Originally Posted by chogall
Way too complex of a discussion for Styleforum,
But there is an underlying perspective here that applies across the board. A perspective that is near and dear to my heart, at least.
Without getting into real detail...despite having good quality grinders and sanding wheels at my disposal, I do prefer to sharpen knives with a sequence of Washita and Arkansas oil stones. I know that there are other types of stones--some oil and some water--and that many even prefer belt sanders for sharpening knives. But for me I prefer to slow down. I like feeling the steel on the stone. I like hearing the difference in sound as the angle of the blade is adjusted.
And I can sharpen a knife so that it is "scary sharp"--no brag, fact. I have to be able to for the work I do.
Part and parcel of the way most professional craftsmen...as opposed to dabblers and backbench-garage hobbyists...approach their work is to immerse themselves in the processes. When you do, it often occurs, even without you being fully aware of it, that you lose the almost obsessive focus on self that possesses most of us in today's world. Lose your self-absorption. In fact, that's one of the attractions of being a professional. And in the process, with self out of the way, suddenly you find yourself open to other inputs--the sound of the metal, the feel of the blade in the hand, the way subtle, heretofore unnoticed muscle tensions affect the work; and to other influences--perhaps that "creative consciousness" I spoke of.
Speed kills...quality. From our most intimate activities in daily life to our most critical public enterprises our society can never have enough speed, enough easy, enough expedience. I sometimes think that this is the easy way to "lose yourself"--the quick and easy and convenient way--go so fast that you can never slow down enough to notice where "you" are.
Who wants to pay for a truly hand welted, bespoke shoe? Who wants to spend the years learning to make such a shoe? Who wants to go to all that effort and work to actually understand what goes into a shoe? Just go out and buy a pair. And if...by virtue of popularity, or brand name or some superficial glitter striking the eye...a certain socially acceptable "glamour" (not in the magical sense) comes along with it, all the better.
Who would want to go to all that trouble to sharpen a knife...especially by hand...or even to learn how, when a utility knife is $2.98 and a pack of disposable blades $1.75? And, in some sense...at least to me...using a belt sander to sharpen a blade is not, philosophically, significantly different.
It's all about speed, you see, convenience and disposability. When the professional immerses himself in detail, in process, he puts aside self-absorption but he doesn't really loose himself. When we pursue speed and ignore that rich tapestry of experience that is in front of us, our experiences, our judgements, even perhaps our lives become just as disposable as the utility knife blades.
When a professional craftsman chooses to sharpen a knife with stones rather than resort to belt sanders or a disposable blade, it's because he knows that when you sharpen a blade you're really sharpening your own senses.Your sensibilities. Your ability to sense more and more subtlety. And that translates into every subsequent process that you engage in regardless how seemingly disconnected it may be.
Even writing a piece such as this, for good or ill, is influenced by the time and insights, patience and perspectives, understanding and judgment, that develops as the blade is honed. More than the blade is sharpened.
That's part and parcel of the attraction of making shoes by hand in the 21st century. Of choosing to make shoes rather than make money. For me, it's been worth more than all the income I might have given up over the years and, again for me at least, I doubt I will never get enough.
--Edited by DWFII - 11/2/13 at 10:02am