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Thread: sharpening stones - oil or water or what?

  1. #1
    Join Date
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    sharpening stones - oil or water or what?

    I got some assorted honing stones from a yard sale. Some are labeled with "india" or "arkansas". One says "oil stone". A few of them are double sided, too. For the most part they are not labeled. I have no idea if I should use water or oil or what "india" VS. "Arkansas" really means.

    Some of them are very dirty and don't seem like they would cut well without a little TLC.

    Does anyone know how to take care of and use these stones, or know of a good resource for learning more about them?

    I've only ever had one water stone and have used it for years, but I'm interested in taking sharpening to the next level.
    The day you think you know everything will be very same day you stop learning.

  2. #2
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    Just yesterday I was watching a sharpening demo at my local Woodcraft store. I know almost nothing about sharpening, but here's what I picked up yesterday:

    - For the water stones, soak them in water until they stop bubbling before you use them. Then keep them wet as you sharpen

    - To flatten the stones, rub the surfaces of two stoned together. You should do this periodically while you sharpen to keep your stones flat

    - Oil stones aren't used as much any more, but of course, some people still use them. As I recall, they don't last as long as water stones and they're kinda messy (I remember seeing oil stones when I was a kid and they were indeed messy)

    I recommend doing some research on those stones, Jim. Some sharpening stones go for over $100 each retail.

  3. #3
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    Jim,

    I believe "oil stone" is a generic name for any abrasive block on which you would use oil as a lubricant. The india stone can be used with oil and is finer than a typical aluminum oxide stone. The arkansas stone is way finer than the india, and used with oil also.

    In the machine shop, the aluminum oxide stone is typically used for rough deburring and flattening of machined surfaces. The india stone is used for fine deburring jobs and the arkansas is for putting a keen edge on a blade or for careful dressing of highly polished shafts or spool valves.

    Water stones are for use with water only! They are somewhat softer than aluminum oxide and can develop a belly or a ditch if you're not careful to use the whole surface evenly.
    Kyle in K'zoo
    Screws are kinda like knots, if you can't use the right one, use lots of 'em.
    The greatest tragedy in life is the gruesome murder of a beautiful theory by a brutal gang of facts.

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Pat Germain View Post
    ....- Oil stones aren't used as much any more, but of course, some people still use them. As I recall, they don't last as long as water stones and they're kinda messy (I remember seeing oil stones when I was a kid and they were indeed messy)
    I have to disagree with Pat. I flatten and sharpen a lot of fresh-from-heat-treating plane irons. I've used diamond stones, water stones, diamond lapping, carborundum lapping, sand paper and about every other thing under the sun. I'm back using my oil stones. There's far less mess with oil stones than water stones and oil stones are incredibly easy and quick to maintain.

    I just use two stones, a medium India and a translucent hard Arkansas. I think you're on exactly the right track to "take your sharpening to another level." Clean the India and Arkansas stones first. Just an over night soak in mineral spirits will do all you need. Then get a couple 6" X 48" 60 grit sanding belts and flatten those stones on these. Flatten the finer side of your combination stones, you should find they have a reddish color. The one that says "oil stone" is probably a gray carborundum stone. If so, don't spend much time on it. You want these stones flat and it'll take a little work to get them there. It's okay, Arkansas stones don't come flat when you buy them new anyway, so you'd have to do this with new stones too.

    If you have a translucent hard Arkansas, you got lucky. These should be a very slightly red or blue tented opaque white. They look like you could shine a light through them and get a bit of light to show through. Cheaper hard Arkansas stones are solid white and not nearly as good as the translucent stones.

    To maintain your oil stones I suggest a DMT coarse diamond stone. At least a 6" but the 8" is better. Each time you use your oil stones quickly flatten and refresh their abrasive surface with the diamond stone. Five or six quick passes will do all you need. First spritz the surface with a light spray of oil, I use WD-40 because I use it for other things too and buy it by the gallon. Start the diamond dressing on the India stone and then move directly to the Arkansas stone. Leave the slurry on the surfaces, it'll help the cutting action. You'll find your stones stay flat and are very fast cutting if you do this. Don't hesitate to dress the surface with the diamond stone again if you find the surface loading. When you're done sharpening, strop your plane irons or chisels, wipe the stones and cover them (preferably in their own wooden box.)

    If you keep the backs of your plane irons or chisels as flat as your stones, you'll find you can sharpen any of them in less than two minutes. Well, if you skip the gimmicks like honing guides than can only assist with the easy sharpening tasks anyway.

    After you clean your stones, I'd be happy to try to help you identify them. I think you've made a great find. If you get them back in working order and keep them there, these stones will last a couple life-times.
    Last edited by Larry Williams; 06-03-2007 at 9:12 PM. Reason: to clarify the longevity of oil stones.

  5. #5
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    ^^ Sounds like you've got a lot of experience with oil stones, Larry. This trumps my experience, which is almost none. Thanks for sharing.

    Maybe the oil stones I used to see weren't properly maintained. This may be why I perceived them to be so messy.

  6. #6
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    I was gonna jump in and pass on what Ihave gleaned from various forums, since I use water stones. Maybe I'm gonna have to pick up some of the many stones I see at flea markedts, etc. and try to rehab them. I had read about boiling oil stones to clean them...messy. Soaking them in MS sounds much better! Thanks Larry.

    Mark....lusting after a set of H&R!

  7. #7
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    Thank you for the really informative response, Larry. I think I have a little work ahead of me. I'm pretty excited about getting them cleaned up. I'll look for any additional markings after soaking them.
    The day you think you know everything will be very same day you stop learning.

  8. #8
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    Thank you all for the information.

    I've heard that you can ruin a water stone by getting oil on it and vice versa. Is that true? Is there a way to tell one from the other (oil vs. water) if there are no markings?
    The day you think you know everything will be very same day you stop learning.

  9. #9
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    Hi Jim,

    India stones are aluminum oxide, carborundum stones are silicon carbide. Arkansas stones are novaculite, a natural stone. All of these are used with oil as a lubricant.

    Water stones are usually aluminum oxide also. They wear much quicker than most oil stones but as they wear fresh abrasive is exposed.

    There's more info here:

    http://www.antiquetools.com/sharp/sharphistory.html

    http://www.knifecenter.com/knifecent.../instruct.html

    http://www.norsewoodsmith.com/ww/oilstones/edges1.htm

    http://www.norsewoodsmith.com/ww/oilstones/cleaning.htm

    There's also a great post by Bob Smalser about using oilstones somewhere here but I can't find it right now.

    HTH,
    Maurice

  10. #10
    Jim,

    I should have said the translucent Arkansas is not quite opaque. The cheaper hard Arkansas stones are opaque and usually very white.

  11. #11
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    After some cleaning I was able to identify two of the stones as Norton combination stones. One says "India" and the other says "Crystolon". Both are two sided. One seems a bit finer grit than the other.

    Another stone is only labeled "India" with no manufacturer and is even finer than the others. Perhaps after more cleaning I'll find that they are actually all the same.
    The day you think you know everything will be very same day you stop learning.

  12. #12
    Hat - off , Larry , and thanks for the precious things I found in your post.
    Although I'm very far from the Arkansas stones, I sharpen the edges with oil -too , and I like what I get from it.
    Messy , probably , but water can be messy too . And it rusts the iron. And it freezes ...
    Once again , thank you ! 'Hope you're allright.

    Reason : To thank Larry for ofering me the abstract I long time searched for : water vs oil.

  13. #13
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    +1 with Larry.

    I have 3 India Stones and 3 of "Dan's Whetstones" Arkansas Stones. They are, from course to fine: Soft India, Medium India, Fine India, Soft Arkansas, Hard Arkansas, and Black Arkansas. I bought all of mine new after almost a year of research & deliberation debating back and forth between OIL & WATER. I decided on oil because they are, in fact, far LESS messy that water stones. I have a lot of vintage tools, but I also use a significant number of the new steels as well, including A2 and PM-V11. Yeah yeah, they take a bit longer on A2 than a waterstone does, but unless the blade is in bad shape it still only takes a few strokes each on Hard then Black. If they need more work, then that is what the India stones are for. They eat A2 for lunch. Choosing oil stones allowed me to keep my stones available instead of tucked away. That means I sharpen as I need to instead of all at once. My tools are sharper and my arms have more energy for chopping & planing.
    "I've cut the dang thing three times and it's STILL too darn short"
    Name withheld to protect the guilty

    Stew Hagerty

  14. #14
    Use Lamp Oil as an inexpensive cutting fluid, it's readily available and has no added solvents.

    Heavy oils will form a barrier to getting the steel on the stone.
    (Think engine lubrication - the metal parts "float" on a bearing layer of oil, to reduce wear.)

    The nice thing about using oil stones (or oil on diamond plates) is the reduced mess compared to water stones.
    The bonus is that there's no water around to rust your tools.

    http://norsewoodsmith.com/content/oil-stones

  15. #15
    While we are on the topic, aside from a diamond stone, what would you folks recommend for flattening a hard Arkansas stone? I'm trying to get one flat, but don't have a diamond stone. 220 sandpaper isn't making much progress!

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