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JOEL Joel's Blog

The Different Types of Norton Sharpening Stones


The Different Types of Norton Sharpening Stones 1
Norton Abrasives has gone under many upheavals over the years. They currently earn most of their money from grinding wheels and sandpaper but since they purchased the Pike Manufacturing Company a century ago, they have been and still are a source of excellent sharpening stones. Norton currently sells - and we stock - four different basic sharpening stone technologies.

The pictures for this blog come from a Salesman's Set of stones I was given many years ago by Norton as a thank-you for some of the suggestions I made to them. It is their complete current line of sharpening stones.

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These are the famous Arkansas and Washita stones that are so prized for sharpening, these days, especially by carvers. Norton currently owns most of the known Novaculite quarries in Arkansas. The top stone - "Translucent Hard Arkansas" - is what we sell in a larger size as the HB8. You won't find a finer Arkansas stone anywhere. (After it wears in, that is.) Other makers call these "Translucent." Norton doesn't market the "Opaque Hard Arkansas stone to retailers" - it's coarser and usually gets sold as a "Hard Arkansas." The Washita Arkansas is coarser than the Lilywhite (that is also a Washita stone), but in my view there is no real point to the Washita because the Medium India cuts as fast, stays flat, and is less expensive. Norton only recently started to separate out their black Arkansas stones from the Hard / Translucent but there really isn't a reason too as once worn in they both cut like hard glass (awesome). I have multicolored Arkansas stones in white, translucent, black, and red that are just too pretty to use. We have been told that the higher price for the 8" x 2" Norton stone is caused by the current scarcity of thicker, flawless material coming out of their mines.

The Lilywhite Washita is a wonderful, fine, fast cutting stone that Norton stopped quarrying, then resumed at my request and then stopped again.

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Crystolon stones are fast cutting stones that work well. They are a mix of silicon carbide in a fairly soft binder. I don't like them for woodworking tools because they easily dish. For rough stuff, however, they are great.

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India stones are some of the earliest artificial stones Norton made. They are a mix of Aluminum Oxide in a baked binder. The stones are hard, wear very slowly, and are oil impregnated. This is what I use as an intermediate grit. I don't find any use for the coarse or fine India, as they aren't too far apart from the medium India, but some people do like them very much. We stock both 3" wide India stones and the more "traditional", thicker, 2" size.

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Finally we come to the Norton Water stones. These are the newcomers to the line - only the last forty years or so. I find the 220 grit too soft. They will curve and dish and I much prefer diamond stones for the coarser grits. My normal sequence of water stones is 1000, 4000, and then 8000. What you will find with these stones is that, unlike other brands, the abrasive will break down as you work the tool, and they become finer. This is very much like the action of traditional Japanese water stones. Because these stones are friable - that is, the abrasive detaches from the body of the stone and renews the grit - you will find that these stones work very well and faster on tougher alloys like A2 and D2 than harder stones, which require more grits to get the same result. Some people skip the 4000 grit and jump directly from 1000 to 8000. There is no reason not do to this other than you have more wear and tear on the 8000 grit stone.

These days I mostly sharpen with diamond but still finish on a water stone - either the 8K Norton or the 8K or 10K Pride stones. For carving tools, Arkansas and India stones are wonderful because they do not dish.

 The stone collection in its box
The stone collection in its box

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The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the blog's author and guests and in no way reflect the views of Tools for Working Wood.