On sharpening knives and scissors

It turns out that I knew diddly squat about sharpening knives. And, even less about sharpening scissors.

My Dad gave me a knife sharpening stone called a whetstone a few years ago and I used it without knowing how to use it. I tried my own methods but the knives never really got sharp. Then, I found out about this thing called the Internet (this is a few months ago)  and looked for videos about how to do this.

It turns out that there are different types of stones that you can use and how you use them depends on the type of stone. The stone that I have is a waterstone, which means that you actually have to soak the thing in water before you use it. Then, there’s a specific way to actually sharpen the knife on the stone.

The best video that I found on this subject is Howtocast’s How to use a sharpening stone but after you watch it, you have to actually practice doing this before you actually learn. The first time I sharpened a knife properly–and it took a few tries–it was pure joy because it was that sudden moment of clarity that comes when you actually learn something and internalize what you learn.

The interesting part about this is that I now actually enjoy sharpening knives–it takes skill, it takes time (soak stone for 20 minutes), it’s not easy, and you have to be careful dealing as you are with objects that can actually maim. I think the family finds it mildly amusing and doesn’t really get it but because I have sharp knives they don’t say anything. Either that, or they’re polite.

So, why stop at knives? How about that other sharp instruments that you find around: scissors?

A scissor by any other name is not a knife

Turns out, sharpening scissors is slightly different from sharpening knives and I learned this after I had taken my best scissors, which could cut cloth, and proceeded to dull it down to where it wouldn’t cut paper. I was close to distraught because the scissors were a gift and I thought I’d ruined them.

So, I went to the Internet and asked the wise old Google for answers. After reading and watching a few articles and videos, I came upon a gem. Now, before I give you the link, this is a 17 minute video, so given that I have an attention span of the gerbil (only on the Internet), this was like asking me to read James Joyce’s Ulysses. 17 minutes on the Internet? Why, I have better things to do like check my notifications on Twitter.

The person in the video is Paul Sellers and he’s got a calm, unhurried voice, and he knows how to sharpen scissors. So, I actually watched the video and it made sense. Then, I realized that I didn’t have a file, so I went ahead and bought two. And, I tried his method. Remember the scissors that I actually screwed up; I’m pleased to report that they now work beautifully. It took hard work (trying different methods before I settled on Mr. Sellers’) and sweat but the sweet sound of that the two blades when I made a cutting motion was worth it.

So, here’s the link to the video: Scissor Sharpening – with Paul Sellers and I hope you’ll watch it.

I tried the method on another pair that was bad from the start and I’ve been able to get it to a point where it’s pretty good–it actually cuts. There’s still work to be done but I’m pleased. There are no scissors in my house now that are not sharp; I even resurrected another scissors that was dead and about to be thrown away.

The thing is that sharpening knives and scissors is they are the get-your-hands-dirty kinds of work and you’d think that doing this wouldn’t be fun but you’d be wrong. I’ve even gushed about this to my family and they are distinctly not impressed.

I’ve been thinking about why I enjoy this and I realize that it’s because these are skills that take time to learn and need practice and patience. (Yes, I realize that I’m not learning the violin.)

The fact that there is a degree of difficulty is what makes doing this fun. And, there’s something about working with your hands that is fulfilling in a way that I can’t explain–you have to do it to really get it. And, because you’re dealing with objects that can cause you physical pain, you really have to be in the moment, paying attention, concentrating. Sounds like a lot like flow doesn’t it?

Don’t take my word for it, go and try it. But, be careful though–remember that sticks and stones can break your bones, but knives and scissors can cut, sometimes to the bone.


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