Hone your skills

I hate sharpening knives. That is unfortunate since I have a LOT of them! I’m not really sure why I don’t like to sharpen knives, but one reason must be that I’m not great at it and get variable results. Sometimes I can shave with one of my best edges and other times I make the edge worse. Most of the time the outcome is pretty good, perhaps a “B” or an “A-” in today’s grade-inflated world.

My workshop

I was making iPad cases today and got to the point where my favorite knife was doing a pretty lousy job. I had already dulled my next-favorite knife, so I was left with little choice…

My favorite knife.

My favorite knife.

I pulled out my diamond stones and started working. As I was circling my blade back and forth, I payed attention to the nice sound that it was making. Sort of a happy “whoosh, whoosh” that became very hypnotic. I made progress, judged by the little burr that I developed on the opposite side. The coarse stones were loud and rough, and as I moved to finer stones, the sound became silent and the burrs got finer and finer. After 5-10 minutes, I had a sharp blade…and a clearer mind.

Somehow I got myself into the mode of not hating the job of sharpening, and it was relaxing. I realized that it was a necessary part of leatherwork and really no less important than hand sewing or burnishing and dying edges. A sharp knife makes everything easier and safer. The work is cleaner and even the thickest leather can be cut with little difficulty.

My sharpening stones

My sharpening stones

People hone their skills or can be dull. People can dress sharply and businesses work on sharpening their image. A story (perhaps apocryphal) I enjoy is that George Schulz, Reagan’s Secretary of State, would solve differential equations each day. He was a professor of economics at MIT, so he did have the background. Assuming that this is true, Schultz was honing his skills.

It isn’t always easy to hone our skills. When was the last time you solved differential equations for fun or read serious literature or practiced a foreign language? Honing a knife or a brain or a body takes work, but it is work that pays off. We don’t always want to do it, but most things get easier when the tool is sharp.

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