Fire and Ice


The Tourist
June 14, 2008, 09:37 PM
In sharpening and polishing knives in my business, some folks have asked how and why I "tape and freeze" blades for polishing.

The first step is pretty simple. I use blue painters tape to cover the decorative parts of the knives, since many clients have blades costing several hundred dollars. Here is a Graham Stubby, frozen solid, and being taken from the freezer in my home.

Using the finest grit stone I have, I straighten the bevel (probably a bevel from one of my previous sharpenings), and then begin polishing the edge with descending grits of polishing papers and tapes, smeared with very fine pumice, Billet Paste or chromium oxide--depending on the edge or alloy.

This is a few hours work, and the Stubby with one of those "twenty dollar per inch" buffings. Alas, it was my knife...

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June 14, 2008, 11:38 PM
Sturdy little piece.

It may work fine- I trust hso's opinion on almost all things with blades- it just looks wrong to me. Still, I'd like to try out the Razel one day.


June 14, 2008, 11:43 PM
Thanks Tourist.

Tinkering's a blast, isn't it?

My uncle was at my mom's house last week. He was fixing her "sticky" door lock when I got there. He reached in his pocket and pulled out a well used Old Timer 34OT. I asked to see it and noticed it was pretty dull. As a "thank you" for fixing my moms door I offed to sharpen it for him. I didn't have my usual stuff but I had bought my parents a Lansky set a few years ago because its so simple to use (yes, my mother knows how to use a Lansky). I grabbed the Lansky and set to work on his faithful pocket knife.

After all was said and done I had a hair-poppin' edge on all three blades. Stropped with an automotive grade polish (all that was available at the time) as a finisher the knife was just about too sharp to test on the hair on my forearm.

I handed it back to my uncle with a bit of concern that it might surprise him. He tucked it back in his pocket and went about his business. I'm sure the next time I see him he'll reprimand me for putting such an edge on his knife and not warning him.

Definitely not the type of edge you put on knives but much better than what he had. Probably more than he thought possible.

I can see how you get so much enjoyment out of what you do. Some day I'll get close to your quality but I've got much to learn when it comes to knives, edges and the possibilities of what one can do with 'em.



June 15, 2008, 11:46 AM

I'll send the CRKT Stubby down to you after I get it sharpened back up and you can beat it for a while. Like some cars/dogs/hats it's so ugly it's cute and once you get it in your hand and start doing things with it you may like it.

The Tourist
June 15, 2008, 11:47 AM
I can see how you get so much enjoyment out of what you do.

Truth be told, at first I thought it was just me.

I have often told the story of my new bike and its first high speed run over 90 MPH. I felt my shoulders relax and I exhaled. Upon reflection it seemed odd that flying along in Interstate traffic amid Kenworths could provide that feeling of well-being.

In kind, my wife once asked me what I was thinking about as I sharpened. It surprised her when I remarked that I was thinking about nothing. It would be incorrect to say "nothing in particular," but more rightly, "nothing."

All of my friends, even sharpeners, try to quantify that by saying it's the Zen thing. It's balance. It's the validation of finally beng 'perfect' at something or with something, so that body responds to the mind's condition.

Of course, I dismissed that as ivory tower hokum. Yikes, I've ridden Harleys for 37 years and my Dad taught me sharpen at the age of eight years. I'd better be getting it right at my age.

But then I watched that youtube video of the Japanese polisher and his work in his private studio. I heard the hypnotic woosh-woosh-woosh sound of the sword on the waterstone--in a perfect rhythm--and I witnessed the calm visage of his face.

Like sm and I try to explain, there is a curse with tinkers. Like bikers, I believe there is a brain pattern, for lack of a better description. We are wired to think, act and respond in a certain way and spirit. Until we find this "path" or course of work and study, we are irritable and unfocused.

However, have you ever watched a true craftsman? They seem to work so slowly and precise, you would assume they were bored. I cannot explain it, but there is an "endorphin bounce" I get from watching the edge somehow come alive.

To that end, ever tangle with a edgy biker? Even he doesn't know why he's sometimes a misfit. I was an angry young man, heck, I drove people away. However, did you ever get a look at a bikers belt buckle?

Lots of times it says "Ride to Live." I do not think it's hyperbole. Many times throughout history we find people with "itchy feet." You find pioneer guides like Kit Carson or Sir Edmund Hillary. Even those men could not articulate just what exactly was driving them.

I'm not going to blow smoke up your skirt. I like to sharpen. If I have a few days off I go looking in house for dull knives. I start thumbing my own EDC for imperfections. I start telling my friends on the phone to come on over and "Bring a dull knife." I sharpened four knives for my buddy yesterday while we watched 12 innings of disastrous Brewers game.

The Tourist
June 15, 2008, 12:06 PM
At my place we have what most people call "a breakfast nook." It's part of a counter tall enough to use captains' chairs faced to the morning sun. I have found that it is the correct height for sharpening while I can look out onto the deck and tree of my back yard.

Most people eat there or drink latte' over a morning paper. Here's what's on the corner of my nook:

June 15, 2008, 02:16 PM
How much extra work in terms of mess, flatting, and general maintenance are waterstones?

I've always wanted to try them, but the fact remains that my diamond stones, oilstones, and now ceramic (Spyderco) stones and strops work very well.

Do the waterstones just cut faster?

Thanks for the education!

The Tourist
June 15, 2008, 02:31 PM
How much extra work in terms of mess, flattening, and general maintenance are waterstones?

They are a lot of work, they create a horrible mess, they constantly need flattening (also requiring you "break" or bevel the edges of their new surface) and maintenance sometimes requires as much work and skill as sharpening a knife.

You hands will be stained with swarf, and it gets everywhere--on the floor, under your fingernails, on kitchen counters. We have white corian counter tops and white marble floors, so you can guess how much "sweat equity" I do with soft abrasive cleansers.

My hands get so stained that I usually do a sinkful of dishes or use green shop hand cleaner to soften the mess. I have special mechanics rags and old wash cloths that never will come clean. At home, I have to wear old black Harley T-shirts and shorts just to keep my clothes clean. If I sharpen at a client's kitchen I wear the oldest most threadbare jeans I can find. Lots of people think I drive a knucklehead.

I had drops on boots so bad I had to go to Cecil's Sandal Shop to get them buffed off with power equipment.

And the expense! My wife, who is my bookkeeper, swears I'm having a affair with a redhead and I'm just hiding the expenses under "Japan Woodworker." Yikes, I once bought a spare Edge Pro machine, a box of stones and some polishing papers and wiped out a month's worth of profits.

It's a horrible procedure! Dreadful equipment! Tedious maintenance! Soaring costs! Untreatable stains! A tinker's curse on a cracker!

I wouldn't use anything else. Neither should you.;)

June 15, 2008, 03:13 PM
A tinker's curse on a cracker!


For a second there I thought you were calling yourself a cracker :p .

The Tourist
June 15, 2008, 04:04 PM
calling yourself a cracker

Well, if that's the worst a tinker is called, I'll take it!

June 15, 2008, 04:09 PM
Truth be told, at first I thought it was just me.

In kind, my wife once asked me what I was thinking about as I sharpened. It surprised her when I remarked that I was thinking about nothing. It would be incorrect to say "nothing in particular," but more rightly, "nothing."

All of my friends, even sharpeners, try to quantify that by saying it's the Zen thing. It's balance. It's the validation of finally beng 'perfect' at something or with something, so that body responds to the mind's condition.

I understand. I sometimes really enjoyed polishing boots, for instance, just before the Army went to the brown noshines. Sometimes I've been like that with cleaning firearms.

Not really thinking. Your body moving, your mind still. Content. Centered.


I'd certainly like to try it out.


The Tourist
June 15, 2008, 11:32 PM
I understand. I sometimes really enjoyed polishing boots

Ya' know, sometimes I find myself doing that Mr. Miyagi thing, "Wax on, wax off." I just don't know how to show the bigger lesson any other way.

I understand that people want sharp knives. The problem is that "getting there" requires new personal views and goals. More about finding out about yourself. I might as well be teaching gardening.

Sometimes I simply sense negativity. It would be like someone new coming here and saying, "Teach me to shoot hollowpoints."

I will tell you this, and it's something my Dad told me. He was good at woodworking, a talent that skips generations. But he did notice that as a student or friend began building better turned chair legs, that student's manners improved, his tools were cleaned and carefully put away, even his language was more polite. Slowly the kid who could only see the finished product saw the value in being a cabinet maker.

In fact, I had been a reloader for almost twenty years before my Dad saw my gunroom.

On a biker forum I explained this transition as the manner in which I "patched," that is, became a full fledged member of an MC. I told them that I was not a biker but just a kid when I joined. But I was a real biker when I left.

I looked over a few knives this afternoon. I'm getting better.

June 16, 2008, 12:30 AM
calling yourself a cracker

Well, if that's the worst a tinker is called, I'll take it!

You would be in good company. ;) It is no insult where I'm from.

I guess this means I need to get my hands on some water stones.

The Tourist
June 16, 2008, 01:00 AM
I guess this means I need to get my hands on some water stones.

Ahhh, come to take "the curse," have you?

On one hand, I'm very happy that a lot of people are getting serious about buying better knives, doing careful maintenance and learning how to sharpen.

Another part of me worries about how people will stick with their instruction without getting frustrating and simply quit. I know guys like this. As a kid they wanted an electric guitar, then in high school they wanted a Harley, then they joined the Navy to be a SEAL, now they want to sharpen...

As I stated, my Dad was good enough to be a cabinet maker. My friends don't even bother to ask me to make kindling for a fire.

I can thread an 800 pound motorcycle through rapidly moving traffic. I cannot hit a golf ball sitting completely still on a tee.

So, some girls don't like boys like me, ahh, but some girls do. And this is one of those hobbies and courses of study. You're going to pick up a wet rock for sharpening. Like most folks, it's going to slip out of your hands and clatter to the floor.

With any luck, your wife will be kind enough to buy you knives to destroy for about five years before she leaves you. Then magically one day a client gives you six bucks to sharpen a knife using your 4,000 dollars of stones and pastes.

But much like a "gremlin bell," you cannot buy the idea of being a tinker. Someone has to give you that. Someone has to trust you.

And in the end, it will be more than just your skill with knives.

June 16, 2008, 01:21 AM
why I ... freeze" blades for polishing.Did I miss the answer to this part? I've looked several times... :(

The Tourist
June 16, 2008, 02:02 AM
John, since I am not a metallurgist, I cannot give you a scientific answer.

I got into freezing my blades about two years ago, primarily as an adjunct to repair. Sometimes there was a knife that just wouldn't get the final percentage of polish and keenness. Sometimes I suspected a bad HT. A fellow tinker in Canada suggested we freeze the blades.

I tried it, and it worked. Or worked better. Or "fixed" the knife I had.

Then I wondered if freezing a new or trouble-free knife might offer some benefit. I did have some clients who took their knives into wilderness areas where equipment just could not fail or there was disaster or a lost hunt. One client had a large elk trophy ruined by a poor caping job.

So I froze four KOA Bear Cubs. My clients loved them. The blades were super keen, very shiny, and held an edge. So here was an example of a properly made knife (the KOA series), good steel (D2), a good HT, and some of my best work.

It is my opinion that freezing should be considered one of the tools a tinker uses to do superior work. If you're not a good sharpener then freezing is not going to make you a genius.

I use this technique on my personal knives, and I think they get that "final degree" of sharpness that makes my work better. Let's face it, it's a competitive world. Money is tight now. If a man with a budget has a nice knife and he wants the best in care and service, I now have an added value service.

June 16, 2008, 02:37 AM
Very interesting.

Is it an issue of maintaining the blade at a low temperature during the polishing/sharpening process or is it that freezing the blade somehow alters it permanently?

I may have to do some experimentation...

The Tourist
June 16, 2008, 03:50 AM
or is it that freezing the blade somehow alters it permanently?

This is the great debate we are having on the "Keeping Sharp" segment of KF.

One side believes that you must literally cryo-quench an entire blade blank to temperatures from 110 to 300 degrees blow zero.

Since it is not my goal to cryo the entire knife, just the very edge, the other side of the debate believes--as I do--that this thinner portion of the blade does received some "altered state" since it probably is frozen solid.

Added to the discussion is that a tinker/polisher using a finer grade of waterstones and paper removes a very minor amount of metal, he probably is only disturbing the truly frozen portion.

Over the last few days I have frozen a CRKT Razel and a Graham Brothers Stubby.

Of course, the more times a tinker polishes a blade, the sharper it gets. In fact, the expression "three's the charm" truly relates to knives.

Both of the CRKT and the Graham knives are toasty sharp. I mean if you just slip a little--press just a wee too gingerly--you're sliced.

In fact, this new CRKT Razel is one of the sharpest commercial knives I have ever seen. I had to go check my custom to say that. I can think of only one white steel deba laminate that even comes close.

You must also consider the concept of continual improvement. While some commercial companies are using better alloys and manufacturing methods (this Razel is a big step up for CRKT), the sharpening world is also progressing.

We are using finer grit stones, better polishing papers, the advent of glaziers glass for polishing mounts, finer grit pastes and now freezing.

Each improvement adds a little to the overall finished product. I'm excited about this facet of cutlery. Even large steel companies (like Crucible) are making alloys and finished sheets of steel just for the cutlery industry. The consumer has access to some of the best products and service since the day of the samurai. I do not exaggerate.

June 16, 2008, 08:38 AM
The Tourist,

I realize we're grillin' you pretty hard on sharpening lately but I have a quick question regarding the wheel polish. Do you use it to charger leather, or is there a different step that the Mothers stuff is reserved for?

I use a lot of automotive grade polishes and sandpapers but the wheel polish never crossed my mind.


The Tourist
June 16, 2008, 12:36 PM
wheel polish never crossed my mind.

First off, I believe there are horses for courses. As you know, a cutler in KF named Mike Stewart not only sharpens, but makes them. He uses different tools and some powered equipment. I could not duplicate his hand.

Having said that, my goal is to utilize modern tools and pastes to offer a modern rendition of older methods for my clients. Japanese swords of the 12th century had mirror finishes, razor edges and provided repair as part of the "polish." I believe in those ideals.

If I sharpen an edge, but leave the pocket clip loose or (unwanted) patina, rust or pits in the knife, am I really doing my job?

In that pursuit, the polishers of history used pastes and pumice--and they still do. You will notice polishers buffing swords with tiny pieces of "finger stones," or sometimes grinding them into a paste.

If they do it, then I must do it. So I researched chromium oxide in both paste and liquid, and I use modern commercial products.

In the art of togi, the back portion of the blade is mirror finished. So the question is, how did the polishers of history do this?

Well, they didn't go down to NAPA with a crdit card. They went to a quarry, and found the correct rock--chosen for the needed properties. And I do the same. Modern steel has a higher Rc rating, so my pumice must be ofa superior construction.

To be honest, I admire the hobbyists who are Civil War enactors for their study of history and their desire for authenticity and respect for history. I try to protect that love of history and desire for quality, but in the end, I need a superior pumice.

June 16, 2008, 01:20 PM
Thanks Tourist.

I just picked up a jar of 3M Professional Chrome and Metal polish to add to my arsenal. Just what I needed, another aspect of the curse that I need to learn. :o

I'll actually use it on bolsters on slipjoints or brass guards on some fixed blades so I'm not getting ahead of myself buy picking it up. I won't go tearing into any blades with it without a bit more research and guidance.

June 16, 2008, 01:50 PM
Preface: I apprenticed to do by hand, before I was allowed to use a powered tool.

Let us take a 3" blade, it does not matter the steel, nor if a fixed or folding blade knife.
Just the blade, blank, it does not even have a "rough" edge, not even a hint, of blade geometry.

Re: Modern Tools.
Let us set the various Norton, Arkansas, Belgium, and Scottish stones aside.
As one trick still used today by top mfgs and makers, is to sharpen a blade edge first - then only sharpen spine first, this is not stropping, though it resembles stropping.

Let us set aside the various strops, wood, metal, leathers, canvas, muslin, and other hand held - "hand tools".

Set aside the tool steel gravers, and burnishers one uses to work an edge.

Power only, modern tools only.

Dremel tool : Take a sledgehammer and bust it, then toss it on the trash.
We don't want that item, breathing our air, or taking up space.

[Note, we did not have Dremels, and when they came out, we never used one, and to this day, I never have]

Optivisor [tm] loupe, with the additional fold down magifier.
Bausch & Lomb hand held 10x loupe.
Microscope, such as a Gemologist uses.
Set it at 10x, but we are gonna bump it up to a greater magnification.

We are going to do the work, in both natural North Daylight, and use Man-Made lighting that replicates this light.
This costs some money,both the room the lights, and maintaining that Natural North Daylight

Modern, hi-tech, here we go!

Foredom Flexshaft, , set on variable speed, and the rheostat that is slipper shape, with carbon contacts.
In other words, not the new solid state rheostat.

Baldor electric "buffing machine"
Pay attention here.

One regular "buffer" with two speeds, 3450/1725 RPM
Another that has been "geared" to run 1725/ 862.5.
Another that has been "geared to run 862.5/ 431.25.
One more, specially geared to run 215

Custom made diamond impregnated attachments to work in Foredom.
These are expensive, because these do not break down as the regular ones on the market that require water, or oil, to prevent heat build up, which breaks them down.

Bees Wax, that has been hit with a Hoke Torch, to soften, then the wax is rolled around in a ash tray, and floor sweeps to become "less sticky"
Apply this to the blank.
Next, we dust the blank with Talcum Powder.
Use our breath to remove any residual dust.

Engravers' Ball is a bit bulky - remember the Rule:

Bring the work to you - never go to the work. - Mentors

Wooden ring clamp with leather padded jaws, with genuine chamois leather added.
The blade is inserted, edge up, insert the wooden wedge, and hit it against
the bench to tighten.

Two benches side by side, a third is to your left tools are are on both
Behind you are the buffers, set and ready to go.
One the end of the line of buffers, are two sinks, two L&R Ultrasonic cleaners, and two Steam cleaners, one gas, one electric.

Coffee is on benches, and elsewhere...
Pack of smokes are there too with Zippos.
Lit cigarettes are burning in the ashtray.

It is 1971.
You have 11 minutes and 35 seconds, to sharpen that blade.
Mentors have a stop watch....the receiver is ready, the turntable too, so are the Cerwin Vega Speakers.

Serious Fun, and that new Album by Traffic with the corners clipped, named The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys is on the turntable.
That song is 11 minutes and 35 long .

You hear the first sound from the Cerwin Vegas, you start!

First step is to take the shaft of a Busch Burr, and remove the most fine line of bees wax and talc.
Lining out the work.

The music plays, you are in constant motion, rolling a chair from modern equip to another, chuck keys are everywhere, and one is worn the neck.
You have a need for speed, can you sharpen, and get a polished edge before the song ends?

You end with a homemade tool, then roll to the L&R, then jump up insert blade, hit it with the steam cleaner...

The song is still playing...

Under the see what hand held skills can translate to powered tools.

You are still an apprentice, and will always be one.
One Mentor has 51 years of experience and he is still learning.

This day, the good looking honey with the '68 Chevy Muscle Car with racing stripes, Cragar Mags, Hurst 4 spd shifter, and tosses you the keys...
You are legal to drive that car...
"You kids, oh never mind, it would not do any good to tell you to be careful, and we know you will have fun".

You leave your Case knife on a do not have a sharp knife, but hey, you can snag a Imperial somewhere along the way, 'sides the gal has a sharp knife.
Who cares?
We gots muscle car and good looking honey, and the rest of the day off!

*typical 16 y/o southern boy*


But spirit is something that
No one destroys- Traffic

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