An Essay on Pen and Pocket Cutlery - Part IV

Alexander Lyman Holley


Part IV

Grinders’ Room - Apparatus, Implements and Mode of Operation. The Bursting of a Stone.


Published Saturday, June 22, 1850 in the American Railroad Journal


Note: I've hand-typed the below words from the original publication as the text, at times, is difficult to decipher and has proven impossible to perform OCR on.


The grinding room of a cutlery establishment is always best lighted, usually from the south, that it may be warm, and particularly that the morning and evening sun may not shine directly upon the operator, who always faces the windows, and is divided into a series of frames, some two feet high, alternating with alleys and running back from the light. On the front end of each frame a grindstone is hung on “points” in an iron trough (erroneously called by English grinders “trow”) which reaches up to the axle on all sides, and is partially filled with water. A heavy plank seat, called the horseing, the lower front of which is fitted to the stone, is placed horizontally over the trough, its front directly above the axle, and its upper surface even with the stone’s face, (thus leaving one fourth of the latter uncovered) and chained to the trough, that it may partially resist the force of the fragments should the stone burst. In the rear of the stones, are the glazers, lap wheels and polishers, which will be afterwards described.


For knife blades and razors, the Wickersly stone is used, which is a fine, sharp-grained, brittle, yellow stone, imported from the quarries of Wickersly in the vicinity of London. Their weight averages 150 pounds, though some weigh 175 pounds or more. They are from 24 to 36 inches in diameter, and from four to six inches in thickness, revolving by means of a band passing from a small drum on the axle to a large one in the rear from 500 to 700 times per minute. They are hung as stones usually are, then secured by cast iron plates which are screwed firmly against either side of the stone by a collar and nut on the shaft, in order that greater speed may with safety be applied; as stone simply wedged to the shaft often split by the velocity, the centrifugal force overcoming the cohesive attraction, and the fragments fly off in a tangent with tremendous speed.


There is one grinder at least, in America, who has been seated over 17 different stones when they have burst, and who still pursues his work with as little apparent fear as ever. Persons are often killed or shockingly mangled by this cause, as the fragments usually crush all obstacles in their course. A grinder was once holding a scythe over a stone of great size, and moving at unusual speed, which, as he was bending over it, burst into halves, one of which was deploy imbedded in the earth beneath, the other carrying away with it the unfortunate grinder, tore up two floors above, and shot far into the air beyond the roof. Clots of gore, fragments of torn flesh, and snarled locks of hair, were seen hanging from the splintered floors, the walls were splattered with blood, and no portion of the body could be identified, such was the force of the mass below, and the resistance of the timber and plank above.


The majority of pocket blade grinders at the present time, however, are as safe while pursuing their labors as the farmer in his field, as stones seldom burst; and when they do, the force of the pieces is so greatly diminished by the plates, that they seldom break the chains of the horseing. Another species of excessively hard, fine-grained, blue stone, found in Nova Scotia, is used for purposes which will be afterwards mentioned, and is hung in the same manner as the Wickerslies, though often without the plates, owing to its hardness and the consistency of its particles. The stones are turned on the faces and sides before using, and run so regularly that motion is scarcely perceptible.


The blades are held in small pliers, and ground on the mark, and the opposite, or pile side, and lastly on the back and swages. The faces of pen blades are left slightly concave, and of pockets convex. The concavity of the former causes them to take hold faster, and is formed by holding blade in one position on the stone, (which for pen blades is always of small diameter, being worn down some inches by pocket blades) and the convexity of the latter is made by “rolling” the blade on the stone.


After grinding, the blades are thrown into fine lime which absorbs the water remaining on the blade with remarkable avidity, thus easily and effectually preventing oxidation. Lime will remain perfectly dry after having absorbed one third of its weight of water. After the stones are worn out for grinding pen knives, they are used for razors, or cast aside as useless except for walls and like purposes. The blade is held down to the stone by a small piece of leather termed the “patch,” in the left, then in the right hand of the operator, and sends off a shower of steel particles ignited by friction, so that the sparks and water together fly off from the stone’s surface in a body, each element apparently striving for the mastery. The stone is often made true and regular by holding on it a piece of nail rod, called the “racing iron.” Blades which are crooked are made straight by means of a small setting hammer and an anvil which stands by the trough. A good workman will grind about one gross of pocket blades per day, or two gross of pen blades. Grinding steel is considered an unhealthy business, as it requires the operatives to bend constantly, and to swallow very fine steel and stone dust, though grinders are apparently as healthy and happy as other workmen, and are not obliged to labor steadily but rest frequently. This is, as before stated, a lucrative employment, if faithfully followed up and will be further described in a following chapter.


To be continued...

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