When Arkansas, or natural, oil stones are used, ID is fairly easy: hard white Arkansas stones are faster cutting and very slightly coarser (about 700 grit) than are black Arkansas (hard) oil stones (about 900 grit). Soft white Arkansas stones are coarser yet, running about 500 grit, while Washita stones are about 350 grit, and a pale grayish tan color. Those four give you a natural stone assembly that will work exceptionally well for all but the worst nicks on your tools. For those, drop down to coarse Crystolon, where it matches a coarse India stone, at 100 grit.
• For natural oil stone selection, start with the Washita, and use it for fastest cutting.
• Next, look at the soft Arkansas stone. This is the next step up, and also is a good general use oil stone.
• Hard black Arkansas stones are useful for final tune-up and polishing of the edges, but are not really good for general sharpening use, as they remove material too slowly.
• For really superior final polishing, translucent Arkansas stones are superb, but very, very hard to locate, so are expensive. They are used only to polish edges created by coarser stones.
• Some sharpeners prefer to work the finer stones with a slurry made up of very fine diamond paste, too, though others prefer stropping with one or more of the three levels of polishing compound (emery is the fastest, Tripoli gives a really great shine, and jeweler's rouge buffs almost anything metal to a really great finish).
Crystolon stones are man-made, and come in a variety of grits. These are found in the coarser grits, with generally available grits running from coarse at 100, to medium at 180 and fine Crystolon at 280 (about the same as a fine India stone). India stones are Norton Company's trademarked item, starting at 100 grit and going to medium at 240 grit, finally moving to the fine India at 280.
Oil stones generally are a little less finicky in use than are waterstones, though the mess tends to be harder to clean up. Starting with a coarse grit (Crystolon coarse or Washita), oil stones move into a medium grit (soft Arkansas or medium or fine Crystolon) stone, and then on to a hard Arkansas stone for fine finishing. Tune up can come with a strop, and a honing compound, if needed. Many people use handled strops (18H33) with both sides covered in stropping leather so they can be charged with two different grades, or types, of honing compound (06L01, 08F82, 08F81, 08F83). Compounds include Micro Fine, emery, Tripoli and jeweler's rouge, with the latter and the first being the finest finishing compounds.
All In One Case[b1]
Sharpening set-ups like the Multi-Stone provide convenience and ease of use with multiple oil stones in a single, relatively small case, a nearly ideal sharpening set-up for many woodworkers. Coarse and medium Crystolon and fine India oilstones are all in one nearly indestructible case, mounted to be easy to flip when changing from one grit to another during a sharpening session. The large bottom tub helps to keep stones coated with oil and always ready for use, forming an oil bath in the base of the case.
Individual stones are 21/2" wide by 11" long, and 1/2" thick. The Multi-Stone eases the chore of sharpening, keeping all three of the most needed oil stones immediately at hand, while also easing storage and mess problems with all of the large sized stones in one container. The lid not only keeps dust out of the stones, but also helps keep mess from the stone being bumped around when they're not in use. The base itself catches most of the mess from the actual use of the stones.