Around the shop #11: Waterstones revisited

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Blog entry by dsb1829 posted 02-08-2009 05:25 PM 1556 reads 0 times favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 10: New shop tour Part 11 of Around the shop series Part 12: Combination of hobbies »

I have been working to swap over to oilstone and freehand sharpening in my shop. Overall I really like oilstones and sharpening with oil. However one thing continues to bother me…

Take a look at these 2 chisels. The smaller one shows a very nice mirror polish. It was taken up to 6000g king waterstone, the polish appears almost as good off the 4000g stone though. The larger chisel was prepped using a black Arkansas stone. It has a dull appearance, but still some amount of mirror to it. The finish is less uniform.

This is a stupid thing to split hairs over, but it has bothered me. My first sharpening tools were waterstones. At this point my skill level has improved, yet I can’t get my oilstones to produce a sheen like that of the waterstones.

I am starting to think it is just a result of the slurry that builds on top of the waterstone. The fine abrasive that breaks loose must be of a finer particle size and leads to a higher polished appearance than an equivalent oilstone. Does this agree with anyone else’s observation? Or am I just stretching here?

The funny part is that the blade is just as sharp if not better off the oilstone. It just doesn’t look as pretty. Off the 6000g king the blade still needs a stropping. I used to go straight off of an 8000g norton to work, but since I started stropping me definition of sharp has changed slightly :D

So at the end of the day the blades are sharp. I have gotten decent enough at freehand to be able to freehand on my waterstones. I found that the quality of the cutting edge is about the same despite looks of the entire bevel and back being a bit different. So I guess I just have to be content knowing that despite the lack of mirror polish on my oilstone-sharpened tools they are still very sharp. Oh, and of course I still think waterstones are a mess to work with :p

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

4 comments so far

View UVA's profile


16 posts in 3376 days

#1 posted 02-08-2009 11:36 PM

Over the past two weeks, I have done a lot of sharpening trying out different methods. I agree that water stones are messy and I don’t like to use them. They do produce a nice slurry that puts a mirror finish on the tool.

I have gotten the sharpest and most consistent edges by following some of the advice given here:

I made the simple sharpening jigs that Brent Beach recommends. The use of these jigs took my sharpening to another level. Free hand sharpening does not work for me; result is rounded over edges. By using the jigs and spacers, I was able to get consistent micro bevels and incredibly sharp chisels and plane irons. In Brent’s method, we only worry about mirror finishes on the micro bevels. Brent shows how to use his jigs with the 3M sandpaper and stones. I used the 3M paper but intend to try it with my water stones. Brent also has a number of videos on You Tube so I was able to see him doing actual sharpening. For me, jigs are the answer and I will only sharpen with them in the future. What impressed me about Brent’s work was his scientific approach and thorough close up photographs showing what a really sharp edge looks like.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13345 posts in 3640 days

#2 posted 02-09-2009 02:15 AM

I love using my waterstones!

View StevenAntonucci's profile


355 posts in 3906 days

#3 posted 02-09-2009 03:16 AM

FWIW- I lap the backs of my chisels on a piece of 2000 grit wet/dry paper that I found in the automotive store. I get a mirror polish that rivals what you show, and I use a little water on top to float away the cuttings. I’ve also used mineral oil, but it tends to be messier. Most of the time, I use a piece of marble tile as my backer to keep the paper flat, and I never need to flatten my stone- I just throw the paper away when it no longer cuts.

-- Steven

View dsb1829's profile


367 posts in 3595 days

#4 posted 02-09-2009 04:41 AM

Steven, I too notice a higher degree of polish with sandpaper. Arguably it is the same abrasive as waterstones, so it breaks down and loose creating swarf/slurry like a waterstone. Honestly I think sandpaper is about the most deceptive of the abrasives. If not properly adhered to a flat substrate it will still produce a very nice mirror polish. There are several ways that this happens. The most anoying in my book is the pressure wave, where the paper directly in front of the blade raises slightly and dubs the very edge of the steel. That is another story I guess.

-- Doug, woodworking in Alabama

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