Long-term consistency beats short-term intensity.Bruce Lee
We have discussed many details about sharpening in this series, and while this may be the shortest article of the bunch, it is by no means the most insignificant. For some it will be the most difficult technique to master. The classical references shouldn’t prove too onerous.
If our clever Gentle Readers pay attention to their blade’s movement when sharpening, they will notice how each reversal of direction tends to cause the bevel to rock forward and backward on the stone’s face. And what happens when we let the blade rock-n-roll? That’s right, the crapulous bulging bevel rears its ugly head and spits in our eye.
Short strokes, somewhere around 1-½ inch in length, make it easier to keep the blade from rocking.
A Gentle Reader named Oskar observed that, following the logic in the previous sentence, shorter strokes result in more, not less, reversals in stroke direction, and therefore shorter strokes should lead to more rocking rather than less. I concur with Oskar’s analysis and conclusion and am adding the following clarification to avoid confusion.
A short stroke results in smaller changes in the angles of one’s joints during the stroke compared to the changes during a longer stroke, making it much easier to maintain the bevel at the correct angle on the stone’s face. In other words, in the case of short strokes, the angle of joints at the beginning of a stroke does not change much by the end of the same stroke, making it easier to manage joints and tendons during and between strokes yielding greater repeatability.
In addition, shorter strokes tend to focus one’s attention on properly indexing the bevel on the stone during each individual stroke, attention that tends to wander more during long strokes.
Please note that this analysis is simply my opinion, and perhaps not a weighty opinion at that because I am not a physician, nor have I conducted physiological studies and dissections upon which a rigorous opinion should be based.
I know that making short strokes feels inefficient, and it is compared to a machine, but you, Gentle Reader aren’t a Cyberdyne Systems product. However, with practice, you will find you are able to increase the distance and speed of each stroke especially as your focus and hand-soul coordination improves and your wrists and elbows relax and become trained.
Long extravagant strokes on rough or medium grit stones are for sharpening axes and kitchen knives, not chisels or planes.
The exception to this rule is the finishing stone, as mentioned in the previous article.
In conclusion, and in order to improve your classical education, let’s review our latin lesson from the previous article: “Festina lente” translates directly as “make hast slowly.” It is defined in the dictionary as “proceed expeditiously but prudently.” We chose to translate the phrase as “Slow is smooth; Smooth is fast. ” At least two Roman emperors, one Pope, and the powerful Medici family of Italy, back in the days when emperors, popes, and noble merchants had real power measured in armies they controlled and cities and continents they ruled, thought these two words important enough to include in their mottos and coats of arms. The words even appear in the original French version of the tale of the “Hare and Tortoise.” They are also relevant to sharpening if you are clever enough to understand why.
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