Choosing a Sharpening Stone

Sharpening a knife with a waterstone
Are you finding your knives or scissors are dull and need to be sharpened but aren’t sure which sharpening stone to choose?
When it comes to sharpening household tools, the three most common types of sharpening stones are oil stones, water stones, and diamond stones with each having its own advantage for the user.


Oil Stones

Oil stones are the traditional sharpening stone that many learned to sharpen with, and are still one of the most commonly used stones today. Many are still made of natural materials now joined by a few man-made options.

Historically, oil stones have been made from Ozark Novaculite (silicone quartz) which is quarried in Arkansas and processed to make what are commonly known as Arkansas Stones. Novaculite oil stones will not cut as fast or aggressively as man-made or diamond stones, extending the life of household tools. Due to their unique composition, Arkansas stones polish as they sharpen, imparting an extremely fine, smooth edge. Because of this, they are typically used as the final sharpening step after an India or Crystolon stone is used, or to maintain an already sharpened edge. 

Norton Soft Arkansas (extra fine) stones are the coarsest-grained and least-dense of the natural stones. Used primarily to sharpen and hone tool and knife edges to an even, polishing surface, frequently after sharpening with man-made stones. Norton Hard Translucent Arkansas (ultra-fine) stones are the finest grained and most dense natural stone available and are used to produce the keenest, most precision finish possible. They polish to produce razor-like edges.

In contrast to natural Novaculite stones, Aluminum Oxide oil stones are a very popular man-made choice favored for imparting durable, smooth-cutting edges on household tools. When compared with the Arkansas stones, Aluminum Oxide India Stones are coarser and can be used in conjunction with Arkansas Stones to cover all grit levels from ultra-fine to coarse. The grading system for these stones is labeled fine, medium, and coarse and all grits are orange/brown in color.

The fastest cutting oil stones are made of Silicon Carbide, with our Crystolon Stones representing this category offering. These stones are the best choice for quick work when the speed of sharpening is more important than the fineness of the cutting edge. It is common practice to use a Crystolon stone for initial coarse grit sharpening before moving on to an India stone and finishing with an Arkansas stone. These stones are also labeled fine, medium, and coarse and are dark gray in color.

Water Stones

Water Stones are synthetic stones designed to be softer than oil stones. These softer grade stones are used with water as the lubricant and flushing agent (versus oil) to develop a fast-cutting slurry. Water Stones are made from Aluminum Oxide, much like our India Oil Stones, but offer a higher quality composition that results in a softer stone that fractures more easily, exposing new grain and delivering a faster cut. The higher quality grain composition leaves a much finer finish than Crystolon or India stones making them ideal for final edge sharpening of woodworking tools, knives, cutlery and other blades.  They are also easier to clean than oil stones, and won’t leave an oil residue on your tools. Due to the improved performance and preference for water over oil in the sharpening process, many now prefer water stones for sharpening kitchen knives and other common household tools.

Diamond Stones

Representing the best quality sharpening stone in the market, Diamond Stones deliver very fast blade and tool edge sharpening across the entire stone surface and are more likely to remain flat than other types of stones.  Diamond stones can also be used dry or with a lubricant, which can make them a good choice for situations where it is impractical to use oil or water. While Diamond Stones are the most expensive stones, they will also last the longest so the long-term cost can ultimately be comparable to other stones. Ideal for all large and small tool sharpening and finishing needs.