Hand Tools Archive
I'm saying that the original stones that were called washita came from a single mine that I call the pike mine. Dan called it perryn rock or something like that when he was speaking over the shoulder of the CS guy.
Pike also sold fine stones, but their washita mine made pretty much all of the early stones that have this look of a matrix with pores rather than particles with space between them. I've never seen a similar stone from anywhere else.
Most of the clear white ones were low density and many of the labeled stones from pike, especially old, were very clear stones without the mottling. They graded them in soft/coarse and fine/hard. They are lighter than most other mines' soft arkansas but can create a much finer edge.
Norton still owns that mine. Norton doesn't mine anything from it, so there is no equivalent new stone.
Later branding from smiths and case branded stones and others are just really coarse softs, and they're not the same kind of stone.
I don't know the nature of the different density charts, but they may have just been typical. The carborundum corp stone that I have is obviously from the pike mine (as are many older stones that are thicker than 1" perhaps before the labeling became so common, and branding became more important for the huckster wagon), but that carborundum corp stone is 2.45-2.46 SG. It wouldn't fit in a washita category, but the label says "genuine washita" because it's from that pike mine. I'm assuming carborundum and pike were competitors and haven't seen many carborundum washita stones, but they could've gotten stock from someone else. The really old stones that I have that are almost as tall as they are wide often have evidence of more hand work in their backs and they aren't perfect rectangles - I've never seen one like that with a label and am assuming that at some point, because the stones from the washita mine vary in looks, that pike realized they could get a premium for the really white ones.
Whatever the case may be, literature says they're the best. In reality, it makes little difference in practical use. I actually prefer the ones that aren't pure.
You will see people refer to stones like dan's sells (which he said "not the same thing, just a low density stone that we have off and on") or especially the very coarse gritty case softs called "washita" as fake washitas.
Never had a smiths washita, but they were operating early enough that they may have purchased actual washita stone. Otherwise, I'd go on visual characteristic and not density - anything that's not from the pike mine won't satisfy - the edge off of the stone will be more coarse.
The virtue also of the pike mine is that big clear sections of rock could be cut out, unlike some mines of the black and trans. And there's apparently still plenty there, so there's no real reason for them ever to be expensive and thus they were popular for carpenters and cabinetmakers. They're easy to get from england on ebay right now because (I think I might be responsible) I turned on the shaving people to washitas and most of the sellers in england cater to razor shaving stones (because england's carpenter/cabinetmaker type stones are subpar compared to arks ans washitas).
But, from holtzapffel's later volume, it's clear that washita stones raided england between the editions as he more or less used those word - took over, or something like that. So there's lots of them on the ground there, and better samples on ebay.
Unfortunately, they're also expensive now. When I first started, I could type in "vintage sharpening stone" and buy 5 stones. 3 or 4 would be washitas, and the others would be lookalike sandstones or gritty softs that were too dirty to tell. They'd be $30 each on average...hard to do that now. Most listings of 8x2 stones are about $100 because the shaving people will pay big for them.
I know they're still on the ground as tony z. mentioned that he's gotten a bunch and favors getting stones nice boxes (as in, I doubt he's bought every one he's seen northeast of me where he lives).
My various washita videos have gotten about 50k views in total, I sharpened some razors with washitas, pointed it out on the razor forums, and since then, lots of videos have popped up about degreasing washitas, etc, and we end up with people who will pay a couple of hundred dollars for other stones not minding spending $100 for a nice clear washita. They are obsessed with only using razor stones with water on those forums because of some of the dopey moderators claiming that oil should never be used to hone razors (you could get kicked off of the forums at one point for showing a picture of a coticule label that said "use with water or oil"). They work best with mineral spirits, WD 40 or a light film of mineral oil of the surface being honed is more than a point. I'm guessing (warren could probably confirm) that light mineral oil like norton sells probably works well with carving tools as the suspension problem for a tool doesn't apply to carving tools (that problem being getting a layer of oil stuck between tool and abrasive and making it hard to get good bite on the stone).
interestingly enough, dans' showed a video of someone literally putting a drop or two of oil on a stone, smearing it around with fingertip and never using more than that. I guess all kinds of arguments could be made about what the right type and amount of oil is, but it doesn't matter much as long as any is used in a way that particles don't accumulate in the stone surface (too little and too thin) or a tool back can't make good contact with the abrasive (too much and too thick).
Even then, I've gotten two strop top razor washitas that intentionally have the pores clogged neatly and were very shiny and neatly done on the surface, probably to make the stone work finer than it would otherwise work for razors. They were almost reflective.