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Thread: Lily White Washita / Different Types of Washita Stones

  1. #1
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    Lily White Washita / Different Types of Washita Stones

    For those bored with sharpening threads, this is not really about sharpening, but more about research related to the history of certain Washita stones. Perhaps I should drop an email to Norton to see if they have any comments.

    My notes state that there are two types of Norton / Pike Lily White Washita stones:


    1. Fine medium hard grit
    2. Soft fast cutting grit


    I have seen plenty of "Lily White" Washita stones for sale (on eBay) and it seems that having a stone labeled "Fine / Medium Hard" or "Soft / Fast Cutting" is the exception. Did they stop labeling these stones as such? This is a label on the side of a stone:

    Lily_White_Fine_Medium_Hard.jpg

    On 07/31/2008, Tools For Working Wood had a blog entry titled "Goodbye Lily White Washita - We hardly knew you" in which there are four stones pictures, and there is no mention of this grading other than that they are Lily White Washita stones.

    Washita_Lily_White_Tools_For_Woodworking.jpg

    I read somewhere that the most useful Washita stone was the fast cutting variety, but it was not stated why. I assume that it is because there are other stones that you can use for a fine edge, but, I do not even remember where I read that. This left me wondering and I would love to try the two different grades just to see the difference in how they sharpen.

    Some years ago, I purchased a Lily White Washita stone that was unused and "glued" into a wooden box. OK, I say "glued", but the reality is that they used something else to attach the stone. I think they used plaster or something similar. I purchased the stone from a Museum and they had closed out a woodworking display and were selling the stuff. They said that the stone was from the 1800's (see below). When I have seen a stone graded, the grading has been on the side of the stone, and if this is original, then you cannot easily place a sticker on the end of the stone if it is embedded in a box. I assume that this stone was not used and it does not look that white to me. Looks like a used stone with oil embedded in it.

    Washita_Lily_White_Museum.jpg

    Also, this stone has a big sticker on the stop. How did people use a stone stuck into a box if there is a big sticker on it? If this was not in a box, then you could just use the other side, but, stones that come in boxes seem to often not have a usable back side of the stone.

    This stone does not have a sticker on the side indicating grade and it is in a cardboard box:

    Washita_Lily_White_cardboard_box.jpg

    If this next stone was labeled, did this come in another cardboard box that had the grading?

    Washita_Lily_White_Wooden_box.jpg

    So many questions, hoping to find some answers. And I have access to a Fine / Medium Hard, have not tried it yet. Hope to fine the Soft / Fast Cutting type eventually as well.

    I also wonder how the other Washitas compare? I assume that the No. 1 Washita stones are not graded (I think they were not warranted for how they work) so they probably run the spectrum. The newest stones I think were simply not rated. The new Washita I purchased end of 2020 were not graded and they are very fast cutters, faster than the other Washita stones that I have:

    https://sawmillcreek.org/showthread....washita-stones

    Any thoughts?

    Andrew Pitonyak

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    I think you need to consider that Pike and Norton were different companies in the 19th century and Norton acquired Pike at some point. When you find examples of labeled stones it matters which company produced them since they may have used different grading methods.

    The Pike pamphlet mentioned in other threads, https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?...iew=2up&seq=10, ca. 1905, mentions that they come in Soft, Coarse or Hard grit.

    I found two 19th century Pike catalogs and the different labels are mentioned, including the Rosy Red, which it appears came from a particular quarry and it was priced the same as Lily Whites.

    https://archive.org/details/PikeMfgC...ge/n7/mode/1up

    https://archive.org/details/PikeManu...ge/n1/mode/1up

    I have several Washitas in my collection, but only one I would consider the best for honing tools. It is fast and you can feel it grinding the steel. Most of my other Washitas are slower and feel "harder", they don't feel like they grind the steel as the one that I prefer. It's a similar feel as when I use a hard Arkansas.

    The harder Washitas take too long to one and I don't consider them useful to have on the bench. With my one good one it is grinding the worn edge, then softer passes to hone, and finish with the buffer.

    I don't know why my other Washitas feel harder, I don't know if they were messed up in the past, since one of the catalogs above says that kerosene or petroleum "will harden and often spoil a good stone." I don't know how that could happen or if it's possible to repair them.

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    Sounds like you would agree that the soft variety is the most useful. If I remember you managed to get one of the new washita stones about a year ago... I think you said that one cut differently.

    I have seen the don't use petroleum products, but never saw a reason given. I also know that kerosene was popular and I don't remember people complaining about problems. I don't know if it is because of health reasons or for things related to the stone...... Or if it is because they sold a non petroleum product. Sperm whale oil back in the day, very refined mineral oils these days. Dan's whetstones had their own oil that smells a bit like a petroleum based product. I have mds around here somewhere.

    I did see people discussing if it was safe to use bar keepers friend to clean a stone because it has a light acid which is why is sometimes works when ajax powder fails.

  4. #4
    The stones were ,and still are used for all kinds of work. From sharpening razors to scythes. Yes, the stones were graded to some degree,
    but I doubt many were returned, or that many wrote there congressman about mis -leading statements on the boxes. A guy with the time
    could probably come up with a lot more grades than Pike or Norton ever did. Stones with labels are especially valuable whether coarse or
    fine. There are lots of places that claim to have the best razor hones and some pursue owning one of each . It’s all good fun.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Pitonyak View Post
    Sounds like you would agree that the soft variety is the most useful. If I remember you managed to get one of the new washita stones about a year ago... I think you said that one cut differently.
    When they're used to sharpen chisels and irons, the soft ones are very good. One stone and you're done, in many cases stropping to a polish is not even necessary. The caveat is that this stone works best with carbon steel tools, like cast steel, O1, and in general not super hard steels. If your tool set includes exotic or very hard steels, then different sharpening media is needed and one has to consult one of the gurus out there and get a Tormek, CBN wheels, and a bunch of waterstones.

    The Norton Washitas that were briefly offered are ok on regular carbon steel tools. I sharpened a couple of plane irons tonight and it took the regular amount of time, a couple of minutes. They don't look like Lily Whites or Rosy Reds. Actually, they look like the washita stones offered by other vendors, like Hiram A. Smith. Here's an example from ebay.

    Smiths Washita.jpg

    The texture of the new Norton Washita resembles that of a Dan's soft Arkansas. I have one of them and it's in my to do list to use it and compare with the other stones.

    Quote Originally Posted by Mel Fulks View Post
    Yes, the stones were graded to some degree, but I doubt many were returned, or that many wrote there congressman about misleading statements on the boxes. A guy with the time
    could probably come up with a lot more grades than Pike or Norton ever did.
    I'm puzzled by your comment. At some point these companies graded their Washitas, at least Pike did. Some didn't or stopped grading them. It's pretty well documented. It meant something to their customers and that's why they went to the trouble to grade them. Not all the quarries in Arkansas where they mined these stones produced good quality sharpening stones, it took certain expertise to identify and process them.

    Back in the day it was important to get assurances you were getting a proper stone. It takes only moments to realize that there's something wrong with a washita stone. You have to experience a good quality stone to realize what a joy to use they are.

    Regarding the paper labels and their prices, that's the collector market, I don't care about that, none of my washitas bench stones is labeled.
    Last edited by Rafael Herrera; 01-10-2022 at 2:31 AM.

  6. #6
    Rafael, You ask a polite and earnest question. I just think the grading of the stones is more lore than information. We have all just seen too
    many TV commercials with jeweler letting engaged couples look through loupe to see if the earth did a good job on the “rock”. In the case of
    washita stones my guess is that some boulders were a little different from others , so a quick shake of the paint can and “ fine” ,”medium “
    or “coarse” marked a big batch , with out a lot of testing.

  7. #7
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    On my computer I was able to poke around the links provided.

    I see a statement in 1891 that the "Rosy Red" is the best all around and is listed as a "soft / fast cutting" stone. Also in 1891 the "Lily White" is listed as "Extra Lily White". I also see "Extra Washita" as a specific label.

    The booklet "Oilstones: how to select and use them" referenced seems to cover up through 1905, so I assume that is the year it was published (but I did not spend a lot of time verifying this) and they mention the "Fine / Medium hard" and "Soft / Fast Cutting" so that gives me some time frame. The other documents are earlier.

    This document (https://archive.org/details/PikeMfgC...ge/n7/mode/1up) specifically mentions an "Oil Stone Powder". Never heard of it.

    One of the documents stated that Kerosene and petroleum products can harden and glaze an oilstone but then in a later document (1905) they state this:

    There are some who use kerosene or coal oil and get excellent results, while others claim that kerosene; hardens and glazes an oilstone. As there are many different opinions on this point, it is safer to use some oil that is conceded by all to be good.
    As for "labeling" the stone. In the 1905 document, they mention that when you buy a Lily White stone that is labeled, that stone is guaranteed to behave as it is labeled. So my reading is: "if you want your stone to behave a certain way, pay the extra money for the labeled Lily White stone because it is very difficult to look at a stone and know if it is soft and fast cutting or hard and fine."

    I don't think I have ever seen a Lily White labeled as "Extra Lily White" but it is mentioned in 1891. Then again, I never looked. Also, I have never seen a Washita labeled "Extra Washita" or a No. 2 Washita. Not that surprising since if you actually use a stone I expect the label to come off. Will only see it if it is on the box somehow. Very few people are likely to save the boxes.

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    The pamphlet was a marketing product, but I don't think the grading was BS. The stones do vary and getting a decent product was something people of that period would have cared about.

    There are other sources of information regarding that industry, in this case it is a geological survey. It has a lot of interesting bits of info.

    Annual report of the Geological Survey of Arkansas, 1890:v.3. (https://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.32044102940343)

    For example, on page 58 of the report:

    Ouachita stone -- The Ouachita stone has grains equally as fine as the Arkansas stone, and so will give equally as fine an edge when properly used; its porous structure, however, renders it unsuitable for fine instruments, but makes it much more effective with larger tools. It is a hard stone but wears away comparatively fast, and both cuts away the steel rapidly and produces a fine edge. Owing to the peculiar cutting property of the edges of the pores this stone,* the finest results will not be obtained by both a forward and backward movement of the tool edge over the stone. With the Ouachita stone the forward movement involves considerable irregular cutting, while the backward movement produces scratches alone; thus a fine edge can be obtained by the backward movement. Since this movement is the one employed in honing razors, the Ouachita stone can be and is utilized as a razor hone; it is better indeed for this purpose than the Arkansas, which will glaze under a honing treatment.
    Andrew, check out page 384 of the report regarding Arkansas powder.

    There's a lot more info in the document, some of it practical, like the tidbit above. It's pretty interesting, keeping in mind the level of scientific knowledge at that time. No atomic theory, only optical microscopes, limited chemical analysis theories, etc., no knowledge of plate tectonics.

  9. #9
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    Interesting thread and Rafael and I have corresponded previously on washitas. I have several including one of Joel’s Lily whites he sold several years ago (wonderful stone) and a few vintage ones. Each one seems to be slightly different and I do agree that there appears to be two main “camps” of medium/fast and fine. Below is one that I originally bought because of the box and it does live up to its label of fast cutting. It’s only 6” and is glued in the box, which I don’t mind as I can use it on a drawknife with my fingers protected. I have another vintage #1 that may be my favorite of all of them, although the TFWW Lily White is awfully good, too, as a one-stone-does-all solution.

    Thanks,
    Kevin

    8A1B6B60-F320-4FCF-B230-7EADFF67BEE7.jpg
    C57FD9FF-F312-4A02-AC83-592F4165982E.jpg

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    So the reference to honing technique is also interesting. I gather they mean moving the tool front to back (parallel to the length)? I typically sharpen side to side when I freehand so wonder if that matters in these instructions or what? Curious how you sharpen, Raf?

    Thanks again for the info.

    Kevin

  11. #11
    The razor info in the old and interesting pamphlet is wrong ,razors are honed edge leading. This type of error is just typical of the stuff
    people were buying to educate themselves in late 19th century. The Arkansas stones have been mentioned for razor honing on the straight
    razor shave forums, but it’s been a few years since I checked in on them.
    I must add that it is certainly possible that some prefer honing edge trailing.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Adams View Post
    So the reference to honing technique is also interesting. I gather they mean moving the tool front to back (parallel to the length)? I typically sharpen side to side when I freehand so wonder if that matters in these instructions or what? Curious how you sharpen, Raf?
    I seem to remember reading that side to side might produce a longer lasting edge, but I remember almost nothing else about this. Again it is one of those things that I should have written down so that I would remember where I read it. I almost never sharpen side to side except:


    1. Flattening backs it is almost always side to side. This includes when I am doing my touch-up and I am removing a burr.
    2. Blades that are not suitable for other means such as my router plane blades. Always side to side there.
    3. Gouges, can you sharpen them any other way? Oh, I suppose on a rounded surface.


    Although I keep getting better at free hand sharpening, I really have to work at it.

    So, Kevin, when you sharpen side to side, are you doing some kind of patterns (figure-8) and maybe even swinging your hips? Do you lock your arms / elbows?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Adams View Post
    So the reference to honing technique is also interesting. I gather they mean moving the tool front to back (parallel to the length)? I typically sharpen side to side when I freehand so wonder if that matters in these instructions or what? Curious how you sharpen, Raf?
    I think it means dragging the tool in the direction where it is inclined towards, like when one spreads plaster on a wall. I skew the edge, to help prevent rounding the bevel, and move back and forth, with more pressure in the backwards motion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mel Fulks View Post
    The razor info in the old and interesting pamphlet is wrong, razors are honed edge leading. This type of error is just typical of the stuff people were buying to educate themselves in late 19th century. The Arkansas stones have been mentioned for razor honing on the straight razor shave forums, but it’s been a few years since I checked in on them. I must add that it is certainly possible that some prefer honing edge trailing.
    I'm not a razor guy, others might have to chime in here. I know that David Weaver has a video on razor honing using a washita stone, he examines these things to death, I'll ask him. The quote is from a state government report, not consumer marketing literature. It's certainly possible the author got it wrong. The author makes two claims in there, washitas can hone razors using backward strokes and Arkansas will glaze if used to hone razors. Is it true? I don't know, but these things can be tested.

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    Page 62 on the care of whetstones, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.3204...97765015623-96

    Page 108 on defective whashita stones, https://hdl.handle.net/2027/hvd.3204...7765015623-145. It also discusses the variability of the stones in the quarries (hence my comments as to the importance of grading and not being the case that these guys just blasted the rocks, cut them and sold them.) It is also mentioned the negative effect of allowing the stone to dry and/or getting it saturated with oil. If this is accurate, a lot of the vintage stones out there may be damaged due to lack of use and care, again, who knows.

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