A small departure from guns and gun rights today…
I grew up with a knife in my pocket. In small-town East Tennessee in the 60′s and 70′s, it was standard equipment for a man, and any boy who aspired to be a man. My father taught me early in life how to use a blade safely, and as soon as I could show him I understood, I was allowed a pocketknife of my own. I figure I was probably about eight years old at the time, and pretty much every day since then, I have had a knife on my person. (Yes, even at school.)
The other thing Dad taught me was the importance of keeping a knife sharp. A dull blade is harder to work through whatever you’re cutting, increasing the likelihood of slipping and slicing yourself. So along with knife ownership came knife maintenance, and the ritual of knife sharpening.
I don’t really consider it a chore, either. I enjoy the process of getting out the stones…unwrapping them from the piece of linen bedsheet that is probably as old as I am. Oiling the big Arkansas stone for the first stage of the process…first, a spray of WD-40, and then using my finger to spread it thoroughly across the surface. Cleaning the blade a little with the WD-40 remaining on my finger, and then setting it against the stone for the first pass. The angle has to be just right, you know. After over 40 years of practice, I can eyeball it now. It’s perfect.
Then pushing the blade away from me, with just enough pressure…not too much. Turning the knife as it moves across the stone, keeping the angle consistent as the curves of the blade change the relationship between steel and stone. Turn the knife over and draw it toward me across the stone, duplicating the grind just applied to the other side of the edge. Both sides must be identical.
Every few passes, I pause to wipe away the oil and inspect my work. The edge is bright in the light, and seeing no defects, I lightly slide my finger down both sides of the edge, feeling. You can tell when it’s right that way. No burrs. Smooth. Fresh, clean steel…ready for the next step.
Now the small, white stone. It is a fine grit, more polish than grind now. A little oil on that one, and a few light passes are all that is required. If there were any burrs undetected by my touch, they’re gone now. A firm stropping against my denim jeans removes the “wire edge,” if there is one, and it is done. The knife is ready to do its job, and the stones are carefully wrapped back in their protective shroud, ready for next time.
I’ll have them back out again soon enough. One other thing I learned early on about knives is that they always need regular sharpening, even when they aren’t used. Even just sitting idle in its sheath, a knife will lose its edge over time. Then, when you need it…it won’t be up to the task.
Maybe this is about gun rights after all. Maybe…just maybe…it’s a cautionary metaphor for gun owners. For we tend to let our guard down when times are good. When we feel that anti-gun forces have been properly beaten back for a while, we fold up our knives, and wrap up our tools, and go on with our lives.
But the blade is constantly dulling. Always. Stay sharp.