Sharpening in the cold

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    Matthew Newman

    So for setup for this question I live in Minnesota USA and my garage/workspace is not insulated and not heated (and is finished enough that insulating will be a large and expensive project that I’ll get to someday) so temperatures are generally only a little warmer than outside. In previous years I just don’t do any woodworking in the winter but I’m trying to stick to it as best I can.

    My problem is temperatures have recently dropped to sub zero Fahrenheit (less than -18C) and this afternoon when I went to sharpen up my plane my lubrication (water) froze to my diamond stones immediately (I put the blade to it and it was like an ice skate). Does anyone else work in these kind of situations that can recommend a lubrication that won’t freeze or do I have to try and setup a sharpening station inside somewhere?

    Matt Newman

    Nikolaj Thøgersen

    How about windshield wiper fluid? I’ve read about people using that.


    Most wiper fluids are based in Methanol. Poisionous and easily absorbed thru the skin.
    Better: Sharpen indoors.

    SW Pennsylvania


    Sorry, That’s BAD ADVICE, with a “c”

    SW Pennsylvania

    Sven-Olof Jansson

    In more than one nation windshield wiper fluid contains iso-propyl alcohol, which lacks the toxicity of methanol. Despite iso-propyl alcohol being used as a skin desinfectant, it, like all alcohols, has a “drying” effect on the skin, as to why protective (preferentially non-allergic) gloves might be warranted. Denatured alcohol has the same properties.

    Potentially, as metals and most binding materials become more brittle with lower temperatures, the case could be made to only sharpen and hone at temperatures above freezing. A small heating fan will rise temperatures >0 °C, making sharpening a lot more pleasurable to the fingers (anti-freeze does not elevate the temperature).

    Sven-Olof Jansson
    London, UK; Boston, MA

    Dave Ring

    You might try kerosene. It works pretty well on oil stones.


    Larry Geib

    Also look for glass cleaner with isopropyl alcohol and a surfactant. In the USA, the orange box store sells stuff called Hope.

    Or you can just buy isopropyl and add maybe 1/4 Simple Green by volume.

    But -18°? Brr. Go inside.


    There’s a choice. Natural stones were traditionally lubricated with a light machine oil. Any oil will do that’s not too thick.

    Nowadays, people tend to use water-based solvents. You can easily make your own, housing it in an old squirty-bottle, such as a window-cleaner receptacle.

    Here’s my recipe for about 1/2 pint (250 ml):
    50% Methylated spirits – or equivalent (an industrial alcohol, coloured purple in the UK to dissuade people drinking the stuff). Buy it in any paint-shop.
    50% Tap-water.
    2 -3 drops washing-up detergent.

    Great for lubricating stones, Diamond-type in particular and as a bonus, you may clean your workshop windows with it.

    Good luck. Keep it simple and sensible – flush everything regularly with some water – wash your hands.

    Christopher Hill

    If you want to keep it simple I would just store your diamond plates and lapping fluid indoors when not in use, you could also use 3 in 1 oil as lapping fluid. When I used to have this issue a few years back I would just set them on or next to the kerosene heater I used while working.

    Matthew Newman

    My experience with automotive glass cleaner is that it can still freeze (I once sold a car during a really cold spell, couldn’t for the life of me actually clean the car because any liquid cleaner would freeze on contact). A space heater doesn’t work too well in my garage because it’s a large space and so poorly sealed and insulated (bought a new house for the warranty, builders skipped town at the first issue and I discovered just how many corners they cut) and I don’t have one big enough to keep up

    That said Sven-Olof Jansson noted I hadn’t thought about the effects of the cold on the metal so I’ll probably just try to setup a place inside to sharpen. The only downside is it adds a lot more effort to sharpening to have to bring it inside rather than pull out the stones and sharpen up quick. But with -10F/-23C in the forecast coming in to sharpen will probably be nice anyway.


    Larry Geib


    The freezing point of isopropyl alcohol is -128.2°F ( -89° C).

    I’m not working at my bench at that temperature.

    Here is a chart for mixing isopropanol with water (or water – surfactant ) for warmer temperatures. I suspect your windshield mixture wasn’t mixed appropriately for the temperature encountered. Usually, the jug will have a mixing chart.

    Arthur Coates

    I would think some percentage of glycerol and water would make a good non-toxic, low temperature sharpening fluid.


    While my shop is also uninsulated, about the lowest temp it will go is about 45 degrees F. And I find that uncomfortable; hardy soul to be able to work in a shop at sub-freezing temps!

    The main purpose of lubricant for diamond stones is to help move the metal swarf out of the way. You can theoretically use the diamond stones dry; you just then need to wipe away the swarf with a rag of some sort much more frequently. However, it does mean you have multiple options for the lubrication medium besides water.

    A light oil can work. As can alcohol. I have also used mineral spirits (freezing point is -60C), although you then probably want to wear gloves.

    Another option would be to use a fine or x-fine oilstone and use it for the final honing step. I usually don’t go through all of my diamond grits when I sharpen if I don’t have to.

    Aaron Fore

    I live in the same state as Mat. Also in an unheated shop. I use oilstones for my sharpening, and my honing oil gets too stiff to use at -20F, so I have to use kerosene. 3in1 gets pretty stiff at 20 below. of course, after about an hour, my hands do, too. Tea time, then. Gotta thaw out.

    Bill Epstein

    I guess Wifey has said an emphatic NO to the kitchen table? Maybe you could show her the Frank Klausz sharpening video, introducing her to a new hobby?

    I used to live in the Great White and used propane a salamander for heat in an uninsulated self-storage space. Lot’s of machining and then glue-ups with Urea Resin. No problems mixing the powder with water or using water stones. W/O) heat, No way I’d turn on the lights, let alone work.

    A 60,000 BTU propane heater is less than 100 Bucks. Get one.

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