There are only about two things I don’t like sharp: opera sopranos and cheese. I do, however, like a sharp wit, a sharp shaver, sharp saw blades, chisels, and knives, not to mention sharp dressers and hairstyles…
My appreciation for sharpness goes back a long way, as does most of what I write about it seems. In fourth grade, we discovered that the roots of some Indiana-lowland reeds are heavy enough to make the shaft fly straight for use as a spear. It was also sharp enough to hurt if you were hit.
Soon after that, I found out that the balsa wood I bought was light and strong but required a sharp pen knife to cut it well. Someone gave me a set of Exacto Knives with replaceable blades, and they served me well for the couple of decades that I built models.
A few years later, when I was in seventh grade, I developed an interest in Medieval crossbows, and more sophisticated flying projectiles. First, I made a six inch handle of balsa with two side guides at the front. They also anchored the rubber band which provided the power for the balsa darts. But when I shot them, they took all sorts of erratic flight patterns before I figured out that they needed a heavy point like the spears.
After some experimentation, I perfected the technique of inserting a needle into the front of the dart, and wrapping it with thread which I glued to hold tight. I knew it was good when a practice shot went across the living room and stuck in the wall. With mom’s extreme disapproval of my new indoor sport, I had to take the dart shooter outside. Then the problem became trying to avoid losing the darts.
So one day, I put the dart gun in my book bag to show a couple of my most loyal friends. Right after school, we were sitting on the edge of the Concord Junior High gym stage, and I pulled out the little weapon. They were disbelieving of my reports how far it would shoot and insisted on some evidence. So I put a dart in the shooter, and pulled back the rubber band. A quiet zing followed by a tick had us running to the other side of the gym, and there we found the needle dart stuck in the floor.
Of course, we had to try again to see if we could set a distance record, and so I aimed a bit higher. Another zing but this time there was no tick. We looked around for a few minutes before finding it out of reach, securely stuck in a ceiling acoustic tile. That left one more dart, which before too long was stuck in the ceiling also. The last time I saw those darts was around ten years later, stuck in the same place.
The quality of furniture and boat building has a very direct relationship to how sharp the tools are. A dull blade heats up more, bends slightly and wanders from the straight path. A dull router bit burns the wood and is hard to sand out without losing the shape of the profile.
Several different methods are used to sharpen woodworking tools including coarse and fine stones, diamond covered metal blocks, and the one I use most often: sandpaper on glass. I start with 360 grit paper if general contouring is needed, and then go on to 600, 1000 and 2000 grit paper. For anyone wanting to try it, the paper is available at auto body shops.
The first key to success is going through each grit, and eliminating the scratches from the last grit before going on. The second key is to use some holder to keep the orientation of the blade exactly the same. Again, many sharpening jigs are available but I decided to make my own. It references the tool to the top surface, and is held by screw friction.
Below is a sharp boat, the 16 foot Marlin Scorpion my dad bought in 1971, when I was in high school. Uncle Johnny is driving, with Ben and John Crist, Lane Hartman, and Austin Lehman.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.