Relativity of Value

In accordance with Czech law, my house must be visibly marked with my business identification number, my name, and the trade(s) that I am running here. So there is a small sign on the garden gate that says “manufacturing, sharpening, and repair of knives, shears and gardening tools and manufacture and repair of leather goods”. I have expected to get exactly zero business that way, because not very many people come by since I live at the end of a dead-end road, in the middle of large meadows. But my elderly neighbor has noticed it and she came by asking if I would sharpen her some shears, and two pruning shears ((large -loppers –  and small). I have told her it will cost about 20,-€, which she accepted.

The pruning shears were modern tools and not in very bad shape. I had to disassemble them in order to sharpen them properly, but there was nothing interesting about them and sharpening did not take too long. But the ordinary shears were in very bad shape indeed.

Those were tools over fifty, some possibly even a hundred years old. They were extremely dull and battered, most did not even close fully at the tip due to excessive wear and lack of proper maintenance for decades. The protective nickel or chrome coating has mostly worn off and they were covered in patina instead. But they were made in times when things were made to last, so I got to work.

Thus I have sharpened all the edges and I bent the blades and the handles and peened the rivets so they close and cut properly all the way from the base to the tips. I did not attempt to remove the patina, since that could destroy them. But I have restored them to full functionality and, given the quality of their manufacture, they will now probably last several more decades. And I managed to do all this in just over an hour of work since it was not my first time I have so I knew what to do and how, otherwise asking for money would be a bit cheeky.

Even so, I was in for a surprise when I brought them to my neighbor, who was so thrilled with them that she offered twice the agreed price, which I had to decline. I would feel like a thief taking the price of several new shears for sharpening old ones, although I am convinced that these old ones are better now than many of the cheap new ones she could get for that price. But I have told her that I will gladly accept any pretty pieces of wood if she fells some of the sickly fruit trees in her garden.



  1. says

    Scissors and shears have always scared me, in terms of sharpening them. I guess that is because my mom always made it clear to us kids that we never touched her good scissors.

    Have you seen Grace Horne’s scissors? They are swoonalicious. You should try doing some scissors, but I suspect a lot of filing or a milling machine are a requirement.

    It’s great that people are willing to rejuvenate old stuff instead of throwing it in a landfill and buying new stuff!

  2. Jazzlet says

    Interesting wood sounds like a wonderful way of letting her give you the value she rightly sees in your work.

  3. lumipuna says

    This is only tangentially related at best, but the mentions of trading metalwork and scrapwood reminded me about something in the Finnish national epic Kalevala.

    In canto 31, the young man Kullervo grows up enslaved by his uncle Untamo. The narrative is about how he grows into a physically strong, socially dysfunctional adult with a particular grudge against his uncle. He becomes a clear threat to Untamo, and he is also so malignantly careless at farm work that he does more damage than good. Untamo decides to get rid of him, but there aren’t many buyers for this sort of slave. Eventually, Kullervo is sold to the master blacksmith Ilmarinen, whose family later becomes the first target of his aggrieved violence.

    The canto mentions that Ilmarinen paid for Kullervo with a bunch of broken iron pans and hooks, worn out scythe and hoe blades. This is obviously a poetic metaphor for a relatively useless or “defunct” slave, as he gets traded for junk tools. In the iron age/medieval setting, functional iron tools would’ve been a common and valuable trading commodity, and particularly something traded out by blacksmiths.

    However, only relatively recently it occurred to me how subtle the metaphor really is. I must presume that normally a blacksmith would be the one buying or collecting scrap iron from others, to recycle it into new tools which could be then sold for a much higher value than the scrap iron. While broken iron tools have some practical value for the blacksmith, they’re literally useless to anyone else. Hence, a blacksmith trading out junk iron is the ultimate parody of a trade deal, and the ultimate hyperbole of low value trade goods.

  4. says

    Repair FTW!

    Being left-handed, finding good scissors is hard. So I tend to repair the ones I have. I’ve now had to epoxy the handles on my kitchen scissors twice. At $WORK I tend to sharpen the expensive scissors used for cutting fibreglass and carbon. Although most work these days is done on cutting machines and with electrically powered cutters.

    Marcus Ranum@2

    > Scissors and shears have always scared me, in terms of sharpening them.

    If the scissors are healt together with a screw so you can disassemble them, it’s not too difficult, I’d say. If they are riveted, the trick is not to damage the other half while grinding.
    What I often do is to leave the bottom half of the scissors relatively coarsly ground (across the blade), and only give the top half a honed edge. Especially for difficult materials like carbon and aramid fibers that keeps the material from slipping out of the cut.

    > but I suspect a lot of filing or a milling machine are a requirement

    Probably more a good grinding machine. And I suspect that all-metal scissors are made by die-forging in volume production. Freehand forming nicely fitting handles seems like a lot of work to me.

  5. says

    @Marcus Ranum, I have seen Grace Horne’s scissors now and they surely are spectacular. I am planning on making some scissors, someday. It all depends on time though. I do not manage to make knives at anywhere near the rate I would need to 1) pay the bills, assuming I sell them and 2) run out of ideas anytime soon.

Leave a Reply