Oil Stones

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Forum topic by BubbaIBA posted 03-12-2012 04:18 PM 2281 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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387 posts in 2342 days

03-12-2012 04:18 PM

I didn’t want to hijack another thread, one asking questions about the care and feeding of water stones, so let’s beat to death the oil vs. water in a new thread.

Full disclosure, I have full sets of water, diamond plate, and Arkansas stones, all supplemented by a Tormek T-7 and at times will use any and all but for day to day sharpening I will reach for the Arkansas stones. I do a lot of sharpening and I use the oil stones for most of it. Water stones are just too fussy, with water I find I spend more time working on the stones than on the iron. With oil it is just put the stone in the holder, squirt on a little coal oil and you are done before you would have started working iron if using water.

I will give that water is available in finer grit and once trued is faster cutting and you can get a polish off the stone where with oil they cut slower and need a stroping on Herb’s Yellowstone to achieve a fine polish. But the bottom line is; with oil I can get to a working sharpness faster and with less effort and as a bonus the chance of messing up the edge from a dished stone is greatly reduced. YMMV.

7 replies so far

View lwllms's profile


555 posts in 3247 days

#1 posted 03-13-2012 12:51 AM

I spent years using oil stones but they eventually went out of flat and they cut slow. I switched to water stones and absolutely hated the mess. Like you, I spent more time maintaining my water stones than sharpening and that’s just nuts. I tried sand paper but the inevitable dubbing made sharpening unpredictable.

Then diamond stones at a somewhat reasonable price were introduced. Very early on I bought an extra coarse stone and wore it out quickly trying to flatten the sole of my Stanley #92. Diamonds aren’t forever and they’re slow cutting for the respective grits. They’ll wear out quickly on ferrous metals because of the style of swarf generated. That’s a different topic but was a very expensive lesson for me when using a diamond grinder on tool steel.

After learning a little more about abrasives, I went back to oil stones. I bought another extra coarse diamond stone and use it only to dress and flatten my oil stones. Oil stones, like every other abrasive, get dull. Just like grinding wheels they need to be dressed to keep sharp abrasive exposed. This also keeps the stones dead flat if done with care. My oil stones are dressed at each use and any time the cutting action of the stone slows. Properly maintained oil stones cut as fast as water stones but are easily kept dead flat by careful dressing.

The grit size of novaculite stones is 3-5 microns or 6,000 to 8,000 grit by comparison to water stones. The difference in the various true Arkansas stones isn’t in the grit size but how closely the grains were packed together by geologic forces. I don’t know of a reason to go beyond 6,000 or 8,000 grit but, if you feel the need, chromium oxide or Yellow Stone will very quickly get you as fine as any water stone.

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Mainiac Matt

7937 posts in 2293 days

#2 posted 03-13-2012 01:10 AM

I’m no expert….

but course india (when deeply dinged)

to Med. India

to Soft Arkansas

has done well by me over the years….

I’ve just used K-1 and motor oil mixed 50/50.

What’s coal oil?

I really need aquire the means to grind out dings and dents more quickly.

I’ve been reading about many different options, but just can’t seem to find one that is affordable and well reviewed

-- It’s the knowledge in your head, skill in your hands and motivation to create in you heart that makes you a woodworker. - Mainiac Matt

View Kenny 's profile


260 posts in 2413 days

#3 posted 03-13-2012 01:30 AM

I have oil stones, from india to black Arkansas, but I don’t use them as much as I used to. Just too much of a pain and too messy. Oil gets on you, touch a project and then it’s a nightmare.

I have a Grizzly knock-off of the Tormek, and while I do feel it gives an awesome edge, it’s too slow to set up.

I now use sandpaper on granite (or sharpening film), and I love it. No flattening, no oil, no real mess. It gets dull, I rip it off and stick down a new sheet. I have even been known to add some diamond paste to the paper too, and that works good. I have some leather strops too, and I use them when I want a super-fine edge.

However, I bought my first waterstone recently, a double-sided 1000-4000 (or maybe 6000? I’d have to look at it) and I love it! It cuts so fast! And with the set-up I have, the water is no issue, as I designed my sharpening station to contain the water I use with the film and paper. When I use it, I just keep some 220 silicon carbide paper on the granite to keep the stone flat, and that’s easy to do. Just a few seconds and it’s back to flat, rinsed off in the water tub and back to sharpening.

For me, I think I’ll go to water stones. But I’ll never get rid of the oil stones. They certainly have their place, and I use them on certain things. Especially when “breaking in” a new chisel or plane iron. I don’t need to swap paper or flatten as often, and I’m usually not doing it while I’m working on a project, so contamination isn’t an issue.
As well, it’s hard to beat the polish of a Black Arkansas. If you get a true black Arkansas from a good source, you’ll see a polish that is simply second to none.

You might be able to get the same polish as a black stone from a 30,000 Shapton, but I don’t have $300 for a single stone. Can you say ridiculous?!
I am considering one of the natural stones from Woodcraft, which are said to be a fast cutting 12,000grit.

-- Kenny

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555 posts in 3247 days

#4 posted 03-13-2012 03:21 AM

I use WD-40 and oil based finishes. While I’m careful to wipe or wash my hands after honing, which I usually do multiple times every day, I have had a finger print or two on my wood. Oil finishes seem to absorb the WD-40 with no ill effect. That’s not the case with water stones. Get a little water with even trace amounts of iron in it on a piece of wood and you’ll end up with a deep penetrating stain in that area. I’ve never had a problem with WD-40 spoiling anything but small drops of water from water stone sharpening have cost me a lot of time. Using oil stones I’m never working with more liquid than I can easily wipe up with a single pass of a rag. Water stones involved a lot of liquid. If you’re using water stones, keep your sharpening area a long distance from your bench or wood.

View BubbaIBA's profile


387 posts in 2342 days

#5 posted 03-13-2012 02:36 PM

ssnvet, coal oil is just a old farm boy’s way of saying kerosene, Jet A, or diesel; all are pretty much the same.

Back in the late 70s early 80s, I would guess early in the introduction of water stones to the U.S., I bought into the hipe. This being long before the internet and videos about all a guy had to learn from were Fine Woodworking, the Garrett Wade catalog, and a couple of other Mags that had articles on how to cut out “whirligigs” from plywood. Not having a clue how to use water stones but using them with gusto I sure managed to destroy (or at least make it very hard to get it trued up) a lot of iron.

Bottom line, water stones work very well but for my way of working they are just too fussy. Keep the oil stones flooded with coal oil, work the ends and the middle for the most part will take care of itself, and every once in awhile de-glase ‘em. That’s what works for me, as before YMMV.

View lysdexic's profile


5254 posts in 2588 days

#6 posted 03-16-2012 02:52 AM

Bubba – so what is coal oil?

I perseverated over this question for months before comitting to oilstones. I ordered a set of Arkansas stones from Best Stones. I have been happy thus far.

Also, how do you dress your oil stones?

-- "It's only wood. Use it." - Smitty || Instagram - out_of_focus1.618

View BubbaIBA's profile


387 posts in 2342 days

#7 posted 03-16-2012 03:23 AM

Coal oil is what we called kerosene when I was growing up, used it in our kitchen stove, room heaters, and lamps as well as on our whetstones. Still one of the best lubricants for sharpening stones.

When they need it I use a course diamond plate, if you always use enough oil and work the ends they will not need dressing very often.

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