Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, if the women don’t get you then the whiskey must.Carl Sandburg
In the previous article in the series about sharpening the blades of Japanese woodworking tools we examined sharpening stones, the minimum set your humble servant recommends, those I typically use, and the most important stone in any set.
In this post we will shift our focus to things that can go wrong when sharpening, including supernatural influences.
As I mentioned in the previous post in this series I almost never take a 10,000+ grit synthetic finishing stone or natural finishing stone to jobsites. This decision is based on observation under practical conditions: Jobsites are rough and dirty places, and stones are fragile.
Even if Murphy is drunk and the resident Iron Pixies are distracted watching Lingerie Football on the boob tube (pun intended), airborne dust at the jobsite will always instantly degrade an expensive 12,000 grit rated stone to an effective 4,000 grit or less, making a fragile, expensive, ultra fine-grit stone pointless. How clean is your workplace? Something to think about. Seriously.
This is not just a theory that sprouted from my overactive imagination like a dandelion on a dung pile, but is scientifically verifiable. Give it try.
Get out your microscope or high-power loupe. Place a clean glass slide near where you will be sharpening. 120 minutes later, examine the slide and count the dust specks. How did they get there? Dust is in the air quite naturally, but vehicular and foot traffic kick up lots more.
Most of those dust specs are larger and harder than the grit that makes up your finishing stone. Imagine what happens to your blade when those pieces of relatively large, hard grit get mixed into the stone slurry, or become embedded into the stone’s surface. Not a pleasant thought.
Dust contamination even has historical precedence. Japanese sword sharpeners traditionally do their best work during the rainy season when there is less dust in the air to contaminate their stones.
Professionals that polish pianos, stone, glass and jewels are also sticklers for eliminating dust contamination.
Just design and build a few cleanrooms for picky customers with SEMs (scanning electron microscopes), or with lens coating equipment, or who make pharmaceuticals and you will get an education about dust and the problems it creates quickly.
What dust do we find at construction job sites or workshops? First, assuming we are working at a building project, there are exterior sources of dust. Unlike a house, the doors and windows are usually open to gain maximum circulation, even when dusty landscaping operations are ongoing and trucks carrying materials and garbage are running everywhere kicking up clouds of dust.
Second, unless you have the jobsite entirely to yourself, there are usually other trades inside the building grinding, sanding, cutting and walking around kicking dust into the air too. The most pernicious dust on the jobsite is drywall and joint compound. This white fluffy dust appears harmless, but it contains tiny granite silica particles harder than steel, and even bits of glass fiber, that float around and settle on everything. They are a health hazard that has put more than one person in the hospital with respiratory problems. They will contaminate your sharpening stones sure as eggses is eggses.
Sandpaper, sanding discs, grinders and angle grinders in operation also spray millions of tiny hard particles everywhere, many of which float in the air and can travel some distance before settling, especially inside an enclosed building or workshop.
Does your business or home workshop have a large door facing a public road with cars and trucks going back and forth? Do people with muddy boots come in and out? Are dirty pallets with piles of dirt hidden on the bottom boards offloaded inside? Do you use sanders or grinders in your workshop?
If you are sharpening outside, or at a dusty jobsite, or inside a dusty workshop, and especially if you regularly use sanders and grinders there, I recommend the following procedures before you use fine-grit stones:
- Try to locate your sharpening area away from foot traffic, grinding and sanding operations, and dusty areas;
- Sweep and vaccum the surrounding floors well, since it is the movement of feet that billows settled dust back up into the air, and wait at least 15 minutes after sweeping for the dust to settle before sharpening;
- Wet the surrounding ground or floor with water to keep the dust down (this makes a big difference);
- Wrap a clean cloth or a sheet of clean newspaper around your fine stone when you are not using it for more than a couple of minutes to prevent airborne dust from settling on it;
- Scrub your fine stone under running water with dishwashing soap (neutral PH) and a clean natural-bristle brush before each use to remove dust and embedded grit.
And for heaven sake, even if you can’t take your benchdogs with you everywhere, at least have a brass bevel angle gauge in your toolkit, and use it everytime you sharpen, to keep the pernicious pixies at bay. I hang mine around my neck from a red string, red because all species of the Little Folk strongly dislike that color.
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Links to Other Posts in the “Sharpening” Series
- Sharpening Japanese Woodworking Tools Part 1
- Sharpening Part 2 – The Journey
- Sharpening Part 3 – Philosophy
- Sharpening Part 4 – ‘Nando and the Sword Sharpener
- Sharpening Part 5 – The Sharp Edge
- Sharpening Part 6 – The Mystery of Steel
- Sharpening Part 7 – The Alchemy of Hard Steel 鋼
- Sharpening Part 8 – Soft Iron 地金
- Sharpening Part 9 – Hard Steel & Soft Iron 鍛接
- Sharpening Part 10 – The Ura 浦
- Sharpening Part 11 – Supernatural Bevel Angles
- Sharpening Part 12 – Skewampus Blades, Curved Cutting Edges, and Monkeyshines
- Sharpening Part 13 – Nitty Gritty
- Sharpening Part 14 – Natural Sharpening Stones
- Sharpening Part 15 – The Most Important Stone
- Sharpening Part 16 – Pixie Dust
- Sharpening Part 17 – Gear
- Sharpening Part 18 – The Nagura Stone
- Sharpening Part 19 – Maintaining Sharpening Stones
- Sharpening Part 20 – Flattening and Polishing the Ura
- Sharpening Part 21 – The Bulging Bevel
- Sharpening Part 22 – The Double-bevel Blues
- Sharpening Part 23 – Stance & Grip
- Sharpening Part 24 – Sharpening Direction
- Sharpening Part 25 – Short Strokes
- Sharpening Part 26 – The Taming of the Skew
- Sharpening Part 27 – The Entire Face
- Sharpening Part 28 – The Minuscule Burr
- Sharpening Part 29 – An Example
- Sharpening Part 30 – Uradashi & Uraoshi