1893 Grand Exhibition. The world's intro to PBR, hot dogs, ice cream cones and the Ferris Wheel.

1893 Grand Exhibition. The world's intro to PBR, hot dogs, ice cream cones and the Ferris Wheel.
A view through the wheel. The black, horizontal line is the axle, the single largest forging to that time.
"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

Paul Valery

"You are in love with intelligence, until it frightens you. For your ideas are terrifying and your hearts are faint. Your acts of pity and cruelty are absurd, committed with no calm, as if they were irresistible. Finally, you fear blood more and more. Blood and time."

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Friday, June 22, 2012

Stay Sharp!

Sharpness; I've touched on this subject before - and made fun of the obsessive attention paid to this, admittedly crucial but not rocket science, portion of the use and study of edged tools.
"Edge geometry" is the first term that caught my attention. One of the first knives I sold (maybe number seven or eight) was sold to someone who asked what my "testing procedure" was.
It is, as it remains, a fair question, a question I addressed in the above-linked-to post.
He said, in his response, that to survive such a test my knives must be made with serious attention to heat-treatment... (Ah, shucks) and edge geometry.
I chewed on that for a while - "edge geometry".
That sounds so impressive!
What it means is this: Your edge needs to be at an acute angle ("a darling, little angle" as defined by my seventh-grade math teacher).
That's the first bit. Also, the more acute (or "darling-little" if you prefer) the angle is, the better it will cut but the more delicate the edge will be.
"Edge geometry"; a fifty-dollar word for a ten-cent concept.
This bewilderment everyone seems to have on this subject has baffled me since even before I came to this knife thing.
Back in my crafty past, when I was trying to make a living doing "fine woodwork" (as opposed to "shit woodwork"), I kept having my precious self-esteem threatened by the writers of those publications with which I chose to educate myself; which is to say - largely - Taunton Press.
Don't get me wrong, their mags, Fine Woodworking, Fine Homebuilding  and Fine Boogersculptiong are excellent and I've learned much from them. Okay, I made up that last one.
Anyhoo, back in the day, for an insecure idiot like me, it was easy to feel intimidated by the statements of the "crusty, old stew-burners" (A Daryl Ponicsan phrase - from The Last Detail).
Example: "Never, ever use your chisel as a scraper. "You'll destroy the edge!" Likewise, the edge of any tool would be "ruined" were it used on wood that had been sanded previously.
Obvious hysteria. The edge would be dulled. If that's the same as "destroyed" in your world, feel free to ship all your ruined tools to me. I'll even pay postage.
Eventually my salvation came from the Orville Reddenbacher of woodworking, Roy Underhill.
In one episode of his PBS program "The Woodwright's Shop", he was pestering the guys working in the gunsmith's shop at Colonial Williamsburg.
One of them was cutting a lock mortise on a rifle stock while explaining the fiddly bidness of test-fitting, shaving-a-little-more, testing-it-again, rinsing-and-repeating.
He concluded by saying that, in finishing the bottom of the mortise, one technique that could be used was to scrape it with a chisel.
Horrors! He went on to dig himself even deeper by saying: "You'd just have to re-sharpen it".
I'd come to the same conclusion years before but finally - confirmation from out in the world.
What's more, re "edge geometry"; on an edge with a thirty-degree bevel (Most woodworking tools) the bevel will be twice as long as the steel is thick. Put the protractor away.
It ain't rocket-science but we've made a fetish of sharpness and the processes involved in getting there.
Don't tell Spyderco, but you can just rub the edge on a rock. Trust me. I've done it - along with billions of long-departed, low-tech workers.
This mystery surrounding sharpening isn't a modern phenomenon  so; to all you guys who've spent the long dollar on some, high-tech "sharpening system", despair not. You have company - from way back in the mists of time.
Top photo: One of the spectacular finds from Britain's richest, archaeological site ever, the Sutton Hoo ship burial.
In the literature, it's generally referred to as: "The Scepter" and we will be getting back to it.
The site was initially excavated in 1939 at the request of the property owner who found herself intrigued by the seventeen odd mounds on her place.
They started digging into the largest of them and found the remains of a ship inhumation (Archeo-talk) which, in and of itself, isn't that unusual especially on the continent and in Scandinavia. The Sutton Hoo site contained another, though smaller, ship burial.
What made this one unusual was that it had never been plundered. Enterprising folks centuries ago had dug down into it but had missed the good stuff by ten feet or so. Pictured next is a photo of my introduction to the site in a long-ago (1978), Art-History class.
This is one of the more spectacular, from a "pretty" standpoint, of the grave-goods found. It's a reconstruction - using original hardware and decorations, of a purse lid or cover. I've included a piece of our own legal tender to show how big this this is (7 1/2" across) and the level of fancy-work these early medieval bozos were capable of.
The technique used is known as cloisonne. The red bits are garnet, my birthstone while the blue checkerboards are made of millifiore. The rest is gold, else it wouldn't have survived.
 A French term and an Italian one. Click the links and enrich yourselves. I'll wait. Lest anyone think I'm not going to let anyone get their Viking freak on... These horns are actually Anglo-Saxon and predate the raiding period by a few hundred years but...
 Next we see our boy's brain-bucket.
As more and more of stuff such as this was found, the thought ran to the idea that this had to have been a royal burial - but whose.
The search narrowed to one Renwald "Power in Counsel", a king of East Anglica who died in 625.
They found no body - just as they found no "ship".
All that remained of the vessel were the iron, hull rivets outlining a hull ninety feet long and the imprint in of the hull in the sand.
All that remained of the king himself was a patch of soil with a much higher phosphate level than anywhere else.
Old Renwald existed only as a spot where his bones had left a chemical footprint.
The problem was - the sandy soil is acidic, rain is acidic and the combination of those factors - plus 1300 years meant that most of Renwald's stuff dissolved along with him.
The helmet survived in twenty-four pieces.
The horn portion of the horns shown above is modern.
At the request of the British Museum, the Royal Armories produced a replica of the helmet as Renwald would have worn it.
It's a bit loud by modern standards but imposing nonetheless.
Old Ray was a force (May I call him 'Ray'?) and obviously no one to fuck with.
This next would be our lad, as imagined by the artist.
I forgot to mention. A pattern-welded sword, a shield and a solid gold buckle/reliquary weighing most of a pound were among his possessions.
So, in addition to those, you can see the helmet and his man-purse (More like the Highlander's sporran than what the Queen Mum carries) but ... some thing's missing.
That would be something he wouldn't have been packing around with him in the field along with that bad-assed dog - the symbol of his office, his royal scepter.
Pictured next: The squared-off, stone turd-with-a-loop-to-hang-it-by is an Anglo-Saxon whetstone, from the same period.
It's about a foot long and all business. You lay your sword on a flat surface and, having grabbed said stone turd by both ends you... lay into it. Edge-Geometry! Gotta pay attention, boy.
The above stone looks a tad shop-worn. It's ground off it's share of steel back in the day one could bet.
Ray's stone was unused - possibly not even usable because... (drum roll) it was a scepter. Carved, at each end, with four faces topped by an orb, which had been painted crimson, it was fitted with a gilt, bronze cup at the bottom (The better to rest upon the royal knee) and an iron ring topped with a gilt stag at the top. Being nearly three-feet tall, including its hardware, and weighing more than six pounds, this is what symbolized power in 7th century Britain.
It was carved from greywacke which what I'm naming my soon-to-be-acquired Olympic, dressage horse so...
You can't have it.
I'm playing with "Gray-wacky" but... it may not be gray.
Fuck it. I'll hold out for a gray one.
In closing and back on topic since my dressage dream is probably delusional I'd like to add that many of the illustrations and information I've used came from a master of Arts thesis from Louisiana State University.
This informative piece was penned by Tanya Knight Ruffin. An abstract of the paper and a link to the work itself can be found in PDF form here.
In the text of the above, Ms Ruffin restates that was earlier written by Sir Thomas Kendrick: that the whetstone, as a symbol of authority representing the king as "...forger, provider and master of the swords."
A few centuries later things were slightly more pragmatic.
An illustration from the 9th century Utrecht Psalter accompanying Psalm 63 wherein King Dave laments regarding "Those who seek my soul...".
In the illustration, those seeking his soul are shown sharpening swords in the old-school fashion - with a whetstone while David's troops are using something new: A rotary grindstone with what is believed to be the first representation of the principle of the crank ever found in European art.
The significance of sharpening remained, in residual form in the medieval custom that; a stone found anywhere in a village that proved efficacious for sharpening was deemed community property. Sometimes for generations.
As such, it would have been possible that in leaving one's house in the morning, a line of housewives may be waiting to sharpen the family knives on second step of your porch - for example.
Socialism!

2 comments:

Fat Edgar said...

"If that's the same as "destroyed" in your world, feel free to ship all your ruined tools to me. I'll even pay postage."

Genuinely made me laugh out loud, cheers for that!

Dan brock said...

Good. Love to brighten the days of other malcontents who are as foul-mouthed ("Foul mouthed? Fuck you" Eddie Murphy in "Beverly Hills Cop") as I am.
Yes, I stopped by your place and you really need to update, Dr. Brouhaha - if that really is your name.
You're a funny guy - with a piss-poor attitude at that. Good on ya.
What the fuck is a "cheese handler"?

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