Full Chisel Blog

June 5, 2013

Not an Oil Stone, not a Water Stone it is a Whetstone

Filed under: Historical Material,Of Interest,Proper Tools,Sharpening,Uncategorized — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:50 am

The reason for that is I don’t use oil or water or any other lubricant when I sharpen, I sharpen dry and only use water with soap to clean my stones after use.  This even applies to old oil stones I acquire; when the need arises I wash them with soap and water.  And there is a very good reason for this, actually a couple of reasons.



A number of years ago back in the mid 1980’s I read an article in either Popular Science or Popular Mechanics Magazine about sharpening on stones.  The article included photomicrographs of the surfaces of both plane irons and chisels.

All samples had the same grind from the wheel and were photographed before any work on the stones.  Then one set [plane iron and chisel] were sharpened in the traditional manner using oil as a lubricant for the process.  The other set [plane iron and chisel] were sharpened using the same stones but with no lubrication on the stone.  The photographs comparing the two were remarkable.

The tools sharpened ‘dry’ had nearly perfect edges while the tools sharpened ‘wet’ showed tiny chips in the cutting edge and these were caused by, according to the article metal particles suspended in the oil.  These metal pieces were floating in the oil and striking the cutting edge causing the chips.

I immediately started using the ‘dry’ process and haven’t gone back.  I use soap and water to clean the stones when they become filled or glazed and the stone is ready for the next sharpening session.  Because it takes a while to fill a stone I don’t wash my stones that often.

Another advantage to this method is that there is little or no mess made while touching up an edge of a tool; no need to wash off the oil or dirty water before going back to work.  Give it a try and see what you think.




  1. Interesting Stephen, thanks! I’ve never considered using my oil stones dry. I may just give it a try though. I would imagine that they would cut faster as well. Have you ever tried it with man made oil stones like the India stone? About how often do you need to clean? I imagine it will be difficult to tell when my black Arkansas is clogged.

    Comment by Bob Rozaieski — June 5, 2013 @ 10:02 am

  2. I’ll try this method. I use oil, water, diamond, and sandpaper. I probably use sand paper to do all rough sharpening (if I get a nick). I don’t use diamond much any7more, they’re too darn expensive and they ware out. I like water stones for chisels and plane irons, anything flat and straight. For gouges I like oil.


    Comment by Berl Mendenhall — June 5, 2013 @ 10:15 am

  3. This sounds so much nicer than using a stone while they are wet.

    I’m pretty new to carpentry so bare with me.
    Would this work using water stones similar to what’s listed here?

    I currently store my stones in water but I guess I wouldn’t have to do that either! 😀

    Comment by Jason — June 5, 2013 @ 2:03 pm

  4. I’m going to give it a try, but if it shows a significant difference, I am going to be blown away by the amount of mis information out there. Even by those who produce the stones. And I can see no profit in them putting out the incorrect information.

    And if the steel particles are floating around damaging the tips of the irons suspended in oil, aren’t those same chips sitting there waiting to be hit by the blade when the stone is dry?

    My mind is more open then my writing seems. I am definitely going to try and will remain optimistic.

    Comment by pete van der Lugt — June 5, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

  5. Used to be the recommendation was to squirt a little kerosene on the stone first. But if you look even further back, no one recommended any lubricant, just keeping your stone clean. I use ceramic stones and no lubricant. Cleaning is with dishwashing soap and a scrub brush.

    Comment by Gary Roberts — June 5, 2013 @ 7:39 pm

  6. Stephen, What if you have already used stones withoil. Just wash them and start over?

    Comment by Ron Harper — June 5, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

  7. Just to clarify, can we sharpen dry on Japanese water stones too?

    Comment by Paul — June 6, 2013 @ 1:34 am

  8. That sounds like an article by John Juranitch, author of “The Razor Edge Book Of Sharpening”


    Found it!



    Comment by bugbear — June 6, 2013 @ 3:15 am

  9. Bob,
    Your black Arkansas stone will get a grey tone to it, that is when it needs to be washed.
    Give it a try I think you will like the results.
    Jason & Paul,
    It works on waterstones unless they require a slurry to cut. I have a Chinese Polishing stone that needs to be wet to work, I never use it for that reason.
    Some things just continue because it was done in the past, Diston didn’t know what the nib was for, but I do.

    I smoke so kerosene is out of the question.
    That is probably the article I read, thanks.


    Comment by Stephen Shepherd — June 6, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

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