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I can't find honing oil locally anymore. My (chisel) sharpening is pretty low-end - I don't even know what kind of stone I have. (I got it at Lowes, long ago. It has 2 faces, one pink, one dark-ish gray.) Mostly, I just need something to keep the stone from loading up. I know I can order oil online; but, I never get around to it. And besides, the shipping.

So, I'm thinking to try to roll my own. Hence, the question. Things that I've heard can be used: mineral oil, vegetable oil, 3-in-1 oil, ATF, kerosene. I'd probably just do one of the kerosene-mineral oil mixes, except my wife can't stand the smell of kerosene. (Go figure.)

I would appreciate any thoughts on this.

  • Is your stone something like this? – grfrazee Aug 12 '15 at 16:54
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    George, are you using your stone as your sole sharpening tool? If so I highly recommend you make yourself a strop to use as the final step in your sharpening process. Stropping will make a big difference in final sharpness for little additional effort and for nearly no money (homemade strops cost pennies at most). – Graphus supports Monica Aug 13 '15 at 7:38
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    George, if you're interested in making a strop, @Graphus posted a good Answer on the topic. – grfrazee Aug 13 '15 at 13:40
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Things that I've heard can be used: mineral oil, vegetable oil, 3-in-1 oil, ATF, kerosene.

Yes these can all be used. ATF should be avoided as it can contain ingredients you don't want on your skin, and there are many reliably safe alternatives.

Mineral oils

Commercial honing oils are nine times out of ten just mineral oil (UK: paraffin oil or liquid paraffin), sometimes merely with a colourant added so that it's not quite so obvious that it's only mineral oil. All simple lubricating oils are based on a form of mineral oil (including 3-In-One), and so is baby oil.

If you don't mind the sickly-sweet smell of baby oil that's a perfectly good alternative and many woodworkers use it. Video here from Graham Haydon showing him using baby oil on his India stone.

You can of course avoid the smell and just use straight mineral oil, but mineral oil alone can be a little heavy on some stones. As a rough guide the finer the stone the lighter the oil you want to use.

In place of kerosene you can use mineral spirits (UK: white spirit), which actually is a very very thin oil. On very fine, dense oilstones spirit works surprisingly well by itself, but is a little too light on many coarser stones, and as mentioned straight mineral oil can be a little too heavy. However a blend of the two can be made to hit the exact viscosity mark you're personally fond of or which best suits the stones you're using.

Vegetable oils

A great many vegetable oils can used successfully as honing oil. Most pose no problem at all (see note below on rancidity) but you do have to be careful not to accidentally choose a drying or semi-drying oil — which includes tung oil, flaxseed oil, walnut oil, poppy oil, safflower and some forms of sunflower oil. These can start to 'dry' and begin to gel, clogging the stone and making it nearly useless.

Older books often warn of the danger of using linseed oil (a drying oil) on your honing stones for this very reason. Note that flaxseed oil is linseed oil by another name.

Safe oils to use: corn oil, soya oil, most forms of rapeseed oil (canola) and peanut oil. You can also use almond oil, macadamia nut oil and olive oil, but given their higher price they're hardly a practical consideration.

Note: there's no need to worry about vegetable oil going rancid unless you're in the habit of completely flooding the stone and not wiping it down afterwards. Even at that the only real issue is a slightly stale or "off" smell, there's no other negative effect.

  • I thought those nut oils and olive oil had a tendency to rancidity? – grfrazee Aug 12 '15 at 17:24
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    @grfrazee, yes vegetable oils can go off and we call this rancidity, but people misinterpret this all the time. It's not at all like when animal fats go off and smell utterly rank. When vegetable oils go rancid they have merely oxidised, resulting in a slightly "off" smell as I mention in the Answer. The difference is something that most people will be familiar with without realising it — the stale smell of old peanuts versus fresh peanuts. And that's really all that happens, no change otherwise that you'd notice. – Graphus supports Monica Aug 13 '15 at 7:27
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    Graphus is right on here. I generally use mineral oil with my oil stones (India/Aluminum Oxide); it's easily sourced at the local drug store as it's used as a laxative. I also use mineral spirits (paint thinner) in the occasional situation where the "hydroplaning" caused by a thicker lubricant is undesireable, for example when flattening (e.g. a chisel back) rather than sharpening an edge. When periodically flattened with a lapping plate, these stones last an awfully long time and cut well when kept clean. – scanny Aug 8 '17 at 19:20
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I use Norton Sharpening Stone Oil for my oilstones. If you take a look at the product description, they say it's 100% food-safe mineral oil. It seems a little less viscous than the mineral oil I use for cutting boards, which makes sense since they claim to refine it a little.

Otherwise, you can use most oils for honing. I'd avoid anything that is too thick or gummy to keep from clogging your tools and stones. In the past I've used pretty much everything on your list and they've all worked fine. The main point of the honing fluid is to clear the swarf (bits of metal and stone) from the surface, freeing fresh abrasive underneath. Anything that will suspend/wash away the swarf will work.

If you plan on using your stones for anything that will contact food, I would stick with mineral oil or vegetable oil. However, since you've indicated you've had them a while, I'd guess they're contaminated at this point with other stuff anyway, so it may be a non-issue at this point.

It's also worth noting that you can use plain old water on an oilstone, so long as you haven't first used oil on it. I have a couple smaller stones and an axe puck that I use for camping that I only use with water, and they work fine. You will have to keep these above freezing though, otherwise the water entrapped in the stones will crack the stones like a concrete sidewalk.

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I used an oil stone with proper honing oil religiously, until I tried a water stone. The water stone's been great; no more need for oil/oil-alternatives! Just a pre-sharpening soak and regular rinsing throughout works wonders!

Granted, this is not an answer to the question diy honing oil?, but if your question/preference can be generalized to how to avoid buying oil for sharpening? this is my two cents. Good luck!

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You can also use a drop or two of dishwashing liquid (soap), directly onto the honing stone. Cleaning is with water and more dishwashing liquid when finished to remove the waste material of the honing process.

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    Are you saying you can do that after the stone has been used with oil? – George Aug 30 '16 at 2:42
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This is a short quote from a DIY post of mine that apparently most people thought was too long to read through:

To abstract the important points:

  1. Keep the sharpening angle constant. I recommend a one to three foot common clamp, or a clamp-style knife guide.
  2. Start at roughest and go up 70% of current grit when current finish is uniform around the blade edge.
  3. Go slow with no lubricant, faster with common lubricant; fastest with water-cooled diamond belts.
  4. It is highly recommended to finish with some kind of cold, non-toxic polish to ensure microscopic metal dust does not rub off into food. I suggest Flitz.

...

I suggest you try Flitz metal/plastic polish at least once, but if normal oil/water is used then here is a list of choices that are recommended by specialists and pros beside myself in order of kitchen-safeness and effectiveness:

  • Simple Green (professionals use this)
  • Mineral oil (cheap at drug store) * I like the idea of mineral spirits posted by Graphus
  • Crystalube (branded silicone-base lubricant for abrasives)
  • Water with very light detergent (pre-soak stone if it's a true water stone)
  • Diesel or kerosene
  • Amsoil (purely synthetic) 0W-30 (very thin) motor lubricant.

Do not use any vegetable oils, because they will gradually gum your sharpener.

Always clean the knives thoroughly before using them on or around food!

...

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    This is bordering on spam and doesn't seem to address the question within the correct scope (knives vs chisels). You can use your profile to advertise info about you but please remove it from your answer. – Steven Aug 11 '16 at 19:53
  • I appreciate your input. By any common definition of spam, it is not, but simply a excerpt from an answer to another question that might be applied directly to answering this question. If you would like me to change something or remove more of what was in the original answer in order to apply more closely to honing oil for sharpening chisels, please let me know. I have included only what I thought would clarify the context of the original answer. – Micah W Aug 15 '16 at 6:48
  • See woodworking.stackexchange.com/help/behavior for a bit more information on why your post was down voted. "The community tends to vote down overt self-promotion and flag it as spam" – Steven Aug 15 '16 at 13:46
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For any using finer, &/or diamond stones - 1000 grit, on up(!), exist in the mini-micron category, the sharpening edges protrude above the surface infinitesimally......oils like WD-40 are thicker than these grits, having the blade you sharpen do a lot of floating, less cutting. That's why some buy only honing oil which is the right viscosity for this (given all this I like the idea of making one's own....and am bending toward a blend of mineral spirits and perfume-less mineral oil....one would have to experiment with how the blade sounds and feels with whatever mixture one is experimenting with to determine what you need - hey, we all be sharp but have multitudes of ways to get there!!)

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