question about sharpening stones

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I'm going to be getting a couple combination waterstones at least as a starter set for sharpening, I am a bit tired of using sandpaper.  I've looked at the Norton "starter set" for about $138 but I did see that Woodcraft has the King combination stones for substantially less - two stones for about $65, another $30 if I want a flattening stone.  


question is, are the Norton's that much better or would I be fine with the King stones?  I may one day graduate up to diamond plates but I really do have a limited budget atm so If I can save a little without compromising too much for quality I'd really like to do that.  

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I'm going to be getting a couple combination waterstones at least as a starter set for sharpening, I am a bit tired of using sandpaper.  I've looked at the Norton "starter set" for about $138 but I di

I use the cheap $45 or so combo stone from woodcraft, and a regular dmt coarse stone for flattening. And I use a vertias honing jig. Never had a problem. I've thought about upgrading, but there isn'

The only way I've seen to even come close to beating TfJ prices on the high end stones, is to have a friend that's going through Osaka anyway.  TfJ prices look to be 20 to 25% cheaper than anywhere el

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==>King combination stones

Matsunaga (Sun King, Sun Tiger, King, etc) uses a soft clay binder for their abrasive matrix artificial waterstones. Soft matrix stones are fast cutting, but fast wearing… They are excellent for softer metallurgies… The issue with soft stones is they have to be flattened often… Frequent flattening removes lots of matrix, which wears-down the stone quickly…


If you are sharpening A2, D2, etc then the long-term solution would be hard-matrix stones which will wear much more slowly... Hard-bound stones wear slowly, but not all cut quickly. At the moment, the best hard-bound ceramic-matrix stones available in North America are the Shapton Pro or Naniwa Super Stones. If you're sharpening D2 or any of the really tough metallurgies, then you would want magnesium-bound stones, ex. Naniwa Chosera.


The Nortons are a medium-hard matrix and will last a lot longer than the soft-clay matrix (King, et al), but won’t cut hard steels as fast as the ceramic or magnesium-binder stones… The obvious advantage of medium stones is they last longer. The other is that require less flattening (which is a distraction as it interrupts workflow).


In most sharpening setups, it’s worth having one very thick 700 or 800g King stone for rapid metal removal (thick because you'll wear-down quickly). The goal is rapid steel removal, not finess... An inexpensive stone is AOK... A resonable approach is a soft-matrix 700/800g King followed by a medium-grit medium-matrix stone, say Norton 4K a hard matrix fine stone, say a Shapton Pro 8K. The point is, the money is spent where it matters -- the finishing stone. In most of the set's I'd recomend on a budget, the finishing stone costs more than the rest of the set combined...


Double sided stones are a false economy – it’s more useful to have a second flat face of the same grit than a second face with another… It's all about workflow -- time is more valuable than the cost of a stone... Having two faces helps prevent interruptions flattening a face... The extra $20 or $30 for single sided stones buys a lot of time over the line of the stone...


You can get a decent 3-stone set as above for under $200... Soft-clay steel remover, medium hard clay-matrix edge sharpener and ceramic-matrix polisher...


You could also get an all King solution of three stones for about $90... The 800, 1200, 8K is a popular set. I would not recomend this for A2 steels... The Norton would be 1200, 4K, 8K for about $140 and would work better for hard steels. If you have all A2, D2, PMV-11 tools, then you really do need a ceramic solution --- closer to $200 (but I'd still keep the clay-matrix in #700 for iron backs). An all magnesium solution is closer to $250-$350 and for that you get fast cutting with little-to-no wear. A premium Chosera set is closer to $375-$400 -- the #10K stone is around $250 by itself, but is the best artificial stone I've ever used -- is't very close in performance to natural waterstones costing 10x as much...


==>graduate up to diamond plates

Interesting notion… along the same lines as “Upgrade to a Helical Head”… Marketing in action… Diamond plates are great for flattening stones, but their superiority at sharpening steels is very far from certain (same for helical jointer heads -- more of a pro/con). Diamond paste on an iron lapping plate is another thing altogether and quite useful...

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I use the Japanese water stones from lee valley. Reasonably priced and fantastic to work with. Make sure you get something to flatten your stones, a diamond plate works well. You don't ned the expensive "diaflat" - a regular 220 grit DMT works great and is about 50 dollars as opposed to hundreds.,43072,67175,43072

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I have read so much on this topic that I may be in the midst of information overload and possibly some option paralysis too. I have to balance the need to sharpen my tools (duh) with the cost at least at the moment.  There are so many opinions that frankly I'm not entirely sure what direction to go.   For now I'm using scary sharp but do not like working with sandpaper even though it "seems" to be working fine.  It's really a pain to work with, which could be part ME and not so much the method, but there it is. 


I really just want a simple, clean set up that I don't have to spend a lot of time setting up - IE, cut paper, spray-glue to glass, use until it wears out, then spend more time than I want cleaning the paper off the glass and then rinse/repeat.  I also don't really like the 1 piece of glass with 3 grits glued to it... I like the idea of just getting the stones out, using a tray or mat, and just sharpening away.  


3H I really appreciate the informative response, I hadn't really given much thought to the hardness of the stones and how that affects wear, I basically figured that I would get what I can afford now and they should last me quite awhile.  I also had given some thought to the combination stone issue you raise and could certainly see myself getting 3 stones of progressive grits rather than 2 combination stones.  I really just have a limited budget.   


[edit] wouldn't mind opinions here on arkansas stones. I know schwarz loves em but I'm not sure his reasoning is such a danger (protecting from rust by avoiding use of waterstones).  still, I'm sure they work and can be fairly inexpensive from what I've seen

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==>I know schwarz loves em

A big part of his preference is travel/teaching needs...


Nothing wrong with oil stones... The issue is the slow cutting speed. If you use O1 steels, no problems... If you're using A2/D2/PMV-11/etc, then the cutting speed becomes an issue... Not that it won't work on hard steels and leave a great edge, it's just the speed could drive you crazy...


Don't go sandpaper(SS)... Lapping film on glass/granite is a viable solution... Lapping paste is also good.... Just say no to SS...

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yeah I don't like sandpaper at all, although I did have a thought... I could continue to use sandpaper just at 220 grit, which once sharp I probably won't need to use that often unless I have a nick, then buy a 1000 and a 6000 (or something similar), which would allow me to get higher quality stones for now.  Save for the course stone later.  seem viable?

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==>I could continue to use sandpaper just at 220 grit, which once sharp I probably won't need to use that often unless I have a nick, then buy a 1000 and a 6000 (or something similar), which would allow me to get higher quality stones for now.  Save for the course stone later.  seem viable?


Interesting... If you're going to use SS, then that's the way to do it... Seems viable...

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I have learned to stay away from the King stones.  I met Cosman once and he had nothing kind to say about them.  In my own experience, I once had a King stone that would not cut at all.  I sold it on E-bay.  


I do believe in the double sided stones.  Especially for a newbie.  It can be a good value to get started.


Never have been a fan of scary-sharp.  The idea of glueing paper to a flat substrate always seemed time consuming to me.  Being flat is hugely important, but this can be accomplished quite easily with regular stone preparation.



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I've owned most of them. Still own one of each.  You've gotten good advice here.  I've used oilstones for over 40 years, but they don't cut hard steels, above 01 hardness, hardly at all.  Since, especially begiinners, are so tempted by A2, and harder steels, I'd suggest starting with water stones, which will cut the hard steels just fine.  I only use 01, but still reach for the water stones, if the weather is not too cold, because they cut and polish so much faster.


My advice is very simple.  It costs about 200 bucks to be set up forever, or at least until you develop the feel for what you want, and that takes many hours doing it.


Do this.     Tools from Japan is closed until the owner gets back after sometime early in Jan.   If you can wait that long, order his three stone set, and wait whatever the time it takes for it to get there.


If you can't wait that long, Lee Valley has free shipping right now.  Order the Sigma Power Select II in 1,000 and 6,000. I have no experience with this 6,000 stone, but the 8 or 13 may be too big of a jump.  Those are really good stones-almost as good as the Sigma's in the TfJ three stone set, and with free shipping, may only be 20 or 30 dollars more than waiting to get them from TfJ.


Sometime in the future, you may want to add  either a Naniwa Snow White 8,000, or the Sigma 13,000, and maybe a Chosera 3,000..


The first water stones I bought were the Norton stones.  They work okay, but need flattening often, like every time you use them almost.  After using the better quality stones, I gave the Norton stones away to a good home.  The Norton 8,000 cut just fine, and left a decent polish, but it was quickly fading away from having to flatten it so often.


You will need something to flatten them on.  Woodcraft sells a granite surface plate for 35 bucks, but should go on sale pretty soon for 25. You can get by with 60 or 80 grit wet or dry sandpaper for flattening, and later get an Atoma diamond sheet to stick to the surface plate.


Any of this may be more money than you want to spend on this right now, but you won't feel like you need to upgrade forever quite possibly.


I always tell people to spend 200 bucks on sharpening stuff, and 50 bucks on chisels, instead of the other way around.  There is nothing more important in being able to do fine work, than being able to produce a really sharp edge.


TfJ includes a flattening plate with their stone set, or at least did the last time I looked.


My personal ideal water stone set is the Sigma 1200, Chosera 3,000, Naniwa Snow White 8,000, and the Sigma 13k.  The 3,000 is mainly only used in the flattening backs process.   TfJ sells all of them.  LV has none of these exact stones. 


Your preferences may vary.

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==>My personal ideal water stone set is the Sigma 1200, Chosera 3,000, Naniwa Snow White 8,000, and the Sigma 13k

That's a nice set -- very balanced... Perfect for A2/PMV-11 users...


Which is an important point that I forgot to mention -- what ever set of stones you get, it should be balanced... Each stone builds on the surface left by the previous with the final stone just removing fine scratches...


I've got the C-3K -- currently my favorite mid-grit stone – once you build slurry, it cuts very fast... I’ve never mastered the C-1K – I know many maintain it’s the best edge former available, but I tend to glaze it – my poor technique… I find the #2K and #3K far more forgiving… I use the #2K as my edge former -- takes a little longer, but until I master the #1K...


I’ve read on the Sigma – I assume you’re talking the Select II? The idea sounds great, just never had a chance to try it… Every review talks about the #13K -- I use the C-#10K, to each his own...


Anyway, good stone recomendation for A2 steel users...

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I'm not sure which the classify the 1,200 as.  My 13k is not the II, but the Sigma Power, or something like that-I'm not good at remembering names.  The 1.2 is supposed to be harder than the 1,000 or 2,000, but still cut fast, so I went with that one.  I like it a lot.  The 1,000 Norton always irritated me with how slow it cut. 


I have a Sigma PS II 10k, that I bought off ebay.   It's a good stone, and certainly good enough for woodworking.  The 13 cuts almost as fast, and leaves a surface you can see anything reflected clearly in, which is realistically, probably only good for personal satisfaction.  I gave the 10k to my Son, and he likes it a lot.


They work just fine on my 01 irons and chisels too.   Last week I sharpened 14 chisels I'd bought on ebay.  All were 01, except one that was W1.   I ground all the edges on the CBN wheel, and honed with these water stones, in a very short little while.  It was the fastest, per chisel, I've ever ground and sharpened anything before.


I also recommend getting one of the Eclipse clones, and the LV plane screwdriver to tighten the screw with.  I have the MK II, that works great for my helpers to use, but it's not worth the time for me.  If I'm honing something I'm working with in the middle of a project, I'll just hit it by hand.  The Eclipse is faster, and easier in a production run.  I'm sure I would have been hindered in the time it took to get a feel for honing by hand, if I hadn't spent all the time I did with the Eclipse, in the early years.  All the be a man stuff by hand only, is not beneficial for the averagely coordinated beginner in the long run.


I'm waiting for TfJ to reopen, to order an Atoma 400  100x200 sheet to stick on one of my surface plates for flattening.  These stones aren't as easy to cut with sandpaper like the Norton stones were.

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what about the Ohishi stones from LN?  a little more cost effective is all...

I've never used those stones, but at $115 for the 10k, I wonder if it's that much better than the Snow White 8k, which I just checked and it's $78.  I didn't check shipping cost from both places.  You can't always go by the grit rating when comparing different stones.  Some 8s will cut as fine as some 10k's.  For instance, the Chosera 3k cuts as fast as probably any 3k, but leaves scratches that you can get out fairly easily with a jump up to 8k.  Some 6k's don't leave scratches as fine, and cut slower.


All water stones, that you can afford to buy, are man made, so different manufacturing techniques, materials, and pressures will make some differences.  You can't go simply by price and grit rating.  I just bought a bunch of different ones to try because I do this for a living.  Speed matters, and I can deduct the cost.  Value matters to me too though, so I don't spend money needlessly any more than I can help, but some of it has entertainment value too.

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==>probably only good for personal satisfaction

I like that... Maybe it should be added to Amazon's descrition for the Shapton Pro #30K... Can't think of any better.. :)



==>Atoma 400  100x200 sheet

Never tried their sheet products... I was using standard #240 wet/dry on a reference surface for about ten for fifteen years with soft-clay matrix... Like you, found paper just doesn't work very well on the hard stones... When I went Chosera, switched to the DMTplate...


==>can't always go by the grit rating when comparing different stones

+1 --- that's an important point that's not at all obvious from product descriptions...


To reinforce what TK's saying -- grit is one thing, but if you're sharpening hard steels, speed and hardness are just as important... Prior to woodworkers adopting hard steels, clay matrix stones were king... It really didn't matter that they dished quickly (OK, it did matter a bit, jut not as much as today)... With the harder steels, the soft stones quickly dished and you spent lot's of time flattening them -- in other words, they became obsolete... In typical use, you would have to flatten a stone every twenty strokes with an A2 chisel… If you use soft steels, none of this really matters… But once you start to adopt harder metallurgies, you’ve got to look at a stone's hardness and cutting speed along with the grit… They are all equally important…


As a topic for another day, the rush to A2, et al may not be the best thing to do for many woodworkers... O1 can work just as well as A2 in many situations ---- and better in some...

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The Atoma diamond plates just have the sheets stuck to a piece of flat steel.  TfJ sells the replacement sheets in a bunch of different sizes, and grits.  I have an accumulation of surface plates, so my plan is to buy a replacement sheet, and stick it to a surface plate.


I have tried diamond stones for sharpening.  I only kept the extra coarse for when I didn't have a grinder on site.  The thing I don't like about diamond 'stones', is that they don't give you any feedback in feel.  They are probably perfectly fine, but I developed a feel for sharpening on oilstones, and I like having the feedback.  One reason I like the stones I've picked is, not only for performance in cutting speed, and low maintenance relative to softer stones, but because they all also give really nice feedback in feel.


  From the little I've read on sharpening, most people judge by the wire edge formed.  I never bother to look at that if I don't have too, but just judge by the way the edge feels on the stone.  I'm mostly self-taught in this stuff, so I'm not saying my way is the best way, just the best way for me.


I bought one A2 chisel to try a long time ago.  I gave it away.  01 and I are old friends, and it works just fine for me.  I guess people like me are the reason that LV sells things like their shooting plane with 01 as an option.  These stones that can cut A2, cut 01 even faster, I'd guess.  At least, I know for a fact that they cut my 01 stuff really fast.

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I use the cheap $45 or so combo stone from woodcraft, and a regular dmt coarse stone for flattening. And I use a vertias honing jig.

Never had a problem. I've thought about upgrading, but there isn't a good reason to spend another few hundred on replacing something that gives me good consistent results.

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The Norton combination stones are very good, and I am sorry, but it really does not slow you down much to flip the stones over.

My first waterstone was a Norton 4,000/8,000 combination.  It did indeed work fine, but did need flattening often.  The benefit I get from individual stones is two sides to flatten at the time, so there is double the useable surface area before next flattening.  But I travel to different jobsites, and don't always have a good setup for flattening, which I like to do under running water, so that sort of thing probably makes more difference to me than someone who only works in one shop.


The amount of time one spends using a plane, or chisel figures into the equation too.  We use them a lot.  Sometimes all day long.  Even if I only built a half dozen pieces of furniture a year, I'd still want the same setup I've narrowed it down to now.

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==>really does not slow you down much to flip the stones over

It's the reverse -- being able to flip the stone saves you time: with soft stones and hard steels, you can rarely get through an operation on a single face… A single grit stone allows you to flip the stone... You then complete the operation on the tool, and then flatten the stone prior to the next tool… You save time…


==>replacing something that gives me good consistent results

If it works, don't change it... Eventually, you'll need a new stone, consider it then...

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An inexpensive option for the coarser work, reshaping bevels & such, is the 3 piece diamond plate set from HF.

They are a little on the small side, but are large enough use with chisels and most plane irons. As with anything from HF, check the item before you buy it, as several reviewers report seperation of the abrasive from the backing. I have a set, and it is probably the best $10 I ever spent on sharpening paraphenalia. Don't get me wrong, they are no competition for DMT, but they will get you to 'sharp' on the cheap. Followed with sandpaper or stones, you'll be shaving endgrain smooth as a baby's butt in no time.

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I really appreciate all the responses, a lot of good information here.

at minimum I think I'm gonna go pick this up today, woodcraft sale starts now

I will probably do what 3H suggested and get a King 800, Norton 4k and Shapton 8k, it fits my budget.  with the granite plate I should be able to maintain well enough and I can use 220 paper on the plate if I need anything rougher than 800, which SHOULD be rare.  

great thread though.

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