Oilstone sharpening questions

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Forum topic by funchuck posted 05-28-2011 01:26 PM 7729 views 0 times favorited 19 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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119 posts in 3054 days

05-28-2011 01:26 PM

Topic tags/keywords: oilstones sharpening question


I have been using waterstones for a few years. Currently, I am using the Sigma Select II stones from lee valley, but it is annoying that I have to flatten them every time I use them. I use a diamond stone to flatten them, so after sharpening, I have to clean and dry that diamond stone. It gets pretty annoying after a while.

I have heard various things about oilstones. Some say that they never need to be flattened, but I also read that they do need to be flattened sometimes. What has been your experience?

I have been thinking about buying a Soft Arkansas and a Hard Translucent Arkansas stone. Would they work for most tasks? I have a coarse/xcourse DMT duo sharp for rougher work.

I know that oilstones will cut slower, but I want something I don’t want to flatten as often.

The other alternative I saw is that DMT has an extra-extra fine diamond stone. Anybody know how this would compare to the arkansas stones? I already have a DMT extra fine, but I think the waterstones leaves a much, much better edge.

I know the grass always seems greener on the other side, but besides the cutting speed, what other negatives would the oilstones have?

-- Charles from California

19 replies so far

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4125 days

#1 posted 05-28-2011 02:21 PM

I use wet/dry sandpaper tack-glued to a glass plate to flatten my Japanese water stones.

I use oil stones for coarse sharpening, then water stones for fine/hone finishing.

-- 温故知新

View TroutStalker's profile


30 posts in 3366 days

#2 posted 05-28-2011 04:44 PM

Hi Charles,

I use oilstones exclusively for sharpening. They do cut a bit slower than waterstones but it doesn’t bother me much – I’m not in a hurry. Oilstones will need flattening eventually. How often depends on how much you use them. I’ve had mine for 2+ years and they are still flat. Oilstones are a bit messy but IMHO not as big of a mess as waterstones. In any case, I’d rather have oil in the shop that water.

I got a kit from Tools for Working wood The kit included a medium india stone, a translucent arkansas stone, oil and a dvd about how to sharpen. I later picked up a black arkansas stone from someone on ebay.

-- The best thing online is a fish

View NJWiliam's profile


32 posts in 2565 days

#3 posted 05-28-2011 09:45 PM

I’m at the same crossroads with my waterstones, and will be replacing them with a medium India and hard black Arkansas. The advice I’ve seen is to flatten them briefly each time with a course diamond stone. I also inquired with one of the in Arkansas oil stone suppliers – they said that the translucent is actually slightly more aggressive and less fine than the hard black.

I’m still looking into stripping options following the hard black.

- Bill

View funchuck's profile


119 posts in 3054 days

#4 posted 05-28-2011 10:49 PM

Thanks for the input. I saw a deal online for Dan’s Whetstones. I had a 25% off coupon, so I bought a 8” translucent for $38 and a 10” soft ark for $21. The translucent is a 2nd, but hopefully, it’ll turn out ok. It looks like the hard black is what I’ll need too.

hobomonk: I’m surprised that you use the oilstones for coarse work. I thought oilstones were too slow for that? Have you compared to diamond stones? I am assuming that the coarse oilstones are softer… do they require flattening?

TroutStalker: Thanks. 2+ years w/o flattening sounds good. I’ve got good waterstones, but the clean up involved with diamond stones is a hassle for me. I’d rather take out some oilstones, sharpen, then put it away. I did see the Tools for Working wood website. I would have gone with them, but I saw that deal online and couldn’t pass it up.

NJWilliam: I get confused because the advice you saw said flatten them each time. But I wonder if that is the softer oilstones? I’m not sure what you mean by stripping options after the hard black? Do you mean like stropping? Currently, I do strop using the green compound. I notice that even after my 10k waterstone, it does make a difference.

-- Charles from California

View WayneC's profile


13754 posts in 4095 days

#5 posted 05-29-2011 02:17 AM

if your concerned about mess, have you considered cermaic stones?

-- We must guard our enthusiasm as we would our life - James Krenov

View Gofor's profile


470 posts in 3784 days

#6 posted 05-29-2011 04:16 AM

I use oil, DMT and the scary sharp sandpaper method. I have some old (30+years) oil stones (soft, med and hard arkansas). After using the arkansas stones for many years sharpening mainly knives, etc, I did have to flatten them for use on plane irons and chisels. To flatten them I used 40 grit emery cloth on a flat sheet of glass. They work quite well now.

As the sources for good washita (arkansas) stones are rapidly becoming scarce, don’t overlook an old one at a flea market that you can flatten one time and be good for several years. One way to lengthen that time is to use the edge of the stone for narrow chisels, carving knives, etc. that will wear a groove in them, and save the larger flat surface for the wider tools.



-- Go

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3279 days

#7 posted 05-29-2011 04:24 AM

Oil stones do go out of flat but no where near as quickly as water stones. The abrasives in oil stones get dull because they’re so slow wearing. The cure for this is to dress them and, if done with a little care, this also keeps them flat. Flat is important because it’s repeatable. If you keep your stones truly flat then you’re never wasting honing time making the back of a tool conform to different stone topography when you change grits. Once you have your stones flat and have a system too keep them that way and you have the backs of your tools flat honing is a matter of seconds. A few passes, three to five, on each of two grits and I’m ready to strop.

I dress my oil stones with an extra coarse diamond stone and leave the slurry from dressing on the stone because it just aids in cutting. Just like grinding wheels dressing of oil stones is important and should be done when ever you sense the cut of the stone is slowing down. At a minimum, I dress my stones at the beginning of each use. If you keep India and Arkansas stones dressed the surfaces fresh, they’ll cut nearly as fast as water stones. The big advantage of the oil stones is they require much less time in maintenance.

Arkansas stones are the same grit or a little finer than a 6000 grit water stone. Washita, soft, hard, translucent and hard black all have three to five micron grit size. The difference is the density of the stone or how closely the abrasives are spaced. The translucent is usually the densest but very close to the hard black.

One thing I can tell you is that a good diamond stone will last a lot longer cutting stone, glass, carbides and other materials that generate a granular swarf than they will last cutting ferrous metals, like steel, that generate fine shavings or stringy swarf. Good diamond stones have the diamonds mounted in a nickel matrix that was designed to abrade away with the granular swarf. Stringy swarf undermines the nickel, releasing the diamonds causing very fast wear.

View NJWiliam's profile


32 posts in 2565 days

#8 posted 05-29-2011 05:05 AM

I meant stropping, autocorrect strikes again.
Sounds like a good price on the oilstones you bought. My understanding is that the translucent seconds still cut the same as firsts.

View philip marcou's profile

philip marcou

264 posts in 2594 days

#9 posted 05-29-2011 08:26 AM

Here’s my take on this subject (which can get quite involved due to the VAST number of sharpening products now out there). I went to the USA last year for the first time and was bowled over by all these stones, plates, ceramics, pastes, papers etc etc.
All stones such as oil and water, natural or man made, need to be dressed-which achieves two objectives-flattening and conditioning. It seems to me that many folk only think of flattening whilst I think that conditioning is very important. Conditioning will optimise the ability of the stone to abrade efficiently since it removes glazing, gunk build up etc and exposes new sharp grits. The same applies to bench grinder wheels incidentally.
I can’t advise on which oil stones or which water stones etc to get because I am not likely to ever try all of them, and have relatively few sharpening stones, but can imagine the confusion which must occur to new folks….
But I do use the coarse version of one of those cheap harbor fright set of three diamond plates to condition/dress my water stones and oil stones-see picture-I glued the plate to a wood block for the purpose.I definitely don’t feel the need to do this after every sharpening-this has got to be over-kill and time wasting.
I also do something apparently unorthodox with the Kingstones that I favour for their fast cutting abilities-I use Kerosene instead of water on them, with no bad effect after some ten years plus doing this. (But I don’t use Kerosene on any natural stone!).
I am on the same wave length as , er, young Larry there and think he has dispensed good advice .

View philip marcou's profile

philip marcou

264 posts in 2594 days

#10 posted 05-29-2011 12:08 PM

Sorry, forgot the picture…..

View philip marcou's profile

philip marcou

264 posts in 2594 days

#11 posted 05-30-2011 07:55 AM

Autumn, they all “hold up” alright, but they perform better if you maintain them a bit….Oil stones may stay flat(ish) for longer than some water stones or other stones but they also benefit from conditioning or dressing-much the same as bonded abrasive wheels as found on bench grinders.
You would spend less time sharpening and futsing about with stones if you dressed them regularly. It is a quick process in itself, and you get better results quicker.

View EPJartisan's profile


1118 posts in 3123 days

#12 posted 05-30-2011 06:08 PM

This is a topic in which I exist in content ignorance. I have never purchased an actual sharpening stone, I have looked at them, but I have no idea what I have now to compare them too. I really keep my tools sharp, but my primary stone I got from my father and it is a hard black stone. wondering now if it is an Arkansas stone. I used to use spit as my fluid, but now with an assistant who may sharpen stuff for me.. I use honing oil… I have had to flatten my stone twice in 10 years, but I also use my chisels to keep my stone flat by using the whole surface. I also use a old diamond pad and sandpaper on glass (320, 400, 600) for the rough sharpening and move from that to my black stone for chisels or straight aluminum oxide on leather strops for my carving tools… Sometimes I even use the aluminum oxide on my stone or glass direct. But in all I’d say I sharpen my chisel every ten minutes of use and from broken blade to sharp edge takes me about 1 hour. I also hollow grind my chisels, which I get criticized for, but hey my tools are sharp enough to shave arm hair off and that is all that counts for me.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View EPJartisan's profile


1118 posts in 3123 days

#13 posted 05-30-2011 06:12 PM

BUt the information on this thread is really going to be handy in the near future. Thanks for the knowledge.

-- " 'Truth' is like a beautiful flower, unique to each plant and to the season it blossoms ... 'Fact' is the root and leaf, allowing the plant grow and bloom again."

View funchuck's profile


119 posts in 3054 days

#14 posted 05-31-2011 11:09 AM

WayneC: That’s a good idea! I looked at the Spyderco’s, but there aren’t too many reviews on it. It looks faster than the Arkansas, but I think it might wear faster too. It might be a better compromise, but I already bought the oilstones. I know I’ll keep them because I hate returning anything.

phillip marcou! I must say, I totally admire your work! Both you and Larry bring up an interesting point that I should dress the stones to improve their performance. But, if it cuts well enough, some of the other posters hadn’t dressed their’s for a long time, so I am inclined to think that the oilstones won’t need to be dressed that often… which is what I like about them.

I think everyone just has a system that works for them, and everyone’s system is different. I’m still trying to find the system that works for me. I’m hoping that I don’t have the “grass is greener” syndrome. Maybe waterstones are better for me, but I want to find the best system that works for me.

I’ll post more after I get the oilstones and use them a bit. Maybe I’ll appreciate my waterstones more… or maybe not!

-- Charles from California

View funchuck's profile


119 posts in 3054 days

#15 posted 06-03-2011 02:21 AM

Got home early to find a package waiting for me! It was my new stones! Unfortunately, the soft arkansas was broken into 3 pieces! I’ll probably be returning that one.

The translucent stone was not damaged, so I tried it out. I know some sources say the translucent stone is equivalent to a 1200 grit waterstone, I have:

King 800
King 6000
Sigma Select II 3000
Sigma Select II 10,000

I think based on my experience with the above stones, I’d put the translucent at around 4000. It is a little finer than the Sigma 3000.

After stropping, I do get that mirror finish and so far, I really like them.

One thing about waterstones is that I had to get a small tub of water to use them. In order to prevent contamination, I had to have several tubs, one for each grit. With the oilstones, I just need one bottle of oil (I am using the Norton oil).

I took out my chisels. One was sharpened recently on my waterstones, and not used yet, so I am going to use that as my reference. Actually, with waterstones, I find that I can put a “good enough” edge on my chisels, but sometimes, I end up with a very sharp edge on some of them. I am not sure why that happens, and I was interested to see how consistent I’d be on oilstones. The reference chisel is one of those chisels that I was able to get very sharp.

I sharpened my 1/4” and 1/2” chisels on oilstones. One nice thing I noticed was that the 1/4” chisel did not gouge up my oilstone like it does on my waterstones.

I was able to get both chisels pretty sharp. I tested it on some pine endgrain, and it looks like the waterstone’d chisel was slightly sharper. But both the oilstone’d chisels were sharper than most of the chisels I sharpened with my waterstones. Basically, in this limited test, I was able to get them sharper than most of my waterstone’d chisels.

I would conclude that, for me, the oilstones seem more consistent in getting a good edge, but if I was better at sharpening, I can probably get a better edge with waterstones (at least the waterstones that I have).

Oh yes, one more thing. I did flatten my oilstone with a diamond plate, and I noticed that the slurry from waterstones was more clay-like, while the oilstone was more like stone-dust. It was much easier to clean up the diamond plate from flattening the oilstone because the slurry did not stick to the diamond plate.

In terms of sharpening speed, I think the waterstones are much faster. I really noticed how slow the oilstone is, but for me, I did not really care because I just want something simpler to use and I think oilstones are it.

-- Charles from California

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