How to sharpen linocut tools with Arkansas stones

linocut tools & arkansas stones

Traditional Arkansas sharpening stones are natural quarried stones. They are graded by hardness (density) rather than grit and are finer than manmade sharpening stones. They are known as oilstones because you need to use oil when sharpening tools with them. The oil is called honing oil and is usually a light mineral or petroleum based oil. Cooking oil is not recommended. The oil acts as a lubricant and suspends the steel shavings, preventing clogging. I use Wahl oil which is a lubricating and cleaning oil for my dog clippers.

My Arkansas stones have different shaped edges which are useful for the internal edges of the U and V gouges. I use Swiss made Pfeil woodworkers gouges to cut my lino plates.

SHARPENING V GOUGES
Put a couple of drops of honing oil on the oilstone and smear it over the surface with a finger. You just need a thin film of oil between the blade of the gouge and the stone.
V-gouges have 3 areas that need sharpening – the 2 slanted edges and the central gouge, where the slanted sides join.
sharpening a v gouge
Place one of the slanted sides of the V gouge so it lies flat on the stone. Now lift the handle of the gouge up so the angle between the blade and the stone is about 22 degrees. You are aiming to keep the bevelled part of the blade, at the very tip, flat on the stone.
Now gently push the blade along the stone as if you are shaving a very fine slice off the top of the stone. Repeat several times, then turn the V gouge over to sharpen the other side in the same way. A burr will develop in the centre of the gouge where the 2 slanted sides join.
v gouge sharpening

removing the burr in the centre of the v gouge

Now choose the best size v-shaped edge of the Arkansas stone (to match the size of the V gouge) and, with a dab of oil, run the stone’s edge inside the gouge a few times to remove the burr.
SHARPENING U GOUGES
Place the U gouge blade on the oiled stone at a similar angle (22 degrees) as above. Again the aim is to keep the bevelled tip of the blade flat against the stone.
You now have to move the blade of the U gouge in 2 different ways at the same time!
sharpening a u gouge

sharpening a U gouge

First, move the blade of the U gouge up and down the stone in a circular movement (red arrow on picture). If this was all you did then only a small part of the U shaped blade would stay in contact with the stone and get sharpened.

In order to sharpen the whole U shaped profile of the blade you also need to slowly rock the blade from side to side (blue arrows on picture), at the same time as you are going up and down the stone in a circular motion. It sounds like trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time, but it’s not as bad as it sounds, once you give it a go! Keep at this until the blade is nice and sharp then use the curved edge of the stone to remove any burrs on the inside edge of the gouge.

sharpening a u shaped gouge

removing the burrs on the inside edge

Finally clean your stones with a little more oil by rubbing it in a circular motion with a rag across the surface of the stone. The small metal particles need to be removed from the stone or else they will clog it up. Then wipe with some clean rag or kitchen paper. Rinse the sone under running water, then dry thoroughly.

I hope this helps keep your tools nice and sharp. Happy cutting.

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