Man sharpens chisel on a whetstone with lapping plates in the foreground

Transfiguration: From Lacquer to Design

I bought my first Japanese chisel in the spring of 1984. After I bought the chisel, I became enamored with Japanese tools; the forged welding, the attention to detail, the handling, the balance, the weight all impressed me so much so that in the summer of 1985, I attended a workshop in Bear Brook State Park in New Hampshire where we built a Japanese tea house.

During that seminar, one of the teachers, Kageyama Shigeki, asked me, I think sometimes in retrospect jokingly, to come and work in his factory in Japan. I looked him in the eyes and told him, “I’m coming”. And I meant it.

A year and a half later, after getting my technical training visa, and after going through many hoops getting my paperwork in order and closing up my business obligations, I bought a one-way ticket to Japan. I was 22 years old and it was February 27th of 1987 when I actually arrived in Japan for the first time.

I couldn’t speak Japanese; I didn’t know how to ask for the bathroom. The guys on the floor of the shop took advantage of me and taught me some terrible words for the bathroom- I embarrassed myself a few times with my newfound vocabulary.

But I went to work in the factory and worked there for the next year. It was hard and frustrating at times and it wasn't what I expected in many ways, but it turned out to be a valuable experience. There I discovered that I wanted to study in Japan, but I wanted to study differently and for the next year or so I studied blacksmithing with two different blacksmiths for six months each. Then I discovered lacquering, “urushi” and really started working hard at it. I ended up working with the same lacquerer for the next eight years and with him I had a wonderful time. His name was Niikura Mineyo.

I worked with him just every afternoon and I went to his studio five or six days a week and I did that for 8 years.

In the mornings I would teach English to housewives and in the evenings I taught  junior high school kids. It was a really good gig. I was able to make a good living teaching English and it provided me four hours to work on my craft every day. I learned a lot about polishing and flattening, what a flat surface really is and how to look at one.That led me into a lots of things.

While I was in Japan I also got married. Sayuri and I ended up having three of our four children there and one in the US. In 1997 we moved to the US together and pursued a new career. I started selling Japanese tools because that was what I knew and loved; it was the natural thing to do. We ran for a handful of years, which provided me the opportunity to also teach Japanese woodworking and sharpening through various projects at our store and school.

I got to do a lot of different things over the those years, including dismantling a “minka” farmhouse to bring and rebuild in the US and was involved, on and off, with the Kezurou-kai the group that sharpens in refined ways to get the ultimate plane shaving.

It was around then that I deeply became interested in sharpening stones themselves, abrasives technology, and how stones abrade metal. I started selling stones and bringing over natural stones and getting involved with different stones manufacturers, and then I found Shapton.

It was in spring of 2001, and I was pretty amazed and thought they were pretty good stones. I then got on a plane, went back to Japan, and met the owner of the factory. I became the US distributor and started selling their stones out of our warehouse. At that time no one had heard of Shapton.

I took a few years going to every trade show I could find and visiting over 100 Woodcraft stores all over the country in my motorhome and little by little got the name out there. It was a good run and I distributed and their stones for 16 years. In 2016 the management at Shapton changed and they came in with a different business model and so I had to find a new occupation.

At that point I decided to start my own sharpening stone and abrasives company and that’s how I started Nano Hone and that’s what we’ve been doing for two years now. We’ve steadily been taking my ideas and drawings and making them into actual sellable products which is what you find on our website.

I’ve designed my products primarily based on my knowledge of surfaces and my experiences sharpening many different kinds of tools and thinking about the different features of a perfect sharpening system. Nothing is perfect of course, you make tradeoffs when you design, and so I've tried to make intelligent tradeoffs to arrive at a product line that is manufacturable and distributable and what you find are the results of those efforts.

I’ve been studying surface metrology for about a decade, and through that I try to learn how to create and repeat surfaces- how to make a surface and how to make that surface replicable. The practicality of metrology is evident in the lapping plates that Nano Hone makes.

It is an adventure growing this business. It’s been an adventure working with our customers and listening to what they need and want and we try to take those thoughts into account in our designs to meet our customer’s needs. I sift through the things I hear and discover and work them until I come up with a design that makes sense and is elegant- that’s what we do at Nano Hone.

If you have questions, write me, call or text- I’m always happy to talk to all of our customers and I will do what I can to support you in your craft.


Peace and good sharpening.


Harrelson 'Hap' Stanley

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