Guest post: Paper and knives

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Here’s something I bet you didn’t know you could do with your notebook—sharpen knives. Guest blogger Kenneth Schwartz elaborates…

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I met Karen through two reviews I did of a Journal 21 and a Habana notebook (which I use as an ink log book) on the Fountain Pen Network.

I mentioned my interest in knife sharpening, particularly Japanese kitchen knives and how I use fine paper for knife sharpening. She said she had an old Japanese knife given to her by her Father many years ago and I suggested that I would find out more about it. I offered to sharpen it for her, using, among other things, paper for sharpening her knife. I actually felt quite thrilled to restore an old Japanese knife and honored to be entrusted with an old knife which had sentimental meaning associated with it. It is an ajikiri, used as a filet knife for small fish like trout but particularly mackerel or Aji, which gives the knife its name. It can also be used as a sturdy paring knife or for cutting up chicken.

At this point, you might be wondering what knife sharpening and pens have in common, particularly regarding the use of paper.

Actually quite a lot. Some of the characteristics of paper that make for fine writing paper for fountain pens, especially very fine tipped ones, also make for a fine surface for sharpening knives. Surface smoothness and the ability to hold up well when abraded are two of the most important characteristics.

Restoring this knife required using waterstones for the flat surfaces, but also polishing the various curves of a knife with a series of ever finer abrasives, ultimately using fine paper with no grit at all for the finest of polishes. For both this task, as well as writing with a fountain pen, I find Clairfontaine and Rhodia paper to be an exceptional choice.

My technique involves using waterstones and special buffing compounds, some with very fine particles sized at 1 micron or less. I grind a small amount of waterstone using water and a diamond impregnated metal plate and wipe this ‘mud’ on to the paper and let it dry. This resurfacing of a waterstone is normally done to keep it flat, essential for producing very sharp edges. The result of this process of refining and shaping the surface of a knife is an exceedingly sharp edge and a mirror smooth finish. If you are familiar with a barber stropping a razor with a leather strop, this idea may not seem quite so strange. It is in fact an improvement of that concept using paper and can be used for sharpening razors as well.

For the flat surfaces of a knife, I use the paper backed with a glass plate, presenting an exceptionally flat surface to the knife. For curved areas, I cut out squares approximately 2 x 2 inches and use the pads of my fingertips to back or support the paper, allowing the paper to conform to the curved surfaces of the knife very precisely.

I’ve described the details of the restoration and sharpening more fully here.

Here’s a few before and after pictures as well as two samples of Rhodia pad (5 mm grid) paper used with a very coarse stone grit and a very fine compound (1 micron boron carbide).

Before:

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After:

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A sheet of coarse grit impregnated Rhodia paper used for the initial polishing of the knife, removing corrosion and performing initial surface preparation:

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Sharpening the front bevel with Rhodia paper coated with 1 micron boron carbide particles (I used a glass nib to label the paper with J. Herbin Authentique ‘Lawyer’s’ permanent ink, but that’s a subject for another post):

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Final polish with Rhodia paper ‘tacked’ down with some J Herbin sealing wax to a glass plate:

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If you ever need to touch up a knife to make it a bit sharper, try using a sheet of Rhodia paper laid on a flat surface. You’ll be quite surprised how much sharper your knife will be after just a few passes. Because of its exceptional smoothness, it will be even nicer than using most other papers.

2 thoughts on “Guest post: Paper and knives

  1. Between my recently acquired interest in nice papers, and having been a knife maker, sharpener, and folder collector for a while, I was very happy to see this entry while browsing paper blogs, a great cross over of my hobbies!

    Wonderful to see that I’m not the only knife nut(hello Ken from a fellow KF member!) to pass over into the world of papers, pens and inks! I hate to admit it, I’d not thought of this, I should have… But I will now be trying my new rhodia pages when it comes, and the Ciak I have, as strop mediums.. High quality paper put to a dual task…. Sweet!

    G.

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