Review: Sharpening Workshop Held at the Oxford Conservation Consortium, Oxford, England

I taught the two day version of my sharpening workshop, titled “Making and Sharpening Knives: A Rational Approach”  at the Oxford Conservation Consortium September 7 & 8, 2010.  Arthur Green and Maria Kalligerou wrote a nice review in the Institute of Conservation Newsletter,  November 2010.  If you are not a member of ICON, I would highly recommend joining– one major perk of membership is that each year, members are entitled to 10 free photocopies (including shipping!) or pdf’s of conservation journal articles ( or chapters of books) from the Chantery Library, which is perhaps the best book and paper conservation library in the UK. And there are two issues of their journal, newletters, workshops, etc….

The review also contains some good, practical tips for sharpening. It begins at the bottom right hand corner of the first page:  Knife Sharpening IconNewsNOV10

Hospital Grinder

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One of the many great things about New York City is the plethora of sidewalk vendors.  Recently, amidst a pile of used clothes, I saw this beautifully polished aluminum machine.  I sent some photos to mixed media artist and pathologist  Dr. Charlie Weissman and he speculates:

Never seen this exact machine, but probably dates from the era before most equipment was disposable, now it is easier to dispose of much equipment rather than try to get it sterilized completely and reconditined and sharpened. Looks too large for blood-drawing needles, but there are a variety of round penetrating devices– trocars  and such– for drawing off thicker fluids from various body sites, which could have been reused.  Bone-marrow biopsy needles could have this caliber.  Large biopsy needles for liver and prostate used to be reused. Modern  breast biopsy and brain biopsy needles can be large but they are not reused.  Looks a little large for spinal needle. Interesting.

The arm is adjustable for length, and simple slides back and forth to switch from one wheel to the next, which are three different grits.   It operates at a fairly slow speed, and since the motor is not shielded from the wheels, I’m guessing it was used dry. The clamping mechanism near the wheels forms a 90 degree angle, so it was likely used for round objects.  It even came in a velvet lined, fake leather grain covered wood box with a handle. Stylistically, it looks circa. 1930’s to me.  All for $10.00!

A Knife From The Hood

birck-ft

birck

At first, I thought the above knife was a German style paring knife, but now I’m not so sure. German knives are almost always somewhat flexiable, and this one is very rigid.   Notice the small recess on the handle, near the blade, perhaps worn by fingers gripping the handle over the decades.  Even a light surface cleaning could destroy not only important use evidence, but the overall beauty of the knife.  As I have said before, the over-cleaning and “restoration” of  hand tools is perhaps the most significant ongoing loss of cultural property  that commonly occurs.   The blade is full tang and has a gradual taper in thickness towards the cutting edge. Judging from the scratch patterns in the top picture, the owner must have had a stressful encounter with his grinding wheel!  But I find these marks interesting evidence of the history of the tool, as well as a visually refreshing antidote to the ubiquitous monotony of the highly regulated machine grind marks found on new tools.  The handle is an unidentified light colored wood that has been stained and is still firmly attached to the tang. The edges of the handle is still quite sharp, and the various ways I have tried to hold it all are somewhat uncomfortable.

Matt Murphy  found some information about Fred J. Birck:  “From 1903-04 he worked at 93 Essex St. In 1905-06, Fred. J. Birck is listed as being a part of Birck & Zamminer Cutlery, which is located at 154 Essex St.  In 1908-1912, Birck is listed at two seperate addresses, 132 Essex St. and 17 Cooper Sq. East. In 1912-1913, the primary address is changed to 17 Cooper Sq. E.  In 1913-1914, the partnership must have been dissolved, because only Birck is listed, and the only address is 17 Cooper Sq. E. until 1925.  Also, Mr. Birck made his home in Jersey City, New Jersey, as his address is often listed as 144 Hutton St. (Which still stands to this day.)”

So the knife is possibly from 1913-25.  Aside from the beautiful, insanely deep makers mark, I was attracted to the fact that another knife-maker worked in the East Village of NYC, only about 5 blocks from where my studio is now. There is even an old bar,  McSorley’s, established in 1854, still operating right around the corner from Birck’s 17 Cooper Sq. address. Perhaps Birck had a drink there.  I’ll raise a glass to him next time I’m there.

 

Don Rash posted a similar looking knife on his blog, unfortunately no makers mark.  I looked through Salaman’s Dictionary of Leather-working Tools c. 1700-1950 and couldn’t find any similar knives, and Salaman covers some pretty obscure leather-working trades ( ie. gut string maker, hydraulic pump-leather maker) but tends contain more English rather than American references.

 

Below is the German knife from Zaehnsdorf’s The Art of Bookbinding, 6th Ed. 1903. It almost looks like the knife is shaded more heavily on the top edge, to make clear the blade tapers toward the other edge?

german-paring-knife

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