My first Commission – Part 5 – Hell is Forever

Shiny already, but still not even remotely enough. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Wheef. Making a commission when I still have to spend forty hours a week at my daily job is not something I would recommend. I could find this weekend seven more hours for grinding and polishing, and I am currently at Trizact A65 (the equivalent of grit P320), but not finished.

The right blade in the picture is finished on this side with this grit, on the left blade the false edge and the flat are finished, but the bevel is still only at P240. And to make my life easier when picking up the blades next weekend (or perhaps some evening during the week, but most probably not – it is not a good idea to try polishing when tired and sleepy), I have marked each surface that is not finished yet.

Chasing scratches is a nightmare. Partly it is my (lack of) skill. Partly it is the tool – I had to repair and improve some parts of my belt-grinder because the belts were not tracking properly and wobbled from side-to-side. That means I have welded on a threaded nut for the screw that adjusts the tracking wheel and I have given a little twist to the spring that provides tension to the belt. The twist helps to keep the arm with the tracking wheel steady, it tended to bend and thus was not stable.

Also, the whole machine vibrated too much – I had to remove the clamps that were holding it to the table, because they got in the way, but now it has wandered around. I put a few bricks in it for weight and that seems to have helped a bit, but possibly not enough. I suspect I will have to bolt it down, something that I do not like to do in case I will make changes to the workshop.

But as they say, it is not about the tools, it is about the hands.

And regarding my hands, things do not look so good in the long term. For the last eight weeks, I had persistent pain in the first joint of my both index fingers, so I finally went to an orthopedist. On an X-ray he found nothing, which is good – I probably just strained the ligaments in the spring and those take a long time to heal. I do not have arthritis. Yet. But he also has told me that because my mother was heavily hit by arthritis in her fifties, to the point that she had to get two artificial joints in her thumbs, the odds are that I will get the same. And there is nothing I can do about it, except making it worse. Works he particularly discouraged me from doing were works including hammering and working in a wet environment with vibrating machinery. Hand-forging is probably out of the question for me completely and for grinding I will have to develop and put to use quite a few helping jigs to reduce the strain put on my fingers.

YouTube Video: If Jewelry Commercials Were Honest

It says it all, really. Why use diamond if glass can be made such that an amateur canot distinguish it at all and a professional needs a microscope? Why pay exorbitant prices for rocks laboriously extracted from ground when they can be synthesised at a fracture of those costs?

It also sums up my feelings about using rare and exotic tropical hardwoods for woodwork.

Poor Spider Didn’t Stand a Chance

When watering my citruses today, a movement caught my eye in one of the bowls. A tiny black parasitic wasp in a struggle with a spider twice its size. I did not have my camera with me and of course, I could not go and get it, so I snapped at least a few pictures with my phone. I assume the wasp has won and laid the spider aside for afters because it has left it lay there all limp and motionless, danced around a bit and then left.

Pictures below the fold – content warning spiders and predation.

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My first Commission – Part 4 – Welcome to Knifemaker’s Hell

I really wish my first customer has chosen a knife with simpler geometry. For future projects of this kind, I will have to make some more attachments for my belt grinder, because it is woefully inadequate for the concave false edge. I messed that up several times already and quite a few times I got frightened that I will have to start all over again. Whether I manage to correct the slight flaws that are in there remains to be seen, my guess would be no. It will cut alright, but it won’t be perfect no matter what I do. Grrr.

This weekend I have spent with grinding as much time as I could – approx 4 hours each day. More is not possible, at least not for me. Grinding on belt grinder is for me very mentally tiring, because I have to concentrate a lot more than I had to when grinding manually. Because whilst grinding on the belt grinder is quicker, it is also possible to make mistakes quicker.

At this point, I should be finished with polishing, but I am unfortunately not even halfway through. Mainly I have myself to blame for this. If you remember, when writing about the kitchen knives I mentioned that after the first grind with the magnetic jig I went back to freehand in order to be able to alternate the angle of attack to get a flatter and more even grind. Well, I forgot to do that with these two knives and I ground them both up to 120 grit ceramic belt on the jig. The result was ever so slightly wavy grind that I had to correct now that the blades are hardened. So I had to start all over at 40 grit and work my way up, sweating profusely whenever my hand slipped slightly. But at least one thing is clear now – whatever misgivings I had about the blades being perhaps not hardened properly, I do not have them anymore. They are extremely hard and tough to grind, which is why it took me so long to get to 150 grit today, which is the point at which I had to call it quits.

Still a long way to go. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I estimate I will need about ten more hours overall, on and off the belt grinder, before I can call these two blades finished. That means at least one more weekend. At least. It also means more than double the time that I think it should have taken me. When I am done with this and with the kitchen knives, I will probably make a batch of these blades as an exercise, I must get the muscle memory and experience and know-how to do a proper job in a reasonable time, I cannot dick around with one blade for months on end anymore.

YouTube Video: What Can House Elves Teach Us About Slavery? (Harry Potter Theory)

In the past, I have expressed the opinion that just about the only really decent person in the whole Potterverse is Hermione Granger and I stand by that statement. Every single wizard was way too keen on having slaves.

I found this guy’s pronunciation a bit difficult to understand, but I got over it and the video was informative. I did not know that the argument “slaves are happy” was actually really used in the UK by anti-abolitionists since education about the minutiae of slavery is not really part of the curriculum in our schools.

Making Kitchen Knives – Part 13 – Headscratching Curls

These are the three blades that were quenched by using protective stainless steel foil. The function of the foil is to prevent decarburization during the extremely high temperature at which this steel needs to be held at for prolonged time in order to get all carbides into solution.

My initial thoughts were that the blades warped because they are ground too thin. Well, that is not true. Today I have measured the thickness and they are indeed way thinner than I should have made them – all are just 0,35-0,45 mm thick at the cutting edge – but three of the remaining blades are even thinner, three are in the same range and only four are thicker. And of those thinner or just as thin as these, one has very, very slight bend towards the tip that should be possible to correct, and the rest is straight.

So the blade thickness is not the cause. I cannot imagine what else could it be, I do not believe that the foil could have such impact, not to mention that these blades were pulled out of the foil prior to quenching.

My second guess would be decarburization, maybe the experimental protective coating did not work as well as it should and the steel has lost some of its carbon, making it less prone to warping in the quench. But it should also leave it much softer post quench, and I just do not see that.

I have tried my hardness assessing gauges on bought kitchen knife – that big fat stainless steel overpriced junk to be precise – and I got the same result as for the softest one of these – that is, approx 52 HRC.

This means that the blades where my 62 gauge does not scratch are definitively the hardest blades and harder than the store-bought one. And the 62 gauge scratches all these three, but it does not scratch 3 of those where I used the experimental protective coating. And to add to the confusion, one of those three hardest ones is also one of the thinnest. This to me rules out decarburization as the deciding factor for the warping, although it might have caused the high variation in hardness.

I do not believe it is due to my grinding skill, because that should distribute the warping randomly and not only on the three blades that were quenched with foil.

Currently, I am just scratching my head. Any opinion is welcome.


My next step can be either to make these blades circa 5 mm narrower by grinding away the curly parts or trying to re-harden them with the protective coating and maeybe even trying plate-quenching instead of oil. I have never done plate quenching, maybe this could be a good opportunity to try it out…

My first Commission – Part 3 – Quality Control

I took both blades to work and measured the hardness on the tang and near the spine. On one blade I have measured 52 HRC, which is actually good and is the value that I was aiming for this area. The second blade however only measured 47 which gave me a pause, because it just did not feel right (it is still perfectly OK value for the spine though). Scratching with an ordinary file has shown that both blades are softer at the spine than at the cutting edge, which is too desired and that it came out that way straight out of tempering means that I do not need to temper the spine extra with a propane torch, which was my original plan.

The “better” blade looks now like this.

Tempered blade © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

You can see the scratches from further testing at home, where I have indeed established that both blades are approximately identical – both hardened through, but harder at the edge, both probably 52 HRC and more. So how came about the difference in measurement? I got an idea how that could happen and it turned out to be correct – the blade with lower measured value is ever so slightly bent, it is not visible with the bare eye, only when I put a straightedge alongside it and looked against the light. And I have measured it on the convex side, which means it was behaving a bit like a spring thus lowering the measured value. That is the reason why these measurements are supposed to be done on clean and flat-ground things with parallel surfaces.

And how did I establish, that both blades are nearly identical? With these.

Gages for estimating hardness. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I have made these miniature chisels in the winter and I measured them at work. I used nearly the same process as when McGyvering the precursors for these last year. Then it got put on hold until yesterday and today when I finally got to etching their HRC hardness onto the blades and inserting them in handles.

They are not perfect, for some reason the hardness can wary within one blade so the higher one does not always reliably scratch the lower one, but they do give me an estimate. For example, I have also tested the tempered blades for kitchen knives. One blade got scratched with the 53 gauge, but none got scratched with the 51. From the rest, none got scratched with the 57 gauge, and the 62 scratched all blades but three. And all gauges can scratch the unhardened tang.

That is a far better result than I expected – no blade seems to be under 52 HRC, which is the lowest limit I have set to myself for knives. I did not pull this value out of a hat – it is the lower tolerance limit used for combat knives in former Czechoslovak People’s Army, and I reckon if it is good enough for the army of a paranoid totalitarian state, it is good enough for me. And since 62 HRC is nearly the upper limit for the steel I used for these knives, it seems that despite still a bit improvised setup, I have indeed hardened some blades as well as it is possible.

Although there is no reason to really think one of the two blades is really worse than the other, still the blade where I measured 52 goes to the customer, and the blade where I measured 47 goes into auction here (provided I do not destroy one in due course).

 

Making Kitchen Knives – Part 12 – Playing with fire

Last time this part of the process gave me some grief and I also have expressed some skepticism with regard to how much time it takes me. Yesterday I have calculated that unless I get this time under 12 Minutes per blade, it is not worth doing from a financial point of view. So, how did I fare today?

I had 13 kitchen knives and 2 hunting/camping knives to for hardening. I wanted to harden one half in foil and one half with a new experimental protective coating, but I only got enough foil for five blades, so I used it for both hunting knives (those will be sold, so those were more important to not mess up) and three kitchen knives. The rest got the new experimental protective coating.

I started by properly preparing my workplace in order to not needlessly waste time. On the left, you see a can with oil, a water bucket, several pliers and the blades. On the right is my mini gas-forge on my circular saw table, which is metal and thus non-flammable. I had to work indoors, there was a threat of homeopathic rainfall.

Prepared tools. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

First I let the forge heat for fifteen minutes empty and then I started to put blades in it. In order to give the steel the soak time it needs (30 minutes), I started by putting in one blade every five minutes, always putting the last blade on the left side, pushing all the blades inserted before that to the right towards the burner. After half an hour I could quench the first blade and I continued with 6 blades in the fire at once.

Blades in the forge. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Unfortunately, just like last time, the temperature was a problem. I tried to insulate the forge a tiny bit better, but it just did not help, this burner is too small. I got over 950 °C, but that is still some 70°C short of the minimum for this steel. It got hardened alright, but probably not to the fullest potential. That I will not know until I have cleaned and tested the blades, and that will take a while. So far I only could take each blade and try if it scratches into a piece of unhardened steel – and they all did. (A side note to temperature measurement – I tried to look it up, and oxidized steel at this temperature has an emissivity around 0,9, so my IR thermometer should give accurate enough readings in default settings.)

I knew that my oil container is a bit small, so the oil will heat up way too much in due course, that is why I quenched the blades double – first in oil, then in water. That way I also extinguished any flaming oil clinging to the freshly quenched blade. It is a bit risky, but I did not hear the tell-tale cling of the cracking blade this time, so maybe I got away with it. We will see if some cracks show later on.

Hardening the blades in foil was a bugger. For the kitchen knives, I pulled them out of the foil before hardening, and they all warped in quench something awful. The camping knives got quenched still in the foil, and they surprisingly still got hardened rather well. Maybe the next step has helped? I do not know.

For the next step directly after quenching (after quenching all blades, which took me 2:25 or 145 minutes) I packed all pieces in plastic foil and gave them into our freezer at -20°C. Ideally, I would put them in liquid nitrogen to cryo-freeze them, but I do not have that kind of equipment to play with. So I looked at the internet and I found that in some steels of similar composition simple freezing below 0°C is enough, so I reasoned – it costs me no money and no time either, so on the off-chance that it does something I will do it. I have no way of measuring whether it helped or not, but it did no harm for sure.

After about two hours in the freezer, the blades got out of there and into the kitchen oven at 150°C for 1 hour.

Baking knives. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

After that, I left them cool down to room temperature and when they cooled off and lay for one hour at RT, I tried to fix the warpage on the three kitchen blades by clamping them between a few pieces of steel before the second tempering, which was again one hour at 150°C.

Baked knives. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

It did not help, the edges remained warped. So I clamped them again and tomorrow these three blades go into the oven again, this time at 200°C for one hour. That means they will be less hard still, but hopefully they get a bit straighter.

If not, then what I have here is a case of “knifemakers do not make mistakes, they make smaller knives”. The mistake that I did not make this time has, in my opinion, nothing to do with the use of protective foil, it was in my opinion just a coincidence that all foil-wrapped knives warped. I think I have simply ground these blades too thin – remember how I complained about my abysmal skill with the belt grinder?

At least I had no banana-bending to one side, which means that my grinds were symmetrical.

The protective coating actually did dissolve significantly in hot water this time, so I think that I am on the right track there.

And what was the time? All in all, with packing some blades in foil and coating some with badly prepared mixture whilst chatting with my brother and my sister in law, and preparing and cleaning away the whole workplace, it took me about 15 minutes per blade. That is an excellent result. 75% improvement compared to the last time. I think with a few more tweaks I can actually really get this to the 11 minutes per blade that I need. I am not there yet, but I think it is possible.

The next part is the polishing. The biggest time-eater and finger-breaker of them all.

Behind the Iron Curtain part 31 – Freedom of Speech

These are my recollections of a life behind the iron curtain. I do not aim to give a perfect and objective evaluation of anything but to share my personal experiences and memories. It will explain why I just cannot get misty-eyed over some ideas on the political left and why I loathe many ideas on the right.


If you have read enough of my writings and comments, you know that I am no free speech absolutists. I do think that there should be legal limits to what, where and how is discussed because unregulated free speech is actually not free at all – it allows toxic ideas to spread at the detriment of sensible ones. The old paradox about tolerating intolerance does definitively apply.

However I do on occasion wonder how much of this attitude is due to my growing up in an environment where freedom of speech was de-facto nonexistent. Oh, people were allowed to say anything they want about whatever they want – as long as it did not contradict the official party opinion on the matter. Criticizing USSR or the Communist Party was not allowed and the punishments for transgressions were not trivial either.

During my life, the regime has mellowed a lot already, so people did not just disappear overnight for saying something wrong, but they still could get into trouble if they said something critical of the regime and it got to the wrong ears. And it could be enough if one of your kids babbled in the school about how one of their relatives was criticizing the communist party.

I have found myself in this situation as a kid. One of my uncles was a fervent follower of the party in the 60s, then he got shortly out into West Germany in the 70s and after seeing the standard of living there in comparison to our “socialist paradise”, he made a U-turn in opinion. The only reasons he and his wife got back were their two sons, who were still small and whom they did not have with them – and whom they might not get back if they emigrated illegally.

Ever since that he did not have a kind word for the Communist Party and he vented often in front of the TV during the evening news. I was present a few times for that and it caused me great discomfort to hear what he said. It was in direct contradiction with the “truth” that was told in school, with the “truth” printed in Pravda, and with the “truth” on TV. He was critical of all those amazing and all-knowing party officials! At the time I had no way of discerning on whose side the actual truth lies, but luckily I did not go to our teacher for answers, but first to my parents. Who have told me that I should try not to think about this and to never tell anyone what my uncle was saying because he could go to jail.

After the fall of the Iron Curtain, this was summed up in a saying “One of the most difficult things in parenting was to convince your kids to tell the truth at home, and not to tell it in public”.

Finding the right balance between unregulated speech and an iron grip on what people are allowed to say is not an easy task and I do not have the answer where the exact line lies. I have seen both extremes in action in real life and on the internet and both extremes do not work in the long run. Too much regulation and you end up with an isolated bubble, an echo chamber (and I do not mean state regulation only). But too lax or absent regulations lead to toxic environments overrun with those who shout the loudest and who have no squabbles to spout lies faster than they can be reasonably debunked. So I can only say the balance is worth seeking.

Making Kitchen Knives – Part 11 – Establishing bevels

It’s been a long time since I was able to work on this project. Nearly cut-off finger, then tree illnesses in quick succession, and then a huge workload that took several months to get rid of. But this week I finally could dedicate each evening a bit of time, and today I finished grinding the primary bevels.

I cannot actually say how much time did my new magnetic jig/fixture/chuck/norris actually saved because I only used it for the beginning of this step – establishing the bevels with 40 grit belt. After that, I went free-hand again, because I need to alternate the grinding angle slightly with each belt change – so for 60 grit I ground with the point slightly up, 80 grit point down and so on. That is the only reliable way to make sure to have ground away all scratches from the coarser grit before going to the finer one, and additionally, it does help to make the grind more even and true.

I still wasted a lot of time due to my abysmal skill with the belt grinder, unfortunately, and I am not completely happy with the result skill-wise, especially the ricassos. I think I can still substantially reduce the time and improve quality by exercise.

Nevertheless, this time around it took me 6 hours for 12 blades, so 30 minutes per blade. And since it took me 75 minutes last time, that is a very significant time saving of 45 minutes or 60%.

Not all of that time saving is due to the fixture though. About five minutes per blade were saved by working in a batch and thus not changing the belt up on the machine until all blades were finished on the same level. And about fifteen minutes were saved by me not going above 120 grit. So the chuck saved me perhaps ten minutes, which is still substantial and I am not complaining. I will make a better and permanent one from aluminium and brass, definitively.

Blades with established bevels. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

So now to coat the blades in protective coating or foil (I will split them in order to be able to evaluate if there is a difference) and into the heat treatment with them. That step is going to be really interesting – if I do not get it to 11 minutes per blade or lower, it will be more cost-effective for me to send the blades for hardening. Which is something I do not want to do because that means sending away some of the fun, plus it would make all my time plans dependant on someone else’s capacities.

Bonsai for Beginners – Part 1 – Reasons and Requirements

I am sorry it took me so long to actually begin with this since several of you said you’d like to read it, but I feel like I am chasing my tail most of the time this year. It is very frustrating, being behind schedule on absolutely all fronts all the time…


I am not going to try and persuade anyone about anything, but in my opinion, if someone considers having a bonsai tree, they should have good reasons to actually do so successfully, and they must meet some criteria too.

Some of the good reasons are if you like growing things, whether in the garden or in pots doesn’t matter, and you want to try something new. Another good reason is if you are interested in studying Japanese culture and you see caring for a bonsai tree as a way to try and to get a more personal feel for it. Or you just think bonsai are cool and you would like to have one (that was my reason for starting).

Some of the bad reasons might on the surface look very similar to the good ones, I am not going to list those, however. Just a note – New Age is crap.

But whatever your reasons, the main underlying requirement on you as a person, if you want to have a bonsai tree, is liking nature and plants. Another is not minding to get your hands really dirty from time to time. The third one is patience. Lots of it. And lastly, you must be prepared to cope with loss and disappointment. Some trees will just die randomly.

Cupressus sp. In memory of a tree that got killed by unpredictably fast changes in weather. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

What is my reasoning for this? Having a bonsai tree means committing yourself to take years or even decades-long care for a living organism with its own needs and unique properties. Good reasons are in my opinion those that would be favorable towards such commitment, bad are those that would undermine it. And being really interested in something is not the same as being infatuated with the latest fad.

Enough of pseudo-philosophical babble though, for introducing this suffices. In this series, I will concentrate first on some basic aspects of bonsai care – what tools to use and where to get them, what are your space requirements, etc. Then I will list several species that are well suited for beginners in various environments, species that are more challenging and also species that a beginner should avoid like a plague. I will occasionally also write detailed articles about how to actually care for several of those species in order to have a prosperous and beautiful bonsai.

So, stay tuned, I will post on weekends whenever I find the time.

My first Commission – Part 2 – Conjunction of Projects.

I did not expect to get a commission this early. I am not quite there yet to be able to make a good quality knife in a reasonable time. I am confident I can get the “quality” part right, but time – definitively not. My original plan was to perfect my manufacturing process with the kitchen knives, which, if you remember, I have left this spring at a phase where the outlines of the blades were established, but nothing else.

But I need to work on both projects now because apart from the time I also need to use my resources – electricity, propane gas and charcoal – in a more economically savvy manner. That means hardening multiple blades in one go for example. And that means I have to establish the primary bevel grind on the commissioned knife as well as on the kitchen knives so I can harden and temper all those blades together.

But the whole point of the kitchen knife project was to develop a viable manufacturing process, and establishing the primary bevel was the part where I knew I have to develop and build a fixture first. You have seen my very first attempt. It did work, but not very time-effectively, I wasted about a minute each time I needed to flip or change the blade. That is a lot, considering that for the basic grind I need to go through five belts on both sides. It was clear I need some way to hold the blade steady, but being able to dismount and re-mount it quickly.

The second attempt was this.

Failed fixture. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

The idea was that the hinge and two screws will allow me to set the tilt, and the knife-blank can go into the slot where it will be held by the levered screw. It did and did not work. That is, it worked for one knife and then it broke. The problem was moisture which caused the wood to deform and split. But even without that, fixing and releasing the blade was still not as easy as I would like it to be. I got an idea on how to improve this design, and I already bought the materials to try it out, but then I got sick and everything got put on hold for a few months as you know. All I could do was to think about it.

And then my parent’s hard drive died and I got the idea to use those strong neodymium magnets. But for that, I need first to develop a system on how to switch them on/off, and that needs more time than I can spare right now for fooling around. The customer is not in a hurry to get the knife – they know I still have my day job and that I can only do this in my spare time – but still I think I should not strain their patience. So I needed a fixture, fast.

Luckily I got an idea utilizing things that I already have – the first attempted fixture and a few cheap, weak magnets. There is a way to make weak magnets a lot stronger, at the cost of reach – by concentrating the magnetic field to one side with two slabs of iron/mild steel. It is also possible to make longer arrays with this system.

Magnets and pieces of steel. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

So I took six of those cheap magnets and cut nine pieces of mild steel exactly as long as the magnets, but a few mm wider. Then I covered a piece of steel with masking tape and glued the magnets and steel together into three blocks, each consisting of two magnets and three pieces of steel, with the magnets facing each other with the same pole. That means the magnets oppose each other in the middle of the array, forcing the magnetic field of each magnet to the side.

Magnets arrays stacked and glued together. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full

The masking tape has stopped the magnets from glueing onto the steel, and the steel was there to get nice alignment on the backside of the arrays. The frontside has the steel pieces overlap a bit, and the spaces were filled with epoxy and sawdust mixture.

Spaces filled with epoxy. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Whilst the epoxy was curing, I took the first wooden fixture and attached a long strip of aluminum to it for the spine of the knife to rest against, and I chiseled out three spaces for the magnet arrays to be glued into. After the epoxy has cured I ground the front faces nice and flat and glued the arrays into the wooden block, again with using a piece of steel covered with masking tape to hold all three on one plane. I used a lot of fast curing epoxy that day, all the while completely forgetting to take pictures of the process. So the next picture is the finished fixture with a knife blank attached to it.

The fixture with knife blank attached. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

To get the tilt the fixture has four screws on the downside (up in the picture, not visible).

And the fixture works.  The magnet arrays are strong enough, but not as strong as neodymium magnet arrays, so it is still possible to comfortably detach the blade by hand. It allows me to apply a lot more even pressure on the blank, for a longer time without cooling it because I do not burn my fingers (temperature not being of concern at this stage). There is still room for improvement – the aluminium stop is a bit too fat for kitchen knives, the screws for tilting do not provide stable enough support and they are a bit finicky to get right. But you can see it allows for making nice, flat and even grind.

Established primary bevel. © Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

Added bonus is, that after two hours of grinding not only did I do more work than before, but also my fingers hurt a lot less because the fixture gives my hands more material to hold onto. I am definitively going to use this a lot, and perhaps there will be other uses for this concept as well. I have an idea for sharpening gizmo in my head for about a year by now…