The Pinner’s Stone?

Quickie update on the pinner experiments. Prompted by a question from Heather, I dug through my sharpening kit for all the natural stones I could muster.

Artisans in Arkansas

In my woodworking, I confess that I usually don’t use natural stones for sharpening, preferring the consistent sizes and grits of the man made variety. However, it turns out that the trove of tools I inherited with the old joiner’s tool chest I bought from Craigslist included several Arkansas stones.


What a bit of luck! It meant I could cancel the order I’d placed for new ones.

Now, before anyone thinks to heckle me about Tudor artisans in Arkansas, I should say that “I know”. I’m keeping an eye out on eBay for some proper bits of Charnley stone, but the pickings are slim. Especially since I’m not looking to replace any of the stones I currently have, so spending over a $100 to get out of Arkansas seems a bit of an odd choice to me.

The important thing is grit size and the other important thing is that if you push all the near-mystical arguments and affection for local stones aside, they all work the same way. Fine particles grind away the metal they’re rubbed against and carry them away, leaving a fresh surface.

Honestly, I could do this with sandpaper and the results would be just as accurate, but I have all these sharpening stones now so we’ll go ahead and use those.

The Pinner’s Stone? A hypothesis:

My initial hypothesis was this: Stones are cheaper than steel, and the area where the pinners were concentrated was near the London wall. Poor pinners might well decide searching for a likely stone was a better investment than a file from the ironmonger.

For the record, yesterday’s experiments have already indicated I’m probably wrong, but that’s okay, negative results are still results.

The easiest way to test this is to grab the most consistently-graded stones I could find and drag a piece of brass across them to see what happens.

And what happens is that the stone immediately clogs with brass particles.


I tried it with a random rock from my driveway, the bottom of a granite countertop, a river stone, and every one of the Arkansas stones I found in the bottom of that old toolbox. The ones which took some of the brass away clogged immediately and the ones that didn’t were useless to sharpen the pins.


Likewise, the easiest manner in which to utilize them was to hold the stone and drag the wire across it, negating the pinner’s bone entirely. But most importantly of all, they were much, much less efficient than files.

If you’ve been with me long enough to recall watching Sir Tony Robinson’s Tudor episode of “The Worst Jobs In History” together, his pinner Bodger Hodgeson reckoned he could make 20 pins per hour, working at full speed through the light of the day in period conditions. Based on my experiments, the amount of time I needed to sharpen a single pin was tripled.

A pinner attempting to eke out a living with a stone instead of a file would quickly starve or be reduced to begging.

It was worth a shot, but I feel that I was definitely wrong here.

Moving forward with brass, bone, and file, the last experiment to be done is to see if I can suss out their workholding, and for that I’ll need to replicate a Tudor shoemaker’s stirrup.

– Scott


You should, by the way, really check out Heather’s blog and videos at Morgan Donner’s Sewing Party. We will be linking to her again in the future, I assure you.

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