I was getting a little worried this month about finding a suitable subject to
take as this month’s article. Winter restoration projects among the Northern Hemishpere members of the ATIS stationary
engine internet mailing list have been reaching completion, with wonderful stories of engines coming back to life
after decades of silence, while those in the Southern Hemisphere have been bringing home their new projects ready
to work on over the winter “down under”. There didn’t seem to be much I could pass on to the readers of GEM, until
this little question appeared:
* What type lubricant is the best to use for honing?
The first set of answers were brief, but with a little prompting, I was soon swamped with information, and back
to the old problem of reducing the quantity to a manageable size! To deal first with advice on lubricants for honing:
* I was taught to use a light oil like power steering or automatic transmission fluid. It's cheap and you've always
got some on hand.
* I just use the lightest oil I have sitting around. Usually 30 weight.
* It all depends on the hone type. My old Sunnen says dry on the first two sets of stones and lard on the finishing
or polishing set. I would imagine each hone manufacturer has it's own preferences.
* A rule of thumb I was always taught was, "use what ever fluid normally runs in it". ie, brake cyl =
brake fluid, engine cyl = engine oil.
* On all the hundreds of cylinders I've honed over the years, I've always used plain kerosene and lots of it. When
operating the hone I always had an open top tin half full of kerosene next to the job with an old paint brush in
it. Before starting I'd brush some fluid around the top of the cylinder and start running the hone through, reapplying
the brush whenever it started to look a little dry or squealed.
* We got the best results just with ordinary WD40 or an other make - it loses rust particals, it smears and helps
the dirty fluid flow away quickly. While honing you can easily spray any amount you like. To inspect the results,
just a blow with brake cleaner and the facing looks bright and shiny. Then you can decide whether to stop or start
* I was always told that Kero was the way to look after the stone; kero would lubricate it but not clog the stone.
Never use engine oil.
* Yes, kerosene is what most machinists use to clean their sharpening stones. It will float the swarf out of the
stone pores. It is also why people use it for honing as the stones are basically cleaning themselves during the
* Also Kero here, and in its absence, Marvel Mystery Oil...
* I am quite amused that no one has mentioned diesel fuel. It is cheap, flushes the grindings from the stones,
and is easy to clean up afterwords.
* Sunnen puts out its own cutting oil which appears to be about a 15w grade. It seems to leave a smoother hone
pattern than Kero. I'd still use kero as a more cost effective alternative.
* My dad was a small engine mechanic; I have both of his Sunnen hones. I don't know how old they are. We always
used the roughing stones dry for quick stock removal. The finishing stones use a light oil. I have a five gallon
bucket of Sunnen honing oil that looks like hydraulic fluid. This is kept in a squirt can and applied cotinuously
while honing. When using dry stones it is important to have the cylinder clean and free of oil or grease. These
roughing stones will remove stock very quickly and accurately, but if you use oil once, you must continue. I recently
bored an Aermotor .060 over in about 30 minutes from start to finish. I trued a 2hp Famous cylinder, removing .012"
in about the same amount of time.
* Clean out the bore THOROUGHLY with detergent after honing. It must be CLEAN and DRY. If you leave any film of
the honing oil, it will contain particles of abrasive and swarf, which will damage the rings.
* After I have finished honing with kerosene, I wipe everything out and then run my hones over the cylinder dry
to put on a very lightly scratched surface which helps in seating the rings. At least, this is my theory. Also,
after honing, clean the cylinder with kerosene till white paper towels come out clean. This makes sure all the
swarf that has been ground into the cylinder walls has been washed out. Some people will wash the walls with soap
and water. What ever method used, it is imperative to wash out all the honing dust (swarf) from the pores of the
cast iron. If not, the swarf will act like an abrasive and wear the walls/rings/piston.
* With the use of brake cleaner, the facing and the pores of the cylinder wall becomes very clean and free of any
Then I use a "Raagbol", it's a tool that lookes like a dandelion seedhead, but instead of the seeds at
the end there are little abrasive balls. I run this tool just a few times up and down (dry) and this puts on a
lightly scrached surface with crossed diagonal lines which helps seating the piston rings. After cleaning again,
I put some cylinder oil on the surface to prevent it rusting until the moment of finishing the job.
* A lot depends on the type of engine the cylinder is on. Meaning, is it an open crankshaft type or an enclosed
one with a crankcase like an automotive engine. If it is of the open type, there is no oil control ring and seating
is not as important. With a closed crankcase, you are concerned with ring leakage or blow-by. If the cylinder out
of round, start with a course set of stones and bring the cylinder dia. to within .0005" per inch dia. Then
use a finer set of stones and bring the finish to polished surface.
Crosshatching the finished bore with a dry stone does help seat the rings. If the bore is too smooth, the rings
and cylinder wall will glaze over and the rings will never seat correctly.
When using a hone of any type, NEVER run the stones more than 1/3 of the length of the stone past the end of the
cylinder . If too much of the stone is allowed to exit the cylinder ends, you will end up with an hourglass shaped
* I have, over the years, honed a lot of cylinders from 1/2" dia. to as large as 48", and have used everything
from cleaning solvent mixed with a little oil to lard. I have found that lard, (Crisco) works about the best for
all sizes of cylinders. With Crisco the grit and grime collects in it and can be wiped out as you progress, and
you don't have the run-off that is a problem with oils. Clean up is easier. You still have to get everything super
clean, as with any honing operation.
Once again, I hope some GEM readers will find this information useful - maybe next winter, when there are new projects
on the “to do” list!