The Beauty of Sharp
Artisans need properly functioning tools. In this blog post, Resident Artisan Wesley Hathaway writes about the importance of keeping your tools sharp.
Craft, art, jobs, and different professions all require tools that cut or manipulate materials, whether wood, textiles, leather, food or metal. In order to accomplish that task, the tool needs to function, and for that tool to function properly it needs to be sharp. More importantly, it needs to have the appropriate amount of sharpness in relation to its function. There is nothing more satisfying than a tool that's sharp and is working properly. It's beautiful!
I am a woodcarver. I manipulate the medium of wood with various tools such as table saws, axes, hand saws, carving knives and gouges. I need all of these tools to function properly, and to do that they need to be sharp! I need my tools to be safe to prevent injuries. They have to perform a task that tool was designed for—I want to enjoy my craft, so I need my tools to be predictable. Being frustrated with your tools isn't fun. They need to be sharp!
This blog post is simply a public service announcement that having a sharp tool is beautiful; in fact, it's sexy! I’ve been around a fair amount of crafts and people working with tools that are supposed to be sharp but aren’t. In those situations you often hear people saying things like “this is hard”, “why am I struggling so much?”, “is there an easy way?”. Nine times out of ten it’s because their tools aren't sharp.
Take those rusty old handsaws that every grandfather had in their garage, that you used that one time to cut that “branch,” and upon using it you realized you never wanted to use that tool again because it was so difficult to cut that “branch.” I’ll bet that saw was dull as a toothbrush! I think back to different times in my life where I was using some rusty old tool and I just couldn't understand why a seemingly simple task was borderline impossible while using that rusty old tool. It was probably a perfectly fine tool, it was just dull and needed to be sharpened, and that's not sexy!
An epiphany I had in my early days of spoon carving was realizing the importance of having a sharp tool. I could not carve out the bowl (part of the spoon that holds food) of the spoon. I had the tool that was needed but it “just wouldn’t work.” Like so many people I used YouTube to learn how to carve spoons, and you'd see this person carving who made it look like carving butter, and they made it look “easy.” I copied everything they did—the position of my body, wood, and knife—and still, it didn't work. I even carved spoon after spoon but skipped the bowl because I couldn't get the knife to work. It was making me insane. Through the process of elimination, I realized that I didn't know how to get a proper sharp—a sharp that was appropriate for the task at hand. I sharpened that knife over and over again until I thought it looked and felt like I was carving butter; until the tool was working as it should.
If you enjoy cooking but hate those dull knives, if you enjoy quilting but those darn scissors just aren't cutting properly, or you’ve gotten into leatherworking and your skiving is causing you frustration, get out there and get those tools sharp! If you don’t know how to, the world is overflowing with resources to learn how. The most important thing is to just jump right in and use what you have or is easy to get. You’b be surprised that a piece of 3000 grit sandpaper can get your tools as sharp as an expensive waterstone. I understand there are some tools out there that can’t be sharpened by hand or with simple means, so change out that safety blade or send that table saw blade in and get that tool working properly. Having your sharp tools be sharp is such a beautiful, beautiful thing. Thank you.
For updates or to see more of what Wesley Hathaway is up to, you can view his work on Instagram at @wesley.hathaway