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Thread: Lapping oil stones

  1. #1

    Lapping oil stones

    Perhaps I have been a bit naive about buying things, but I sort of assumed that new sharpening stones would come in pretty flat. Imagine my surprise when basically every Arkansas stone I've gotten has been wavy or fat in the center. Sure, I get that we're not buying reference standards, but still... Not even close.

    I suppose it is sort of like chisels and planes, flattening sharpening stones may be another one of those rites of passage, but I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head.

    Is there any way to flatten oil stones that doesn't involve spending yet another pile of money and hours and hours of time? Maybe it's just the ones I bought, but still....

    I sure hope it gets easier once they're flattened that first time.

    So... I started going through my Arkansas stones, and so far, I'm o-fer on them showing up flat. (Granted, I have a Dan's on the way, and I hear they're good.).

    The Norton soft had a smile. Concave on one side and convex on the other.
    Both Natural Whetstone softs came in weird and wavy and low on opposite corners. (one was sold as a hard... but it was softer than the soft.).
    The Smiths was wavy and low in the corners.
    The Norton Hard translucent is thin on the ends and fat in the middle.

    The Smiths was the smallest, and also the easiest to flatten, as in objectively easy. I was done in less than 20-minutes. I didn't measure the density (it's glued onto a plastic base) but I would guess low.

    The Norton soft was the next easiest, but easy here is relative. I probably burned 3-hours on it. It is also the lowest density Ark I've measured so far at 1.97. Still, it's almost 0.030" thinner than when I got it.

    The NW soft stones are where the problems kicked in. They're both wavy and fat in the middle. I've probably got 5-hours in them experimenting with methods, and I've only got one side of one pretty flat to the last half-inch of the corners (low), but all the other sides are still sort of wavy.

    The Norton Hard/translucent... I think I'm going to punt on this one and send it out to get it lapped. Yikes, it's both really hard and fat in the middle on both sides. It would probably be ok if it wasn't that far out, but it's almost 0.030" thicker in the middle.

    If this is typical of the breed, it's got to be one of the reasons people esteem water stones so highly. A hard stone, like an Arkansas, coming in out of whack makes sharpening take even longer.

  2. #2
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    If you are just working on the bevel of a chisel or plane blade, why does it have to be flat from end to end? The bevel is short and will ride over the crown with no issue to the blade. When it hollows out from side to side, then you have an issue.

  3. #3
    I haven't bought an Arkansas stone in 30 years, so I can't say if that's common now.

    But how are you lapping them? 20 minutes to take down a few thousands of an inch seems excessive. It usually takes me about 2-3 minutes to flatten a stone. I've even done it on concrete sidewalk before, and it didn't take anywhere near that long. You might be using too fine of an abrasive to flatten your stones.

  4. #4
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    Hope to hear about your Dan's stone soon. All of mine from Dan's have been flat. Other brands have varied.

    On my softer stones it seems working blades on the high areas have helped to smooth them out. Putting stone to stone also seems to work. One has to be judicious about working down the high areas and not just going back and forth over the surface, making two really bad stones in the process.

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

  5. #5
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    Lee Valley sells coarse lapping grit for less than $10. That and a float glass pane is the fastest way to lap a stone.

    This Washita took about 15 minutes to lap.

    20220823_220432.jpg20220823_220643.jpg20220823_221420.jpg

  6. #6
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    That’s a nice stone, Raf, is it 2x8’ish? How’s it working? Can’t wait to see the box you make for it!

    Kevin

  7. #7
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    I've used Silicon Carbide Grit with some sort of thin oil (probably mineral oil mixed with wd40) on a granite countertop off cut. I've done my washitas and India stones in a few minutes. They are aggressive after that treatment, but settle down fast enough.

    edit: mine were slightly dished-I suspect trying to flatten a convex surface could require a different technique than just rubbing it on a flat surface...
    Last edited by scott lipscomb; 03-01-2024 at 6:11 PM.

  8. #8
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    Decades ago I flattened the coarse stones using Carborundum (Silicon Carbide) grit left over from when we ground telescope mirrors as teenagers. I'd use an old window pane on a cinder block outside, just rinse the swarf off with a hose, and throw the window pane away. I don't remember the grade of the grit but it was one of the coarse ones. The Hard and Black never needed any flattening. We always used water to make the slurry for grinding the glass mirrors. It worked just fine for the stones.

    For waterstones today I use replacement Atoma diamond sheets, 140 and 400 grit, on a granite surface plate. My oilstones have not seen enough use to need to be flattened since mainly switching to water stones.
    Last edited by Tom M King; 03-01-2024 at 7:04 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kevin Adams View Post
    That’s a nice stone, Raf, is it 2x8’ish? How’s it working? Can’t wait to see the box you make for it!

    Kevin
    It's 7.5 x 2 x 1 in. It looks like it's a well selected stone. It took me a while to find it in the shop. I finally found it in my "handyman" toolbox, I had forgotten I placed it there. It doesn't get used often, but it has a good bite (probably from the lapping I did.) I did an edge refresh on a chisel and it feels really good, uniform grit, no hard spot.

    It came in a box, walnut, with the name of the previous owner carved on the lid. It's nice enough, so no new box for this one.

    20240301_204709.jpg20240301_204553.jpg20240301_205611.jpg

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by John C Cox View Post
    Is there any way to flatten oil stones that doesn't involve spending yet another pile of money and hours and hours of time? Maybe it's just the ones I bought, but still....
    If your new stones are not flat, don't spend any more time or money on them. Sent them back, wait for your stone from Dan's, and if that lives up to expectations, then spend your money on flat stones from Dan's. I have 3 stones from Dan's (soft, hard, and black) and they all were, are, totally flat.

  11. #11
    In my experience, stones from Dan's come flat. They also offer to flatten out of flat stones for a reasonable price.

  12. #12
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    Looks like the previous owner used a chunk of walnut right from the log. I quite like it. And that really is a nice stone. Looks like an AI chisel, too, which are my go-tos at the bench.

    Hope all is well, take care.
    Kevin

  13. #13
    The Dan's hard came in today. It's big and it's flat. Definitely no lapping needed on that one.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rafael Herrera View Post
    Lee Valley sells coarse lapping grit for less than $10. That and a float glass pane is the fastest way to lap a stone.

    This Washita took about 15 minutes to lap.

    20220823_220432.jpg20220823_220643.jpg20220823_221420.jpg
    Question for you (and the others that have mentioned they used silicone carbide lapping): how do you not get those large, coarse particles embedded in the surface of the stone?

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Monte Milanuk View Post
    Question for you (and the others that have mentioned they used silicone carbide lapping): how do you not get those large, coarse particles embedded in the surface of the stone?
    The powder is very hard, but also very brittle, it breaks down pretty quickly and turns into a slurry. You have to add fresh powder to continue grinding. The resulting mixture of SiC dust and water is washed when done. If there's any residue embedded in the pores, it's not noticeable.

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