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Sharpening with a Norton Stone

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by c10darren, Jul 18, 2012.

  1. c10darren


    Nov 30, 2011
    Hi all,

    I just ordered a Combo Grit Norton Benchstone (Aluminum Oxide). What type of oil is recommended or what has worked best for others? Should I bother with a bottle of the Lansky stuff? Olive oil? WD-40? Its my first "nice" stone and I don't want to screw it up.

    I'm bound and determined to learn how to freehand sharpen my knives. Practice, practice, practice...
  2. Benchmade92


    Apr 6, 2010
    Dont quote me on this but I have heard that kerosine is supposed to work really well with wet stones.
  3. HeavyHanded


    Jun 4, 2010
    Regular mineral oil from the drug store works very well. Its cheap and non toxic as well.
  4. Big D1

    Big D1

    May 6, 1999
    Kerosene does work good, and Norton recommends cleaning the stone with kerosene too.

    Mineral oil from the drug store works good but be aware that the mineral oil sold in drug stores is most likely a heavy grade mineral oil or even extra heavy. Clipper oil such as Wahl brand is mineral oil too, but it is a medium grade, at least the bottle I have is a medium grade. Baby oil and Norton's own brand of sharpening oil is light mineral oil, and they both work very good. Twenty ounce bottle of baby oil for about $2.50 is cheap.

    Besides oil, Norton also states that water can be used on the stone for sharpening. It's your call, but I choose baby oil or Norton's oil.
  5. M forge

    M forge

    May 27, 2011
    A lot of guys also use simple green light duty or diluted simple green. Quite a few big time guys recommend it. I haven't tried it, but will once my regular honing oil runs out.
  6. mtangent


    Dec 6, 2011
    I used to use oil. It was very messy, & needed an occasional clean with kerosene. Woks well.
    Now I use kitchen detergent with a little water. Works brilliantly, & if it gets too messy, rinse under a tap.

    On a normal sized bench stone, make a puddle of water 1 inch in diameter. Add one drop of detergent. Go for it. water is absorbed into the stone, so you may need to add a little if it gets too dry. Rinse & start again as often as you like. Soaking the stone in water before you start is a good idea.
  7. bgentry


    Aug 3, 2009
    Why use oil of any kind to sharpen with? I see the balance sheet like this:


    + Reduces initial friction, so the blade starts moving more easily.
    + Maybe feels slicker and nicer.
    + Carries away the metal swarf and keeps it from clogging the stone.


    - Extra stuff to use, extra expense.
    - More mess.
    - Less overall friction, so slower overall grinding.
    - Oil impregnates into the stone so you have to keep using it, or boil it out.

    I've never used oil on my Norton SiC or AlO2 stones. I periodically clean them with dish soap and water. Because of this they are not clogged. I've taken some serious metal off of some knives with the medium SiC, so it's not from lack of use.

    I say don't use anything, or maybe water with a drop of dish soap if you have to have that "wet" feeling.

  8. fervens


    Apr 26, 2009
    The norton AlO2 stones are preloaded with oil. This only means that if you do use the detergent/ simple green(love it) you will eventually clean out the oil in the stone. This will just make the stone really porous and it will soak up more and more cutting fluid every time you use.

    As far as safe for the stone goes, it's stone, it will be fine. So try all of them and find what works best for you.

    I believe heavyhanded (feel free to call bs heavyhanded) has done some playing with different cutting fluids and said using oil will give you a higher polish but simple green cuts faster and tend to agree

    P.S. Norton's honing oil, simple green and light mineral oil are food safe. if it matters at all
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2012
  9. HeavyHanded


    Jun 4, 2010
    I've never used Simple Green so cannot comment.

    I've tried using no lube. The swarf and stone debris begin to clog the pores very quickly and need to be brushed off frequently. While it feels like the stone is cutting faster its actually slowing down. A good example of this effect can be noticed with sandpaper sharpening - let the paper load up with debris and it feels rougher. In reality its slowing down, clean off the paper and it feels smoother yet more steel comes off in less time. The grind troughs are cleaner cut as well = smaller burr formation. With a stone it works a bit differently, and a lot of accomplished folk use their vitreous stones dry, but for me it always works better if I wash the stone off periodically or just use some sort of liquid on the surface.

    I used to use water and/or a mix of soap and water. This has the advantages of reduced clogging of the stone and (to me) improved tactile feedback. Its also easy to clean up and always nearby. I also noticed the stone needs to be scrubbed or lapped from time to time as it shows wear in high use areas and reduced grinding speed - similar to dry but with more up time. In a pinch, water works but I find it helps to rub the stone with a fingertip to loosen the garbage prior to adding more water/soap. When I do machetes or hatchets I use water and dunk the stone often. You'd be surprised how much stuff winds up in the bottom of the wash basin - steel and stone.

    I switched to oil after noticing a few advantages. Oil actually floats the swarf, so the surface of the stone cuts cleaner and stays in good shape after many many uses - this is huge. In fact if you wipe the oil off before it can soak in, the stone stays practically like-new indefinitely. I also suspect but cannot verify that the oil helps break down the bonds in most vitreous stones exposing fresh abrasives at a much faster rate than water or dry. Downside is your stone wears a tiny bit faster and you need to watch it more closely for dishing. Upside is it grinds cleaner, faster and more reliably. Feedback is also (to me) a bit better than with water/soap. Lastly, by using an oil with some body to it combined with light pressure, the blade will "float" a little bit on the oil. This makes it a lot easier (for me) to get the softest possible consistent touch on the stone for finishing the edge. Many folks would be somewhat surprised at how fine an edge one can get from a humble combination stone. No doubt in my mind I get way better results using mineral oil. Other oils work too, but the mineral oil is cheap, easy to find, can hold a lot of swarf, can afford to loose viscosity a bit as it gets used and it'll still stay on the stone (maybe a teaspoon total will do for a full rebevelling and finishing), is non toxic, odor free, and washes out of your shirt a little easier than some other oils:).

    Experiment, have some fun. There's pluses and minuses to every method.
  10. J D Wijbenga

    J D Wijbenga Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 17, 1998
    I use hand soap and water. Works great!
  11. fervens


    Apr 26, 2009
    I stand corrected then, and great info!
  12. bgentry


    Aug 3, 2009
    @HH You undoubtedly know what you're doing based on what I've read from you in the past. You seem to be saying contradictory things in your post here, but honestly it's a bit hard to sort out, so maybe I'm just not getting your analysis of dry versus water versus oil. Sounds like you've analyzed it more fully than I have.

    But I'm mainly writing here to say something I think is important that I forgot to put in my original balance sheet:

    Airborne metal particles. Jdavis882 (CrimsonTideShoter here on BF) did a video recently showing how the airborne metal from using his WickedEdge sharpener had adhered to his computer monitor (which has magnets on the sides), making a film of metal dust that was sort of shocking in quantity. As in there was a lot more of it than one would expect to be carried several feet through the air, and then caught by a magnet.

    This is sort of a big deal to me because I met a man a few years ago who makes knives as a hobby. He's been doing it for years in his shed behind his house. He never really used dust masks or anything like that. Now he has very pronounced tremors in his arms and hands that he says are Parkinson's disease, and were caused by inhaling metal dust.

    How much dust do we produce on a dry stone using hand power alone? You wouldn't think very much, but the Wicked Edge is hand powered and JDavis got a BUNCH more than I would have expected.

    So perhaps water or oil are better simply to catch the metal "dust" as it comes off the knife and keep it from going airborne. I think I'm going to add a little tiny water bottle to my sharpening kit so I use it every time.

  13. David Martin

    David Martin

    Apr 7, 2008
    B, This is good to know. Thanks, DM
  14. tiguy7

    tiguy7 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 25, 2008
    One way to lessen the mess associated with oil on stones is to to squeegee the oil off the stone just before sharpening. This can be accomplished with a rubber kitchen spatula. It also helps if your stones are suspended over a trough like the Norton triangular prism arrangement. I brush fresh oil from the trough onto the top stone to loosen the swarf and squeegee the whole resultant mess back into the trough.
  15. Curtis_Lowe


    Jan 8, 2012
    I've actually had coughing fits after sharpening on dry sandpaper. I definitely recommend some sort of lubricant.
  16. David Martin

    David Martin

    Apr 7, 2008
    Curtis, Me too! Tig, Thats the Norton Tri-Hone system IM313 a great set-up and will last several lifetimes. It holds plenty of oil and any stone of the same size will fit it, even a DMT. DM
  17. sodak

    sodak Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2004
    Spend the extra coin and buy odorless kerosene. Just trust me on this one....
  18. bgentry


    Aug 3, 2009
    Just a quick followup on the dust issue. I just watched Jdavis' video again and he definitely describes the dust. You can watch it here for yourself. But he doesn't actually show it. I still believe it's happening, but I wanted to acknowledge that my mind must have filled in the gaps and made me remember seeing metal dust in his video, when in fact he's just describing it. Still seems like a big deal to me. I don't want neurological problems from metal dust.

  19. HeavyHanded


    Jun 4, 2010
    I don't understand, my ramblings make perfect sense to me....:confused:

    In a nutshell and just my opinion based on observation - I have no concrete evidence to support any of my beliefs:

    Using dry =
    most convenient but most likely to cause damage to the stone and give decreasing results due to debris buildup in the stone (clogging) and worn abrasive surfaces (glazing) . Most vitreous and natural stones can tolerate a fair amount of this as long as you clean the stone vigorously after use and your session doesn't last too long. Even then I believe the stone looses effectiveness over time due to the abrasives wearing out faster than they fall out/off, requiring lapping or serious abrasive cleaning to restore good function.

    Using with water or soap and water =
    Somewhat less convenient but still easy enough to have a bottle or bucket handy. Swarf and stone debris are less likely to embed in the stone. There's an improvement in tactile feedback that seems to accompany any use of a stone lubricant during hand grinding. The surface stays in much better shape over the course of longer grinding sessions and can be flushed easily. I still find that the grinding quality degrades over time but not as quickly as when used dry. There is still a potential for the stone to glaze. This is how I use it if sharpening a machete, axe or hatchet - its just not practical to use oil.

    Using with oil =
    best practices IMHO even though least convenient. Now we have a fluid that can float the majority of the swarf and stone debris right off the stone surface. I've noticed you can in some cases deglaze a vitreous stone simply by reusing it with oil or even just leaving a puddle of oil on the surface for a while and wiping it off. Since I've switched to oil for 90% of my vitreous stone use, my stones look brand-new all the time. There is no trace of clogging or glazing. I do believe I'm noticing a very slight tendency to dish more than I see when using the stone dry or with water. This leads me to believe the abrasives are falling out/off more rapidly, leaving a better-cutting surface. I also believe using with oil reduces burr formation and improves the final finish = grind pattern appears more refined (drill a hole in mild steel with and without oil - even at slow speeds where heat buildup isn't much of a factor the oil will give a cleaner hole).

    Plenty of folks I have lots of respect for use their stones dry, with water, or with alternative fluids. Clearly good results can be had a number of ways - the above is what I believe I am observing.
  20. Magnaminous_G


    Jul 13, 2011
    I use diamond and ceramic stones and used them dry for years, but recently switched to using water and sharpening on my kitchen counter, right next to my water source (sink). It's very nice to just reach over and splash water onto the stones or just rinse them out under the sink. The swarf just goes down the drain where it belongs. I like using the drop of dish soap on the finer grit stones to break the surface tension of the water.

    Another thing I found out recently: a scotch scouring pad is really good at cleaning diamond and ceramic stones with just dish soap (no comet needed). So the whole operation takes place right there in the kitchen, and clean up is a breeze.

    I've never used oil stones, but as the above poster mentioned, it sounds messy. I don't think I'd enjoy degreasing my stones, either, and I ask myself why I should pay for oil when water is a lot less expensive (and less messy)?

    EDIT: I've got Arishiyama water stones on order, and I'm really looking forward to learning to use them. All those videos by knifenut and Murray Carter got me hooked on the idea.

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