Skip to main content

SHARPENING WITH ARKANSAS STONES

What on earth are they?
A user made box of assorted Arkansas stones.

They are America's answer to:
The Wales' Welsh Slate (Dragon's Tongue);
The Scotch Tam O'Shanter;
The English Charnley Forest stone;
The Japanese Tenin Toishi;
The German Thuringian Hone;
The Chinese Guangzhou River bedrock;
The Belgian Coticule;
You get the idea. Local rocks that you use to sharpen mama's kitchen knives.

A collection of smaller pocket-sized Arkansas stones

In this entry, I will not try to tell you what you probably already know. What is the point of describing that oily rock you already have under your bench, in your drawer, in a can of kerosene? Note also, that the sharpening I describe here is best applied to woodworking in general. I am an amateur handtool woodworker. Sharpening a straight razor would be entirely another branch of science. I do not profess to know all there is to know about sharpening or Arkansas stones; I simply failed more times than I care to remember, so when I achieved considerable success, I thought I could help some newbies level the learning curve a bit. I learned online too, from generous folks who share freely. I try not to repeat what has already been extensively discussed, but focus on what is seldom addressed.
 Maybe you can view this guide as a what-not-to-do...

I will attempt to share my experiences with these special stones. Because they work. Whatever time you saved with waterstones, you lose trying to keep them flat. With Arkansas stones, they cut considerably slower, but stays flat longer too.

In general, these stones are mainly quartz, the kind that geologists call novaculite. Simply think of pieces of flint: your hairy bare chested ancesters used to make arrowheads. Very hard, and very jaggered when broken, though none as sharp. The rocks mined around the Arkansas Ouachita (spelled Washita in many places) seem to be very evenly gritted and almost formed of pure novaculite; A desirable whetstone feature.



From Top: Black Surgical, Translucent, Hard Arkansas, Soft Arkansas

Washita, Soft Arkansas, Hard Arkansas, True Hard Arkansas, Translucent, Surgical Black, Lily White Washita....what's that again..?
Don't worry, for I was just as confused. I used to be, anyway.
They are simply generic terms to describe the various grits of Arkansas stone.

When you buy stones online, descriptions in ebay listings are formed:
1)to enable better search-hit rates rather than for accuracy in description.
2)because of mis-information or pure ignorance
3)because all the other sellers says so (copycat selling)
What follows below are my own opinions (after 17 attempts on my life by Elite Whetstone Whisperers worldwide) I am more prepared to "stand corrected" than ever.
Another Washita in a finger-jointed box. Stone itself is glued to the bottom of box. 8" x 2" x 1" approx.



Washita stones are so named because they are first mined in the Ouachita Mountains, and they are a little different from other Arkansas stones. The are a little coarser (600 US Grits perhaps?) and they cut a little faster. The have an audible "schick schick" sound that feedback to your fingers, suggesting moderate abrasion. Stone becomes black with metal residue quickly. You probably could use it to refresh a cutting bevel that has been established on a yet coarser stone.

LILY WHITE WASHITA
It is worthwhile to note that"Pike Manufacturing" (Now Norton Abrasives" I think) used to market a grade of Washita to our grandfathers. They proudly call them Lily White Washita, and proclaim them "Best On Earth" It is anyone's guess why they call it Lily White, but I have 3 possible theory: (It is a good time now to get a cup of coffee, and maybe a pinch of salt )

Lily White Washita:Best on Earth warranted.

Probably another disguised  Pike product;Notice the Grading description at bottom left corner: L.W & R.R. I take it to mean Lily White and Rosy red.

Why the name Lily White?
1) There was indeed a town or quarry informally known as "Lily White" in or around Arkansas.
2) The stone reduces steel to black particles, just as the Lily White Republicans during the Civil War suppresed the African-Americans.
3) The stone is Lily white in color. Uh Huh!
4) I bet you didn't know theory 1) and 2). Me neither. Doh!
19th Century English woodworkers typically made their stone housing by hollowing out 2 pieces of wood

Soft Arkansas: The slightly slower cousin of the washita. Very often, this is marketed as Washita stone. Stays flat a little better too. Grits #800-1000
Now you may ask: Would less knowledgable merchants mislabel the two I just mentioned? Would a stone mined elsewhere near Arkansas be marketed as washita? Possibly. and probably. On top of that, different systems of classification exists within the USA alone, just Google "Stone Grits" and the rest is history.

The more important thing is this: Would it matter?
Let's not get too engrossed in terminology. Unless you sharpen for a living, I urge you to focus on the wood shaving, or better yet, the wood surface left by your sharpened edge.


Hard Arkansas: This would be the next higher grit, and the final finish stone for many accomplished woodworkers. This stone will hone your edge such that it will shave hair from your forearm. But for Straight Razor users, probably not a good idea to shave with yet. Stropping your edge on a piece of leather however, will make your edge sufficient for most woodworking applications. The legendary cabinetmaker James Krenov wrote that he uses only three stones: a carborundum, a soft and a hard arkansas, plus a small can of kerosene.

A 8" x 2" x 3/4" (200mm x 50mm x 19mm) Hard Arkansas (a.k.a. True hard or Translucent)from Norton, housed in a hand fitted box.


Translucent Arkansas:
Some overlapping of names here. Some of those Norton Pike's Hard Arkansas seems translucent to me. Then again, some may call these stones True hard Arkansas. Edges honed on this stone would assume a near mirror finish. Strictly for use as a finish stone on an already sharp edge, or you are wasting your time over honing.


(Surgical)Black Arkansas:
Yes, scalpels used to be sharpened with these stuff, before disposable blades come along.In terms of polish, it is difficult to discern between edges prepared with Black or Translucent Arkansas stones. At the risk of being lynched to death by Translucent advocates, I would say Black arkansas is that teeny weeny finer. I must add that translucents cuts faster than black, or it felt that way because you can clearly see the black skid marks better on a lighter-colored stone. How then, do you classify the occassional "Black Translucent" ? Gentlemen, you may lynch me now with your Hard Arkansas. (Educate me)


OIL OR WATER?
Ah-ha...BIG question....and you thought I'll go on rambling . How could I omit something so elementry?
Since the advent of the internet,lives and limbs have been lost, brotherhood severed, over this hot debate.To begin with, I'll say the sharpening fluid may be the reason why some picked Arkansas in the first place. Oilstone means you only use oil. Period. Right? *sigh* Your great-granpa Toby used mineral oil because the faucet is non-existent and the water-well is 25 meters away. He grabbed the oil can and squirted simply because he needed to 'flush the damn'd swarf off the hone.' Guess what? flushed the damned swarf it did. 'cuts smootha now' It worked like Jim the ironmonger said it would. He would have spat on the hone if that briar pipe wasn't in his mouth.

I tried water for months (fearing I'll screw up the stones with the wrong oil) and then tried oil (Kerosene-Mineral oil mix)and I tend to think: very little difference on the edge produced. However- yes...HOWEVER....
each fluid does affect the process and the aftermath to some extent.


Using oil
By that, I mean Kerosene, light mineral oil, mix of both, or any oil that does not coagulate, evaporate or turn rancid.
(Any Non-drying oil will work)
Is oil any messier than water? Not for me personally, but when swarf gets mixed with oil, you get a film of viscous black gunk that overflows to your work surface, gets transferred to your fingers, and possibly your work. To get around this, simply lay a folded rag beneath your stone. This does two things: catch the overflow, holds the stone on the table. You oil the stone by touching droplets on the stone, in the form your favourite constellation. (Mine's the southern cross) Then you sharpen, wipe, inspect, oil, sharpen. Repeat as required.

Proportion of Oil to Kerosene
If you 50-50 something all the time, you won't go very wrong. But why not have a little experiment? In mine, I have found:

Using only Kerosene:
On coarser, open pored stone such as washita, the kerosene gets absorbed below the surface of the stone rather quickly, perhaps after a dozen strokes. I would say that any further sharpening in this semi-dry state would start to glaze the stone. Stone starts to retain the black swarf stains in the pores.

The safe 50-50 mix:
Well, the layer of fluid stayed as a thin oily film much longer. You can even wipe the black metallic stains with a towel off the stone, with minimal staining.

Using pure Mineral oil:
The feel is like using the 50-50 mix, perhaps less viscous. Cutting effect is considerably reduced. Some burnishing feel replaces some cutting feel.

By common sense, if one desires the finest edge, use the thickest oil on your finest stone. My feel is also inspired by reading Pike's advertisement in the late 19th to early 20th century showing their stone label somewhere: (From my rusty memory):" ..Use water or for fine edge, use sperm oil.."

22 July 2013

If you make a mistake and do not correct it, you are making 2 mistakes.- Confucius

So, here. They contain some things that I took years to realize. You don't have to.






















Comments

  1. I would like to know your opinion, if possible, about this product. I do woodwork occasionaly and have lots of cheap stones. I want something better. Thanks in advance for your help.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Tri-Hone-8-Knife-Sharpening-Stone-Fine-Medium-Coarse-NEW-/221355233377?pt=US_Knives_Tools&hash=item3389ccd061

    Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  2. If you will check your history, It was the democrats that were pro slavery. The republican party was formed to fight slavery. BTW, the Ku Klux Clan was the enforcement arm of the democratic party.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Please help me find an authrntic Washita stone, preferably one inch in thickness. Kindly email me at judgecdj@yahoo.com. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very Nice, This is essential kitchen Tool. You mentioned Best Knife Sharpening Stones 2019 https://ineedsharpeningstone.com/best-knife-sharpening-stones/ There are different kinds of stones as you know Sharpening Blade Kit.

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The prolific & seemingly mundane Stanley 110 block plane..

Really? 

 Well, it's everywhere, check Granpa or uncle Tim's shack ( if you include copies of it by lesser tool makers)
For something so abundant (well, Stanley sold them by truckloads), so common and so relatively inexpensive, I will attempt to wax some lyrical on them. By "them" I mean their design, their construction.
The plane pictured above was purchased off ebay for $4.90. It looked like Joe Meatball (to borrow Patrick Leach's character) bought it, used it on some hardwood (pre silicon valley micro chipping at the edge)without first fettling the plane(unsharpened factory bevel), and put it away (in some dry place), and totally forgot about it.

First off, at Five Bucks, how can you go wrong? Five bucks don't buy you a door wedge these days.


1) The lever cap also serves as an ergonomic palm-rest to push the plane forward, and the oval shaped  cut-out serves as a hanging hole on your pegboard, out of the way. And...yes...it also serves as an emergency adj…

A Case for Chisels: Stanley 5000 series

“Life being very short, and the quiet hours of it few, we ought to waste none of them in reading valueless books.”
-John Ruskin.

Substitute the word "books" with "blogs", and perhaps you should stop reading.
I did my part and you are warned. No, I can't refund 4 minutes of your life.

For the most part of my woodworking life, I've kept my loose chisels in felt lined drawers. (I mean excess chisels purchased on impulse:
Those of cast steel, those of boxwood, those octagonal London snobs, those ergo grips that promises an orgasm with each mortise, the socketed, the tanged, the handle-less tangs, the long paring ones, those curious crank-necks, the basic pig stickers, the vintage ferrule-less-...you know. I know. Some folks have too many hammers or smoothing planes or trammels.
I'm a chisel guy.




But the ones that are constantly on the move live in a canvas tool roll.
I like the look of a chisel roll, except that the edges tend to slice the tool roll open. I've…

An Essential Pocket Knife : The Stockman

You're so right.
I should be writing about Whittlers instead of Stockman knives. Afterall, this is a wood working blog. But do you whittle the whole day? Perhaps. Can you peel an apple with a whittler? Maybe, but not as well. What if you forgot the butter knife at a picnic, or you somehow need to spey or neuter an animal in an instant?.. (ok, I'm pulling your leg, but I'm referring to the ubiquitous spey blade in your stockman.)

A stockman knife (Also called your Gandpa's EDC) will do all of the above with ease, and it will WHITTLE.
My shallow pocket and minute brain says that Whittlers are for collectors. Try buying a Stag handled split-backsping whittler. They are not cheap.

This is one of the forty stockmen I've purchased online. The other 39 are on their way.
And yes, I have issues. The stockman bug maybe.
Wait till my wife sees them:




Wife: "Why would anyone need 40 pocket knives?"

Me: ".. the collector,.."

Wife: " they're so rusty..are …