All stones are not created equal.

It’s tuesday and time for Tuesday’s Tools. This week I’ll talk about stones; sharpening stones to be specific. When I was a boy I remember my father having a nice oil stone in his toolbox in a leather pouch which he used to sharpen his tools, and he would let me use if for my pocket knife, so long as it got returned to it’s rightful place when I was done. When I was out on my own I bought a sharpening stone and found out that all stones are not created equal. This thing was soft and grey, coarse, and worthless when it comes to sharpening a knife. I still have it, but I no longer use it.

Open up any jewelry supply tool catalog and you’ll find about 20 or so different kinds of stone to choose from. There are black stones and white stones and red stones, hard stones and soft stones. I have three basic stones in two sizes. Stones My larger stones are Bergeon quality stones. The large reddish brown stone is an India stone I use for sharpening gravers mostly. The white one paired with it is an Arkansas stone for removing burrs and putting a cutting finish on the gravers. The smaller stones are a Fine India Oilstone from Norton USA and an Arkansas stone. The smallest red stone is a Degussit stone (Corundum or Ruby Slip). All are very high quality stones.

The basic idea of grinding stones is that in order to cut something you usually need something harder than what you are cutting. When you need to sharpen or grind hardened steel, you can’t use a steel tool so you use a stone. One purpose of the stones is for sharpening. As mentioned, I use the large stones primarily for sharpening HSS steel gravers. Although I use my diamond lap with a jig these days, I still remove the burrs and finish off my graver on the Arkansas stone. I tend to sharpen my screwdriver blades (blued steel) on the small India stone. It’s nice to have a little grained texture on the screwdriver (it keeps them from slipping as much.) I also use the stones for grinding. When shortening a winding stem (blued steel, unless it’s ETA) I usually use a combination of the small India stone and the Arkansas stone. The small Arkansas stone is a convenient size for using at the lathe when I need to grind something. The Degussit stone is the hardest and finest of all of them. I use it in tight spaces (because of it’s triangular shape) and at the lathe. The ends are very crisp so I can grind a pretty sharp inside corner with it. Cutting is almost always preferred to grinding but sometimes even the tungsten carbide graver doesn’t want to cut so well.

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2 Responses to “All stones are not created equal.”


  1. 1 Patrick February 21, 2008 at 7:05 pm

    What are your thoughts on the use of oil on sharpening stones?

    I personally use Norton Sharpening Stone Oil on my India and all grades of Arkansas stones. For me, it definitely keeps the stones clean which is important for keeping the stone surface pores clear of metal in order for the stones to work their best. However I’ve heard people say that you shouldn’t use oil on the hard or translucent arkansas stones. Their argument is that the hard stones polish the metal rather then grind so you don’t have the problem with the stone pores getting clogged. However I’ve tried not using oil on a new translucent arkansas stone but eventually started oiling it as it just works best for me.

    Like you, I sharpen my gravers and screwdrivers on my stones. And for my gravers when I need to do some shaping, I use a DMT medium diamond whetstone with good results and then work my way down to India and then Arkansas for polishing.

  2. 2 J.Peter February 21, 2008 at 9:26 pm

    Thanks, for the comment. If I am doing a lot of sharpening I use a light machine oil on the stones. I definitely use oil on the Arkansas stone also because it seems to allow the graver to glide around more smoothly and get a better polish, as well as keeping the stone clean.
    I find when sharpening screwdrivers or shortening a stem I’m in the middle of something else and oil is too much of a mess. I periodically put my stones in the ultrasonic to clean them out and they come out pretty nice, I then reapply some oil to the stone and work it in. This seems to trap some of the particles even if I don’t apply oil to the stone at the time of sharpening so that it will come out next time I clean it.
    When sharpening tungsten I have used diamond stones, but I don’t have one right now except on my diamond lap. A nice Honing oil, or even just water on the diamond stone works well for me.


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