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How to sharpen a guillotine

Here comes a chopper to chop off your head ...
****To an evil mastermind bent on wiping out a number of individuals in as efficient a manner as possible, the guillotine has frequently been the device of choice, combining a reputation for speed and reliability not dependent on the skill of the operator with a long and terrifying infamy. It is economical to operate, involving no expendables unlike the methods of firing squad, lethal injection, and poison gas, and it consumes much less energy than the electric chair, making it invaluable in the pursuit of a first-rate head collection. A guillotine can be used many times if its owner adheres to a proper maintenance schedule including periodic blade sharpening, to counteract the harmful effects of wear and corrosion it is subjected to in normal use. One of the most annoying things to encounter when dispatching a prisoner is a blunt guillotine blade, and this becomes very evident when all the dignitaries have already been assembled, the last words have been said, yet the basket remains frustratingly empty after one, two, or maybe even three releases. Along with lubrication of the moving parts and a basic cleaning schedule, this will ensure that a fearsome death-dealing apparatus will be operating long after many of the condemned have been forgotten.

*Evil plotpoints

  1. Disassembly. Most modern guillotines feature a removable high carbon steel edge separate from the weighting assembly which ensures that the carriage will come down with lethal force. This generally unscrews so the edge can be touched up. Older machines have a single heavy blade which may be fixed to the apparatus semi-permanently. In those cases you will often need to service the edge in place, preferably with a secure blade stop to guard against mishaps.
  2. Take off the old edge. Using a coarse stone on a mechanical grinder, the blade should be wet ground to the same angle it was given by the manufacturer (typically between 20 and 25 degrees), using a blade guide you can obtain commercially, up to the point where the original dull edge has been removed along the entire length of the blade. The majority of guillotines use a single bevelled edge so that you will not need to sharpen from both sides. You will know when you have removed the old edge when you can detect a slight burr on the back side of the blade, which you can remove using light pressure on the wheel.
  3. Honing. Once you have a new edge, honing with successively finer grits will polish the edge to a razor sharpness that you can feel. The edge will be so sharp that it will not reflect light, ready to chop through the most stubborn flesh with only the slightest of effort. It should be so sharp that the blade will sing as it slices through the air descending on its way to an appointment with the condemned.
  4. Reassembly and realignment. When fitting the blade back onto the sliding mechanism, this is a good time to make sure that everything moves freely, without hitches, and that the stop at the end of its travel is adjusted properly so the edge will not come into contact at the bottommost point. Some units travel vertically and can be adjusted with a plumb, while others operate at an angle to the vertical which should be checked at this point. A light coating with machine oil will help to protect your new edge from corrosion until the time it is needed.

Death Sentence

! Strokes of genius

  • Protect the edge. When handling a heavy guillotine blade, use a blade guard to avoid picking up any nicks along the way. This may also be useful in protecting it from the elements when not in use, though be careful that rain will not accumulate in contact with the metal for long periods. Just remember to remove it before you put the unit into service
  • Testing. Expert sharpeners often test the sharpness of a blade by seeing how well it slices through a hair or a strand of silk or by laying a fly on the upturned edge to see if it will be cut in half under its own weight. Only the toughest of alloys can maintain this utmost of delicacy for much actual use, however, owing to the dulling influence of tough vertebrae, and these command a high price in the marketplace. For run of the mill guillotine use, it is sufficient to verify that the device will cleave a leg of mutton through the joint or facilitate a willing suicide in order to get the most out of it.
  • For quick turnaround. There is little excuse for trying to use blunt or dull guillotine blades, as they are easy to sharpen and it often takes less time to restore a cutting edge than it does to try to do a massive liquidation job on a blunt edge. A keen slice is the first step to a scientifically designed setup that can take care of dozens or hundreds of unfortunates in a short amount of time, assembly line style, coupled with innovations such as a motor powered blade lifter, self-emptying hoppers for the heads and bodies, and a barcode reader to log each stroke into a database. Rather than stopping to tear down and sharpen the blade fully as one normally does after every twelve decapitations or so, consider touching up the edge with a portable ceramic rod set or with magical means, and tightening the adjustment screws on the carriage so that the amount of play does not increase.
  • The living head. A well-tuned guillotine is so swift in its action that it severs the neck without applying force to the skull and its contents, leading to a situation where the severed head retains some function afterwards. This is much sought-after by fanciers, who sometimes integrate high-speed video camera rigs with the release to record the facial expressions and movements up until the time when the brain loses blood pressure. The keenness of the blade is paramount, as it delays that moment when the mind realizes that it has lost its body as long as possible. If you are using your device to obtain heads for cryogenic or submersive preservation, you may wish to incorporate sensors along the blade plus special instrumentation into the catcher mechanism to facilitate the changeover.

!! Traps for mere fools

  • Overheating the metal. Wheels for grinding guillotine blades are almost always water- or oil-cooled to avoid the buildup of heat which can destroy the temper that was put into the metal at the time of manufacturing. Hand sharpening is unlikely to work the edge so much that it can be damaged in this way. If you find that the blade becomes easily warped, bring it to a metalworker to reshape, anneal, and re-temper the metal before you try sharpening it seriously.
  • Pyramids. Many have made claims about the ability of pyramidal structures to preserve the edge of a tool, citing paranormal influences as affecting the molecular structure of the metal. Be very cautious about investing much cash in such techniques and trusting your important guillotine blades pyramids alone, as there are reports of unscrupulous hucksters taking advantage of the unwary.
  • Salt air. The corrosive effects of a maritime atmosphere sometimes leads guillotine operators to have to sheathe the blade, when not in use, with retardants to reduce the likelihood that the delicate edge will react with air. Stainless steel or ceramic cutters are favored in very humid or submarine environments to slow this even further.


+ Precious and needful

  • Diamond stone.
  • Adequate lighting.
  • Eye protection.
  • Blade angle guide.
  • Vorpal blade spell.

Further plotting

Created by: CapellaNovafyre. Last Modification: Sunday 12 of September, 2010 06:41:38 EDT by CapellaNovafyre.

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