I have used both water and oil stones in my tiny garage shop. In Part 1 of this series, I simply compared components of oil and water stone systems. Here are some points I consolidated from the web and my own experience:
Comparing oil and water stones:
- It seems unfair to compare the finest oil stone with the finest water stone. Black or translucent Arkansas stones are equivalent to 4000 grit water stones. If you want to get to 8000 grit with an oil stone system, you need a leather strop with green compound on it.
- Beyond 8000 grit in water stones you are in the land of diminishing returns – a large increase in cost and sharpening time for a small increase in sharpness.
- Water stones appear to be better suited to modern, harder steels (Japanese tools and knives) than oil stones. Oil stones can do the job, but at a much slower rate.
- Like with Japanese saws, water stones makes the user feel like an expert in no time. It is nice to hit the ground running. Oil stones, like western saws, take some time to understand but are economical the long run. Either work – but as this article by Schwarz suggests we should stick to one system and understand it well rather than switch or mix systems and be the master of none.
- Kitchen knife “sharpness” depends on the task in hand. Slicing tasks, like filleting fish, requires a fine edge (4000 or 8000 grit) whereas sawing action tasks, like cutting a tomato, require a coarser edge (1000 or 2000 grit) so that the scratch pattern on the edge can act like saw teeth.
- Straight razor edges need to get to 8000 grit or equivalent and then frequently stropped on clean leather. Oil stones have fallen out of favor with razor users because they are comparing 8000 grit water stones to 4000-ish grit Arkansas stones. As stated above, the finest step in an oil stone system is not a stone, it is a loaded strop. Given the monopoly of water stones among straight razor users, I made a video of how I get a chipped straight razor back to a shave ready state using my set of oil stones.