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Arkansas Stones: Are They Still Considered Good?

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by JD Spydo, Aug 25, 2018.

  1. JD Spydo

    JD Spydo Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2004
    I've acquired quite a selection of sharpening stones over the years and one type of stone that I used to have quite a few of are the Arkansas Stones ( novaculite). I've sold, traded and put away most of my Arkansas stones because frankly I just don't use them much anymore. I've since opted to use ceramic, diamond and now CBN these days and I've found that those work a bit faster on these newer, harder blade steels. I have one Arkansas Stone in particular I still like to use which is one of the harder and finer grit of any of the Arkansas Stones I've ever owned. It is called the "Blue-Black" Arkansas Stone by the guy I bought it from several years ago who is one of the better woodworkers I've ever met. It feels like glass when you rub your finger across it and it sure is great for putting a final edge on a blade that is already hair-shaving sharp.

    I've seen by several of your responses that a few of you still use Arkansas Stones which are made of the quartz based mineral called "novaculite". So I'm wondering if they are now considered a "buggy whip" more or less? Or are they still considered good for sharpening some types of blades? I still hear some of the woodworkers I've known over the years swear by them but they are picky of which grade of novaculite that they like to use. So I'm wondering where they rank in this era of super alloys and new steels that can almost scratch diamonds? And beside me who all still uses them?
  2. Blues

    Blues Lapsed SuperMod / Cattle Knife Rustler Staff Member Super Mod

    Oct 2, 1998
    I still like to use mine (occasionally) on carbon steel blades. I will admit to using my Spyderco ceramic bench stones more often.

    Still, they put me in touch with the knives I grew up with and which still are every bit as good as they ever were, imho.
    David Martin likes this.
  3. Ben Dover

    Ben Dover

    Aug 2, 2006
    I haven't used any of my Arkansas stones since I discovered Japanese water stones.
    draperfish and bralexander like this.
  4. JD Spydo

    JD Spydo Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2004
    I've only ever had one set of "waterstones">> they were made by "King" and I only used them once. When times got financially bad for me back in 2010 and friend mine paid me good for them and I haven't had any "waterstones" again but I'm really wanting to get some more of them. I've had my eyes on getting some Shapton and some other types of diamond stones but I also want to check into "waterstones" too. I've heard nothing but really good reports out of these newer/better waterstones that are now on the market.

    To respond to "BLUES" I can almost say the same thing you just said. It hasn't been that long ago that I pulled out one of my old and dearly beloved Ka-Bar folders I've had for years and I used an old Norton Stone I've had for years known as the "Queer Creek" stone that Norton sold many years ago and finished it with my high end, Blue-Black Arkansas Stone. But it had been a long time previous to that before the last time that I even used either one of those stones.

    I know that "Queer Creek" stone with Norton's name on it is a natural stone of some type that I've kept for years>> it was in my deceased dad's old stuff and I remember he liked it. Other than the Garrett Wade company I don't know really where I would look to buy a high quality Arkansas stone. I've heard that Dan's Whetstones has good Arkansas stones but I've never before bought any of his stuff.
  5. Ben Dover

    Ben Dover

    Aug 2, 2006
    JD, I've used Shapton for years on my edge Pro. I'm currently converting to Shapton Glass stones. nothing wrong with Shapton "pro" but I personslly like the glass stones better.

    With all of the new stuff coming out of Japan, I'm sure there are stones just as good, perhaps even better available. But I've been so well pleased with Shapton glass, that I just never really had any desire to try anything else. You young folks can try the new stuff!:D
  6. Blues

    Blues Lapsed SuperMod / Cattle Knife Rustler Staff Member Super Mod

    Oct 2, 1998
    I don't think I'd be investing, (personally speaking), in new Arkansas stones at this point.

    The ones I have were purchased in the last fifteen years or so and by and large the "word on the street", (even back then), was that the good stuff had been mined out. I can't speak to the validity of that claim.

    They are a nice adjunct to the Norton Crystolon and India bench stones I own...but these days I normally grab for diamond, (plate or bonded), Spyderco ceramic, or water stones (Shapton Glass or Edge Pro).

    I enjoy owning a bunch of different types of sharpening stones and plates, but at some point it's for reasons beyond practical. (Sort of like collecting knives. :p)
    Ben Dover and Haffner like this.
  7. Heirphoto

    Heirphoto Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 13, 2007
    Many say the older stones are better but I cannot attest to that either since i own no newer ones. I do have a few olders Arkansas stones I enjoy using. Vintage Smith's stones turn up quite often, often in sets of 3, Washita, Soft and Hard. I added a vintage Translucent to my progesssion. I mainly own knives in basic steels though and these may not be so good on the 'super" steels.
  8. I have a small pink & white medium or 'soft' Arkansas stone that I've found is a perfect match for simple carbon steels like 1095 or CV. Also works pretty well on simple low-alloy stainless, like 420HC. Every time I've used it, I've wished I had a benchstone-sized version of the same thing. One of these days, I might actually spend the money for one, but I haven't done it yet.

    Admittedly, I otherwise wouldn't have much use for Arkansas stones in general. They always feel great when used with oil, and there's something that just seems right about using them; sharpening on them is a very soothing experience. But, as nice as they are to use, I have other sharpening options that I'm more likely to use most of the time, for the steels I sharpen.
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2018
  9. Alberta Ed

    Alberta Ed

    Jun 29, 1999
    My Black Arkansas bench stone, inherited from a great uncle, puts a fantastic finishing edge on high carbon steels, but doesn't do much for powder steels with high carbide content.
    Ben Dover likes this.
  10. samuraistuart

    samuraistuart KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 21, 2006
    I have a small Arkansas stone that my grandfather gave me. He bought it in the 60s, IIRC. It is a translucent stone, and has a surface that feels just like glass. I also have a "new" (maybe 6 years old) translucent stone from Dan's. The older one is slightly smoother, but it has been used a gazillion times (wow...spell checked recognized gazillion). Both stones cut pretty much the same. That is to say, extremely slowly, and really only polish an edge bevel rather than actually cutting the steel. Which is really what the black and translucent stones are going to do, especially on my hand made knives that are ~63HRC. I wouldn't even begin to consider using an Arkansas stone on something like CPM M4 64HRC. I really have no experience with the softer Arkansas stones, like Washita and what have you...so couldn't speak to their effectiveness on hard, wear resistant steels. The translucent and black stones served their purpose back in the day, as your only other readily available options were India or Crystolon stones. Those work well enough to establish a bevel and refine to some degree on simple carbon steels in that 50-60HRC range, and then use the translucent to polish and refine even further.

    There are much better options more readily available today. But I like the nostalgia of using the Ark stones, and drag it out every now and again when the project suits using them.
  11. JD Spydo

    JD Spydo Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2004
    Well guys You're not going to believe what I just found. I found my two BUCK Arkansas stones that I bought at a local sporting goods store all the way back to the mid 1970s. One of them is a "hard" translucent like a couple of you guys have mentioned>> the other one I believe might have been rated either fine or medium I forget which because the only factory case I could find was the one for the smaller hard stone. I can't tell you all how many times I've used those two stones over the years. When I got a new Buck model 119 fixed blade I bought the two stones with it. And even by 1970s standards I do remember they weren't cheap either. But I can't complain since I still have them after all these years.

    A couple of years ago my youngest nephew tried his best to get me to give them to him but I wouldn't do it. Even though I did give him one of my older Ka-Bar folders at the time. I do think that BUCK got some of the better grade novaculite because I do remember these stones doing a decent job on the older knives I had. But during that time period I remember several of the knife companies selling Arkansas Stones with their factory names on them. Other than SMITH's I don't see too many of them being sold in stores anymore now that I think of it.
    Eli Chaps likes this.
  12. I'm glad I never got rid of the stones I have. Some of them, I bought 25 - 30 years ago, including most or all of my Arkansas stones. And in most of that time span since, I never really figured out how best to use them, until just in the last few years. I assumed for a long time, they just weren't very good and I just packed them away. But I eventually figured out it was ME, being the main issue. Since I've finally learned how they work (when used competently ;D ) and for which steels they do best, I've been discovering their capabilities for the first time ever, after acquiring them so long ago. They've taught me an awful lot. If I'd gotten rid of them when I thought they just didn't work, I likely never would've learned as much as I did, in being patient and waiting out my long 'learning curve'.

    Prompted by reading this thread, I just used my old, inexpensive Tri-hone set (unknown brand, purchased back in late '80s or early '90s) to reset the edge on one of my kitchen knives, an imported Farberware-branded santoku I picked up at Walmart years ago, for about $8 or so. The stainless is nothing special, obviously. But the Tri-hone set, with a Coarse SiC stone, a medium Arkansas and a Fine Translucent Arkansas stone, did a nice job on it. I scrubbed away the old edge and reset bevels on the SiC stone, and then did all the refining & finishing on the medium & translucent Arkansas stones, with NO stropping needed afterward. They have their place. :thumbsup:
  13. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    They're really only appropriate for low-alloy steels. Even anything with much chromium carbide will cause them to struggle. But the finest ones can be nice for apexing like one would use a ceramic. I actually use a local black siltstone for apexing a lot of my knives.
    David Martin likes this.
  14. JD Spydo

    JD Spydo Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2004
    and yes!! from the information I've gathered I'm completely convinced of everything you just stated. Albeit I do have one question>> in regards to my opening post where I pointed out that I use one of the older/better grade Arkansas stones ( super-ultra-Fine I'm sure is the grit)>> well I've been using it as kind of a hard strop so to speak. And I believe that is about as accurate of a way to describe it. Because I will take a blade that I just got hair shaving sharp and by doing some more strokes on the "Blue-Black" Arkansas Stone it really does enhance an already sharp edge to make it even somewhat sharper.

    Or am I barking up the wrong tree and is there a better stone to do my finish work with? I'm kind of getting away from leather type strops and finding really hard, ultra-fine stones to use instead. I would appreciate your opinion?
    FortyTwoBlades likes this.
  15. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    A fine sintered ceramic is better since the synthetic abrasive is much harder than silicon dioxide (quartz). Won't have so much trouble with chromium carbides. :)
  16. JD Spydo

    JD Spydo Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2004
    I feel in my gut you're probably right and I'll sure look into looking at more ceramic stones. I already have all those Spyderco 302 Benchstones i.e. fine, medium & Ultra-fine and I've had great results with them. I've heard that Idahone, Green Elephant and Global all have good ceramic stones as well. I love ceramic stones and I've also had my eyes on some of those Shapton stones as well.

    Yeah other than older carbon steel knives which I don't use much at all anymore. Both the carbon knives and Arkansas stones are ready for the antique/museum section. Also I had one woodworker years ago tell me that all the really super good novaculite was mined out years ago>> I bet he's probably right.
  17. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    Regarding "ceramics" you're specifically looking at sintered ceramics, like the Spyderco ones. They're fused under enormous heat and pressure without the use of any binder. This is different from ceramic bonded stones, which use a fired ceramic binder to hold the grains together. They will not shed grit readily, and should be used sparingly, with light pressure, only in the final stages of honing. Occasionally the surface will need to be abraded with silicon carbide or diamond (in a very fine grit to preserve the surface texture) just to remove the worn abrasive on the face of the stone and expose fresh cutting surface. If you find the stone producing a persistent burr that just wants to flop back and forth, it's probably time to refresh the surface.
  18. JD Spydo

    JD Spydo Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2004
    Hey thanks a million for that eye-opening information about ceramic stones. That truly makes a lot of sense because a lot people don't realize that most Tungsten Carbide is a "Sintered" metal. I'm sure that Sintered ceramics are a completely different animal with some things in common. The only Spyderco stones I've ever had any "wear" problems with are the gray/medium stones. I've worn out two sets of the gray/medium 204 Sharpmaker stones over the past 17 years > I don't consider that too bad for all the intense sharpening jobs I had used those stones on. But I've never had a set of the white/fine or white/ultra-fine Spyderco stones ever wear out on me. I still have all of those original stones from both Sharpmakers ( I own two units) and Lord knows I've used those stones on dozens if not hundreds of jobs over the years. But the gray/medium stones will wear over time I've discovered.

    Is there any way of finding out who else other than Spyderco has the better grade "sintered" ceramics? Because you're right I most definitely want to stick to using them. And are those Shapton stones really worth the money they ask for them? I believe we are going to see a lot of new improved innovations in ceramic sharpening stones in years to come.
    FortyTwoBlades likes this.
  19. FortyTwoBlades

    FortyTwoBlades Baryonyx walkeri Dealer / Materials Provider

    Mar 8, 2008
    I've got some tricks up my sleeves that'll be coming eventually, but can't shed much light on it at the moment.

    For existing makers of sintered ceramics, the Fallkniven stones use a sintered sort, and Idahone offers some, as well.
    willc likes this.
  20. eKretz


    Aug 30, 2009
    Tungsten carbide proper is actually a ceramic. Tungsten carbide as the term is commonly used is a sinter formed of tungsten carbide particles and Cobalt metal particles. The ratio of the two is varied to alter the necessary mechanical properties.

    Regarding Arkansas stones, yes they are still very useful for carbon steels, not so much for the steels containing many harder carbides. I use mine all the time for old school pocket knives (like Case, etc.), lower hardness simple alloy kitchen knives, chisels and straight razors. They are however considerably slower than most modern abrasives, but for just bringing up an edge to final keenness that's not a big deal.

    Regarding the "all the good novaculite is already gone" myth: it is frankly a load of bunk. The stone was formed hundreds of millions of years ago. There's no way to tell whether it would be good for honing until it's out of the ground. There is PLENTY left. The reason it's expensive is that they have to pick through it to find the good stuff and the way they remove it, it tends to fracture so large pieces are comparatively rare.
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2018
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