Yellow Lake honing stone

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Established Member
24 Jul 2007
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A little while ago, in a discussion about oilstones, Jimi43 posted one of his many sensible, helpful comments pointing out that you can get some very good old oilstones on ebay for not much money.
I followed his hint and was pleased to see that nobody else did - all the better for me, as I bought the stone he mentioned for a very reasonable £10 including postage.

This is it:



You can see that it's new old stock. How old?

There are some obvious clues, and a little light research brings up some answers.

To read a bit more about the stone itself, I first checked in my copy of "Natural 19th and Early 20th Century Sharpening Stones and Hones" by Brian Read and Doug Morgan (a joint publication of The Tools and Trades History Society, UK and The Traditional Tools Group (Inc.), Australia, available here. That told me it was geologically hornfels and that it came from a quarry at Melynllyn, near Conway in North Wales.

It also told me that the quarry was known to be owned and operated in 1888 by the tool merchant AB Salmen, of St Mary Axe, London (where the Gherkin is now).

Looking closer at the very fine label



I now think that the wording within the drawing says "SALMEN LONDON OILSTONES."

BPM III told me that the 'long established' business of AB Salmen was taken over in 1926.

A discussion at the "Straight Razor Place" forum showed me two billheads for Salmen - at two more addresses in the City.

It also included a list of owners of quarries, showing that Salmen's owned the Melynllyn quarry between 1897 and 1906. Some more searching led to a 1908 list of mines showing Salmen as owners and that two people worked above ground and two below.

Some evocative pictures of the mine as it is now can be found here including the remains of a water powered saw, used to cut the pieces of rock into the right sizes.

But although the history is interesting, I like my tools to be in usable condition and I bought this to use it. How does it perform?

Some readers, who think it matters, may be wondering if it's flat.


Not the best photo, but I could not see any light between my Moore and Wright square and the stone's surface.


I tried it first with 3-in-1 oil, which is what I usually use. I found that it cut, but very slowly. There was some blackness on the rag, proving that steel had been removed, but not much. It felt as if the oil was working as a lubricant should, preventing the chisel from contacting the abrasive surface.

I think this must be because the stone - unlike a man-made oilstone - is very non-absorbent, so the oil all sits on the surface.

I switched to the nearest thin lubricant to hand - WD40 - and this gave much better results. I could feel the stone cutting - though it was still a slow action.

It produced a good smooth surface, which I have failed to photograph properly - small shiny surfaces are not easy!



but the good news is that it cuts paper, hair or wood with equal ease.

I now have a natural stone which is noticably finer than the hard Arkansas I normally use, and it's an extra bonus to know that it was first bought somewhere between about 1888 and 1926 - let's say around a century ago - by someone who just tucked it away in a safe place but never used it.

I shall use it - but I don't expect to wear it out!

Thanks again to Jim for the tip-off; and happy hunting to anyone else who fancies using a good whetstone.
Great buy.

I have a soft spot for vintage advertising and packaging and that label is worth £10 by itself, I reckon!

Years ago, I used a 50:50 mixture of 3-in-1 oil and white spirit or parafin on the only natural oilstone I had. This seemed a bit quicker than oil by itself.

I an sure I have something similar in my sharpening stone collection, must do a photo let you chaps cast a beady over them.

Thanks all for the appreciative comments. I forgot to say that I shall keep the historic packaging separately and make a proper wooden box for the stone.
I have not really started reading honing stone forums (anyone who has seen me will know how little interest I have in shaving!) but in looking for the Yellow Lake I couldn't help noticing some positive comments about Inigo Jones and the Dragon's Tongue.
Llyn Melynllyn - (In the Welsh, that's literally 'Lake Yellowlake' I think) - could truly be described as a 'wild and lonely place'. It's a very long way from anywhere, and high in the hills. Not a place to work in during the sort of weather we've had lately. You'd have to be tough or desperate to take work quarrying there!

There are very many variants in 'slate', a material that was formed by firstly, the laying down of very fine sediments in river estuaries and shallow seas, compacted somewhat by deposits laid down on top of them. Then, by geological movement of the sedimentary layers, and at some point volcanic activity close to the mudstone deposits, the heat and pressure involved causing the tiny plate-like particles of clay to end up aligned all the same way, thus giving the resulting slate it's charateristic cleavage properties. The result is a 'metamorphic rock' - a sedimentary rock that has had it's characteristics significantly changed by the application of heat and pressure. It is readily apparent, with a moment's thought, why slate is so variable - it depends on the exact form and chemical composition of the original sediment, and the amount and nature of the heat and pressure it experienced over geological time (many of the old Welsh slate quarries and mines had two or more 'veins' of slate, with varying properties - allowing plenty of creative scope for marketing as 'best' and 'commons'; and every quarry's slate was better than everyone else's!) Some are easier to cleave than others and make good roofing slate material, some don't have such well defined cleavage planes, and make better slab products such as doorsteps, mantlepieces, billiard table beds, gravestones - and if the sedimentary material from which the original mudstone was formed is suitable, sharpening stones.

I gather there were several veins exploited to some extent for honing stones across North Wales. Others I've heard of are Cwm Idwal and a Snowdon Greenstone (presumably from somewhere very near Snowdon!). They all seem to be slow-cutting stones that give a very fine edge. I'm sure Jim Kingshott mentioned that Welsh Slate used to be the preferred hones for surgeon's scalpels back in the day.

By pure coincidence, I too have recently aquired an Inigo Jones Dragon's Tongue stone, and whilst I don't want to steal Graham's thunder, it might be an idea to start a seperate thread with impressions so far.
I think my (car boot) example has seen a little more oil than Andy's lovely NOS example. :D




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I got one o' they! The condition of the box is about halfway between Andy's and BB's.

The box was pristine when I got it from my Grandad (around 1960 I think), so I suspect that he used it for razor sharpening rather than for tools and had had it since the 20's. He was very pernickety about things and always insisted on having the right equipment for the job at hand.

I now use it specifically just for touching up edge tools and maybe the odd microbevel and generally use gun oil (never thought about WD40 - must give that a try!).

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