FYI for tonight’s 19th GOP debate: Steel doesn’t sharpen steel

AJC file

AJC file

Tonight, from Florida, CNN will air the 19th debate of the Republican presidential candidates. Somebody, as they always do, will mutter a defense of the protracted contest.

“Steel sharpens steel,” they will say. But here’s the thing: It sounds good, but steel doesn’t sharpen steel — as any candidate chasing the blue-collar vote ought to know.

Jim Dillon is an cabinet-maker and writer who teaches the occasional class on tool-sharpening at Highland Hardware in Atlanta. He knows his stuff, and – at my request — sent this note last night:

When [Rick] Santorum, [Sarah] Palin et al. talk about “steel sharpening steel,” they seem to be referring to Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpeneth iron: so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.”

The implication is that the longer the remaining Republican candidates butt heads or countenances in the primaries, the “sharper” the eventual nominee will become, possibly even to the point of becoming hatchet-faced.

I’m not an expert on the history of metallurgy, so I won’t claim to know how the Hebrews of Solomon’s times sharpened their knives, swords, sickles and so on. It’s conceivable that they used something like a file, or a butcher’s honing steel.

Both the file and the butcher’s steel must be harder than the blade they’re used on, though. The file is used only for rough shaping of a blade that doesn’t need to be very sharp, like a lawn mower or axe. The butcher’s honing steel doesn’t actually sharpen a blade, but rather adjusts its edge back into alignment so it can be used a while longer before it gets a real sharpening.

Speaking as a 21st-century woodworker, I wouldn’t recommend either approach. The way you sharpen a blade is by abrading it against fine particles of a harder substance like diamond, aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, or some other mineral.

Indeed, since the Old Testament contains at least four references to using a whetstone on a sword, I suspect that’s how the Hebrews did it, too. Sharpening with abrasives gives you greater control, so that you can quickly get a blade razor-sharp without grinding away more steel than you need to. The finer the abrasive you use, the sharper the blade will be and the longer its keen edge will work for you.

One final thought: Sharpening, by whatever method, is merely preparation for the real job at hand. Less time sharpening means more time making hay, cutting pork, or sawing logs. On the other hand, unnecessary, extra filing doesn’t just waste time. It runs the risk of not leaving behind enough of the blade to get the real work done.

Which is the best political analysis I’ve heard today.

- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider

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11 comments Add your comment

Doug D

January 26th, 2012
11:02 am

Then it is a good thing these guys are not made out of metal and are instead flesh and blood human beings who benefit from practice.

The Snark

January 26th, 2012
11:05 am

Whatever you may think of the candidates, precious little of what they have to say has anything to do with the real world, day-to-day experience of executing the duties of the office of President.


January 26th, 2012
11:15 am

Why are republicans so opposed to the truth? The pipeline they are so up in arms about will be used to ship gasoline to other countries, so please explain how that will help our gas supply. In 2011, U.S. refiners exported 117 million gallons per day of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other petroleum products,

Look before I leap...

January 26th, 2012
11:18 am

While I get the analogy above, I don’t see much steel in any of the candidates.

Romney is more like air which can’t be cut nor sharpened. Air can however get stale and musty.

Gingrich is like dough, easily cut and pulled apart but can be mushed back into a whole roll of dough. But raw dough is not very good at cutting wood or mowing hay. If subjected to heat, it turns crusty, flaky and easily crumbles.

Santorum has some steel but it is low quality and brittle and if subjected to significant force will snap and become useless.

Paul is like a house of cards. Interesting shape and fun to look at but no real substance or structural integrity.


January 26th, 2012
12:31 pm

I love hearing from a modern craftsman who is basically saying, all of this steel sharpens steel is bull. But Repubs like little quips and things to run away from the truth.


January 26th, 2012
12:33 pm

Think you’re wrong about Paul. He’s more like a very sharp double-edged blade with no handle. You can’t use it without hurting yourself. Don’t think any of the other guys is the sharpest knife in the drawer. Newt left government in a scandal, dumped by his own party. Santorum lost his last election in a landslide. Romney lost that last presidential nomination contest to a guy who thought that making Sarah Palin our Vice President was a good idea. Ouch.

Independent Thinker

January 26th, 2012
1:02 pm

Look before I leap…

January 26th, 2012
11:18 am

If you are right then we are all in deep, deep pucky since Obama is a bag of hot air.

Braves Fan Since 1966

January 26th, 2012
4:16 pm

The fact that nature abhors a vacuum might explain the rise if Newt Gingrich as a serious presidential candidate of any party. There is simply a vacuum of leadership in Congress…not that it’s in abundance in the White House. Newt Gingrich is (in my humble opinion) unfit to lead our country unless there is some logic to simply wanting to put the next warrior in the battle line into the job. There is a crying need in our country for statesmanship and there’s no one in view that fits that mold. So what that someone adheres to an ideology. There is no “one size fits all” ideology so compromise is necessary and inevitable. Whose going to take us to a place where compromise can be worked out? I doubt that it’s simply the next ideologue in line.


January 26th, 2012
6:13 pm

“The finer the abrasive you use, the sharper the blade will be…”

That being the case the presence of the uber-abrasive Gingrich on the stage should sharpen the other three to a fine edge.


January 26th, 2012
6:28 pm

Considering this is coming from a dullard representing a party of the dullest (aka the Teatards), it doesn’t pay to spend too much time pondering what they say or expecting technical accuracy. But superhuman eyesight–that’s different.


January 26th, 2012
10:12 pm

My main reaction to the dialog in the debates is the personal attacks need to be checked at the door. There should be a truce amongst the GOP candidates to speak directly to the issues from their perspective and otherwise walk lockstep down the aisle to advancing the party and cause. I sense the tone IS becoming more muted, but it’s clear we’d be better served with ALL FOUR of these candidates advancing a campaign dialog to refocus and redirect the Federal Government for the betterment of all. Wolf entrapped Mitt and Newt in personal attacks early on on the topic of integration; they seemed to recognize the entrapment and later muted the attacks, though they still poked and prodded for one-upsmanship advantage.

All four of these candidates have more in common than differences, including Ron Paul. Each steadfastly embraces the Declaration of Independence as the foundation of our nation and national policy, and the Constitution as the “operators manual”. The leading candidates and the GOP and the independent attack organizations need to bury the trash Ron Paul, trash Mitt, and trash Newt tactics. At the end of the day let the people pick, but don’t take the nation down in the process.

I would be PROUD to stand up and be counted voting for ANY of these candidates. The contrast with the Democrats is clear and decisive.