Several months ago, I showed you my new Lansky System multi-stone blade sharpening kit. [Post link] I wanted to follow up on that one with some more info on getting a fine edge on your knives and other tools. These miscellaneous stones are what I have used for 50 years, but I have to admit that they pale in comparison to using the Lansky and some strops with different grades of compounds. The Lansky gives you the edge and the strops make it a piece of cake to maintain it. If you really give a blade a workout in the field you can go back to the Lansky quickly to set the edge again.
Over the years I have picked up many various stones and steels. And over the years I have afforded both better and worse alternatives. Additionally, the technology has also advanced. My father and grandfather never had the option of diamond impregnated steel hones.
The “112” double-sided combo was my first, all the way back in the 1970s. The package has $1.19 as the price. It is a back-to-back, oil-impregnated grinding stone of man-made corundum compounds in relatively coarse and medium fine…. these are about 180-240 grit in the corresponding sandpaper grades. It’s a decent pair, but the resulting edge is still a bit rough. They also remove quite a bit of material, causing wear-down on the blades. The old 112 is my primary stone for finish edges on axes and machetes, and even my sickles and mower blades. I start those with a file, and I have an old piece of a terrazzo floor grinding stone that I picked up on a commercial jobsite back in the 1970s that I use for the medium-coarse honing on those heavier blades.
I had the small “Washita” stone and the black Arkansas one from my Grandfather, and these would let me further refine the edge… these two probably fall around 800 and 1200+ grit. For a long time my efforts were unknowingly frustrated by that gap in grits. The fine stones could not refine the still-too-rough edge by themselves.
At some point in the 1980s I got the three top stones. These were glued to a triangular block of cedar in a support frame. You just went from one grain to the next by turning the whole set. Very convenient, but over the years the stones started to detach from the block, and I finally cut the glue and cleaned them up to use individually. Like the 112, these need lubrication with oil to “float” the debris that is removed by sharpening. The “Tri-Hone” kit was from Smith’s and is still offered, but no longer comes on the nice cedar block with its accompanying cedar box. The gray Smith’s stones are Arkansas Novaculite* [the darker one is a man-made corundum].
*Novaculite is a dense, hard, fine-grained siliceous rock only found in the Ouachita [Washita] Mountains of central Arkansas and southeastern Oklahoma… hence the name. It is a Devonian to Mississippian-age rock unit that ranges from about 60 feet thick in the northern Ouachitas to about 900 feet thick in the southern Ouachitas. Outcrops of the Arkansas Novaculite Formation are prominent landscape features, and the stone was used and traded by the First Peoples along with the fine fire flints found from there west into Panhandle Country. Novaculite is chemically resistant, so lubricating oil and grit are easily cleaned off. WD-40 works wonderfully for this… grit just wipes right off to the original surface. These stones do wear down in the lower grades, although I have never had the problem in my use. However, they can be re-flattened by the user with wet-dry sandpaper in a similar grit mounted on a piece of glass.
Dieter Schmid Fine Tools has a great info page about all facets of natural and man-made sharpening stones, although it focuses on Japanese stones rather than Arkansas >> LINK
In this photo you can see some of the variation on my own set of Arkansas stones, although the photo-flash has changed their colors.
The top left is the Smith’s corundum, the yellow is their “ultra-fine”, and the mottled is mid-range. The older “black Arkansas” is at the bottom, but reveals far more color. It would be just below the yellow in grade. These probably range from 200-800.
My Grandfather’s small Washita stone is about 800-1000 grit. [It too still has a blue label with the original price of 29¢ penciled on it on the reverse side]
My next sharpening set was a mixed one from the 90s with a large medium diamond block from DMT, and two small diamond paddles from EZE-Lap. The paddles fill in “coarse” and fine grades.
Used together with a chef’s steel from the restaurant supply, these are what I have used to keep my kitchen knives sharp for the last couple decades [as well as whatever EDC knife and pocket tool I might be carrying at the time]. The diamond hones are excellent because they can be lubricated with water, resulting in easier, quicker cleanup when you are in the middle kitchen chores.
These are made by pressure bonding fine grades of industrial diamond grit right into a steel backing plate. Over time the grit can wear down with excessive use. For most casual users this will never be a problem. Harbor Freight currently offers both a three-grit set for only $9.99 and also a block mounted one with four surfaces. HF grades theirs from 180-360 on the 3 piece set, and 200-600 in the four. Either would be a super starter set for anyone. [DMT sets go over $100 on Amazon]
Along the way I had gotten the little pocket sharpener to take along in my pack. This one is a clone of a similar one offered on Amazon from Smith’s. They have a pair of carbide blades set in a V and a second set of rods in ceramic. I am not a big fan, because the angle is fixed and can do more damage than good. Fine for a beater maybe, but not on anything good.
The diamond rod sharpeners are from EZE-Lap. This is their M-model in solid brass. They also make an aluminum version that is marginally lighter for take-along. The rod and collar store securely in the brass sleeve, and reverse/screw-in for use. The open one dates from the 80s, and the grit is wearing off. Given that this has always been a “go-to” sharpener in my gear bag, that’s a decent lifetime. However, EZE-Lap offers a lifetime guarantee, and they recently sent me a brand new replacement. [I had to send back the sleeve as proof-of-purchase, but they were happy to return it with my new one. Took about ten days… I do love good customer service] The EZE-Lap M is a great piece of kit. You can give a blade a few quick lappings, either forehand or back, either into the blade or away, and get a nicely refreshed edge with nearly zero wear-down on the blade.