If you’re working with wood, you’re likely using a range of tools that regularly need sharpening. A good collection of sharpening stones can help you to maintain your chisels, planes and other woodworking equipment. Whether you’re a whittler, a carpenter or a home handyman (or woman)—you can learn to sharpen your tools like one of the pros! Here’s our rundown of everything you need to know about sharpening stones, as well as some invaluable lessons from masters of the trade.
What are the different types of sharpening stone?
Oil stones are a traditional type of sharpening stone, most often made from natural materials such as silicone quarts. Synthetic versions such as aluminium oxide stones (often called India stones) and silicon carbine are also a popular choice. Oil stones are available in different grades, from course to extra-fine, for the different stages of your sharpening process. Oil stones, as the name suggests, are used with oil as a lubricant to aid in the sharpening process.
Water stones are made from synthetic materials, and use water as the lubricating agent. They are designed to be softer than oil stones, and as new cutting material is exposed with each sharpening, they are considered to be a faster-cutting stone. They can also be less messy than oil stones, which leave an oil residue on your tools (however, this is easily cleaned away with a regular old rag). Water stones are often used in kitchen knife sharpening, as they’re easy to use and clean.
Frank Klausz, master woodworker, is a fan of the water stone. He’s recorded an excellent video for 360 Woodworking, showing off his technique, and his nifty little water stone contraption. Check out his video below (if for no other reason than to enjoy his excellent accent):
Diamond stones are the most expensive option—but will last much longer than oil or water stones, as they do not wear down in the same way. Your oil and water stones will need to be regularly smoothed back, as they develop grooves during the sharpening process (more about that under ‘How to Clean a Sharpening Stone, below). Diamond stones can also be used dry, which can come in handy in situations where oil or water are either hard to come by, or are impractical to use.
What is a honing stone?
While ‘sharpening’ and ‘honing’ are often used interchangeably, there is a slight variation. A honing stone is technically the stone used for the final ‘honing’ stage of the sharpening process. These are your finer grade stones, and give more of a polished finish to your tools.
What oil to use on a sharpening stone
While cooking oil might be easy to come by—don’t use it on your oil stone. After a time, the oil will go rancid and will ruin your stone. Unscented mineral oils are the best option, and are available from your hardware stores, or wherever you buy your sharpening stones. Many people also use WD-40 as it’s easy to come by, and generally on hand in the workshop, due to its many uses.
How to clean a sharpening stone
Cleaning your stone is as easy as scrubbing it down with a little bit of water, oil or WD-40 and some steel wool. (Note: never use oil on a water stone, as once you’ve used oil you’ll never again be able to use water to sharpen.) Be gentle with softer stones, as you may risk wearing them down or creating scratches in the surface. Oil and water stones will also eventually wear down with the sharpening process—in which case you will need to flatten them. This fantastic video from Steve Hay at Woodworking Masterclass shows you a quick and easy technique for flattening your stones. All you’ll need is some sandpaper, some kerosene and a little elbow grease:
How to sharpen chisels on an oil stone
The process is much the same as the water stone technique we’ve seen from Frank, except that of course you’re using a different stone, and you’ll need some oil. Begin by oiling your stone, then take the back edge of your chisel (the flat side) and run it up and down the stone, with quite a bit of pressure. Depending on just how worn your chisel is, you may like to start with a rougher, lower grade stone in order to grind it down. You can then hone it with a finer grade stone, for the final finish.
Once you are happy with the back side (you’re looking for a smooth finish) you can flip the chisel and begin on the bevelled side. Hold the chisel at the angle of the bevelled edge (30 degrees, for example) and run this side along the sharpening stone once again. You can run it straight up and down the stone, as you did with the flat edge, or use a figure-8 motion. You’ll see a ‘wire edge’ begin to form on the edge of the blade, where the two sharpened sides meet. You then need to smooth off this rough edge. Terry from Barnet Construction shows his technique in this video:
Now you’re equipped with some tips from the masters of the woodworking trade, you can’t go wrong! Go forth and sharpen those blades!