“Lighting Grandma’s Fire”
Mountain Skills and Valley Pastimes
By Bill Cunningham
Western Reflections Inc.
P.O. Box 710
OURAY, CO 81427
152 pages paperback, many illustrations.
Price $ 11.95 + s&h
Obtain directly from publishers or at local bookstore.
If you have ever wanted to learn how to make a pair (or more than just one) of Indian moccasins, learn how to cook in a Dutch oven or how to make a pair of snowshoes then this book by Bill Cunningham could be your guide and first stop. These and a number of other skills and crafts are explained and described in the book including of “How To Light Grandma’s Fire” – the old-fashioned way, without matches or lighters. The book indeed has some nice projects in it and gives also food for thought for further ones.
One thing, however, I do have to mention as the reviewer – if I wouldn’t I would do a great disservice to my readers – and that is the unfortunate fact that yet another non-expert gives “advice” on the sharpening of knives as on pages 53-59. This “advice” is bordering on the dangerous. Whetstones should never be used dry. The author, however, recommends, indeed urges, just that. He states that “oil and water both clog the pores of the stones”. I beg to differ and I have been sharpening knives professionally as well as making them since I was six years old.
Oil or water (and I recommend water over oil) on a sharpening stone prevents clogging of the stone’s pores with grit and metal debris and not the opposite. I personally recommend the use of water instead of oil – as some stones don’t like oil – and to regularly flush the stone with water (always have at hand plenty of water while sharpening knives).
Furthermore, the grind angle that the author recommends is far too steep; a flatter one of 10-15º is what is needed; 20º is already far too steep and reaching an angle that is used for sharpening hatchets. I do, in actual fact, sharpen my hawks and hatchets at an angle of 20º. Advice on the use of wet & dry silicon carbide sandpaper (a.k.a. emery cloth/paper) – ouch! Now that hurts. Emery paper of the various grits may glued to individual boards may indeed make great knife hones but do not use like a stone in that you move the blade across the stone as if trying to cut a slice from it. Instead use like leather razor strop with the same movements of the blade across same, e.g. pulling away from you.
I do honestly wish that writers with no or little experience would stop trying to give “advice” on subjects that they are not masters in and leave the giving of advice on knife sharpening to those of us whose trade are knives and the sharpening of same, e.g. to the cutlers amongst us.
This one short chapter of – dare I say it – garbage, spoils the enjoyment of the complete book. Please people write about the things that you really know about and not about things that you know little of. I am sorry that I did have to say this but I do believe that the readers of this newsletter deserve to know the truth.
“LIGHTING GRANDMA’S FIRE” is a nice book with nice projects and it is a shame that this one chapter, for me at least, spoiled it. I would have also appreciated a more extensive bibliography as regards to Mountain Men skills and such.
M V Smith, 2007