Author Topic: Old topic: period whetstones  (Read 679 times)

Offline chilehead

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Old topic: period whetstones
« on: July 10, 2019, 06:49:30 PM »
Please pardon the new kid on the block for dragging up old stuff, but quite a while back, there was a lively discussion about period sharpening stones.

In his wonderful and detailed journal, Zenas Leonard reported that trappers in the Rocky Mountains collected petrified wood to use as whetstones in 1833. This naturally led me to a deranged obsession to learn more. Eventually, I stumbled upon a large deposit of this material in my wanderings and gathered several pieces. I'm no rockhound, so have no idea whether or not this is common, but in the case of this particular deposit, the pieces had naturally and quite obligingly fractured themselves into nearly perfect, flat-faced rectangles. No further treatment or shaping required. The question, of course, is how does it perform? Again, I have no idea how much this stuff may vary in texture, but my samples work almost exactly like fine Arkansas stones I've owned in the past. Being so fine-grained, I wouldn't want to have to remove serious metal with these stones, but shouldn't need to do that anyway. After several years of use, there's no apparent wear.

It turns out that this may have been a more common practice than I was aware of, at least in the West. Here's a Cheyenne petrified wood whetstone, circa 1870:



I realize that this is all coming from a period later than most folks here are focused on, but for historical context, it's worth noting that Agricola mentioned in the 5th century that petrified wood whetstones were quite popular in Bohemia (any Bohemian longhunters out there?).

Finally, I can't leave the subject without mentioning my favorite quote on it. Describing trappers' gear in 1846, George Frederick Ruxton wrote: “Round the waist is a belt, in which is stuck a large butcher knife in a sheath of buffalo hide, made fast to the belt by a chain or guard of steel, which also supports a little buckskin case containing a whetstone.” A few other contemporary writers made very similar observations. Note that the knife sheath “is stuck” in the belt, as opposed to “attached to”.

Anyway, here's my interpretation of this description:





And here's my “little buckskin case” and whetstone:




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Regards,
Fred

Offline T.C.Albert

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Re: Old topic: period whetstones
« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2019, 10:03:00 PM »
Nice work and thanks for sharing it.
TC
All work is creative work if done by a thinking mind.
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Offline vtmtnman

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Re: Old topic: period whetstones
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2019, 01:13:06 PM »
Nice work.I would've never thought to use petrified wood for a stone but it makes sense.

Offline chilehead

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Re: Old topic: period whetstones
« Reply #3 on: July 15, 2019, 04:04:56 PM »
Thanks folks!

Offline wmrike

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Re: Old topic: period whetstones
« Reply #4 on: July 18, 2019, 05:16:01 PM »
Do I err in thinking that "a chain or guard of steel" is the attachment?

Offline chilehead

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Re: Old topic: period whetstones
« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2019, 01:27:27 AM »
Do I err in thinking that "a chain or guard of steel" is the attachment?

I wouldn't say you err. I think it's safe to say that the "chain or guard" is an attachment, in some sense of the word. But who knows what exactly Ruxton's describing? That's always the challenge (and half the fun) in trying to puzzle out these vague primary source descriptions, right? I can think of half a dozen possible interpretations. The construction of the sentence strikes me as referring to two separate operations: the sheath is "stuck in the belt" and is "made fast". Sort of like "the foot is stuck in the shoe and made fast with shoelaces". If Ruxton had said "the sheath has a loop of chain, through which the belt is inserted" or some such thing, it might look different to me. I have no idea whether or not the approach I chose is accurate, but it seemed plausible: stick the sheath in the belt, pull the chain up behind the belt, and let the end hang over the front, with the whetstone case acting sort of like a toggle to keep the chain from working its way back out. All I can say is that it works ok and satisfies the elements of the description. Again, though, who knows?

Fred