oilstones

Both natural and synthetic oilstones are available. Most benchstones are now silicon carbide, sold in fine, medium, and coarse grades (grade meaning particle size). Crystolon is a common brand. Aluminum oxide stones are also available, often called “india stones.”

Arkansas stones

In the United States, the best-known natural oilstones are Arkansas stones. The best Arkansas stones have a fine, smooth, white surface. An even finer grade are the Black Hard Arkansas. Washita stones, often streaked with brown, are coarser than Arkansas stones.

Waterstones

In recent years Japanese “waterstones” have reached American woodworkers. The natural ones are available only in coarse grits and are absurdly expensive, but the synthetic stones have distinctive and useful properties–above all, a wide range of grits, from 100 to 8000, much finer than the “fine” silicon carbide and aluminum oxide benchstones. An 800 grit waterstone is approximately equivalent to a Washita or Soft Arkansas; 1000 to a Hard Arkansas; and 1200 is somewhat coarser than a Black Hard Arkansas. The grits beyond that have no natural equivalents.

Waterstones have an open texture and soft bond and wear rapidly, but they also cut rapidly.

Silicon carbide sandpaper makes a satisfactory “oilstone” if it is backed with something flat, such as a piece of iron plate or plate glass.

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