In last week’s blog entry, I presented some photos from a trip Mrs. handsawgeek and I had taken to Korea four years ago. In that same digital photo file were other shots that reminded me of a ‘tool story’ associated with that trip.
During our visit, we were guests for a couple of weeks at the home of her eldest sister and brother-in-law in the city of In Cheon.
In the Korean tradition, I refer to this brother-in-law as ‘Kun Hyong Nim’ which translates into ‘Eldest Brother-In-Law’. Makes sense to me!
The couple owns a three story building in one of the typical alleyways off of one of the main drags.
In South Korea, there is very little in the way of residential and commercial zoning, so the building features a retail shop space on the ground level, which the in-laws rent out; they live in the second floor apartment; and they rent the third floor apartment to another family. The roof of the building is a cement slab with a low wall around its perimeter.
Kun Hyong Nim uses this roof as his outdoor garden space. In one corner, he had constructed a pair of sheds made from a potpourri of scrounged and found building materials (a man after my own heart!), and he cultivates his vegetable gardens in a wide selection of tubs, barrels, and other miscellaneous containers.
Access to this rooftop haven is provided by a very steep, narrow, treacherous stairway leading up from the edge of the building’s third floor balcony. It’s actually more like a ladder with handrails.
Ascending this particular device from three stories up is definitely not for the faint-of-heart.
Over the years, Kun Hyong Nim has hauled every container, every bag of soil, every bit of building material, and every tool up two flights of stairs, then up the ‘dangerous ladder’ to this rooftop.
Luckily, the roof is equipped with a water spigot, so at least he doesn’t have to daily carry water buckets up as well.
Kun Hyong Nim is now in his eighties, but every single morning, May through September, rain or shine, he treks up the ‘dangerous ladder’ to his rooftop to tend his gardens.
During our visit there, I made it a habit to accompany him on these early morning appointments. The first couple of days, I mainly just hung out while he went about his business of watering, pruning, trimming, making trellises out of sticks, and tying up veggie vines to these trellises. He speaks no English, and I speak no Korean, so these activities were conducted in relative silence.
On the third morning, I poked my head inside one of his sheds for a look-see. To my delight I found his small stash of hand tools among the ramshackle piles of stuff stored within.
Kun Hyong Nim is not a woodworker, so his tool kit consisted mostly of the essential hammer, screw drivers, and a rusty old saw or two. One tool, however, did catch my eye…an old beat up ¾” chisel.
Close examination showed it to be extremely dull with a substantial nick in the edge. It had truly seen better days. In its present state, I quickly recognized that its usefulness would go no further than as a pry bar or paint can lid remover.
I resolved that sharpening this chisel would become my little work project during the time spent on the rooftop sanctuary.
Kun Hyong Nim does not own a grinder, and I doubt that I could have found one anywhere near the vicinity of his home. I would have to get by with what I could.
With Mrs handsawgeek as translator, I made it known to Kun Hyong Nim that I needed some sandpaper.
The next morning, he presented me with two sheets – a coarse grit and a finer one that I estimated to be around 350-400 grit. A quick rummage through his rooftop pile of random pieces of wood yielded a short board that was reasonably smooth and flat enough for use as a sharpening surface.
Armed with these supplies, I set up ‘shop’ at the end of an old weathered wooden table that doubled as his outdoor workbench and as a dinner table when the family came over for rooftop Bar-B-Qs.
Now, every morning, while Kun Hyong Nim puttered about with his vegetable gardens, I sat and diligently put metal to sandpaper.
Working for about an hour per day, it took almost a week to sand the blade down to where the nick had disappeared, and a good primary bevel had been formed.
Kun Hyong Nim didn’t utter a word about my activities, nor did he pay a lot of attention to what was going on at his bench… he just kept silently on with his horticultural endeavors. When he was finished with his routine, he would point toward the stairs, and say “Coppeeeee”. That, of course, meant that it was time to put away my own work and head downstairs for coffee and breakfast. That was a good thing, since my thumbs were usually toast by then, anyway.
After another few days of working at the fine grit paper, I finally got the blade down to a reasonable degree of sharpness. Of course, without the super-fine sandpapers required for proper ‘scary-sharp’ honing, I didn’t get this blade even close to mirror finish, arm-hair-shaving sharpness.
I did get it adequately keen enough to be useful for rough paring and whacking chips out of wood with a hammer.
And it looked a heck of a lot nicer than when I had started.
I found some scraps of leather in his shed, and as a finishing touch, fashioned a nice little ‘sheath’ for his newly sharpened chisel.
The day before we were to depart his home for other parts of South Korea, I presented the tool to Kun Hyong Nim.
He pulled the leather sheath from the tool, and upon seeing the shiny edge, exclaimed “OOOOOOOh, Yaaaaaaah”.
He touched his finger to the edge, and finding it sharp, exclaimed again.
He motioned toward his shed, and I followed him in. I watched as, without a word, he cleared off a space on a little shelf and ceremoniously placed the chisel in its new spot.
Turning to me, he smiled and said “Ka Ham Sum Ni Da” (Korean for ‘Thank You’).
I don’t know if Kun Hyong Nim has since used the chisel for anything, but I know he truly appreciates and treasures it.
Not bad for my first ever attempt at sharpening a chisel…..