Though I have heard for a long time and from many bookbinders that knives made by Jeff Peachey are sharp and hold their edge well, I have never had the opportunity to test them out myself. As I am a graduate of the North Bennet Street School‘s bookbinding department, I and all my colleagues made our own knives for conservation and leather paring. We valiantly (and at times less than valiantly) struggled with it, grinding and honing the traditional way with steel blanks and Japanese water stones. I have used these knives since 2002 when I made them, and they form a cornerstone of my practice as a bookbinder, almost more important than my bone folders!
Leather paring knives allow you to reduce the thickness of the leather you use to cover a book, which in turn allows for complex and subtle shaping of the movable parts of the book you are making. Lifting knives, used in conservation, allow you to separate the covering materials of an old book in such a way that when you put them back together after the structure has been appropriately strengthened, the fissure is inconspicuous. Thus, a good set of knives is essential to the livelihood of a skilled craftsperson, and when they’re hand made, knives express even more deeply the expertise and respect with which one practices one’s craft.
Right away I can tell I will enjoy using Jeff’s A2 English leather paring knife. The shaft has a contoured shape and is rounded on the edges, which will make it easier to hold through hours of leather paring. The English leather paring knife is different than the rounded French knife I have been using– with the French knife I can pare on either side of a cut edge of a piece of leather, whilst the English knife is limited to paring on the left side. However, possibly because of the straight edge of the English knife, it seems to be easier to cut a broader bevel on the leather, and thus pare large swaths thinly enough to create leather labels and onlays of .1-.2mm thickness easily. I typically use a Brockman for this kind of work, but it’s nice to know there’s another way. The long bevel would also be useful for the long edges of the new leather introduced in leather rebacks, where a very gradual change in thickness of new leather is desirable underneath a layer of old leather.
The A2 steel is quite a bit thicker, and thus heavier than the knives I’m used to. That makes it more tiring on the hand, but I can tell the difference in how it holds its edge during paring. It did need to be stropped once while I edge pared six edges each about 30 cm long, but the leather was fairly stiff, so I thought the knife performed well. This will be a great addition to my happy family of bookbinding knives.
This week I will be making a very large full leather cover for a collection of heirloom photos and ephemera for a local family, so I will have the opportunity to become thoroughly acquainted with my new tool! I look forward to it. If you are interested in looking at some of the other very thoughtfully designed tools Jeff Peachey produces, or would like to read his blog, I have linked to his website on the sidebar to the right.