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