones), fast enough for most razor-related maintenance, and not terribly difficult to learn. They do require practice, and they rarely yield near-instant ~excellent results(as does any Japanese-type waterstone system). They're inappropriate for repairing neglected razors, and (though technically capable of the task) outclassed by ~600-2000 grit waterstones/diamond hones in bevel-setting. Bottom line, though: for refining/maintaining undamaged shavers, they're awesome....what other hone takes you from dulled to shaving condition in 30 minutes? There's good reason folks are cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs for these rocks.
Coticules transcend hype and flavor-of-the-month inertia. Choosing to "live the straight razor life" is much about placing equal value on processes themselves versus merely results. The coticule's visceral, dynamic, and rewarding process, according to many not behind this keyboard, is not duplicated by man made efforts. When the day arrives there's not enough newly-mined supply for us to distribute (there'll always be some trading hands on auction sites), I'll still believe (to obvious detriment of future inventory) that many who truly understand their coti won't choose something else by preference.
Japanese natural stones give a similarly-rewarding process as do coticules, and are in this opinion routinely keener. But they also produce an edge I'd equate a little closer with hyper-sharp artificial stones; entirely devoid of 'skin friction' beyond any coticule I've felt I've mastered (including the preferred "office pig" which has now seen >3000 blades, nothing more I can learn from it), but more capable of slicing away microscopic variances in skin topography. Coticules specialize in an edge that, while not as pretty as from waterstones or as keen as from stropping on diamond sprays/plastic sheets, "cuts hair but not skin". For that relaxed position, I feel that one must accept a higher friction coefficient (read; A DULLER BLADE) and the accompanying reduction in capacity to sever-remember, hair follicles (but not all SKIN) want ever-sharper edges, and if too dull for your follicle you'll get redness at the root of each follicle. Too intense an exfoliation of skin, however, will also give an uncomfy post-shave redness for an entirely different reason, and thus we aim to balance the two (and I pity those poor souls with barbed-wire follicles surrounded by the tenderest of skin). Coticules aren't magic; measuring the average deviation of the striations upon the bevel planes and of the line that represents their intersection (aka the 'edge'), they're summarily outclassed by many honing options! But the coti, any coti I've tried for that matter, can get the edge down to below 1 micron, which isn't bad, and that edge will behave as trustworthy and familiar as an old pair of jeans, with a comparatively enormous variance in what you must do to cut yourself or cut the hairs. Does this mean you'll never wish to chase more keenness beyond coticules' capacities? "No" is the answer for many, as everyone's need for keenness to cut their hairs cleanly but without exfoliating too intensely is different (please explain this concept to the "no such thing as too sharp a blade" crowd the next time you have their unbiased ear). I tend to think those with the worst beards combined with durable skin are better off with solutions produced by man, though many of them do find cotis sharp enough to shave very well, and those with average beards and any level of skin are almost universally going to enjoy a coticule.
I consider worrying about official "grit ratings" with coticules a waste of my time. At their coarsest use, coticules correct edge shapes...at their finest, coticules refine to comfortable-for-shaving-for-many condition. Grit rating systems are based upon the average largest size of the particles doing the steel cutting; a 400-grit waterstone has a whole bunch of large size steel cutters, a 10000-grit tiny ones. Coticules, conversely, have particles that never change in their average size-and their size isn't even particularly small! The edge those larger cutters leave, however, varies dramatically by how the stone is used. Unsolicited advice sure to be ignored; quit worrying about a stupid number and just hone and shave.
Coticules are sold in 'standard' & 'select' grade. 'Select' = homogenous-looking, "standard" = non-homogenous, but the sole active mining firm officially deems select/standard the same in cutting efficiency/action. Some folks argue the select grade's functional superiority, and I chuckle reading fervent believers of select-or-nothing mentality...all of them, we can presume, are quite happy with their savvy purchase, and-most importantly-are keen to extol their decision-making...a rare trait in hobbyist forums, no doubt.. Pragmatically speaking, there's exactly two reliable differences between select/standard grade stones; cosmetics and economics. Everything else is the same "crapshoot of coticuledom" that it always is; fast/slow max speed, fast/slow min. speed, hard/soft surfaces, high density/low density, "mellow" edges or "crisp" edges, crumbled blue cheese texture to mayo texture to frozen peanut butter texture...grade does absolutely nothing to predict these far more relevant criteria. I'd love to have two 'select only' disciples in the office for a test, with "A" picking ten 'perfect' stones and their ten "least-select" stones, then a blindfolded "B" taking as long as they needed to distinguish the stones into two groups-gooood luck! It is a moot point, however; the mining team wants the select grade out in the marketplace because they bring more revenue, so as long as they've some select to sell to resellers like us, that is what they will do; we now normally have solely the "select" grade . Contact Ardennes directly for a decent shot to save some savvy money; just tell 'em you're using it for straight razors and they'll hook you up.
Beginners encountering this page see so many rocks it makes their head spin! Every day, I get queries boiling down to the same premise; "I'm looking to buy my first coticule, which one should I get?" The practical answer; the longer you spend consternating over this dilemma, the fewer post-first-coticule-mastery shaves you've remaining in your lifetime. Spend as little or as much money as you like-you won't lose too much at all should you walk away from these rocks, they're pretty liquid assets in shavingdom. Be cheap if you're scared. But get to using a coticule (whether purchased here, at another shop, from our supplier, or from a friend). It doesn't matter which "breed" you pick, its size, etc.; the potential to master is always there, you'll invariably find something you wish it did that the next coticule (that you clearly won't really need) could possibly provide, etc. They're just tools, but they're addictive ones; I know none whom collect #1 Phillips screwdrivers. I would advise, however, that if you think you have excellent motor skills (and thus should try honing with stone in "off" hand) to not exceed 40x200mm/50x175mm among rectangles, or size-9 in bouts. Average to below average motor skills? Buy the biggest piece your budget allows & put it on the table.
A "fully understood" coticule (available to all of them, though some stones are more easily maximized by a majority of people trying, and vice versa) reaches much the same scientific range in the end (~0.5-micron from an excelling user/stone combo, ~0.75-1.0 micron the more reasonable target...but comparing this to <0.01-micron capable artificial edges, it is silly to me to worry about where in that range you reside). The particulars of honing vary with each stone's personality-some like some pressure, some do not, some need constantly-refreshed water, some no, etc. etc...and stones subjectively (not objectively) provide distinct differences in their shaving intensity. But that's all part of the, ahem, "fun:; coticules are like little puzzles awaiting solution, modern waterstones the equivalent of "live forever" application installed on a video game...where's the fun and frustration?
Coticule cost per unit of space increases dramatically with size and rectangularity-the biggest rectangles are the rarest and the highest cost per unit of area, but put me on a deserted island and I can promise you I'm not turning away extra square footage if you're offering some. Only you can place a meaningful value on that additional real estate for you and your pocket, but in the "area"/"money" ratio, each additional unit of area costs more money than the last. Every usable mined chunk's sold, including the odd multifaceted shapes ("bouts") which make up ~96% of volume. As rectangular pieces are ~4% of mining, occasionally we've had 'bouts or nothing' as the choice here-we've gone 6 months w/o any rectangles in stock before! Small trapezoidal pieces are best for rubbing (along with some water) on bigger pieces to create the required abrasive milky residue with which you refine edges. They're known as slurry stones.
Having sold lots of coticules, I fully understand that for many this is akin to buying individual pieces of jewelry, where matters impractical trump the pragmatic acquisition of a tool; that's why we show them all individually. It isn't to confuse you with choice, it is to fully disclose anything you'd like to know about your potential purchase; we do not "personally select" a stone for you-you "personally select" a stone for you!
It is lots of fun selling these rocks, the little scrap of the business enjoyably consuming so much time. But no matter how much you see here, we straight razor shavers are quite lucky that a Belgian father/son battery continues to mine this quite special rock, and I and all other dealers are lucky they don't simply choose to exercise extreme inventory patience in order to sell every rock directly to you without involving (or profit-sharing) me and my fellow reselling competition. If it ever ends, I'll really, really miss playing with all of these unique rocks and publishing them.
We must collect sales tax if shipped within Florida.