Comparing water and oil stone systems – Part 1

water stone

There is an internet’s worth of information and opinion about sharpening woodworking tools. I’ve made the move from water to oil stones and my reasons are probably not very interesting. But I thought I would consolidate the pros and cons of the two types of stones here. I also made a list of what I think each system requires from what I have experienced:

Stone type: Oilstones Waterstones
Considerations: Little need for flattening Need regular flattening
Always ready for action Need to store/soak lower grits in water
Wear slowly Wear fast
Cut slowly Cut fast
Oily mess Watery mess
Sharpening sequence:
Nick removal Medium or fine India 220 grit
Intermediate step Soft or hard Arkansas 1000 grit
Polishing Black or translucent Arkansas 4000 grit
Fine polishing Leather strop with green compound 8000 grit

I actually use my 150 grit grinding wheel for nick removal and primary bevel shaping. Forming a secondary bevel on the remaining stones means less metal to remove and therefore less time spent sharpening. The intermediate stone is optional, but if not used, expect to spend more time on the fine (read: more expensive) stone. Unless working with really tough woods, I only feel the need to finely polish smoothing plane irons, paring chisels and my straight razor.


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