Friday, January 21, 2011

Part 2 : A Comparison of Three "Quarter Micron Polycrystaline Diamond" Slurries

The first part of this comparative analysis of quarter micron polycrystaline diamond slurries has generated a great deal of interest and generated some additional questions that I will address in the initial discussion of the second part of this posting. Then I will go on to show what these compounds actually look like under the microscope and describe the testing methodology and then discuss these additional findings.


Apparently this picture described more fully in Part 1, deserves yet a third look. Just to be clear, the product on the left labeled OUR's is a competitor's product and the one on the right,  labeled  Their's,  is a product sold by a another vendor who I have the greatest respect for - both his products and his professionalism. He is considered by most in the industry to have the best products available. For that reason, I do not offer the same products he does. If you want the specific product he is selling I recommend you buy his product. It is a 0.25 micron monocrystaline diamond slurry.

The bottle on the right contains 21 carats of monocrystaline diamond. The bottle on the left was determined to only have 3.33 carats. My methods for determining this have been questioned.

The bottle on the right was determined to have 21 carats two ways. The most simple and obvious way was by weighing the carats that were put into the compound before it was formulated. The product is purchased by the carat weight. This of course is so obvious that it shouldn't even be a question - yet some have questioned it. If you want more carats, it costs more. Want less, it costs less. It's just like buying food in a grocery store by the pound. Weak solutions are cheaper and have less particles and therefore abrade less when used for sharpening edges. It is easy to show this. The only exception to this is if the product isn't what you think it is, but is an adulterated formulation. The honest way to sell product is to say how much of it you are selling, not disguise it in rhetoric about needing ideal compound concentrations in your product or a 'weak tea tastes better than strong tea' type of argument.

So what is the 'ideal concentration'? Some vendors are going for lower undisclosed concentrations, some only saying 'heavy' concentrations, some just not saying what their concentrations are at all and some even suggest that it cannot be determined. Surely they know what they are buying when they formulate it or have it formulated for them.  If they are not specifying their product concentrations, you are buying an unknown quantity of product. I have a bridge in Brooklyn that is on sale right now that I'm holding in reserve just for you. :)  (Or perhaps they formulated it themselves in their kitchen sink or worse?)  If they aren't telling you this information, either they don't know it or don't want you to know it.

The vendor on the right side of the picture above specifies his concentrations as 21 carats per 4 oz bottle. My products also have the same concentration..There is a reason for this concentration. My products were tested at various concentrations for a specific purpose - to give my customers a product of the highest quality and at a concentration not so high as to produce particle agglomeration. This applies to any of the particle sizes in the compounds that I sell.

Another way to determine the concentration of a sample is to take a known volume and dehydrate it and weigh the volume before and after dehydration to determine percent by weight loss. Some have mistakenly suggested that this was done by decanting the liquid off the top into a sink and weighing the remainder. Yet, even after saying this wasn't the case, they insist that it was. It's not how I do science.  My background includes over 25 years of research, and includes peer reviewed publications in electron microscopy, multiple disciplines of medicine, and computer science. I have also held faculty positions and run several research laboratories. I couldn't imagine doing something so unintelligent.

If a suspension based sample was dehydrated and weighed, perhaps some of the components of the suspension would remain in the sample. Think of this as marbles in syrup. My formulation uses deionized water and is a slurry, so there is no residue that would remain. Think of this as marbles in water. There is a reason I chose a slurry over a suspension which will be explained shortly.

You get an extremely accurate determination using this analysis technique with a slurry. How do I know this? Because if a known amount of carats is put in the sample, this test accurately determines it. It's just that simple. So this is yet a second way to determine that the bottle on the right is correctly specified as having a 21 carats per 4 oz concentration. The sample on the left does contain a "permanent suspension", so perhaps some residue might remain from simple dehydration much like dehydrated syrup would have weight. If this were the case, than it would have OVERESTIMATED the concentration of this product. BUT ...

This was considered in the determination. The testing methodology was done in a lab, not some home brew experiment. This lab does these types of determinations all the time and takes this into account. Diamond can sustain higher heats than suspensions can, so the high heat drying process reduces this artifact to a negligible level. Again if anything this would argue for the product on the left having even LESS carats. Perhaps 3.3 rather than 3.33 - but this is speculation. In short, this testing methodology is very accurate and is routinely used by this lab for testing both slurries and suspensions.


Much has been made of permanent suspensions. A slurry is simply particles floating around, much like the slurry we all use in our sharpening or honing when we use waterstones. These are water based slurries. Therefore it is a wet technique. Sandpaper is a dry technique, usually. Suspensions add additional components to their formulations, hoping to keep the particulates floating in a permanent state rather than settling to the bottom.  Using a suspension does help to keep the particulates from settling to the bottom, but this may not be an appropriate solution or answer for all abrasive requirements.

In particular for products used in dry hand or powered situations where the abrasive remains in a relatively fixed position, it is, IMO suboptimal. It is suboptimal, especially so for submicron particulates where the suspensions may actually interfere with the abrasive. I will show this later on in this discussion. For applications requiring continuous streams of abrasives in a liquid environment, it may be more appropriate, but in that instance, the suspension should be a true permanent suspension and / or have arrangements made to keep the particulates evenly distributed at all times - magnetic stirrers, various mixers, etc. This is irrelevant to the sharpening and honing processes used to sharpen edges by hand.

For PRECISE SHARPENING, as opposed to industrial systems using pumped abrasive based liquids for non-sharpening applications but rather part dimensioning applications and surface preparation, what is relevant is disbursing an even coating on a strop. Doing this is largely a matter of technique - NOT keeping the particulates suspended. A perfect permanent suspension does not guarantee uniform dispersion from a spray bottle.

Good technique optimizes uniformity and is far more relevant. Not even the most obsessed user will go to extreme lengths to do more than a visual inspection to set an acceptable level of uniformity of dispersed particulates. A good sharpener / honer can deduce uniformity from the feedback he receives and can adjust his technique - even at particle sizes as fine as 15 nanometers (1.2 million grit). If you haven't been there, it's just theory. I've been there. I'd like to see others join me there in the future.

This brings us to the topic of permanent suspensions. Are there permanent suspensions? Yes, there are suspensions that for all practical purposes are permanent, but yet in some there is settling that takes place. This first picture is an Alumina suspension. I have yet to see settling after several months. Next are two products that claim to be permanent suspensions - the two products that were compared in part one. As you can see this is clearly settling. It is visually obvious to the most untrained eye.

Now, a supposed 'expert' claims, "A permanent suspension may appear to one eyes as being separated or settled out however it is impossible for separation to occur even if one thinks it appears to be."  If that were the case, then 1) either these two products are not permanent suspension systems or 2) if the suspension is uniform, then the upper area reveals it to be of extremely weak concentration..

If I were to use these so called permanent solutions, I would most certainly shake them up before use. For hand sharpening or honing applications, it's just not that hard to redistributes the particulates by shaking the bottle gently a couple of times. Trying to believe that these bottles contain a uniform particle distribution that is as uniformly distributed as a freshly shaken slurry strains my sense of credibility. Just shake the bottle. It would be prudent and won't hurt anything .

Here's the truly permanent Alumina slurry:

It is uniform throughout.

Here are the two so called permanent slurries. I see two distinct regions. I can't imagine a reason not to mix it back to a uniform distribution as uniform as a freshly mixed slurry. Just can't.

And the second sample tested in Part 1:

I'll let the reader draw their own conclusions if they think these solutions don't require mixing - just like a slurry. In either case a suspension either must be truly permanent or you should remix before use. Remixing is just not a big deal for honing applications. It is a minor task - nothing more and certainly not a reason to avoid slurries.  Application technique is far more important. What's MUCH more important is making sure that the individual particles don't stick together in big lumps. This is called particle agglomeration.


Particle agglomeration is one of the sins of using particulates for sharpening or honing applications. Indeed it is a sin for any type of sharpening application and to be avoided at all costs. Why? Well if two particles each a quarter micron in size stick to each other, they act like a half micron particle (yes, this is simplified, ignoring shape characteristics, etc.). If four particles stick together, it acts like an even coarser particle. This is even a worse problem than particles of random sizes or a very broad distribution in a slurry or suspension. Of course you can have both problems.

Now as the particles get smaller, the suspension can interfere with the particulates. If it is not designed to be used for the intended application, it may contribute to particle agglomeration as you will soon see. Charged particles in solution or ions can greatly contribute to this problem as well. For this reason, charged ions in the slurry solution will cause particle agglomeration and this one reason I specifically use deionized water for the vehicle. The other reason is that when it evaporates, it leaves no residue, as previously discussed.

My preparation is meant to be used as a dry technique, not a wet one. For edge sharpening, a wet technique offers no advantage. I know this from experience, based on years of sharpening.

One of the techniques I use is to take the slurry from flattening a synthetic stone and applying it to paper or balsa and letting it dry, effectively creating sandpaper that has the characteristics of the stone it came from. I have used this technique for coarse 120 grit stones through 30,000 grit stones. Again it is a dry technique. The results after years of use on many synthetic AND natural stones is that the abrasion characteristics are even finer than using the stones that they come from using a wet technique.

For dry techniques, lubricity has NO place in the discussion. The particulates become embedded in the substrate - balsa or paper and the results are excellent. This is the principle employed in platens, where the particles stay in place as the material being abraded is drawn across the bed of particles removing metal in the process. Now when you use a suspension that has been dried, it is only of modest concern for coarse particulates, but as the particulates go down into the submicron range, it becomes a disadvantage, literally gumming up the works, submersing the particulates in 'gunk'. This may be fine in a wet system, but not in a dry system. Simply put, it is the wrong tool for the job.

Is this simply idle speculation on my part or based on hard scientific data? I'll let you decide.

In the first part of this post, the particle size distributions were determined. This was a good first step in preparation for the next part of this post - actually looking at the particles themselves. Direct observation of these particulates is beyond the range of a light microscope. A transmission electron microscope is also the wrong tool for the job. A perfect tool for the job is a scanning electron microscope or SEM, which easily resolves particulates in the nanometer range. A quarter micron or 0.25 microns is a 250 nanometer particle. This will be useful to know when interpreting the following micrographs.

Seven samples were sent to the SEM facility of a major university. The person performing the analysis did not know anything about the samples. They were simply numbered one through seven. Each sample was shaken before extracting the samples that were sent to the lab. The containers were never previously used and specifically used for containing microabrasives. The instructions were to shake each sample and spray small stubs that were inserted into the microscope's chamber, which is a high vacuum environment. A light spray was applied to each stub and the sample was dried in a manner appropriate for placing it in a vacuum environment. The resolution of the scope was calibrated prior to taking the micrographs to assure very accurate measurements. You can see the bar at the bottom of the micrographs with a number next to it indicating a distance, usually in nanometers. Thus if a 1000 nanometer or 1 micron bar is present, a quarter micron particle would be a fourth as long as the bar. These bars are extremely important in evaluating the images and accurately sizing the particles.

So what do you look for? Well, you look at the shapes of the particles. Are they consistent? Are they the right size? Are they cleanly separated from the other particles or stuck together in lumps? If there are lumps how big are the lumps. remember if a lump of particles or an agglomerate is a mass of particles that is 8 microns in size, even if the individual particles are a quarter micron, you are looking at a slurry that will give an 8 micron finish or 2000 grit.

What were the samples?

There was a monocrystaline quarter micron product - the product that appears in the first image in this post.

We will call it sample one. It is a slurry using deionized water.

The second sample is my product - a quarter micron polycrystaline product. Also a deionized water preparation.

The third sample is a 0.3 micron Alumina permanent suspension

The fourth sample is advertised as a quarter micron polycrystaline diamond preparation in a permanent unspecified suspension.

The fifth sample is a water based suspension, also advertised as polycrystaline diamond.

The sixth sample is an oil based suspension, also advertised as polycrystaline diamond.

The seventh sample is eighth micron CBN. It will be shown elsewhere and is not a part of this study.


This is sample one , quarter micron monocrystaline diamond deionized water slurry

The bar at the bottom of the image shows a 500n (nanometer) or half micron 'ruler' bar, magnification at 20,000 x an image number and the voltage of the beam, 15,000 volts. Here we are looking at clearly defined particles of an appropriate size. They are very uniform in size with no agglomeration. Just clean particles. Exactly what we want. It is clearly monocrystaline diamond. It is textbook perfect high quality product.

 Next is my product - a quarter micron polycrystaline product in a deionized water slurry:

Note the 333n or third micron bar, slightly different than the previous image. 30,000 x magnification. Again, individual particles of appropriate size, a uniform particle distribution, no particle agglomeration. Clearly polycrystaline diamond. A product I can easily stand behind and feel comfortable putting my name on.

Next is the 0.3 micron Alumina permanent suspension

At the same magnification as the previous image. Particle sizes are appropriate, but with a bit more variation not so tightly controlled and some degree of agglomeration. Individual particles are still clearly recognized
Clearly an alumina suspension.

Next is the Polycrystaline diamond preparation in an unknown suspension. The range of particle sizes required several micrographs at various magnifications.

 Note the scale factor of 50 microns! Only 200x magnification. The large structure in the middle that looks like you are looking down the throat of a volcano is more that three barlengths across or 150 microns - not nanometers but microns. To give a comparison a 120 grit glassstone particle has particles of 123 microns, so it is a coarser particle than the particles used in the coarsest stone Shapton makes.! There are other large particles clearly greater than anything you would want in as quarter micron preparation. No particular uniform size just pretty much random debris, not identifiable as being any particular type of abrasive.

Here's a closer look at the same sample

 The scale factor is still hugh - 10 microns!. Remember that 1 micron is a tenth the length of the bar and a quarter micron would be 1/40 th the length of the bar. This object is at least 12 bars long or 120 microns, similar in size to the 120+ grit 'volvano' It is a glob of something not clearly identifiable, not at all looking like my polycrystaline diamond preparation. As of yet, no one has identified what the glob is made of.

Let's get closer:

Now we are looking at a 1 micron bar and should be expecting to see particles 1/4 the length of the bar, but instead are presented with a closeup of this blob. Hardly any freestanding particles to be seen. By now you should be reading these yourself pretty well.
Here's one last 200 microns. This crater valley is strewn with hugh lumps of 'stuff'

Now the other product reviewed in the first part - the one with two humps in the particle distribution This is the water based suspension

At a 1 micron measurement bar, the particles are almost identifiable, but still look stuck together in clumps, with the clumping probably explaining the bimodal distribution. Clearly not ideal but not what I would want to use compared to my product with distinct particulates.

Now the oil based version of this product

 At a half micron measurement bar size, we can see than the particle size fills the screen, which is fully compatible with the hugh particles picked up by the particle analyzer data.


It's a lot of information to digest in this posting, so lets summarize what we found out. We began by reviewing my testing methodologies showing that I have very accurately measured carat concentrations. Then we reviewed slurries and suspensions, showing that not all suspensions are the same and that some suspensions should be mixed up before use, just like slurries, but that the application technique to the strop was of far greater importance. While suspensions are most useful at coarser grits, at finer submicron grits, their use, particularly when the product is used in a dry preparation may actually hinder the product's use causing massive clumping and agglomeration. This may or may not be the case for liquid preparations used in abrasive flows, a topic not addressed in this discussion because it is not applicable to sharpening / honing of edges. Then we actually look at the preparations. The slurry preparations showed distinct particulates, while the suspensions showed a very moderate amount of agglomeration when used in a dry state (alumina peparation that showed no evidence of settling) to severe agglomeration, to the point where it was difficult to even recognize the particulates as even being diamond or alumina or something else. There are electron microscopy techniques for performing elemental analysis, such as EELS (Electron Energy Loss Spectroscopy), but at this point I, and I hope the reader can clearly see why I consider my products to be of the highest quality available. ALL of my particulate products have undergone this level of testing, assuring my my customes of a most pleasant and rewarding experience. I am serious about providing a quality product specifically designed for producing superior edges and I hope you can see that what goes into my product, including the level of research and the rationale for it's design, is what separates it from it's competition.

Finally, I have to say the most basic statement about my products. They work. My customers love the edges these compounds produce. In the end, that's what matters most to me.

If you have gotten through both postings, I truly commend you and know you are serious about your edges. Thank you for your time reading this.



  1. A very interesting post Ken. Seeing these products side by side explains why I found your products and that other vendor's spray work the best.
    I am pretty stunned that there is such a big difference in the quality of these products as most prices I see are pretty much on par with the rest of the vendors. I'm glad I bought the good stuff!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. Love the articles. I'm just now interested in using diamonds for sharpening of knives. I learned quite a bit. Thanks.

    Now... where can I find 15 nanometer slurry or sprays? You mentioned it so I figured I'd ask. I'm sort of kind of joking. But I am curious as to where one would find such a product. Thanks again.