What are the pros and cons of the different types of sharpening stones?

Discussion in 'Maintenance, Tinkering & Embellishment' started by NomadS308, Feb 22, 2015.

  1. NomadS308


    Feb 18, 2015
    did a search and could not find any threads that compared and contrasted the different types of sharpening stones.

    So what, in your opinion, are the pros and cons of: oil stones, water stones, ceramics, diamond, other (or categories within the previous list; natural/synthetic, etc)?

    Cost, durability/life , speed, ease of use (forgiving of mistakes), maintenance, other?

    Are certain types better for different stages of sharpening? (dull blades without a good edge, re-sharpening a good edge, polishing an already sharp edge).

    Thanks in advance.
  2. Jason B.

    Jason B. KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 13, 2007
    There is lots of info here, just search.

    Your question is pretty open ended, this thread could turn into a book real fast comparing all the stones you want to compare.
  3. killgar


    Sep 24, 2002
    I've been using diamond hones exclusively for around ten years now. I like diamond hones because they stay flat and don't develop low spots in the middle. Throughout my life I have worn out several man-made stones, mostly from re-grinding edges.

    Diamond hones are also very light so they can be easily carried around. They are available in a wide variety of grits and sizes, and they can be used wet or dry.
  4. In general:

    Natural stones ('Arkansas', for the most part) are limited in the hardness of their mineral abrasives. This means they'll be slower in all aspects (grinding, refining, polishing), and sometimes ineffective on very wear-resistant steels with hard carbides (chromium carbides, vanadium carbides). The flipside is, because they're less aggressive, they're also more tolerant of a little more pressure in honing, especially in the refining/polishing stages. On steels that respond to them, the 'slow, gentle & steady' working character of a hard Arkansas stone can be a pleasure to use.

    Ceramic hones ('Alumina') are very, very hard; but they're effectively limited to refining/polishing stages, and not for heavy grinding, because their effective working 'grit size' limits how fast metal is removed. They also load up with swarf pretty quickly, so it's imperative to keep them clean, else they'll get extremely slow. Because they're very hard, they're also pretty unforgiving of too-heavy pressure, and they'll generate burrs if pressure is too heavy (will also roll an edge, or chip it, for the same reason). Keeping pressure feather-light is always best with ceramic hones.

    Man-made (synthetic) stones in aluminum oxide (AlOx) and silicon carbide (SiC) are probably the most prevalent and most versatile. SiC stones, like Norton's 'Crystolon' line, are great for working speed in heavy grinding of most steels, and their 'Fine' sides can be used to create great 'toothy' working edges by themselves. AlOx stones, like Norton's 'India' and many others, usually work at a slightly more refined level grit-wise, and have a good reputation as finishing stones for maintaining working/utility edges. SiC stones are very forgiving in terms of how they're used: either wet/oiled, or dry, it won't necessarily detract from results and won't harm the stones. AlOx stones are best-used lubricated, usually with oil; they're more prone to 'glazing' if used dry, or if used with very hard/wear-resistant steels. The 'glazing' happens as a result of the abrasive being worn smoother with use. As compared to that, a SiC stone is more prone to shed grit in use, and so new & sharp grit is constantly exposed with more use; so the stone's performance doesn't tail off over time.

    Diamond stones are known for their ability to work very aggressively on any steel at light pressure. Diamond is ~3X as hard as the next-hardest alternatives (SiC & AlOx), so they'll cut just as aggressively with only 1/3 of the pressure used on other man-made stones. If used properly as such, they'll work great for years & years. Common complaints about them wearing out too fast are a result of too-heavy grinding, which isn't necessary on them anyway, and counterproductive to good edges as well. Due to much deeper cutting, the finishing performance of even very fine diamond hones will still be 'coarser' than equivalently-graded hones of other abrasive types, like AlOx, SiC or alumina ceramics (or natural stones).

    Waterstones are a 'whole other ballgame'. I haven't yet used them, so I'll not mention anything except that they're known & designed to continually shed grit with use (some faster than others), which keeps them cutting fresh & fast, and I think they're also known for the uniformity of finish they leave for the same reasons (always cutting with fresh & sharp grit). If you have specific questions about specific waterstones, Jason^ would be the man to ask.

    As mentioned earlier, the subject as a whole is way too broad to summarize here. What I've mentioned above is just scratching the surface...

    Last edited: Feb 22, 2015
  5. sodak

    sodak Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2004
    Ain't that the truth. The only waterstones that I'm good with are on my Edgepro. I've seen the edges people can make with them, and am envious. I use primarily diamonds and ceramics, for ease of use and speed of sharpening.
  6. unit


    Nov 22, 2009
    That question requires a lot more answer than I am prepared to give...and even then, there will be lots of opinion to contend with.

    There are almost as many ways to get a knife sharp as there are to get it dull.

    Personally, I would suggest doing a lot of reading around here and see what sort of methods appeal to you (for whatever reason) then go watch some videos and such, then come back with specific quesitons.

    Sorry for the non-answer, but there is a LOT to it....and in some ways, there is not much to it (simply grind off steel to form an apex....there are lots of ways to do it, but that is basically what you are doing regardless of how you do it).

    Have fun!
  7. wesessiah


    Feb 23, 2012
    as far as general idea, it's already been covered... for basic touchups and light sharpening i use synthetics for the more forgiving nature, and i like diamond for reprofiling, or needing to remove a lot of material. then again, even with something like 440 steels, or anything below the range of s30v i just use the synthetics even for having to remove a fair amount of material. i'm no master sharpener like a lot of guys on here, but i'm the go to guy for us plebeians at work, lol.
  8. awestib


    Dec 29, 2008
    I like that - both statements/recommendations, and in fact, everything that dulls a knife can sharpen it, really.

    I prefer a setup that I am custom to and know the advantages and disadvantages. The easier and fewer steps, the better IMO. This is also a "no answer" but that is the nature of this topic.
  9. bgentry


    Aug 3, 2009
    To the OP: Are you shopping for stones? If so, we can probably make some recommendations based on your needs. Budget, knife blade steels, knife types, etc will all influence the decision.

    On the other hand, if you're just trying to get an overview, David's answer is a VERY good starting point.

    Tell us more about what you're trying to accomplish and we can probably help.

  10. NomadS308


    Feb 18, 2015
    Yes, David's response was pretty much in line with what I was looking for. Thanks David.

    As for what I was trying to accomplish, only trying to get a topic going that lists pros and cons of the different options for sharpening. Did not have much luck using the site search (why does the site not allow people to add tags to the posts? makes the search function work much better on other sites).

    Like what someone said; whatever can dull, can also sharpen. But each has strengths and weakness.

    Would kind of like to see a chart that summarize what David said into a chart form, with others added later. Something like this:

    [table="width: 500"]
    [td]quick, stays flatter longer, does not require lubrication[/td]
    [td]most expensive on average, less forgiving, require light touch, can't polish as well[/td]
    [td] less expensive?, more forgiving of over pressure, [/td]
    [td]slow cutting, not as effective with harder steels, should lubricate, can be messy [/td]
    [td]cost? good for fine polishing/refining, very hard [/td]
    [td]cost? unforgiving or hard pressure, clog up easily, require more freq cleaning, must have feather touch for best results[/td]
    [td]man made / synthetic [/td]
    [td]Cost? SiC are forgiving, wet/dry, AlOx [/td]
    [td]Cost? AlOx messy oil, glazing if not lubricated [/td]
    [td]Cost? forgiving? touch? polishing? [/td]
    [td]Cost? messy, etc [/td]


    If people on this site could agree, it might be good for someone to make a final chart at some point and create a sticky for newbies like me to get a quick comparison of the different options.
  11. Jason B.

    Jason B. KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 13, 2007
    Agree? What is this nonsense?

    If we all agreed we would have nothing to talk about.
  12. HeavyHanded


    Jun 4, 2010
    Amen, I already don't agree with much of the rough draft chart. Pretty much have to narrow it down a bit toward more specific questions and expand from there. Is not really a topic that lends itself to generalizations.
  13. Yeah, the 'agreement' is always the hard part. :D

    An awful lot comes down to developing the touch or feel for a given set of tools. All across the BF site, you'll find stellar examples of what individual sharpening fanatics can do with a given tool. One will produce great results with waterstones, another with diamond hones, yet another with natural/Arkansas stones, and others with basic SiC/AlOx oilstones (and I'm still excluding all those using powered systems, like bench/belt grinders). Each person might SWEAR that their setup and methods are THE BEST way to sharpen a knife, bar none. But most of that just comes from each person finding a method that fits their own abilities and preferences, for the particular blades and steels they like to use. Once each finds that 'sweet spot' for a solution, it spurs further use and practice, developing more experience and training the hands for the best use of that particular tool. In the end, it's the 'touch' for sharpening, developed in the hands, that makes 95% of the difference.

    Regarding certain 'pros & cons' of each, you'll see one individual's 'pros' being exactly listed as 'cons' by another. For example, regarding diamond hones' alleged 'cons', you'll find some will say they're too expensive, work too aggressively, leave edges too coarse and wear out too fast. Odds are, a lot of that comes from trying to adapt the methods used on other hones, like Arkansas stones, to the diamond hones. Use the same pressure on a diamond hone as you might use on a well-worn natural stone or some AlOx stones, and you'll see a lot of drawbacks in the finished results (edges not refined enough, hones wearing out more quickly; both due to too-heavy grinding pressure on a hone that doesn't require it and will punish you for it). Same could be said about ceramics, which really do bad things under too-heavy pressure (burring, edge-rolling or chipping) that would be more easily tolerated on other stones. The flipside, in listing the 'pros' of diamond hones, is that they work very fast at light pressure (easy on aging & sore hands; I can attest to that), leave some wicked-toothy edges at even very fine grit, and will last DECADES if used with a light touch as they should be. The working speed of them also means a smaller & more portable hone can do bigger jobs that'd beg for larger bench hones in other abrasive types (I'm using pocket & even keychain-sized hones to set bevels on most of my folder-sized blades); that all plays into convenience, availability when needed, and reducing the real cost (versus perceived) of acquiring and using them.

    Again, that's just touching the surface of the topic. For starting out, an easy recommendation would be to acquire either or both of a SiC and good quality AlOx bench hone (neither are very expensive, and a very useful SiC stone can be found at a hardware store for less than $10); maybe even pick up ONE fairly portable (and not too-expensive) double-sided diamond hone in a Coarse/Fine combination. Develop basic sharpening technique on that basic set, and if patient and dedicated enough to practice & practice, an awful lot of that developed skill can then by applied to trying something new. I've collected countless hones/stones and other tools over 25+ years' time, and I'm now glad I didn't get rid of any of it. I'm finding over & over again, that many of the tools I once swore wouldn't work at all for me, are now working much better. :)

  14. NomadS308


    Feb 18, 2015
    Ha. Ok you all are right that no one will ever agree completely, but is there no common ground at all?

    Are you saying that some will disagree that diamond stones, used correctly, are the fastest cutting when compared to other stones with the same grit? From what I have read so far on the internet that seems to be the opinion I come across the most.

    Heavy Handed, you don't agree with most of the (very) rough draft. Could you elaborate? Any things you do agree with?
  15. NomadS308


    Feb 18, 2015
    That would definitely be the disclaimer at the beginning of the chart.

    That is why I would say a con of the diamonds is that they aren't forgiving of improper technique/ too heavy pressure. I think that would come out as people discussed it.

    That last paragraph is kind of where I am at personally. Mainly because I don't want to do more damage than good with fast cutting stones and I dont want to spend a fortune. But once I get the basic technique down I think something like this thread could help me decide what I want to try next.
  16. Jason B.

    Jason B. KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 13, 2007
    Slow cutting stones will cause you to be on the stones longer which causes sloppy bevels. This is all around bad for any level of sharpener. The less time you can spend with each stone the flatter and sharper your edges will become.

    SiC stones, diamond stones, ceramic stones, ceramic waterstones (much different from say a spyderco ceramic) all get good reviews because the abrasive is hard and fast cutting which brings results quickly. This keeps you, the sharpener, from becoming fatigued and sloppy with your technique. Again, very important.
  17. HeavyHanded


    Jun 4, 2010
    I agree that diamond plates are a bit less forgiving cosmetically, and polish not so well at the low to middle. Is tough to make many more generalizations, because diamond lapping films are fairly forgiving and require water or oil to prevent loading, also polish very well. In general I find a well- matched waterstone to cut faster than a comparable grit diamond plate.

    The Arkansas stones I find to be very unforgiving of more pressure - they are prone to glazing moreso than any other media IMHO, so light pressure is best. In general, only waterstones are forgiving of larger pressure variations, and then only when roughing - to finish one should be using a feather touch on just about every media (Washboard excepting ;)).

    The category of man-made/synthetic is way too broad. There is a huge difference between a quality Norton India stone and a hardware store AlumOx stone, AlumOx lapping films. Likewise a big difference between a vitreous SiC stone, SiC wet/dry, and SiC jointering stones, though in general SiC is the most forgiving due to its high fracture rate in some forms.

    The waterstone category also a bit too broad, as they come all over the map in terms of price and how well they work on given steels. Some of the stones intended for tougher steels might not work as well on lower RC cutlery as something like a King stone, and the King might not even be able to touch some of the wear-resistant steels at all.

    In general I also do not much care for describing oil-based stones as "messy", they often require less fuss and overall mess than waterstones, and using ceramic, diamond plates or wet/dry with no lube is just as likely to leave your fingers and possibly your shirt stained with swarf (though admittedly it will wash out more easily than oil!).

    Generally speaking, aside from the less expensive combination stones, most quality stones all run in a fairly reasonable range, though putting together a real comprehensive set can get expensive.

    OK, so that's my response - now in all fairness if I had to make a chart, what would it look like?

    Truthfully I don't think I could make a chart, only personal recommendations, generalizations, specific responses to specific questions. An actual chart would require a ton of info specific to each entry based on abrasive and binder, and at least a third of it would be subjective based on reported usage and opinion.

  18. That's why I suggested, as a starter set, including both a simple SiC/AlOx stone, as well as a versatile diamond combo. With that as a starting point, you could compare & contrast the differences in use of pressure between each, and see how that could be used to advantage in a given situation or with particular blades/steels. The great thing about developing the lighter touch needed with a diamond hone (or a ceramic), is that it'll also pay dividends on other sharpening tools at the refining end of things, which always pays off bigger with a lighter touch. For quite a long time with me & my own habits, I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong when trying to use a diamond hone. It all came down, in the end, in finally figuring out and truly BELIEVING that they cut much more aggressively, then adjusting my touch to that new reality on those hones. Once that was figured out, I finally started getting better results (even great results) with them, and have learned to really like using them. It has paid off across the board, on all the stones I'm using now.

    Last edited: Feb 25, 2015
  19. Great point. :thumbup:

    That's why I've liked using diamond hones and SiC stones so much. They work very fast, and most common knives in common steels can be tuned up very quickly on them. The very first hone I ever spent much time with was a Spyderco DoubleStuff (med/fine) ceramic hone. For the longest time, I was trying to 'fix' all edge issues on it, no matter how long it took. For very light touch-ups done in 5-10 passes per side, I loved using it. But in trying to sharpen really dull edges, it was taking forever, and my edges always finished with rounded-off bevels & apexes, due to fatigue-induced sloppiness in holding the angle.

    Last edited: Feb 25, 2015
  20. D-der


    Dec 6, 2014
    Just wanted to say....
    I always enjoy these threads
    Ton's of good info

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