How Hard is Hard Enough?

This is about steel and blades OK? Just to be clear upfront.

In my article Knifesharpenophobia I have mused a bit about how being all anal retentive about the hardness of a blade is not all that necessary. Now I wish to revisit that heme a bit, after my hardening attempt of a blade did not go as well as I would wish to.

If you remember when I was trying to harden the rondel dagger I was also hardening a kitchen knife blade and I was pretty sure that this particular blade is properly hardened. So I took it to work and measured the hardness on the tang (the knife is not finished yet), where it is hardened, but probably not as well as the blade. And the gage showed HRC 54. From technical standpoint, difference between 50 HRC and 54 HRC is not trivial (HRC is not a linear scale) and that knife is thus indeed properly hardened. What was the difference in the work process? For that knife then I have used the gas forge only for heat-soak, the final heating to 1050°C  before quench was made with charcoal, which allows for more even heating. HRC 54 is still not full potential of this steel, but if the tang has it, the blade has probably more.

But this whole thing got me thinking again – is that even relevant? Do I really need to be afraid to give that knife to a fried as a gift because the hardness of the blade is “just” HRC 50? Am I being unnecessarily obsessive about an inconsequential detail (again)?

So I tried to look at what is the actual hardness of historical blades. I did not spend too much time with it, but the article Sword Blade Hardness: A look at the current research is an eye opener and a good read. To be clear, it is about swords, not kitchen knives, but it still clearly shows one thing – the crappiest knife that I have ever made is vastly superior to most knives that were used throughout history before the invention of blast furnace. Not because of my superior skill, but because I have access to superior steel. Furthermore, HRC 50 is not actually bad at all and someone who takes a good care of the knife would probably not even notice any downside when cutting. And it has an upside too – a blade in this hardness range needs to be sharpened more often, but stropping and sharpening should be reasonably easy and quick and the knife will not break easily when you drop it on the floor by accident.

It is not the best that could be, but it is good enough.

Why Did You not Try to Stay in USA?

As readers of Affinity know, I was growing up until 13 years of age in a totalitarian state with little real autonomy, an effective satellite of USSR. I also grew up in a poor family so it was a bit of an uphill financial struggle for me to get a university education.

Towards the end of my education I had to decide how to actually start my independence and one of the options that presented themselves in 2000 was to go to USA with a “Work And Travel” program and J1 visa. I might write about my American adventure maybe some more later, today I wish to only briefly discuss the question in the title, which in various forms was posited to me in later years from many people here, old as well as young.

Even before venturing to USA I was of the opinion that it is a proto-fascist state and my opinion was further solidified by my experiences there.

So my answers at that time were these four points:

  1. Crappy healthcare. I have met ordinary people fearing that a simple case of flu might send them down the spiral of personal bankruptcy. I have seen outrageous prices for one course of antibiotics. I knew that USA had, in contrast to European countries, no universal healthcare, but seeing it first hand was a real eye opener. Fear of loosing even the crappy health insurance provided by the employer kept many people in essential slavery, when the were putting up with blatant abuse by their managers. For my friends I summed this argument up as “if I have grown up in USA, I would not live to become an adult, because my parents would not be able to pay for the medication I needed”.
  2. Crappy education. I have already mentioned that for me to get a university education was an uphill struggle. I was not bad student, but I am not so intelligent as to be able to study and work (not to mention that job availability was not that great – unemployment rate 8%), so I had only negligible income and I had to rely on my parents, which was hard – I had to live by with about 100,-$ a month to pay for my lodgings, food, books etc. For my friends I summed this argument up as “in USA I would not get a university degree, because even without tuition fees it was not cheap and with tuition fees it would be ruinous”.
  3. The mony that I made n USA was worthless there, it only had worth here because of the very favourable exchange rate. In US, the measly 5.50$/h were to barely live by – even though as a student I was tax exempt. So staying in USA would mean to lock myself into perpetual poverty. I find it incredible how many of my peers with university education failed to grasp this reality, that money’s worth is contextual and 1.000,-$ monthly income in USA is shit, whilst being absolutely amazing and nearly unattainable here.  I tried to sum it up as “for the money I was making there, I could not even rent a flat. And I would be forced to do work well bellow my qualification even for that. Here, I could use it to at least repair my house.”
  4. Absolutely inane laws and judiciary process. I have always thought that outcome of a judicial case should not be decided by a bunch of barely literate amateurs and that precedent law should not still be employed in any civilised country. And what I particularly did not admire was the “sue happy” culture in USA, where people try to win the lottery by suing each other for money. And the lack of properly functional system for “ex officio” advocates for people who cannot afford to pay. I summed it up as “any time you could get sued by some idiot over some trivial thing and if they could afford better lawyer than you, you are screwed”.

And mind you, this all was in 2000. The only progress that I see from behind the Atlantic was on health care, everything else got  much worse since then. And it seems that USA is managing to drag back the rest of the world as well – in last decade or so the main American exports are jingoism and creationism.

The USA was never democracy and never free. It only managed to convince its enslaved citizens that they are free. I am entirely content with my decision to not even try to live there permanently.

Harakka Island – Chapter 5

 

It’s time for another chapter in Ice Swimmer’s series Harakka – an IslandThanks again Ice Swimmer. Now, take us away…

 

Chapter 5 – On the Way to the Top of the Island

 

Fireweed behind the laboratory, ©Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved

We come back from the shore and take a closer look at the fireweed behind the Artists’ Building, the former laboratory. [Read more…]

Harakka Island, Finland

We’re starting a new series today on Affinity, courtesy of Ice Swimmer whose photos are always a delight to receive and to share. This time Ice Swimmer is taking us along on an adventure, one delightful chapter at a time and in the spirit of telling a good adventure story we’ll be posting a chapter every few days. I’ll let Ice Swimmer take it from here.

 

HARAKKA – An Island

Foreward

This photo series is dedicated to the memory of Caine. The pictures had been taken while she was still alive, but I didn’t get around to making a writeup, so I never sent these to her and then it was too late.

 

Chapter 1 – Introduction

Harakka from Kaiva, ©Ice Swimmer, all rights reserved

Harakka is an island in Helsinki, Finland. It is located in front of the southern end of the Helsinki peninsula. The island is accessible by boat from Kaivopuisto. The introductory picture is taken from the hill Ullanlinnanmäki, the highest point of the park Kaivopuisto. The island has been home for a lighthouse in the 18th century and during 19th and 20th century in military use, until 1989. The buildings in the island were built for the Russian garrison before the independence and for Finnish forces after that.

Now the island is a nature preserve and there is a Nature Centre to educate children at daycare and in schools about the environmental issues, renewable energy, natural history and conservation coastal and archipelago flora and fauna and also further develop said education. A community of artists also uses one of the buildings in Harakka as studio, exhibition and meeting space.

The Finnish name Harakka means magpie. Supposedly something on the island has looked like a magpie. The Swedish name, which is older than the Finnish name is Stora Räntan. In modern Standard Swedish the name would mean “The Large Interest Rate”, but it was probably something else in the local dialect.

[Read more…]