Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dinner knife

This is an old dinner knife I now use as a stiff palette knife, and for cutting putty and that sort of thing.

You may be wondering why I would want to display such a mundane, tatty old thing to the world at large.

Well, it's because I think it's pretty cool.

The handle is caseine, a plastic-like substance derived from milk. That suggests that the age of the knife is somewhere in the 80 to 120 years range; I suspect from the shape that it was probably manufactured in the 1920s or thereabouts, but I'm not 100% sure of that. Caseine doesn't respond well to being left wet, and that's probably what created the ulcer-like cavity in the handle. The length is ideal to sit comfortably against the heel of the hand, with the forefinger against the back of the blade to exert pressure and control.

The blade is stainless steel, which wasn't used for cutlery much before World War One (it was discovered in Sheffield in 1912), though by the twenties it was very common. It's an elegant shape, it cuts and spreads well, and it holds a modest edge and is both stiff and flexible. I haven't tried sharpening it, but I doubt that it would take or keep a real razor edge — though I might give it a go one of these days.

It's engraved on the blade:
Bennett & Heron



I really like the fluting around the collar of the blade, where it butts up against the shoulder of the handle. It catches the light nicely, and it provides a good, firm finger grip.

The weight and balance of the knife is very satisfying in the hand; not too heavy, nor yet too light. The slight curve of the blade allows one to maintain easy, close control over cutting. The thickness of the blade decreases toward the tip, so it cuts well and exerts considerable pressure without flexing over-much.

The forward three-fifths of the back of the blade is bevelled on the left; I don't know quite why. It does look nice, which may be the only real reason for doing it.

This simple thing, a mass-produced dinner knife, probably one of thousands, or even millions made, is a wonderful piece of aesthetic and functional design. I just love it for that, and also for the patina of wear that it has amassed over the decades.

After I kick off, it will probably just be thrown away. That's such a pity.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Ascent of Man

I'm in the process of watching Jacob Bronowski's "The Ascent of Man", originally broadcast in 1973 (which is about when I first saw it on TV at the ripe old age of 11 or 12). It's an interesting experience; it's much more measured and academic than modern documentaries of a similar ilk, and often requires much more close attention to follow.

Some of the information is outdated of course, owing to science not being immovably static like, say, religious dogma — he talks, for example, about the 92 elements of the Periodic table, and the planet Ceres. Some social and biological evolutionary theories have moved on a bit since then too. Overall though, it's still pretty informative as long as you know enough to know roughly what the current state of knowledge is.

The film-making is a sometimes unintentionally amusing mix of static talking-head shots and very groovy 60s-70s style arty-farty sound and vision... the first episode included Pink Floyd's Astronomy Domine in the soundtrack :)

The main thing about it that really grates though is the omnipresent and quite unconscious sexism. Everything is "Man" and "he" and "him" and "his". Women might as well not exist at all, and although I keep telling myself that he was a product of his time and that we've progressed significantly since then, it's nevertheless getting on my tits a bit.

Still, interesting stuff.