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Which type of Sharpening Stone is Right for YOU!

Sharpening stones are available in a variety of materials and styles that can cause woodworkers and carvers to scratch their heads in confusion.  Water or oil?  Diamond or Ceramic?  Man-made or natural?  Which is the best stone for you?

Pop says that "the best stone for all purposes probably doesn't exist!  But the best stone for a particular purpose does exist."  Here are some strengths and weaknesses of some of today's stones.

Woodworkers and carvers have different needs when it comes to sharpening stones.  They also have different preferences about the "feel" of a stone. Try various stones and see what works best for you. Consider price, speed of cutting, quality or sharpness of edge, durability and usefulness.

Oil Stones

This class of stones use oil as a lubricant to keep the fine metal particles generated by the sharpening process from embedding into the surface of the stone.  The metal particles are kept in solution and as a result do not "clog" or "glaze" the surface rendering it ineffective. Clogging is a potential problem with all stones.

Manufactured oil stones are most commonly made from either silicon-carbide or aluminum-oxide. Natural oil stones are usually referred to as Arkansas stones.

Some of the Advantages:
  • The coarse and medium grit oil stones will remove metal fairly rapidly. Because their surface is hard, oil stones wear very slowly and stay flat for a long time. 
  • Good variety of grits available.
  • Generally affordable.

Some of the Disadvantages:
  • The finer grit oil stones tend to remove metal slowly and are prone to excessive 'glazing'.
  • Some woodworkers object to the messiness of oil stones.  Oily fingers and the fine project you are working on don't mix! 

Water Stones

Many professionals believe that water stones are superior for sharpening chisels and plane irons, and for general shop use.

Some of the Advantages:
  • Fast cutting action with a good 'feel'.
  • Wide variety of grits available.
  • Fine grit stones leave a polished, very sharp edge which is difficult or unattainable with oil and diamond stones.
  • Generally affordable. 

Some of the Disadvantages:
  • Water stones wear rapidly and must be flattened periodically.
  • Water stones are somewhat fragile and must be stored and handled carefully.

Ceramic Sharpening Stones

Ceramic stones are generally 'life-time' stones if maintained properly.

Some of the Advantages:
  • Can be used dry - without oil or water which makes them easy to use when away from your shop.
  • Can be cleaned with soap and a common kitchen pot scrubber.
  • The finer grits leave a polished, very sharp edge.
  • The ultra-hardness of ceramic stones insures a flat, long lasting surface.

Some of the Disadvantages:
  • Normally available in finer grits only.
  • Ceramic stones with coarser grits will 'glaze' over time and lose some of their aggressiveness.

Diamond Sharpening Stones

These "stones" are made by bonding diamond material to a flat metal substrate. When purchasing check to make sure the steel plate is flat.

Some of the Advantages:
  • Fast cutting.
  • Long lasting.
  • Best choice for honing carbide tools.
  • Can be used dry - without water or oil.

  • Generally more expensive than other types.