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Thread: Oilstones versus water

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
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    Amhrrst Jct
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    Oilstones versus water

    For the last eight years I've sharpened my tools with waterstones, they work well, sharpen quickly, the results are consistent, but I'm getting a little tired of the mess, constant re-flattening and because my shop isn't heated, I have to keep my stones indoors in the winter etc; I'm thinking of switching over to oilstones, opinions, one versus the other?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
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    Stone Mountain, GA
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    I like them. If you freehand sharpen and use high carbon steel, you will probably like them too. If you use a guide and more wear-resistant steel you may not like them as much.

    I use a Norton Fine India, Soft Arkansas from Natural Whetstone, and Translucent Arkansas from Dan's. The latter is expensive, but the first two are quite affordable.

    They are fairly maintenance free compared to waterstones. But the fine india and soft ark do benefit from occasional scuffing with a diamond stone to keep the surface more aggressive. They tend to wear in and get finer over time. I do not ever scuff the translucent.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
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    Pittsburgh, PA
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    I started with waterstones and a honing guide. I got tired of splashing water and the constant maintenance the stones required. I switched to free handing with a Washita and leather strop with buffing compound for my routine sharpening. I don't mind the oil and swarf mix and clean up is not a bother. My tools are mainly made of cast steel and O1. I've also tried the unicorn profile with the buffer wheel and I'm at least not ruining the edge.

  4. #4
    Pretty much what Robert said. Everything to follow is based on using High Carbon Steel and not A2. When you take stone maintenance into account oil stones are at least as fast and maybe faster than synthetic water stones. Because of the scratch pattern from natural stones (oil and JNAT) you will get a better and longer lasting edge. The difference is very small and only a sharpening nerd would care but it is real. Another difference is in the "shine" of the polished edge, if your end all and be all is the shine of your edge you may not like oil stones or even JNATs for that matter. Just remember shine does not equal sharp nor is it necessarily an indication of how smooth the surface is. The one place synthetic stones can best natural stones is grinding. A India works well for grinding.

    Good luck, natural stones are worth the effort.

    ken

  5. #5
    Join Date
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    My shop likely doesn't get quite as cold in the winter, though it too is unheated. That is why my sharpening consisted of water and oilstones.

    Over time my acquisition of a few better oilstones (from Dan's Whetstones) has me sharpening with oil even in the warmer months.

    A washita stone (or equivalent) is nice for coarse work such as working out a nick in an edge. These are hard to find and there are a lot of pretenders on ebay with artificial stones they call washita stones.

    A Smith's Arkansas stone purchased at Lowe's has the texture of my washita stones and is a decent equivalent. They are not the flattest stone to be found. They also seem to only have 6" X 1-3/4" X 1/2" mounted on a plastic holder.

    My other oilstones are a Dan's soft, hard and black Arkansas. Dan's soft isn't as coarse as the Smith's Arkansas stone.

    Now my waterstones are mostly used for my A2 blades. There are only a couple of those in my shop.

    In my early days of sharpening on oilstones my edges were never really great. It took my learning to sharpen on water stones before my ability on oilstones improved.

    One of my coworkers gave me a great bit of advice for sharpening on oilstones, "push it into the stone like you mean it." This doesn't end well on water stones.

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

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jun 2015
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    Northern California
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    269
    Well, at the risk of starting another firestorm...

    I started with the oil stones I inherited from my dad. Wasnít in love with the results (the stones were on the small side) or the oily mess so bought a set of Norton waterstones - 220, 1000, 4000, 8000. My sharpening skills improved (I use a Veritas jig), but I really grew to hate the mess and the constant maintenance. Now, as each waterstone reaches the point of too thin to use, I replace it with the equivalent DMT Dia-Sharp diamond stone. I may never wear down my 4000 and 8000 stones, but may replace them as well when/if I have a bit more disposable cash. Iím spending a lot more time using my tools than indulging the sharpening process. The majority of my irons/blades are A2 and I donít check each edge under an electron microscope, but am very satisfied and canít imagine using anything else. Oh, I do strop each blade as a final sharpening step on a strip of horse butt leather purchased from TFWW.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2020
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    Santa Barbara, CA
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    I did almost the exact same thing as you. I started with that set of norton stones and was happy with the results I got, but I’ve switched to diamond stones so I don’t have to keep flattening water stones and dealing with the mess. I go 325 - 600 - 1200 on DMT stones. I have a hard black oil stone for polishing, then use a block of maple with green polish as a strop.

    most of my tools are O1, but I’ve got a few A2 tools that seem to do fine with that set-up.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Dec 2010
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    I switched to oil stones to avoid water in my shop.

    Harder steel, like A2 or PM v-11 take longer on Arkies.
    The real trick is teasing off the eire edge.

  9. #9
    I switched to water for my oil stones, as I use one inbetween the rough diamond and the superfine diamond.
    Nearly a year on and am happy.
    I have very porous skin for one reason.
    It's easier to see the burr with water.

    Plenty of spritzing with a spray bottle needed, so might be a bit wet for some folk.
    Don't think my wooden oil stone box will have much of a lifespan, but time making another will be cheaper than buying oil forever.

    Pair mortises with the chisel still wet and don't care.

    Tom

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
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    New England
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Koepke View Post
    One of my coworkers gave me a great bit of advice for sharpening on oilstones, "push it into the stone like you mean it." This doesn't end well on water stones. jtk
    Now this, is exactly what I needed to hear. I have 6 Shaptons from 320 to 12,000 and absolutely love them but over the last couple years I have acquired soft, hard and black Arkansas stones from Dan's and I love them too but I pretty much used them the same way as the water stones. I can tell this will make a difference in my results before I even apply it. It makes perfect sense- different stones, different techniques. I always felt the Arkansas stones were slower. I had also felt the water stones were better for my chisels and irons and the Arkansas were better for kitchen knives but that could simply be because the Arkansas stones are bigger than the Shaptons.

  11. #11
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    Apr 2007
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Matthews View Post
    The real trick is teasing off the eire edge.
    I just could not get an edge with my Arkansas stones until it was mentioned that I should do this... Flipping my chisel over with finer / lighter strokes. Who knew? Turns out that improved my sharpening on my Shapton water stones as well.

    I do not remember which fine gentleman suggested it here on the creek, but it does indeed make a huge difference.

  12. #12
    Andrew it is known as chasing the burr.

    Full disclosure I own and have used Shapton stones.

    For a sharp usable edge not only should the bevel and the back meet at an acute angle but for the edge to last it needs to be smooth. The Unicorn folks have proven that. Shiny may not be smooth, sharp sided scratches can reflect more light than rounded scratches. Some of the most prized JNAT finishing stones leave a cloudy finish with little shine but a very smooth surface. I'm not picking on Shapton stones, it is just I own a set and I'm familiar with them. Shapton knows its market as I expect most other makers of synthetic water stones do , synthetic water stones cut fast for grit and leave a beautiful shine. Both factors sell.

    If you look at a cutter under magnification that has been sharpened on a natural stone (oil or JNAT) vs. a synthetic stone you can see the difference in scratch pattern. The natural stone scratches will be more random and softer sided, the cutter will likely not be as shiny as the same cutter polished on a synthetic stone. The synthetic stone polished cutter's scratches will be more ordered and sharper sided, less rounded. In other words less smooth but likely shiny enough to blind you.

    Does any of this matter, my guess not likely unless you are a sharpening nerd. If you like the results from your synthetic water stones or even your diamond stones keep on trucking. But if you want the best, longest lasting edge then natural stones or the Unicorn process is the way to go.

    ken

  13. #13
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    Dec 2010
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Pitonyak View Post
    I do not remember which fine gentleman suggested it here on the creek, but it does indeed make a huge difference.
    Probably Derek.

    Most everything I know that's useful came outta his blog.

    (Plenty of stuff I know isn't remotely useful but it came from somewhere else.)

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    So. Fla
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    285
    I have and use both. The oil stones are inside the shop the water stones outside. I don't have to worry about them freezing here in So. Florida since we only have 3 seasons - summer, football, and hurricane. My oil stones are a Norton Crystolon, a Washita, and Dan's Soft, Hard, Translucent, and Black Arkansas. My waterstones consist of 6 Sigma Power Ceramic stones (#120, #700, 1K, 6K 8K, and 13K), 6 Sigma Power Select II (#240, #400, 1K, #1200, 3K, 6K), a Suehiro Rika 5K, and a Japanese Tomae medium-hard natural stone.

    I also have a Gesshin 8K ceramic waterstone and a Hall's Translucent Arkansas that I want to sell and will put up in the classifieds soon.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Location
    central tx
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    388
    I switched to 400 and 1200 Diamond stones, then over to 4000-8000 waterstones. Much better, and the diamond stone can flatten the waterstones as needed, which isn't too often on the high grit.

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