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Thread: Anybody Use Arkansas Stones for Sharpening Planes/Chisels

  1. #1

    Anybody Use Arkansas Stones for Sharpening Planes/Chisels

    I know its the age of diamonds and waterstones, but just curious if there is anyone out there using Arkansas stones for sharpening plane irons and chisels. If so, I'd love to hear your setup and what stones you find work the best... and yes, I know diamonds cut the fastest and waterstones are all the rage, but I'm specifically interested in Arkansas stones and would love to hear from anyone out there regularly using them for sharpening/honing.

  2. #2
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnM Martin View Post
    I know its the age of diamonds and waterstones, but just curious if there is anyone out there using Arkansas stones for sharpening plane irons and chisels. If so, I'd love to hear your setup and what stones you find work the best... and yes, I know diamonds cut the fastest and waterstones are all the rage, but I'm specifically interested in Arkansas stones and would love to hear from anyone out there regularly using them for sharpening/honing.
    John,

    There are a number of folks working wood and on this forum that use Ark/oil stones, I use a natural stone either a Hard Black Ark or a JNat as my polishing stone, For honing I also use a natural stone most of the time, this time a Washita or Tsushima Nagura. Ark stones are not very good for grinding. For grinding I usually use a synthetic stone either a Norton India or a 1000 grit water stone. Use the stone that does the job, it makes no never mind for the most part where it comes from. Each stone will have good and some not so good, it is finding balance between speed, scratch pattern, and hassle.

    BTW, Diamonds can cut fast when new but wear quickly and most leave a less than optimum scratch pattern. Synthetic water stones are a PITA, Oil stones do not play nice with A2 cutters, Pick the one that fits your tools and work flow.

    ken

  3. #3
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    John, Since water can freeze in my shop during this time of year, my blades wouldn't get sharpened without Arkansas oilstones.

    My soft stones are a couple of Washita stones. A Smith's Arkansas stone cost about $20 at Lowes. If my memory is working it measures 6X1-3/4X1/2". It is a fast (for Arkansas stones) cutting softer stone similar to a Washita stone. They may not actually be flat. For $20 you are not going to get a whole lot. The Smith's stones are fixed to a plastic base.

    The center piece(s) of my Arkansas stones are three that came from Dan's Whetstones. There is an 8X3X1" soft stone. It is harder than the Smith's stone. A 10X3X1" hard stone that can put a pretty good edge on a tool. Last is an 8X3X1/2" black Arkansas stone that can put a good polish on an edge.

    There is also a hunk of grey translucent Arkansas stone that was purchased at a gem & mineral show. What is nice about this is it fits nicely in the grasp of my hand. It can then be used in my left hand moving and the tool held still. This makes it easy to focus on the edge being worked. This works especially well with carving gouges and round edged blades from molding planes.

    There is also a set of various slip stones for sharpening gouges and moulding plane blades.

    There are many other types of stones that can be used with oil.

    Water can be used on many oilstones. To my knowledge there aren't water stones that will work with oil.

    jtk
    Last edited by Jim Koepke; 01-18-2020 at 4:15 PM. Reason: spelling, wording & punctuation
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  4. #4
    Thanks, Jim and Ken, for sharing your workflow. One thing intriguing is that both of you mentioned Washita stones. After some research I've come to understand that true Washita stones are no longer being mined because they came exclusively from the Norton mine which is now closed. What is somewhat confusing to me is that the Washita stones that you can buy today are really just a coarser/softer Soft Arkansas but don't have the same properties of the true Washita stones. Is this accurate? In your experience how does a Washita compare to a Soft Arkansas?

    So far, I've been using a bench grinder to grind a primary bevel and then a Soft Ark -> Black Ark for honing a small secondary bevel. I also have a Fine India to mix in if I need something coarser. I have been getting a good edge with this approach.

    A couple more questions:
    1. I've noticed the sound is different when cutting with plane irons sharpened on Arkansas stones vs diamond/water stones. It seems like the edge from the Arkansas stones cut much quieter. Is this normal?
    2. Are you lapping the Arkansas stones? If so, how often?
    3. Are you stropping after the Arkansas stones? If so, bare strop or strop loaded with compound?

  5. #5
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    I used only Arkansas stones for 25 years, or so, before I bought my first water stone.

    In the pictures, the set of four came from Smith's in 1973, or 4. The set of three larger ones were purchased in the mid '90's. There is some variation, being natural stones, from one set to the other of stones with the same name. The Black from Smith's is finer than the larger black in the set of three, and puts on a finer edge.

    The set of four was thrown out of a shop I had that was hit by a tornado, so that's the reason there is one missing piece, and another is broken.

    The first stone in the set of four was called a Washita, and cuts really fast, but I have never seen another one with the variegated purple coloring. I wish I could find another.

    They do a fine job on simple steels like 01, and W1, but are significantly slower on harder steels. I primarily use 01, but they are still significantly slower than fast (lot of variation in water stones too) water stones.

    I only use them if we are somewhere without running water, since I only use water stones under running water.

    I never strop. It's not needed with a black stone, and I don't do it for other reasons anyway.
    Attached Images Attached Images

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnM Martin View Post
    Thanks, Jim and Ken, for sharing your workflow. One thing intriguing is that both of you mentioned Washita stones. After some research I've come to understand that true Washita stones are no longer being mined because they came exclusively from the Norton mine which is now closed. What is somewhat confusing to me is that the Washita stones that you can buy today are really just a coarser/softer Soft Arkansas but don't have the same properties of the true Washita stones. Is this accurate? In your experience how does a Washita compare to a Soft Arkansas?

    So far, I've been using a bench grinder to grind a primary bevel and then a Soft Ark -> Black Ark for honing a small secondary bevel. I also have a Fine India to mix in if I need something coarser. I have been getting a good edge with this approach.

    A couple more questions:
    1. I've noticed the sound is different when cutting with plane irons sharpened on Arkansas stones vs diamond/water stones. It seems like the edge from the Arkansas stones cut much quieter. Is this normal?
    2. Are you lapping the Arkansas stones? If so, how often?
    3. Are you stropping after the Arkansas stones? If so, bare strop or strop loaded with compound?
    John,

    You are correct, no one is selling new Washita stones. The best bet to get a true Washita is to find a Pike "Lilly White" that still has the label attached. They show up on eBay. One thing to remember these are natural stones, you may have to kiss a frog or two to find your prince.

    1. Diamonds leave a scratch pattern that tends to be deep and sharp sided plus all that I have tried, with the exception of Atoma, will have rogue diamonds that leave very deep scratches. The sound difference does not surprise me.
    2. Hard Black and Washita almost never. The India occasionally.
    3. Some times and both oiled and with compound but on either very limited strokes (<5) and not always, mostly if I have a stubborn wire edge that does not want to come off on the stone.

    ken

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnM Martin View Post
    So far, I've been using a bench grinder to grind a primary bevel and then a Soft Ark -> Black Ark for honing a small secondary bevel. I also have a Fine India to mix in if I need something coarser. I have been getting a good edge with this approach.

    A couple more questions:
    1. I've noticed the sound is different when cutting with plane irons sharpened on Arkansas stones vs diamond/water stones. It seems like the edge from the Arkansas stones cut much quieter. Is this normal?
    2. Are you lapping the Arkansas stones? If so, how often?
    3. Are you stropping after the Arkansas stones? If so, bare strop or strop loaded with compound?
    John, I use oilstones and lots of other people do. People who use lots of A2 or high speed steel will probably not love the Arks, but for O1, vintage steel, and even pmv-11, it works great.
    Your basic lineup sounds good to me and is almost exactly what I use (I have a coarse Washita instead of the soft Ark).
    On lapping: I always like to point out that you will get a diversity of opinions on this topic. Some people say you should lap every time you sharpen; others say you should never lap. Find the process that works for you. I lap my finish stone infrequently, but I lap my Washita every couple weeks, because I use it as a fast cutting first stone.
    On stropping: if you are working the backs of your tools properly, removing any wear bevels, then you shouldn't need any complicated stropping routine. Bare leather, jeans, or a calloused palm will work. I like to rub a little pure chromium oxide powder (0.3 micron) into my strop, but it's not essential. I consider anything more aggressive, like the green paste, to be too aggressive because it raises a new burr rather than stropping off remnants of burr.
    "For me, chairs and chairmaking are a means to an end. My real goal is to spend my days in a quiet, dustless shop doing hand work on an object that is beautiful, useful and fun to make." --Peter Galbert

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by ken hatch View Post
    John,

    You are correct, no one is selling new Washita stones. The best bet to get a true Washita is to find a Pike "Lilly White" that still has the label attached. They show up on eBay. One thing to remember these are natural stones, you may have to kiss a frog or two to find your prince.


    ken
    I rarely disagree with my friend Ken, but I have to say that if you buy a lilly white with label, you are paying mostly for collector value, and paying dearly.
    Dave Weaver has an excellent vid about Washitas on youtube. Bottom line, it's not that hard to learn to identify unlabelled Washitas, and they will be considerably cheaper than something with a label. Ken's comment about kissing frogs still applies, however.
    "For me, chairs and chairmaking are a means to an end. My real goal is to spend my days in a quiet, dustless shop doing hand work on an object that is beautiful, useful and fun to make." --Peter Galbert

  9. #9
    They had different grades for sale,the blocks were marked at the quarry. So one is not enough.
    Even the LWs had grades of grit and were sold labeled.
    Last edited by Mel Fulks; 01-18-2020 at 3:10 PM.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Steve Voigt View Post
    I rarely disagree with my friend Ken, but I have to say that if you buy a lilly white with label, you are paying mostly for collector value, and paying dearly.
    Dave Weaver has an excellent vid about Washitas on youtube. Bottom line, it's not that hard to learn to identify unlabelled Washitas, and they will be considerably cheaper than something with a label. Ken's comment about kissing frogs still applies, however.
    Steve,

    LOL. You are correct, you are buying the label not so much the stone and you could misidentify a few and still save some money.

    ken

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by JohnM Martin View Post
    [edited]
    What is somewhat confusing to me is that the Washita stones that you can buy today are really just a coarser/softer Soft Arkansas but don't have the same properties of the true Washita stones. Is this accurate? In your experience how does a Washita compare to a Soft Arkansas?
    Part of this is due to marketing. A vendor can call a stone whatever they want. Two of my Washita stone were purchased more than 50 years ago.

    Quote Originally Posted by JohnM Martin View Post
    A couple more questions:
    1. I've noticed the sound is different when cutting with plane irons sharpened on Arkansas stones vs diamond/water stones. It seems like the edge from the Arkansas stones cut much quieter. Is this normal?
    2. Are you lapping the Arkansas stones? If so, how often?
    3. Are you stropping after the Arkansas stones? If so, bare strop or strop loaded with compound?
    1. The sound difference is from the physics of the variation of materials, contact area and any lubrication on the stones such as oil or water.
    2. My stones have not been lapped. Many of my softer stones could use it. My newer stones from Dan's Whetstones show no sign of needing lapping.
    3. Sometimes a light stropping is done with compound. This is usually 5 or less strokes per side.

    jtk
    "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty."
    - Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

  12. #12
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    Atoma coarse plate to flatten my Carborundum and Lily white Arkansas.

    Strop follows.

    For "touch ups" just the Lily White and strop.

    I use vintage Marples chisels and ECE "chrome vanadium" plane irons.

    FYI - I can't sharpen modern steel this way, it takes too long.

  13. #13
    The couple of bits I posted earlier were gleaned from googling up old news paper and magazine things from late 19 th
    century and early 20th century. Some had drawings. Have not seen that stuff in the later or current books.

  14. Quote Originally Posted by JohnM Martin View Post
    I know its the age of diamonds and waterstones, but just curious if there is anyone out there using Arkansas stones for sharpening plane irons and chisels. If so, I'd love to hear your setup and what stones you find work the best... and yes, I know diamonds cut the fastest and waterstones are all the rage, but I'm specifically interested in Arkansas stones and would love to hear from anyone out there regularly using them for sharpening/honing.
    Hi John, as a another relative newbie using Arkansas stones I'll chime in, although I think what I have to say won't be as useful as all the previous replies!

    I started out using a double-sided synthetic waterstone because I didn't know what else to get, and most of the knife sharpeners I was trying to learn from on youtube used waterstones. While it was great for kitchen knives, I quickly found it it was way too soft and hard to keep flat for woodworking tools. Having seen a lot of Paul Sellers stuff, I decided to try a diamond plate (DMT), but as noted here in other posts, after some use I realized it was losing its grit. I got by with the a the synthetic waterstone and the diamond stone for awhile, did a lot of research on other sharpening stones, and settled on oil stones because:

    - They're (mostly) inexpensive, cost was a factor for me
    - They stay flat longer
    - They work well for vintage steels

    Right now I use the following:

    - 8"x3" Norton Medium India stone (when necessary, which these days is rare, I used it a lot at first)
    - 8"x3" Norton Fine India stone (a good starting stone when an edge is very dull or has light damage)
    - 8"x3" Dan's Soft Arkansas (my go-to first stone these days, as long as the edge isn't too dull)
    - 8"x2" Dan's Soft Arksansas (I got this one specifically for touching up chisels before going to the hard Arkansas)
    - 8"x2" Dan's Hard Arkansas (finishing the edge)
    - Leather strop

    I find that the Hard Arkansas stone makes for a good edge, but may be eventually acquire a translucent Arkansas, or maybe just a larger Hard Arkansas. I've heard that the difference between the hard stones and the translucents is not that significant after some use, but don't know on first hand experience!

    The India stones cut really fast with O1 steels or vintage plane irons, so no gripes there as rough stones. I prefer the wider stones for plane irons, but the 2" wide stones do work just fine. Eventually I'd like to have a set of 2" stones dedicated for chisels. I find that with the work I do, I end up sharpening my chisels much more often than plane irons, so having a set of smaller, cheaper stones might be nice to save wear on the wider stones.

    Edit: I've yet to lap any of my oil stones (either the synthetic India stones or the natural Arkansas stones), and have not noticed them getting out of flat over ~2yrs of use. I have noticed my Norton stones soaking up more honing oil over time though, and treated them with petroleum jelly in the oven, which helped but did not solve the problem entirely.
    Last edited by Laurent Marshall; 01-19-2020 at 9:26 AM.

  15. #15
    Thanks, Steve, for the input. Is your coarse Washita one of the "true" Washitas or would it be similar to one I could buy from Dans today? I'm still confused about the seemingly magical qualities of the old washitas that cut coarsly and finish at the same time. In my limited experience with these stones, if I sharpen freehand, both the Soft Ark and Black (both new from Dans) will cut A2 but when using a guide, it seems really slow. Unfortunately, I have a few A2 plane irons because I have grown to like the LN planes and that is the only choice (that I'm aware of). Where is a good place to get chromium oxide powder? I have a stick of the green honing compound, but I'm not really sure what is in it.

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