A Sharpening Stone Known By A Variety Of Names, And What I Like About It

A sharpening stone known by many names

To be clear, it is a type of sharpening stone I will discuss that is known by a variety of names. The two examples of this type of sharpening stone in the photograph are known by the names Gabriella and Giuseppe.

Only kidding. Or am I?

But seriously, these two stones, depending on various times and places throughout history, have been referred to as Turkish Oilstones, Levant Sharpening Stones, names referring to different locations in the historic Levant, such as Syria, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, parts of Turkey, Greece, etc.

The stones in the photo were mined in Crete, and though there are varied opinions whether these Cretan sharpening stones are identical to historic Turkish Oilstones, I have read many have found them to perform similarly. Having not had access to any other stones of this type, I have no opinion on the matter.

I only learned of this type of sharpening stone about a year ago. Though once in common use in many parts of the world, these stones are currently little known in the United States. I was only able to find one source carrying them in the United States (the small one) and the larger one was shipped from a tool merchant in Europe. I wonder if a customs agent was perplexed as to why someone would ship what looks like a worn old cobblestone across the Atlantic!

Here is a reference to this type of stone from “Turning And Mechanical Manipulation“, by Charles Holtzapffel (1856)

“The Turkey Oilstone can hardly be considered as a hone slate, having nothing of a lamellar or schistose appearance. As a whetstone, it surpasses every other known substance, and possesses, in an eminent degree, the property of abrading the hardest steel, and is at the same time of so compact and close a nature, as to resist the pressure necessary for sharpening a graver, or other small instrument of that description. Little more is known of its natural history than that it is found in the interior of Asia Minor, and brought down to Smyrna for sale. The white and black varieties of Turkey oilstone, differ but little in their general characters, the black is, however, somewhat harder, and is imported in larger pieces than the white.”

The examples of Cretan sharpening stones I have both contain fissures, small voids, cracks, and other irregularities. From what I have read, this is typical for this kind of stone. These are natural stones, so rather than thinking of them containing flaws, I think of them as a remarkable substance produced by nature with all the complexity of anything else produced by nature.

These stones are porous, and traditionally, a new stone would be soaked in olive oil for several days to permeate the stone before use. In modern times, some prefer using mineral oil rather than olive oil.

This type of stone also works very well with water as a lubricant, and that is how I choose to use them.

A remarkable quality of these stones is the ability to serve as a moderately coarse sharpening stone as well as a stone fine enough to produce an excellent working edge. I can bear down hard with a chisel, plane blade, or knife without damaging the stone, and the bite of the stone removes metal very quickly. Lighter pressure produces a finer edge.

In addition to how much pressure is used, the surface of the stone can be quickly abraded using another coarse or fine stone, and this both changes the quality of the sharpening surface and creates a slurry of stone particles and water of different consistencies. In the photo, sitting patiently on top of the two Cretan stones, are two small Arkansas stones I use as slurry stones, one being a coarse Washita stone, the other a Hard Arkansas stone. I also occasionally use a diamond sharpening plate to true the surface of the stone and/or to create a slurry.

Being a natural stone, the exact grit is irrelevant, but depending on technique, the surface, slurry, and amount of water, I can quickly get the results I would expect using an 800 grit synthetic waterstone through to about a 4000 grit synthetic waterstone. With a little extra time and care, I can achieve a more finely polished edge like that from a 6000 – 8000 grit synthetic waterstone, but I will often just switch to a finer stone when that need arises.

I still consider myself in the learning stage of using this type of stone, and as happy as I am with them, I look forward to discovering more of what they are capable of. In my day-to-day work in the shop, it is typically my go-to stone for maintaining edges.

I post far more often these days about dulcimer making and the tools of the trade on Instagram, so please feel free to follow me there.

Stay healthy and safe!

Having Fun With Edges Of A Dulcimer Peghead

Though the basic pattern is the same, each peghead I make is a little different from the others.

Detailing the edges of a dulcimer peghead.

Though the basic pattern is the same, each dulcimer peghead I make is a little different from the others. Sometimes the size and shape of the peghead may vary and/or the more subtle details, like the shape or bevels on the edges, may be unique.

This is in part because I work on the peghead until it looks right to me on the particular dulcimer where it will spend its life. It is also because I thoroughly enjoy working with edge tools and files, and shaping the edges of the peghead present the opportunity to have fun!

For the long edges of the peghead, I begin the bevels with a block plane, on shorter straight sections I begin with a chisel, and on curved areas, I start with a knife.

Detaling the back of a dulcimer peghead.

A small scraper and a file clean things up and round or soften the edges as needed.

I regularly post photos of my work in progress on Instagram.

Flattening Waterstones On A Sunny Day

Fall will soon arrive, perhaps my favorite season, and it seemed like a good time to take on some tasks that are easier outside the shop rather than inside the shop.

Flattening waterstones on a sunny day.

Fall will soon arrive, perhaps my favorite season, and it seemed like a good time to take on some tasks that are easier outside the shop rather than inside the shop.

The front steps of our house is a perfect place to flatten waterstones. I can enjoy a beautiful, sunny day and splash water without trying to avoid making a mess!

Flattening waterstones is a general maintenance task I need to do every few months. The stones become concave after a few weeks of sharpening, and though not a problem for honing an edge, a concave stone doesn’t lend itself to polishing the back of a blade very well.

It just takes a few minutes to flatten waterstones. I draw a few lines on the stones with a pencil, add water, and rub the waterstones against a hard, coarse, flat surface until all the pencil lines are gone.

For years I relied on a cinder block as the hard, coarse and flat surface and it worked well, but a few months ago I bought a stone made specifically for flattening waterstones and it does leave a nicer surface on the stones, though I don’t know if that really matters.

Now it’s time for coffee and a trip back into the dulcimer mine.

You can see dulcimers in progress by following me on Instagram

What’s On The Bench – July 23rd, 2020

On the bench is the setup I use for making dulcimer soundboard braces.

Splitting and shaping spruce for dulcimer soundboard bracing

On the bench is the setup I use for making dulcimer soundboard braces.

I use several small, light braces to help control stiffness, tonal response, and protect the area around the soundholes from developing cracks.

I usually use spruce for the soundboard braces regardless of the type of wood used for the soundboard. Spruce is light, stiff, and strong. This is why spruce is often used for making soundboards, boats, and airplanes!

The spruce I use for soundboard braces comes from soundboard off-cuts.

The braces are narrow and thin and get shaved down further after being glued to the soundboard. I have no standard dimensions for bracing; I determine the final size and shape of the braces by how flexible the soundboard feels in my hands and what kind of response it gives when tapped in different areas.

I split the stock for the braces with a knife or chisel. Splitting, as opposed to cutting, assures the grain will run the full length of the brace, making the brace stock as stiff and strong as possible. Some of the braces could be confused for large splinters, so having long, straight grain is, in my opinion, essential for them to do their job well.

After splitting the brace stock, I carve away any rough spots preventing them from being rectangular with a knife or chisel and finish them up on a plane clamped upside down in a vise. The braces are simultaneously cut to length and beveled on the ends with a sharp chisel.

While writing this post, I remembered I had written about this same process before, but over the years my methods have changed and evolved. Such is life, and that’s a good thing.

I regularly post photos of dulcimers in progress on Instagram. I have yet to become a lifestyle influencer, but if you like seeing dulcimers being made, you might enjoy following me there.

What’s On The Bench – August 14th, 2019

An accurate level can be used to check and true a fingerboard.

On the bench is a dulcimer getting ready to receive frets. I level and put relief into fingerboards by planing, scraping, and sanding. I first get the fingerboard flat and true and then add a few thousandths of an inch of relief in parts of the fingerboard to assure the action can be set as low as I like without causing string buzz and rattles.

I sometimes prefer to sand a fingerboard to initial flatness and use an aluminum level as a long, accurate sanding block. I checked the level with my machinist’s straightedge and was surprised to find both faces are true and straight. This is not always the case, especially on an inexpensive aluminum level.

In use I can sand with one side of the level and flip the level over to use the other face as a reference for straightness and flatness. The level is wider than my steel machinist’s straightedge so it sits more securely on the fingerboard while I measure relief, etc.

I regularly post photos of dulcimer making in progress on Instagram. You can follow me on Instagram or see my Instagram posts on this page.

Further Adventures In Hand Planing

Planing dulcimer fretboards to proper dimensions.

I once wrote about developing the skills to accurately plane parts to proper dimension. I have recently been making some changes to my planing technique to accommodate the capabilities and lack of capabilities of my body.

Some physical issues make it challenging to do as much planing as I have done in the past. I thought I might have to get a thickness planer and jointer to do some of the work I enjoy doing by hand. After further thought I chose to reconsider my approach to using hand planes.

Until recently I got rid of lumps and bumps, hills and valley, Satan’s minions, and anything else in the way of a smooth, square, flat surface by using a jointer plane early in the process. Using that wonderful, big, long, and heavy plane repeatedly does not make some of my body parts happy anymore so now I take out the lumps and bumps, hills and valley, Satan’s minions, and anything else in the way of a smooth, square, flat surface by relying more on smaller planes and then finish up with the jointer plane.

Either approach has long been in use by woodworkers and luthiers but the latter works better for me now.

I also recently acquired a skewed low-angle block plane with a fence that makes getting the sides of the fingerboard assembly square to fingerboard much easier. I used to leave my fingerboards a little wide so I could true them with the jointer plane and have enough wood to remove in order to get the surface both straight and square; this usually involved some trial and error and the extra wood provided a margin for error. Now I mill my fingerboards a little narrower and after getting the sides straight with the jointer plane the skewed low-angle block plane with a fence lets me square the surface using light, delicate cuts.

All is well in the tiny, happy part of the world that is my workshop.

What’s On The Bench – January 14th, 2019

Shaping dulcimer braces with edge tools.

Last night I realized this blog started in 2007 when I returned to dulcimer making following a 25 year detour. Since then my dulcimer designs and methods of work have continually evolved and this shows no sign of changing. This makes me happy!

As I continue to learn and develop skill with hand tools I am drawn deeper into older methods of work. Shaping wood with sharp tools appeals to me and I find comfort in knowing that if the power goes out I will still be able to work!

In the photograph above I have just finished shaping a spruce back brace. The shaping began with a low-angle block plane, then a finger plane, and finally a scraper. The next step will be tapering the ends of the brace with a chisel and fitting them into the side kerfing.

There was a time I felt obligated to sand back braces because I worried some imaginary person might think my braces looked rough because I “skipped” sanding them. Lately I think differently; I see the small facets on the brace that show I shaped them with edge tools. I see the slight irregularities edge tools leave behind. I see that I had been there and I had done something. Again, this makes me happy.

None of this means I will never sand braces again. It means I like following my intuition and inspiration. Creativity is never static.