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Thread: Quality Variation in Black Ark Stones

  1. #1
    Senior Member blabbermouth
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    Default Quality Variation in Black Ark Stones

    I bought a combo stone from a seller on ebay, one of the no-name black and soft ark stones to use as a base for dumping diamonds on the surface. Sort of a novelty, I guess.

    I have heard that some of these stones are bad (pinnacle brand has the reputation of sending black stones that can't finish tool edges) and I think I might've found someone selling the same stones. See attached pictures. One is of the stone itself, and the other with my beloved dan's stone in front of it - the side of the dans is unoiled, it's only ever been used with razors and never slopped with oil like happens with tools.

    In my time of pigging stones, I have bought dan's, halls, norton, natural whetstone, a whole gaggle of vintage, one labeled smiths, one labeled best, case, but I've never seen anything like this (this is what they call a "highest grade of fineness" black arkansas). I have really liked all (all of the stones from all of the retailers) of them until this. What smith's calls a hard isn't what someone would finish a razor with, but it's really not a bad approximation of a washita for tool work (it just doesn't quite have the top gear that you can get out of a washita, but they're something like 15 bucks used and make a great bevel setter if you want to go that way).....but this one is unusable in any way, a first for me. Vendor (not to be named - apparently that's TOS no-no) says the difference between these two stones is in finish and that I can't make the claim that the one in the background will not ever finish. They have gone silent since then, but paypal/ebay will side with a buyer no matter what, so the conclusion of this already known.

    Anyway, I went out reading a little further and even found some complaints about the large stones with my beloved dans! (someone had gotten a pocket stone and then liked it, bought a big one, and found it not to be that great). Perhaps nothing is perfectly safe, but the good retailers are still relatively low risk (and you could always return something, I suppose).

    And then I went to the dan's site and drowned my sorrows in a 10x3x1 translucent from the specials page - I'd show a picture, but the new dan's site drops the listings as soon as you buy (they used to stay up for a while because they didn't have a cart system).

    Caveat honer with off-label stones! This soft/hard combination has the same color scheme and porosity as the $1 stone at my local dollar tree. Sharpening something on the surface of it yields about the same edge quality. Name:  20170803_182807.jpg
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  3. #2
    Senior Member blabbermouth
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    Well, I tend to find with some things they get bad reviews just because people don't understand how the item in question works. I've seen noodler's pens get bad reviews because they don't write well until they're properly adjusted - 'a good writing pen should come ready to write!' They're artist's pens designed so the artist can adjust them to the level of nib flex and ink flow they desire. Planes - even a $200 Stanley #4 should be checked and set up properly, so it's no surprise to me a $30 one would require the same. Hones I tend to think can fall into that category too. So I take bad reviews with a grain of salt.

    I have a few vintage Arks, Dan's Arks, Best and Gatco stones too. All of them work, but they're all also verifiably Arkansas stones.

    That thing on the other hand, looks like a synthetic stone more so than any grade of Arkie I'm familiar with. Almost looks more like granite.

    We require pics of that 10 x 3 translucent when it comes in by the way.
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    Senior Member blabbermouth
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    If I can remember!! (the trans picture), of course.

    I thought when I got it out of the box (because there are inclusions/large particles that sparkle) that I may have been dealing with a silicon carbide stone. I've been around long enough to know how to test that pretty easily, though - it's either novaculite or some kind of silica, just really low quality and not even gritted.

    Novaculite is pretty much all over the place where it is, sticking out of hills with the dirt eroded off, etc., but I get the sense that most of what's out there isn't suitable for stones and it's the discretion of the miners and the desire to do the labor that gets them to the "good stuff" (otherwise they wouldn't go underground for it given how much is exposed). These two pieces of rock sandwiched together just suggest to me that someone didn't care at all what they were cutting and just cut something and made it stone shaped, sold it based on the reputation of other peoples' stones and if they're lucky, they'll get ignorant buyers who haven't had properly selected and cut stones that actually meet the grade.

    The grade for soft is pretty loose, so I'm sure the white part (which is low quality, even for a soft), still can be considered a soft. The black part can't be considered a hard - if I were to keep this stone and split it and then measure the density of the black, it would be similar to a soft. I've been down that road measuring these to see what they look like, and other than washitas, you can pretty much look at a stone and get an idea of about where the density will be.
    Last edited by DaveW; 08-04-2017 at 04:05 PM.

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    Senior Member blabbermouth
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    Curious if anyone else has anything to share (stones that aren't what they say they are). This issue with my stone has been resolved, fortunately, on an accelerated basis because I just can't let things go sometimes.

    Still curious about the stone's origin (who actually sold it to the seller), but no dice - seller won't tell. It has taught me a lesson, though, which is that I used to see people mentioning pinnacle stones and saying that they just couldn't do anything with them, and I didn't believe that (they are black and they look like a black ark in their ad materials - I thought maybe they were just weak cutting, as I could tell a difference between a halls black stone and the dans in the picture above - the halls was very aggressive to start, but then very slow, except it would exhibit something that is acceptable for black arks - it would let go of a clump of particles once in a great while which acted as one giant particle, and then after a big scratch, all was clear again. I don't think razors would dislodge those, though).
    Last edited by DaveW; 08-04-2017 at 06:15 PM.
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    Senior Member Longhaultanker's Avatar
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    I have only three Arkansas Novaculite True Hards all from Dan's. I wouldn't mind trying a Norton's, but overall, I'll stay with Dan's.
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    Norton has decent fine stones, but the last several I've gotten haven't been as good as those I've gotten from Dan's.

    I had another thread but lost it due to not knowing the vendor policy on here (no big deal), but the following question came up:
    * How are Dan's compared to vintage nortons: My answer to that would be that they're just as good as vintage nortons. Most of the norton black stones I've seen are actually gray translucents, but I have seen some black stones that are similar to the dan's stone I showed above. There is actually a little bit of difference between the two - translucents are always uniform in my experience, but black stones from time to time will let go of a loose particle. I haven't had that happen with this dan's, but I've never pushed it, either (maybe it would be different if it was used for tools). I know most people don't like to believe that there is something as good as vintage stones, and I have seen on reddit a person or two saying they got a dud dan's stone from a third party, but what I've gotten has been very good.

    That leaves the follow-up being "what about modern nortons?" I think modern nortons, at least the last three that I've gotten, are just a bit coarser than dans. Perhaps they're stronger cutting, too, but that's not something you look for in a fine arkansas stone for razors - the fastest of the bunch is sort of like a fast swimmer vs. a slow race car driver when you compare them to fast cutting stones. Still good enough for razors when you can find them, but the last one I got was 1/2 inch thick and would just pass the tiniest amount of light from a very bright defense flashlight. Its performance sort of matched that - it was more coarse and you could see a hint of pores on the surface.
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    Senior Member blabbermouth
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    Someone else asked if Norton was keeping pike stones off the market so that they could sell synthetic stones.

    I'm not sure about that, I think it's more about convenience with the washitas and the fact that there's a limited market. When they reopened production of the washita for a short period of time, Tools For Working Wood carried them. They weren't cheap, something like $80-$100 for a 2x8 stone, and they had various sizes at the time. The owner of TFWW communicated that Norton said they weren't going to continue to produce them because their processing and mining facilities were far apart. They'd open the mine (the "pike" mine), take out a bunch of stock, and then process it in the northeast. I guess that means they were opening and closing the mine.

    I'm sure it's easier to make india stones, but i'd bet their price as a manufacturer for them is almost nothing. Amazon can send you one for about 20 bucks, and that includes a lot of stuff after manufacture. Plus, I'd bet stones in general are a pretty small slice of their total revenue, that grinding wheels and industrial abrasives are worth a lot more to them.

    That then leads to the question of why they'd even produce natural soft and hard arks (which could come from other than the pike mine), and I don't know the answer to that. the market is broader for the trans stones (dental students, at least some, still get a finish stone for their tools, and you can sell small stones to work fishhooks, etc. The trans also makes a great finisher for knives after you've gone through the synthetics), but the softs, who knows? I wouldn't be surprised if they had more intermittent supply in the future or stopped production of natural stones due to the cost and waste involved in them (strangely, the old texts say that the washita comes out of the pike mine in huge chunks that have few flaws and can be easily processed into whetstones, but that is definitely not true about trans ark stones).

    Maybe I'll write them sometime - not that anyone couldn't, but I think I could convince them I'm an enthusiast and that entertaining my questions is doing a good deed.

  10. #8
    Senior Member Longhaultanker's Avatar
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    When Dan's brings their blocks to the saw room, they are certainly in large chunks.

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    Over the years I have had quite a few Arkansas stones and the past couple years have been using them exclusively to hone my razors which has taught me even more. I have a massive black Arkansas from Dans and it is top notch. As good as my vintage Norton translucents. I have never got a stone from Dans that I didn't love and am confident if I did they would make it right. now their Washita, although it can cut very fast, is not as high quality as vintage nortons. That is VERY clear to the point where you would think they are two different stones but they are both 99%novaculite and within the density of a Washita. I find the vintage Norton washitas surfaces are very consistently "peppered" with cutting spots whereas Dans seems to be clumped together. I think Dans sells the best quality Washita that they can but it is not close to a vintage Norton. I use them differently and am happy with them both for what they are.
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  13. #10
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    One thought on why Norton still sells Arkansas stones and not Washita stones is that while the Washita prices have been steadily increasing due to a corner on that quality of a stone The Arkansas stones have not increased nearly as much. Partly because they are being sold by others at a top quality (like Dans) for reasonable prices. I wonder if Norton were the only ones with good quality Arkansas stones if they would not sit on them as well?

    4 years ago I sold a lily white Washita slip stone for $19 on the bay. Not today. Today I would be surprised if I could find one and then it would more than likely be in the $35-40 range.
    Last edited by Steel; 08-05-2017 at 03:05 AM. Reason: Clarity
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