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Ceramic whetstones are go!

The idea was born when I was reading a hefty document put together as a labour of love by a tool lover, who recorded his investigations into whetstone production and history, and his own investigations into the properties of the whetstones he’d collected (you can read more about my foray into whetstone making – with a link to said tome – here).

The author spoke of a family meal at which an older member of the family flipped over a plate and used the unglazed portion of the base to sharpen a kitchen knife. That got me thinking. And of course there are top-notch kitchen knives these days for which only ceramic sharpening is recommended. Clay is finer than sand so it seemed logical that it could produce a really nice fine stone.

I filed it in my mind for “one day”, and then I was driving past Salamanca Market one day and realised it was one day, and that my next door neighbour and potter would be at the market selling his beautiful wares. So I pulled over, told the family to “gimme five”, and had a chat to the potter, who seemed a bit bemused at first and then a little bit fascinated…

So it wasn’t long before I rocked along to his place with a whetstone and a scythe and showed him what I was yabbering about (the poor guy had just bought a whipper-snipper and looked a bit crestfallen at how well a scythe worked!)  On a subsequent visit he pulled out a tome on the chemistry of pottery and bamboozled me with the complexities of getting a good combination of stuff to make stuff with the properties required (abrasive but able to wear to expose new grit) – thumbing through the pages he reminded me a bit of an alchemist, except that everything he said sounded scientifically valid.

He was interested in doing the job so I dropped off a timber template which I’d based on a Rozsutec and, on John’s advice, oversized in all dimensions by 20% over my target size to allow for shrinkage.

He turned out the first sample of one in June. I’ve been using it on and off since then, and admittedly there’s not much mowing action in winter, but with the spring growth it’s had more use lately and I’m pretty stoked with it – so much so that I now use it to do the final hone on the blades I prep for selling.

So, in terms of a whetstone’s life, it’s still early days, but I was confident enough to order a few more, which you’ll find in our catalogue now. They’ll set you back more than a stone that’s been flown in from Europe and been through at least three middle-men before you buy it, but rest assured that if you buy one of these the bulk of your hard-earned money has gone to the guy who did the work – the profit we’ll make on one of these won’t even buy Tony and I a coffee at the café (and for some reason that makes me happy somehow).

When I sat one of these on the kitchen table tonight, my family didn’t seem to get nearly as excited as I was, and I guess I can understand that (maybe they were thinking about the café). But it occurred to me that I actually have two potters as next door neighbours, and a third just a short stroll up the road. And lots of people have access to local potters, even if they don’t have access to the tools to go and mill their own piece of natural whetstone. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up creating a whole new tradition of artisan whetstones!

We’re also still following up leads on locally made sandstone whetstones as well, for those who’d prefer something fired by nature.