Sick of Waterstones


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Hi, everyone. This is my second post. Now that I'm using hand tools almost exclusively, I'm getting frustrated with my waterstones. I bought waterstones originally because all the magazines said so. When using a router to cut a mortise, and then squaring up the ends with a chisel, I was happy with using waterstones. The mess and maintenance was not a big deal. Now that I'm using hand tools, again, almost exclusively, I'm finding the mess and maintenance to be a nuissance.

I'm considering oil stones. I've never used a oil stone, but they seem to be a little cleaner and they need less maintenance. Is this true? Have you switched to oil stones? Am I expecting too much from the sharpening routine? I want sharpening to be as clean and easy as possible. I've spent a lot of time learning to freehand honing. I bought a 6" bench grinder to get the hollow ground. I use my honing guides less and less.

Can you help me with this?

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Magnum,

I'm getting ready to build my "sharpening station". It's gonna have the grinder there, all of my sharpening supplies and sits next to a deep sink.

I've got a piece of Corian for the top that I'm gonna route a drain board into. I hate the mess, too!! This should mitigate greatly.

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The upside of oilstones is that they stay flatter longer, and you don't have to deal with containing water. The downside is that they cut more slowly than waterstones.

I use waterstones, myself. Here's my setup.

IMG_9275.JPG

The tub is for the waterstones that I have that need soaking. I use the spray bottle to wash the slurry off as I sharpen. Some water does get onto the surface of the table, but I don't really care too much as that's this table's only purpose: to hold my sharpening equipment.

Making a waterstone pond isn't too complicated:

IMG_9276.JPG

It's a simple low open box. The corners are caulked, which prevents them from leaking, and over time enough waterstone slurry has gotten into the bottom of the box so that it adds another layer of waterproofing. The platform has a stop that the waterstones butt up against as I use them. The only reason the waterstone that's on the platform has the special holder is that the bottom of the waterstone is uneven. None of my other waterstones need the special holder.

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I use water stones exclusively in my shop, but started using oilstones when I volunteer at the Steppingstone Museum since that is more historically appropriate for a rural Victorian farm (not that I had a choice). This past summer, I did a lot of sharpening as many of the museum tools needed work. I can safely say that I much prefer water stones. They cut faster and the mess is much easier to deal with than the oil. All that oil did keep the rust away though in a shop that has no climate control and is mostly exposed to the elements. Honestly, the shop master had to break me of my habit of trying to flatten the oil stones so much because it has just become a routine in my own shop with water stones. Maintaining stone flatness is really just like sharpening: do it often enough and it is a very quick process. I keep my flattening stone by the water stones at all time and give each stone a quick rub after each use. It takes a few seconds and I don't even notice it anymore.

You might consider a compromise and use a ceramic based stone like the Shaptons. They will stay flat longer and I think they are easier to maintain. The mess is still the same however and if you have a dedicated sharpening area where you don't mind a little water and grit then you won't mind it at all.

I hope Bob Rozaieski will chime in here as I believe he is an oil stone convert and can give a contrary view that would be helpful.

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I would give a +1 to the Shaptons. You don't store them in water just give them a few squirts and away you go. If it is the water/oil that you don't like you could look at a WorkSharp system. I have one and it works well but since getting the Shaptons I really don't use it anymore. It still leaves the black metal dust (you can't get away from that)but no water or oil.

-Gary

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I started my sharpening journey using Norton waterstones. I really liked the Nortons, especially the speed.

Unfortunately my shop is in an unheated garage that sometimes drops below freezing. Knowing myself, I knew I would leave the stones in the garage at least once when it dropped below freezing (it only takes once) and the stones (especially the lower grits that require soaking) would be ruined.

So a couple years ago I switched to Oilstones (medium india for rough, and translucent arkansas for fine) followed by a bare leather strop. It works ok, but at least for me way slower than the waterstones. The straw that broke the camels back was that I got a couple of the Ray Iles mortise chisels which use D2 steel. They just laugh at my oil stones. I know people have successfully sharpened the RI mortise chisels on oil stones, but I was totally unsuccessful.

That said, I broke down and ordered some Shapton Pro stones from Stu at Tools from Japan Since these stones (even the lower grits) only take a spritz of water to use, I can keep them in the garage year-round.

Mess-wise, it's pretty much the same, but I've since setup a separate sharpening station, and I can confine the mess to that space.

Good luck,

Chris

(COWW)

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+3 on the Shapton's here. Especially for A2 steel, they cut much faster than the Norton stones. Don't let the cost scare you off, if you consider the amount of time they will save you over their lifetime, they are well worth the money.

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I've been using Norton stones for awhile. Recently tried some 3M honing paper and really like it. I am getting away from jigs, hollow-grind + by-hand, and using the 15mi, 5mi and .03mi papers goes very quickly. I'm liking the setup for now until I break down and buy the shapton stones.

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I literally wrote about this last night. You can check it out here. A quick summary supports what others are saying. Shaptons are the best but really expensive. I personally own the Nortons and they are good just much slower. Oil is messy. Ultimately I have started using the Worksharp 3000 and love it. It's quick, cost effective, non labor intensive and not quite as messy. Best money I've spent in quite awhile.

Tim

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I have had nothing but trouble with sharpening over the last six months, until I went to the 3M paper method. I, of course, still use a white Norton stone in my grinder when I drop a chisel, or heavy grit adhesive sandpaper for quick forming. But I tell ya, the edge I get with the paper on a small marble surface plate is amazing. The edge is clean and tough. I have kept a good edge on my chisels while I have been working on the mortises for my workbench of hard maple and rehoning is quick and easy. I use oil since it is the best fluid to put in contact with tool steel. I am waiting for a Veritas sharpening jig to top off the kit. Overall I have less than $200 in the entire kit.

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this may be swimming upstream but...

I moved from Waterstones back to oilstones. The key for me is actually stropping.

In my opinion stropping allows me to skip all the 8000+ craziness.

I go Grinder (if needed) -> Medium India -> Hard Arkansas -> strop -> done

Some of Don Williams writings encouraged me to try oil again.

The points that moved me back:

1. I prefer oil mess to water mess (I guess this means Mark and I can't be friends).

water splashes on wood, rusts stuff, evaporates out of stone bath, gets funky in stone bath

2. Minimal flattening

3. Tools end the process with oil on them rust prevention no extra effort

4. I prefer O-1 steel vs A-2 so I have never noticed the speed difference on O-1

5. I do have a few A-2 blades and somehow am able to get a good edge on them with oilstones.

All that being said I can do fine work with either.

In my opinion the best sharpening tool is a sharpening bench so that you can leave stuff out and sharpen early and often. Oil or water.

--steve

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In my opinion stropping allows me to skip all the 8000+ craziness.

I go Grinder (if needed) -> Medium India -> Hard Arkansas -> strop -> done

The particles in honing compound used with stropping are about the same size or smaller than 8000+ grit waterstones. So if using a strop isn't craziness, why is going to a 15000 waterstone considered to be extreme? You are sharpening to the same degree either way.

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I meant craziness in terms of buying expensive hi grit stones vs a scrap of leather with green goo on it.

I very much dig my chisels being crazy sharp.

Not meaning to offend--just offering another viewpoint.

I used to think you could only get crazy sharp with water stones since oil stones max out at Hard Arkansas and water stones go to really hi numbers. Marketing often works on me.

--steve

The particles in honing compound used with stropping are about the same size or smaller than 8000+ grit waterstones. So if using a strop isn't craziness, why is going to a 15000 waterstone considered to be extreme? You are sharpening to the same degree either way.

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Thanks for all the responses. I didn't quite expect that.

It seems that I've been able to identify my frustration. I don't have a dedicated sharpening station. This I need; no more mucking up the bench. A while back I built the box in the picture, to hold my stones and catch water and slurry. It has greatly helped, but it has not curbed the mess totally. A sharpening bench is seriously in need.

DSC05346.JPG

I don't like my process in how I flatten the stones. Again, it makes a mess. I have a granite tile that I put a piece of wet/dry sandpaper on to flatten the stones. Slurry everywhere! The sharpening bench can help this, too.

I've invested in the Norton waterstones; I'll keep them and try to mitigate the mess with a sharpening bench. Admittedly, I like the edge I get from the waterstones.

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My 2 cents on sharpening.

For a start , sharpening is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The most important thing is to have a system that works for you that you will use before the blade gets dull.

I don't enjoy using waterstones. Tried them and just found them too messy, especially if you are trying to remove major amounts of metal. I also found there were too many steps (for me) to set them up. When I used them, I would put sharpening off until the blade was really blunt. Then I had a major sharpening job to do! So I changed system to one that suited me better.

It is also true that removing large amounts of metal by coarse oilstones is messy and boring and I didn't enjoy doing that. Then I realised that our forefathers didn't use oilstones for that, they used grindstones!

My current sharpening regime is a hybrid of grinding, diamonds, oilstone, and strop. I don't say it is the best, but it works for me and I like it. So I use it and my blades are now kept sharp.

For BD plane blades and chisels, with an edge that needs work, I flatten the back on a coarse diamond plate. Then I hollow grind the bevel on a white or diamond wheel. Then I sharpen the edge and polish the back to remove the burr created from sharpening the bevel on the following media (in order): a medium diamond plate, followed by a hard oil stone followed by a leather strop.

For BU plane blades, I use the coarse diamond plate for both the bevel and the back then go down the media in the order medium diamond, oilstone and strop.

The use of dry media to shape the basic surfaces is much cleaner, and just as quick as waterstones, in my experience. The very small amounts of oil used in the last two steps creates no noticeable mess at all.

Once the blade geometry is set, the oilstone and strop are all that are needed to keep things humming along for years for a particular tool (unless you drop it on a concrete floor) - they are right next to my bench all the time to just wipe the blade back to sharpness whenever I want to. really quick and easy - no set up involved and no mess. YOu can even do that on your bench!

And yes, I do have a sharpening station and I do recommend having one. I also think that you could do everything I do on oilstones and strops with fine and extra fine waterstones, if you wanted to. You just need to make sure they are 'right there', so you use them the moment the blade dulls from ideal.

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I usually stay out of discussions on sharpening media since it's really a case of "Tastes Great!", "Less Filling!". But since Shannon asked ;).

I use oil stones. I used to use Norton water stones. I won't go back. I'm happy where my sharpening is at. Here are my reasons:

  1. Maintenance. Good oil stones require virtually none. If you hone freehand, and use the entire stone, they should never get out of flat enough to require reflattening. Keep them clean by using enough oil and wiping it clean after every use, and you're good to go.
  2. Mess. I don't know how you folks who use water stones can say that oil stones are messy, but my experience with water stones is that they are way messier than oil stones. Just look at the pictures of Wilbur's sharpening bench (sorry Wilbur :)). Water stones get slurry and water and swarf everywhere, especially when you need to flatten them. I use my oil stones right on my workbench. Squirt some oil on, spread it around, hone, wipe oil off stone & tool with a rag, done. My fingers get a little black from honing, but they do with water stones too. In my experience using Norton water stones and my current oil stones, my oil stones are way less messy than water stones. There's no messy slurry, no tubs of water, nothing getting all over the bench. Plus, the oil protects the tools.
  3. Speed. Sorry, but the speed of waterstones over oil stones is over exagerated if you hollow grind (I do). I takes me just a minute or two to renew a cutting edge that is properly hollow ground. Start at fine India stone to raise a small burr, move to surgical black Arkansas stone to chase the burr, strop to polish. Wipe the tool off and get back to work.
  4. Portability. Much easier to bring a couple stones and a small can of oil on the road with me than it is to transport a big tub of water. Ceramic stones are better in this regard since they don't need to be soaked. My Nortons needed to be soaked.
  5. Feel. This is an extremely subjective comparison, but I just like the feel of oil stones better. My water stones were too soft for my taste and while learning to hone freehand (and even when I used to use a jig), I would often gouge the stone with the corner of the tool. I don't have this problem with the oil stones.
  6. Steel. This isn't so subjective. I use 95% old tools made of cast steel. This steel is comparable to W1 tool steel today. No modern toolmakers that I know of use W1. Most use O1 or A2. Harder, modern O1 takes a little longer to sharpen than my old cast steel (but barely). A2 takes a little longer than O1. Still, with a proper hollow grind, the difference is not all that big (a minute or two difference). I hone my Ray Iles D2 (even harder than A2) mortise chisels on my oil stones and it does not take long, and I can pare pine end grain easily when I'm done. So they can work for harder alloys as well. Oil stones do really shine on old cast steel though. But if you use a lot of A2 tools, you might like ceramic stones better.
  7. Cost. I paid $12 for my India stone and $40 for my surgical black Arkansas. Add a strop for $15 and some stropping compound for another $5. So I have $75 dollars invested in sharpening stones. Even most cheap water stones cost at least that for a single stone, forget getting more than one. Plus, my oil stones will not wear out and need replacement no matter how much I sharpen on them. I can't say the same for the less expensive water stones. I know plenty of folks who have already gone through several sets of Nortons. I wore my Norton 1000 out in just over 3 years of normal use & flattening. I can't speak for the ceramics like the Shaptons as I've not used them.
  8. Wear Resistance. I use slips a lot for sharpening gouges, carving tools, spokeshaves and molding plane irons. Water stone slips are way too soft and very easily lose their shape. While flat water stones are easy to flatten, profiled water stones are not as easy to reshape. My slips (soft Arkansas and hard Arkansas) will not lose their shape.
  9. Saw Jointing. I sharpen my own hand saws (and saws for other folks as well). Part of that process is side dressing the saw's teeth with a stone. If you try to do this with a water stone, the saw teeth will gouge the stone. Not so with oil stones.
  10. Oil. Something just always felt wrong to me bringing my steel tools in contact with water. To me that was just a recipe for rust. Of course this fear is really not warranted as lots of folks use water stones (as did I at one time) and don't have rust problems while there are also plenty of folks who use oil stones and still have rust problems. Still, oil just seems better for the tool in my mind.

So those are MY reasons. They may not be applicable to your situation, but they make a good arguement for the way I work and the tools I use. But again, these discussions are so subjective and wrought with personal preference that it really doesn't make much of a difference what works for me. Ask the diamond paste guys their opinion and you'll get a list at least as long as mine on why diamonds are better than any other sharpening media, PERIOD (they're very convinced that their way is the hands down best :D).

I feel that what's most important is just to find something that works for you and stick with it, otherwise you end up making the ultimate edge the goal rather than whatever it was you were supposed to be making from wood. Sharp edges are important, but they are just a means to an end, not the end itself. Besides, that uber sharp atom splitting edge begins to dull the very first time it touches the wood anyway. So find something that works for you, that allows you to quickly get the edge sharp enough for the tool to do it's job, and get back to what's important...the woodworking.

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I would give a +1 to the Shaptons. You don't store them in water just give them a few squirts and away you go. If it is the water/oil that you don't like you could look at a WorkSharp system. I have one and it works well but since getting the Shaptons I really don't use it anymore. It still leaves the black metal dust (you can't get away from that)but no water or oil.

-Gary

I've been looking really hard at the Shaptons, currently using Norton waterstones with satisfactory results. The price of the Shaptons isn't that bad, it's the cost of the lapping plate that's holding me back. From everything I see/read the place is a necessity. Currently I use a coarse DMT stone to keep my Nortons flat. I'd worry, though, that something like that would damage the ceramic/glass stones.

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I've been looking really hard at the Shaptons, currently using Norton waterstones with satisfactory results. The price of the Shaptons isn't that bad, it's the cost of the lapping plate that's holding me back. From everything I see/read the place is a necessity. Currently I use a coarse DMT stone to keep my Nortons flat. I'd worry, though, that something like that would damage the ceramic/glass stones.

You don't need the Shapton lapping plate. A coarse flat diamond plate will work just fine. It's what I use, although I went with the Atoma diamond plate, which is nicer to use than the DMTs. In the video that I linked to above (actually, tried to link to but Marc had to fix it ;) ), I'm using the Atoma diamond plate to flatten a Shapton waterstone.

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