Do’s and Don’ts of Oilstones: a recent convert requests advice

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    Matt Mahan

    Hello all! I’ve been meaning to reach out to the collective expertise of the WWMC community about this for some time. After months of empirical observation and evaluation I can say I have definitively found my preferred tool steel in O1 and my preferred abrasives in oilstones. This coming from a guy who, like many of us younger marketing-prone whippersnapper, had previously bought into A2 steel and the high-maintenance sharpening routine it necessitates off the bat. I’ve since really gotten into the flow that a softer tool steel allows in my work – no lapping of waterstones, no water pond, no honing guide. Just an old-school hard Arkansas stone and a strop (which is often enough on its own). The internet is flooded with “pro tips” on oilstones and a lot of it is contradictory, so I thought I’d start here if there are any “traditionalists” listening that might have some pointers. How “oily” should an oilstone be? Should you wipe the excess and slurry off when you’re finished? Should you load it with fresh oil before every sharpening? Thanks in advance!

    Martin Hartley

    I mostly use the two-sided combination stones. I feel that Norton make the best ones and they pre-soak them in oil for you. I put a little 3-in-1 onto the stone each time i sharpen and just enough so the surface remains wet. Start on the coarser side of the stone and actually work the primary bevel just a little bit. Flip to the finer side of the stone and use this to make the secondary bevel and use a few passes on the back of the iron to flip the burr (wire edge). Then use the leather strop. Green chromium oxide polishing compound helps. Buy it as a large bar for use on polishing spindles. It will be enough to last you a lifetime on a leather strop.

    I have found that it pays to get into the habit of touching up the edges of tools each time you use them, even if it is just a couple of swipes on the fine side of the stone and the strop – even just the strop sometimes is enough to make the edge cut that much finer.

    Oilstones are less prone to hollowing out or dishing than water stones, but you can still wear a hollow. Try to make it a habit to use the whole of the surface of the stone and keep it reasonably flat. You may need to “wash” the stone every so often (once or twice a year) using household kerosene then soak the stone in more oil. 3-in-1 can be a bit expensive for that, so I mostly use chainsaw bar oil to re-soak the stone, though it is sometimes a little thicker than I would like.


    I know the folks at Tools For Working Wood in New York like oil stones. They sell them (and like them) as well as other sharpening stuff. If you poke around their website you should find some useful info.

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