This is my job.

Yesterday and today, I have been working on a special project: making lifting knives for my Intro to Book Repair  students. I have to make seven of them, which is twice as many knives as I have ever made at once, and seven times as many as I have ever made of one type. It takes a long time to make even one good knife by hand, so it’s a fair job for me. I began by visiting Noisebridge, a local hacker space which also happens to have a wood shop, to use their bench grinder to grind the high-carbon Sheffield steel blanks down to the right shape. A few of the young computer guys would come in and chat with me from time to time about what I was doing, and I got a lot of raised eyebrows. It turned out one of the guys who keeps up the wood shop is from Madison, so we got to talk about how much we miss a good cheese curd. Two other dudes came in to use the router in order to make a slit drum, and there was a lady making phoenix stencils and painting and sanding pieces of wood. Meanwhile, outside the wood shop, Noisebridge is having its weekly 10 minutes of fame event, where people share what they like to do. The place is packed! I heart SF.

The blanks having been shaped, I progressed to the actual sharpening process. We learned to make our own knives when I was at North Bennet Street School, as I have mentioned in this blog before. Although that process was painful, frustrating, and time-consuming, filled with lots of whining, crying, and the sharing of disturbing nightmares among my fellow students (Mark, I’m so sorry we put you through all that!), now I feel totally confident when dealing with anything knife-related, from small hand tools to board shears and guillotines. Since then and now, I have had a lot of time to think about steel, its uses, types, and qualities, and observe the tools I see in the field. I can appreciate the extreme hardness of the steel we use for our bookbinding tools. I have experienced tools that hold their edges and tools that don’t.

In any case, now I use a combination of Jeff Peachey’s sharpening system, a dry system which uses disposable sheets of progressively-smaller grit microabrasive papers, and my good old Japanese water stones from school.

The 6000 grit water stone with nigura stone in the foreground. Finishing strop is to the right, and three knife blanks at the back (with my own lifting knife in its sheath on top).

The 6000 grit water stone with nigura stone in the foreground. Finishing strop is to the right, and three knife blanks at the back (with my own lifting knife in its sheath on top).

Although the adhesive-backed papers are really easy to use, and much cleaner than the water stones, I used the water stones to create the edges on my seven students’ lifting knives.

From left to right: a Hewit paring knife I use as a blank; two right-handed lifting knives after being sharpened on a Peachey slab of 80-micron sandpaper, left-handed knife after same.

From left to right: a Hewit paring knife I use as a blank; two right-handed lifting knives after being sharpened on a Peachey slab of 80-micron sandpaper, left-handed knife after same.

The cleanup is worth it when you make multiple knives, and I try in general to stay away from disposable stuff unless the convenience really makes a difference. Well, the water stones really came through for me today, and though the knives are all a little irregularly- shaped, I am really happy with the bevel angle and the fact that they’re all sharp enough to shave. Ready for a class full of eager future book conservators!

It's shaving! You can see here the hair on the bevel. Game on, bookbinders!

It’s shaving! You can see here the hair on the bevel. Game on, bookbinders!

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5 Comments

Filed under Classes I've taught, Tool Talk

5 responses to “This is my job.

  1. 7 knives is some serious undertaking alright! They look great!
    I also enjoyed your last post; My workspace is an old apartment, quite solitary, dark and with rare visitors so I felt some identification with that part (not so much with “hammering out reading material fit for the bookshelves of a king” though. I guess that -may- apply only for the ones who survive long enough in this profession to achieve R. Payne’s displayed physique… )

  2. How think were the Sheffield steel blanks that you started with.

  3. howard coleman

    there is something about really good steel and a wet-stone that is visceral…

    7, however, is a lot of visceral

  4. Pingback: Let’s talk about paring and knives | Dimitri's Bookbinding corner

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