Arkansas oil stone sharpening system

After some posts comparing water and oil stone systems (part 1, part 2) I thought I would share the oil stone system I am currently using for sharpening woodworking tools. All the stones I describe are 8 x 2 x 1 inches. I use a honing guide for plane irons but try to do my chisels free-hand.

Coarse/fine India combination stone

This is for the rough work when there are minor nicks in a blade or a back needs flattening. This stone is not used often. If I didn’t have the grinding wheel, I would use this stone for setting primary bevels.

Soft Arkansas

When a tool becomes simply dull (i.e. not a restoration/repair job), I start on this stone to bring it back to top condition. This stone refreshes the edge. Life is made easier by creating a secondary bevel to minimize the amount of metal that needs to be removed.

Black Arkansas

This gets the edge good enough for a lot of woodworking jobs. The soft and black Arkansas sequence gets a tool from dull to acceptable in a minute or two.

The soft and black Arkansas came from Hall’s pro edge and they are brilliant. I ordered the stones over the phone (an unusual experience in the internet age) but the service was stellar. Buying ‘seconds’ significantly reduces the price, but the sharpening quality is not compromised.

Leather strop

The leather is simply glued to a piece of wood to keep it flat. I load the strop with green compound and this gets an edge shining like a mirror.

Strops can be expensive but you can buy horse hide off-cuts from eBay VERY cheaply. Mine cost $16 shipped and I have only used half of it to make my shop strop and a long, wide straight razor strop. The piece I ordered was 7 ounces (that is the thickness in 64ths, I think). They are easily cut to size with a hobby knife and a metal ruler.


I use a 150 grit grinding wheel for setting primary bevels and removing major damage from an edge. I also use it for lathe tool touch-ups as it produces sharp-enough results for that application.

I still keep a 1000/6000 combination water stone for the times I sharpen my Japanese kitchen knives, though it is usually sufficient to refresh their edges on a loaded strop.

I have a Hall’s soft Arkansas and a Lee Valley 4000 grit slip stone for gouge and bread knife sharpening.

Using fewer stones

I once tried using only a fine India oil stone and a loaded strop and got a pretty good edge on a chisel in a couple of minutes. That is a one-stone sub-$30 sharpening system with a tiny footprint. The Museum of Woodworking Tools site suggests a two-stone method (medium India and black or translucent Arkansas). The point here is that you don’t need a cabinet full of stones to get the job done.


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