Page 1 of 2 12 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 26

Thread: Soft VS "Hard" (not True Hard/Black/Transluscent) Arkansas Stones

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2016
    Location
    Tokyo, Japan
    Posts
    464

    Soft VS "Hard" (not True Hard/Black/Transluscent) Arkansas Stones

    This is one of those "is it just me, or..." posts -- something I've always wondered about but never seen discussed.

    So, I've used a ton of Arkansas stones. They're my go to, and my favorite sharpening media. However, I've always felt that the Soft Arkansas is kind of the worst of the bunch.

    It seems to me that the "Hard" (usually white, though Dan's come in all kinds of colors) variety is almost as quick as the soft... sometimes, I would swear, even quicker, and doesn't clog or get burnished nearly as bad. And yet, it produces a much finer edge. It's actually a surprisingly quick stone that can take out deep scratches left by a coarse diamond plate, and yet leave you with a really keen edge. I've got tons of stones that leave a similar finish, but can't do that. It seems unusually fast for its grit compared to the Soft, and, indeed, to many other stones natural.

    I've always wondered if it was just me who notices this and thinks so, or if others feel the same. My go to these days, if not a Washita, is just an India and a "Hard" Arkansas, followed occasionally by a strop or black/translucent, depending on whether I really need that extra sharpness or not.
    Last edited by Luke Dupont; 09-17-2021 at 7:55 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Lake Gaston, Henrico, NC
    Posts
    6,003
    The only Soft I've ever used was in the set of four stones I bought 47 years ago. I agree with everything you said about yours.

    The first stone in that set was named Washita. It is a purplish, variegated colored stone, much like the ones that were re-released a year, or two ago, and a wonderfully fast cutter. I went from that Washita, straight to the White Hard stone. The Soft seemed like a waste of time.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2020
    Location
    New Orleans, LA
    Posts
    47
    I know Japanese natural stones from sharpening knives. It is a whole rabbit hole to go down but some stones are just better than others. Without trying them out it is hard to get an idea what the stone is like. Some soft stones will be amazing and bring you up to 5 or 8k grit from a synthetic 1k depending on how you work the slurry. A medium stone that will work from 1k-8k grit is a treasure in my book. On the other hand finding a hard stone that will work from 5k up to who knows what grit with some slurry is also not an easy find. What I learned from using natural stones is that once you have one or two that work the way you want with the steel that you have, stick with them. The next best thing might be total crap for the steel you put on them.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Location
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Posts
    281
    My understanding of these stones is that the difference between the hard and the soft Arkansas is in their compactness (measured by their specific gravity). The size of the particles making up the stones is the same, it's the spaces in between these particles that causes changes in the density of the stone and is directly related to their abrasive properties. As an aside, a good Washita is in the lower range of compactness. How abrasive any sample you have may vary depending on the specific gravity of the stone, a soft Arkansas may get glazed sooner rather than later and stop cutting, a hard Arkansas may not get glazed as easily and continue cutting.

    I have one Washita that works really well on my tools, whereas other samples don't cut as well, they feel too "hard". I also have a Dan's black Arkansas that I rarely use, stropping or the powered buffer achieves the same effect for me for final honing. I have also tried vintage translucent Arkansas, they're cool, but not necessary for my bench work.

  5. #5
    I have used a soft Arkansas stone on every tool I have sharpened since 1983. Before that I just used a Washita and a black Arkansas. I use it in a worn smooth condition; I do not abrade it to roughen it up. I would buy another if this one broke.

    There could well be quite a range of what is considered soft Arkansas. If someone had a hard Arkansas at the lower end of density and a soft Arkansas at the upper end of the density range, they might not be very different. I think one would have to go through a lot of stones to really get a feel for this.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Longview WA
    Posts
    23,832
    Blog Entries
    1
    Quote Originally Posted by Warren Mickley View Post
    [edited]
    There could well be quite a range of what is considered soft Arkansas. If someone had a hard Arkansas at the lower end of density and a soft Arkansas at the upper end of the density range, they might not be very different. I think one would have to go through a lot of stones to really get a feel for this.
    Agreed, of my stones from Dan's Whetstones one is labeled soft Arkansas and another is marked hard Arkansas. There is a difference between the two, but not a great deal of difference.

    Other supplier's stones labeled simply Arkansas stone have been softer or more aggressive than the Dan's soft Arkansas stone. These have been more like my stones that came labeled as Washita stones many years ago.

    There are also a few modern stones labeled as Washita stones that do not cut like my older Washita stones. One from Norton recently sold as a Washita comes the closest. It may be from the end of the particular area's last Washita stones.

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

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Location
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Posts
    281
    Quote Originally Posted by Warren Mickley View Post
    I have used a soft Arkansas stone on every tool I have sharpened since 1983. Before that I just used a Washita and a black Arkansas. I use it in a worn smooth condition; I do not abrade it to roughen it up. I would buy another if this one broke.
    I don't remember seeing any soft Arkansas in the vintage market, I'm curious to try them. I ordered one from the Natural Whetstone Co.

    This is an interesting read regarding how these stones where marketed in the early 1900s, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?...31175035165789

    Rafael

  8. #8
    I have a Pike's Lily White that is labeled as soft and as a Washita. It was unused when I got it and cuts fairly aggressively, definitely the first stone to use unless you're reshaping your bevel or another procedure that requires significant material removal.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2019
    Location
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Posts
    281
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Rathhaus View Post
    I have a Pike's Lily White that is labeled as soft and as a Washita.
    Washitas were a class of their own, further graded as hard or soft. They were mined in very specific quarries as well. The soft ones are the ones to definitely look for, those are the ones they will cut more aggressively.

    Arkansas stones were also graded as hard and soft, but they were differentiated from the Washita stones.

    The pamphlet I linked above has some of that info. A lot more detail can also be found in this old report, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?...=135&skin=2021. The link takes you to the sections discussing the Washitas, but there's a lot more to know in the rest of the document.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Rafael Herrera View Post
    Washitas were a class of their own, further graded as hard or soft. They were mined in very specific quarries as well. The soft ones are the ones to definitely look for, those are the ones they will cut more aggressively.

    Arkansas stones were also graded as hard and soft, but they were differentiated from the Washita stones.

    The pamphlet I linked above has some of that info. A lot more detail can also be found in this old report, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?...=135&skin=2021. The link takes you to the sections discussing the Washitas, but there's a lot more to know in the rest of the document.
    Washitas are a dirty little rabbit hole I've fallen down. Only way to have a reasonable idea what you're getting into is to buy a labeled one which are now stupid expensive. Currently running through about half a dozen unlabeled stones trying to figure out which are going to do what I want them to in the long haul.

    Regarding the hard vs soft, I've also not found a lot of difference. In fact, I have a single vintage soft I keep around for nostalgia sake only. Everything I sharpen these days is off a Washita straight to a Translucent. Works for me.
    Last edited by Jake Hillestad; 09-23-2021 at 10:42 PM.

  11. #11
    A few notes: Some people are abrading their Arkansas stones supposedly to "expose fresh grit". What they are really doing is making scratches on the surface, and this rough surface is what is doing the cutting. In that case an abraded hard Arkansas might not be much different than an abraded soft Arkansas. A soft Arkansas that is well broken in and not abraded might give a better polish.

  12. #12
    Warren, you would still abrade an older stone to bring it back to flat, no?

  13. #13
    My black Arkansas is 45 years old. It has not been abraded since it left the factory and it is now 1.000 inches thick, same as ever.

    The Washita stones do wear. I use one side for gouges and small tools. It is quite dished. The other side I use for wider chisels and plane irons. On that side I sharpen with part of the tool overhanging the edge of the stone so that I get even wear on the stone.

    The soft Arkansas stone wears slowly. Mine is dished about .001. It would be worse if I did not take care to even out the wear.

  14. #14
    I have a couple of old stones I acquired on a bundle and none of them are flat. I just wondering would you try to make them flat or use as is?

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Sep 2007
    Location
    Longview WA
    Posts
    23,832
    Blog Entries
    1
    Quote Originally Posted by Eric Rathhaus View Post
    I have a couple of old stones I acquired on a bundle and none of them are flat. I just wondering would you try to make them flat or use as is?
    A couple of my softer stones had become dished over the years. With a bit of care and thought put in to how to accomplish the desired end they were used against each other to bring both of them to useable flat stones.

    You might want to wear a mask while doing this. Even with oil on the stones there may be some dust you do not want to breath.

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

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •