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Sharpening and industrial depth

March 29, 2009

I found this 1943 Norton Abrasives’ sharpening manual at an estate sale, I think. It was probably free for the asking in hardware stores, or by mail.  What intrigues me is the complex vocabulary and sentence structure of the instructions.  Machinists and carpenters (or for that matter people who wanted to touch up their straight-razor) were expected to be able to read at a pretty high level.  Being that this is the 22nd revised edition, they had plenty of chances to revise the language to reach their target audience. 

The manual is an example of industrial depth, which is to say there are whole sub-industries into which modern advertising culture provides no insight.  Most people sit on furniture, but couldn’t describe any of the machines that made the furniture, or the cutting tools used on the machines, or the abrasives that sharpened the cutting tools, or the process that made the abrasives, or the science behind the processes.  Yet these things are triumphs of progress – it says so right in the manual.

I’ve included three pictures that describe how I sharpen a pocketknife on a diamond whetstone.  Except, you can use diamond stones dry now, where it used to be a matter of some debate whether to use oil on a Carborundum™ stone, and then water on an Arkensas stone.  I have all those, but just use the diamond stone now.  And the pocketknife is made of an alloy that didn’t exist until the 1970’s and even then I think it was for jet turbine blades.

The whole manual is up in my photostream, if you are the kind of geek who finds that sort of thing interesting.  (Its presence in my photostream pretty much identifies me as one of that kind of geek, I suppose)

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. March 29, 2009 at 20:52 | #1

    I have one of those diamond stones, but still have trouble getting the best edge.  The photos are instructive though, so I will keep at it. Thanks.

  2. March 29, 2009 at 23:22 | #2

    I suspect that this URL may provide a partial explanation :-(

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/csm/20090324/cm_csm/yrojstaczer

  3. gruntled atheist
    March 30, 2009 at 10:42 | #3

    When I was a kid we sharpened our knives with whatever stone we could find and then stuck the blade into a pone of cornbread as soon as Mom turned her back to “temper” the blade.  Oh, how things have changed.  Eunoia, good to see you here.

  4. zilch
    March 31, 2009 at 08:22 | #4

    Very nice, George.  Although I too have a couple of Arkansas stones, I pretty much just use diamond stones and a couple of Japanese ceramic stones for sharpening nowadays.

    Getting a good edge (supposing the metal is good enough to do so) is mostly a matter of getting the right angle.  Too blunt, and it won’t cut well; too sharp, and it dulls too quickly or chips.  Takes practice, but it’s a great skill to have.

  5. Ted
    March 31, 2009 at 19:37 | #5

    Most people sit on furniture, but couldn’t describe any of the machines that made the furniture, or the cutting tools used on the machines, or the abrasives that sharpened the cutting tools, or the process that made the abrasives, or the science behind the processes.

    Manufacturing? The only manufacturing industry that we’ll have in this country is defense related.

    Our exports are to die for.

  6. June 9, 2009 at 06:08 | #6

    Great to see your article.Especially the manual is an example of industrial depth, which is to say there are whole sub-industries into which modern advertising culture provides no insight.

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