How the antique stone converts to professional
How the antique stone converts to professional
Before we move on to the question of the use of vintage sharpening stones, we should recall what the first human tools looked like between 700,000 and 40,000 B.C. The first stone tools were quite different, but they had sharp edges. Over time, man has learned to improve their tools and improved the technology of stone processing, which also led to the creation of tools from wood and bone.
Humans learned to create tools for everyday life as well as weapons in the process of their activity. Stone knives were made of flint, obsidian, slate, and quartz.
It must be said that creating household items and weapons using primitive technologies is not a simple task, and requires a certain experience and skill. Such craftsmen as Errett Callahan and Dale Duby, who breathed new life into primitive technology, create objects on this basis and some products can rightfully be called works of art. This trend, the ability to create tools and knives from improvised materials, is popular today among survivalists.
The development of shaping techniques for certain tools is also directly related to primitive tool-making methods.
There is evidence in history that the use of sharpening stones began to develop at the end of the Stone Age around 5,000 years B.C., i.e. at the turn of the Bronze Age, and is inseparably linked with cutting tools. The first sharpening stones were rocks with abrasive qualities. However, according to some studies, people invented the antique method of sharpening tools about 75 thousand years ago.
You can find information in the specialized literature about stones with characteristic grooves left by frequent use over a very long period.
An example of such a primitive tool is a Langdale Axe. The manufacture of such an axe, according to some archaeologists' opinions, consisted of systematically grinding the blade of the axe in a V-groove of the instrument called sharpening grooves.
If this is what the production of the tools looked like, then this work was hard to even for a skilled person. The direct purpose of such stones has no clear explanation. However, it proves the fact that humans were aware of the abrasive properties of stone rocks already.
What was the procedure of processing and sharpening tools in detail and what were the sizes of sharpening stones can only be guessed. It is a fact that stone tools changed along with the development of society and the abrasive properties of stone have been used by mankind since time immemorial.
The Iron Age
Over time, stone tools were replaced by metal ones, and sharpening stones changed in size and became smaller for easy transportation. With the transition to the Iron Age, iron became the main material from which various tools and weapons were made. The further evolution of various forms of activity led man to the need to search for new abrasives and to improve abrasive tools to get the better finishing and the precise angle of the blades.
Simultaneously with the improvement of tools, the grinding process improved, which resulted in the appearance of hand grinders at the beginning of the first millennium AD.
In the fifth and sixth centuries, artisanal production emerges, and the process of grinding and polishing becomes an integral part of it. Some famous examples of the first machines of the time are potter's grinding wheels and millstones.
When considering the development of the grinding process as a historical phenomenon, archaeologists confirm the existence of a step-by-step process of processing blades. The working process consisted of three steps, specifically: grinding, deburring, and finishing. These three processes remain unchanged. It can also be assumed that roughing and grinding were sufficient at first. Then later, with the evolution of human activity, the quality requirements for finishing angle precision increased. The finishing of blades, thus, became an integral part of the process of processing and finishing blades.
Later, the extraction and processing of abrasive minerals became the subject of mining. No branch of industry exists without grinding. For centuries, well-known natural abrasives such as garnet, flint, corundum, or sandpaper have been used and are still used in the manufacture of grinding tools.
Weaponmaking, which existed long before the birth of large cities and the formation of national economies of different countries, served as a definite stepping stone to the formation of industrial enterprises in the future. The cooperation of specialists of different professions in this industry was the basis for the emergence of production capacities.
Knifemakers and sharpening craft in history
Factories producing knives and cutting tools emerged in the second half of the 19th century in connection with the rise of the national economies of the leading countries of the world. Iron ore processing plants and factories producing knife products for mass sales were established in the United States, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Austria, and Germany.
The availability of natural stone deposits in North America, Europe, and Japan has opened up new production possibilities and stimulated the commercialization, widespread distribution, and mass sales of sharpening stones.
In several European countries, such as Germany, Belgium, and England deposits of natural sharpening stones were discovered and there were large-scale mining and mass sales, including exports to different countries of the world.
The SOLINGEN brand is the result of almost 700 years of history and high-quality products. Around the year 1250, it all started with the production of swords, and only later in 1374 did the cluster of blacksmith shops acquire the rights of a city. Handmade production continued until 1850 and there were about 100 blacksmith shops in the city. Since electric lathes had not yet been invented, at that time the rotation of a vintage grinding wheel was ensured by a flow of water according to the principle of the water mill. This technology was later replaced by steam engines in the course of industrialization, and the productivity of knife-making enterprises, including the quality of blade finishing, increased drastically.
The best-known brands in Solingen include Güde, Zwilling, Wüsthof, RÖR, ISS, and others.
One of the most famous and old natural sharpening stones not only in Germany but also on a global scale is the Thuringian slate, which in its time was sold under the brand name Escher known for almost 200 years. The company exported this sharpening stone primarily to the United States and in a way it has become a phenomenon and the equivalent of unmatched quality for sharpening barber's tools.
In the vicinity of the Austrian city of Steyr (German: Steyr) iron ore deposits were found and in 1850 - 1870 the steel industry began rapidly growing. As a consequence, one of the largest enterprises of cold steel arms production in Europe Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG was founded. In 1890 there were about 10,000 people employed here.
History also shows that in the 16th century there were already over a dozen knife shops near Steyer in Trattenbach.
Natural stone deposits for the production of a grinding wheel, millstones, and hand-held sharpening stones still exist in Austria in the town of Gosau.
Two cities in France became quite famous for the production of vintage knives and cold steel weapons. Klingenthal (french) in turn became the Solingen in Alsace with the opening of a factory in 1730 for the production of cold steel weapons. Guest workers from Solingen came to work here. Already in 1770, several different forge and locksmith shops, foundries, and grinding workshops were opened there. Later in 1834 weapon production was moved further inland. In another French town Thiers, the production of knives never ceased and is pretty active even today.
Since the 14th century, the banks of the Durolle River have been home to many different industries. In 1840, there were about 12 blacksmiths and 70 grinding companies on the banks of the river. The largest clusters of knife enterprises were and are located in the region of Laguiole and Chambéry - which is the equivalent of "made in France". Other cutlery manufacturing centers also emerged, such as those in Nogent in 1850.
Portugal can also be called one of the antique European knife manufacturing centers and one of the largest in Europe. Today Icel is the leading company and together with the companies Wüsthof and Zwilling J. A. Henckels in Solingen and Arcos in Spain belongs to the leading European knife brands. In addition, there is a small and old village in Portugal known for the production of traditional and vintage pocket knives, very similar to the French Opinel. According to some historians, the production in Portugal is a certain competition to that of Solingen.
Spain, as well as other countries, has a long and old history of the development of the production of edged weapons at a high level in the city of Toledo. It is a historical fact that in the vicinity of Toledo, antique weapons manufacturers existed before the Romans came to the Iberian Peninsula in the 3rd century B.C. Toledo's blades reached their peak at the time of the birth of the Spanish Empire in the late 15th century. Moreover, many blades created in Spain in general were not only of high quality but are also works of art of that time and are distinguished by a high degree of decorative finishing. Unfortunately, over time, the craftsmanship has withered away and today there are only five small factories producing knives and bladed weapons left.
One of Spain's most famous and old folding knives is the great knife Navaja known far beyond the country's borders.
Among all the modern manufacturers of knives with an old history, such antique companies as Nieto, Muela, and Aitor stand out. Muela offers a wide range of good hunting and tourist knives. The Nieto company, on the contrary, specializes in producing more classic and vintage models of knives, although its catalog also includes modern designs. In turn, companies such as Cudemann and RUI offer a wide range of knives at a fairly affordable price range. AITOR company is known among all for the production of survival knives.
As they say in Italy: "I migliori coltelli d'Italia" - the best knives are made in Italy. The country in the south of Europe is known not only for its excellent wine, but also for its knife masters. Among the world-famous manufacturers, we can name for example Extrema Ratio, LionSteel, Fox Knives, Beltrame, and MKM. Daring design and high-quality processing are typical of Italian knives. Italian manufacturers offer knives of all sorts of categories from EDC and tactical knives to vintage and classic hunting and tourist knives.
Knives from the U.S. are always considered products and the equivalent of the fairly common phenomenon of «unlimited possibilities». This is very typical of several manufacturers, such as Al Mar, Steel Will, and SOG. Brands such as CRKT present products on the market with innovative solutions. Some, like Benchmade, specialize in producing high-quality folding knives from the EDC category. Companies such as Buck, Gerber, and TOP's specialize in manufacturing knives in the traditional pocketknife, survival, and bushcraft categories.
Many hobbyists and knife sharpeners in the USA often use Arkansas natural sharpening stone. Arkansas sharpening stones are considered one of the best natural stones for finishing the cutting edge after sharpening. The rock is a fine-grained quartz that is 99.5% silicon oxide.
There are four groups of Arkansas stones: Washita, Arkansas Translucent, Arkansas Hard, and Arkansas Black.
We can conclude that all enterprises producing knives have a full cycle of blade processing, including roughing, grinding, and finishing, which is carried out on different equipment, but a grinding wheel, belts, and other abrasives, produced by large specialized enterprises, are also used at different production stages.
Development of sharpening factories in medieval Japan and in modern times in Europe and the USA
The development of specialized knife sharpening workshops as independent enterprises occurred later during the widespread distribution of knife products and the growing needs of society, which could not be covered by the manufacturers of knife products themselves.
Japanese masters of sharpening should be singled out first of all, which are inseparably connected with the places of water sharpening stones' extraction that date back to the Heian period (749 - 1185). With the establishment of the Kamakura shogunate in Japan, the production of swords and other bladed weapons for the needs of the samurai increased sharply. Along with this increases the need for sharpening stones. During the Muromachi period (1336-1573) a deposit of high-quality natural stone was discovered near Kyoto, still in use today.
During this historical period, the profession of knife sharpener officially appears. During the Edo period (from 1603 to 1868), the mining, processing, and sale of sharpening stones were under state control. At the end of the Edo period, a book called The Charm of Kyoto's natural hones was published, describing how to work with natural stones. This book remains to this day the most authoritative source of knowledge for sharpening professionals and amateurs.
With the beginning of the Meiji Restoration period of 1868-1912, Japan switched to capitalist management, mines were privatized, mining and stone processing technology improved, and sales increased in volume. For this reason, many professional sharpeners lose their former positions and the demand for their services drops considerably. With the advent of artificial abrasive stones on the market, the mining of natural stones in Japan is going down drastically. Nowadays, only professionals and amateur knife sharpeners who understand how to use such sharpening stones use them.
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, there was a "Great Emigration" (Italian: la grande emigrazione), which began in the 1870s, immediately after the final unification of Italy and the agrarian crisis that broke out in the country. A large number of Italians leave their homeland and choose the United States as one of their main destinations. Against this background, there is a layer of Italians who came to the country of unlimited opportunities, who call themselves "moleta" (https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-10-03-fo-4283-story.html). According to historical accounts, the eve of World War I and the division of territories between Austria and Italy caused Italian master sharpeners to come to the United States. Later in 1930, Italian sharpeners founded the Knife Grinders Assn. to settle their spheres of influence. The heirs of many craftsmen of that time have grown into very large firms today. While their predecessors transported their simple equipment in small wheelbarrows, today an entire truckload of equipment comes out to the customer and delivers a large number of completed orders.
As for the masters of blade sharpening from the second half of the 19th century to the first half of the 20th century in other countries of the world, there is little difference in the methods of processing blades. Many of them lead a settled character of activity associated with the peculiarities of equipment, while others choose as a way of economic activity to search for customers in the streets of cities.
After more than half a century of technological development and significant changes in the way services are provided in many cities around the world, small master sharpeners still have the custom of sitting on street corners and offering their services.
The industrialization period, the technical revolution, and technical discoveries
In late modern times, sharpening stones have been mined in quarries all over the world (England, France, Germany, Sweden, and the USA) and have become widespread. Natural sharpening stones of different kinds and sizes are used by many sharpeners to this day. The high demand for quality abrasives has resulted in many quarries reaching the level of exhaustion and becoming unprofitable.
With the development of the chemical industry, it became possible to produce artificial abrasive discs and stones with homogeneous grains and the demand for natural abrasives began to fall.
Due to the significant growth of industry, the volume of consumed abrasive materials increased, which in turn led to the need to create specialized enterprises for the production of heterogeneous abrasive materials based on artificial abrasives on an industrial scale.
The production of a ceramic-bonded grinding wheel, and later vulcanite-bonded grinding discs based on natural abrasives, was launched as a result of industrial developments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A significant technological leap was the discovery of silicon carbide powder and artificial corundum. Further development of the entire industry went in line with the development of new artificial abrasives.
Leading companies then and today
The emergence of large industrial enterprises producing abrasives was primarily aimed at the production of abrasive materials for the needs of metalworking.
The Carborundum Company
Sometimes history is written not only by politicians and artists but also by technical inventions like artificial abrasives. A good example is Edward Goodrich Acheson's patented method of producing silicon carbide materials invented in Pennsylvania, USA in 1891. Some discoveries are made by trial and error, which is common in history. Melting various chemical materials in an electric furnace resulted in a powder of small shiny crystals. This invention became the cornerstone for the further development of abrasive materials based on silicon carbide.
Sometime later, in 1883, engineer Auguste Verneuil in France invented a method of creating artificial gemstones. In 1892 he perfected his research and discovered a method of producing artificial corundum by melting bauxite. After improving the process of melting bauxite, an engineer named Jacobs obtained corundum, also known today as aluminum oxide. This method was later used by Norton to produce abrasive discs.
Both silicon carbide and electrocorundum are widely used around the world for the production of abrasive tools for the high-precision machining of various surfaces.
Later in 1942 monocorundum was obtained, and in the 1960s the production of synthetic diamonds began.
Boride and its divisions
Boride trademark abrasive materials have been produced for about 40 years and are used for various industrial purposes in more than 50 countries of the world. In addition to a wide range of abrasive materials, the company produces blades and hones for semi-automatic processing and polishing surfaces of various molds and small parts.
The world's brands occupying such a niche in the market of abrasives include the company Gesswein, Joke, Pferd, and others.
Bars for treating surfaces are only a tiny part of what is currently being produced by the leaders in the industry.
Innovations in modern sharpening
Over the past few decades, due to the creation of new metalworking machines for workshops and simplified access to resources such as steel, there has been a growth in medium and small workshops around the world that produce custom knives. In this environment, as before, there is often a full cycle of blade production, except for the steel production process itself. For this reason, master knife makers need to deal with the issue of steel processing, angle setting, pre-finishing and finishing.
In addition, the number of individuals who are interested in knives as users and collectors is also growing. Some users are also interested in sharpening their knives.
New ideas are often born in this environment and existing solutions get improved.
One such example is Edge Pro Inc. led by its creator and inventor, Ben Dale. The company is widely known as a manufacturer of sharpening devices invented by Mr. Dale and abrasives of a special format in a wide range of products.
Mr. Dale did not invent a new abrasive but turned to the already existing material base and consumables created earlier by Boride. Mr. Dale combined his technical solution of the sharpening device with the popular existing at that time format of the abrasive stone with the size of 150x25 mm. Thus, the industrial solution went into use in a slightly different field of activity previously not intended for this, namely, the sharpening of knives, and became very popular among knife sharpeners and masters of sharpening.
Some sharpening system manufacturers appreciated this size of abrasive bars and began to produce sharpening devices for use in conjunction with such a format of abrasives.
Sharpeners began to produce bars of the Apex format not only from full-size bars based on artificial abrasives but also from natural sharpening stones.
Who should use professional stones
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If you are a beginner, you should consider using cheaper artificial abrasives. Many will find the resulting sharpness at an acceptable level. In case the result is not sharp enough, it is always possible to buy more expensive artificial abrasive stones.
We recommend purchasing and using professional stones if demand for the level of finishing of the cutting edge of tools or knives is at the corresponding level. Along with the quality of finishing, some abrasives, such as diamond abrasives, ensure high efficiency of sharpening (metal removal rate) and save time.
And so we can trace how a rock with abrasive properties for sharpening stone axes after thousands of years became suitable for sharpening blades with a fine cutting edge and high sharpness, of which the neolithic man could not even dream.
Further, we provide lists of deposits of natural grinding stones, companies producing artificial abrasive stones, and their categories.
Countries of origin of the most famous natural sharpening stones:
In the USA the main natural stones are mined from deposits in the mountains of Arkansas: Arkansas Black, Arkansas Hard, Arkansas Translucent, and Washita. They are mined and sold by Dan's Whetstone Company, Inc., Norton Company.
In Russia - Microquartzite (Baikalite), Belorechit (Beloretsk quartzite), Technical Jasper
In the UK - Charnley Forest, Dalmore Blue, Dragons Tongue, Tam O’Shanter, Yellow Lake, Llyn Melynllyn, Moughton Whetstone, Llyn Idwal
In Belgium – Coticule, BBW, La Lorraine - Rouge du Salm.
In Germany - Esher Thuringian water hone.
In China – Guangxi, Sungari.
In Japan – the stones have names according to their mining location and their classification is too extensive to mention in this article.
List of leading manufacturers of artificial sharpening stones: KASUMI, KING, NAKATOMI, NANIWA, SHAPTON, SIGMA, Spyderco, SUEHIRO, Norton Company, Boride
Categories of professional sharpening stones: Diamond Stones, CBN Stones, Aluminum Oxide Stones, Silicon Carbide Stones, Natural Stones, Semi-Natural Stones, Sintered Ceramic Stones, Strops and Pads, and Lapping Films.