Current Situation

Sharpening is an identifiable task that's fundamental to many A&C processes, and people have questions specifically about that. I don't know if we've actively avoided giving it a tag, but we have 17 questions about sharpening, and many of them torture other tags in order to have some kind of tag.

For example, if I have a question about how to sharpen my pencil, I'm looking for tags that involve pencil and sharpening. If I'm searching for an answer, I'm searching on those tags. Nobody would think to use , even though that might be technically correct. And sharpening a leather punch is not .

We might be able to pigeon-hole sharpening under some broader category, and that might be useful for a Wikipedia article on the taxonomy. But nobody thinks in those terms, so the current tag applications are pretty useless for tagging purposes.

Objective & Discussion

In A&C, there are two (that I can think of), meanings of "sharpen":

  • putting a point or edge on an object
  • making artwork detail visually distinct

First meaning

The first bullet applies to pencils and other stick media, and to tools. If we had tons of questions about both, the clean approach would be to create two tags, like and .

A tag that acts as a modifier for multiple subject tags is referred to as a "meta tag" and it isn't best practice. But it's also not useful for tagging purposes to have tags that apply to only a couple of questions. That can't be helped when your building out the site and need tags, and the site doesn't have many questions. In our case, combinations like + or + is a good solution ( isn't an actual current tag).

Second meaning

One could question whether we need a tag for the second meaning. We don't have tags for every kind of modification that can be done to artwork. And I would normally make that point if there was no other meaning of "sharpen" and the tag would apply only to the second meaning.

It is not inappropriate to have a tag for this. If we had tons of questions about modifying artwork, it might make sense to differentiate some of the different ways if that would help people find the relevant information.

So it comes down more to whether we need it and whether it would actually serve a useful purpose. I spotted one existing question where this might be an applicable tag (What is the way to color tiny parts of a picture with oil pastels?). We've also had some questions about creating detail, like drawing hair, where the OP or searchers might think of it in terms of sharpening (the tags are about the question and how the person is framing it or thinking about it, not the answer).

I don't know if we strictly need it, but it wouldn't harm anything to have it. The concept of sharpening is one of the fundamental actions in artwork, and people do have questions specifically about that.

Probably a bigger consideration is the existence of a closely-related tag. If we have a tag for the other meaning, people will misuse that for this meaning, or will create a tag (which won't necessarily be the best tag from a big picture perspective). It's preferable to just create a good tag and define it.


Two possible approaches come to mind.

  • We create a tag for each meaning. They should use terms that differentiate the meaning, and the terms should be what people normally think of.

    Note that when you start to type a tag, the system suggests existing tags that contain the typed text. So one solution might be something along the lines of and (these are just to illustrate the point, those probably aren't the best word choices). Typing the intuitive sharpen would display both, and the person could select the applicable one (and see the usage guidance when hovering).

  • If we think we will never need or want a tag for the second meaning, an alternate approach would be just a tag, and it would be defined as covering only the first meaning, with guidance not to use it for the second meaning. Since nobody reads the tag guidance, this approach will entail periodically editing the tag out of a question where it's inappropriate, and the tag guidance would be mainly for the curator.

Ideas or suggestions?

  • 1
    We do have the [maintenance] tag, though. In my mind sharpening a cutting tool is part of the maintenance, but I don't know if I would call sharpening a pencil "maintenance"... I'd be interested in your opinion on this tag. Maybe we need to differentiate between tool-maintenance (like sharpening) and artwork-maintenance (like sealing wood)?
    – Elmy Mod
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 6:22
  • 1
    @Elmy, "maintenance" is more appropriate than "tool modification" for sharpening a tool (& it's an existing tag whose description would include that). What started me down this path was the use of tags that are technically correct, and represent some taxonomy, but they aren't what people think of. If I had a question about sharpening a tool, what would come to mind is "sharpen". If I used that tag and someone changed it to "tool-maintence", I could see the logic, but that wouldn't have been what came to mind. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 6:42
  • If I was searching for information on sharpening, I'd be using "sharpening" as a search term. I'm not sure I'd initially think to search on "maintenance". If you said the term "artwork-maintenance", I could think about it and envision what it might entail. As a tag, I don't think anyone would think of that term for searching or to tag a question on sealing wood. So I was more focused on making tags the words that come to mind when people think of their question or search for an answer.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 6:42
  • The possible problem is that by defining too many tags you can also diminish their usefulness. I do own some woodcutting tools and sharpening them is an integral part of using them. Granted, the connection between sharpening and maintenance gets lost if you cut soft materials like linoleum with them. Would defining n alias be a possible solution? Users could find [sharpening] in the tags list, but it automatically gets converted to [maintenance].
    – Elmy Mod
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 6:51
  • @Elmy, that could be a solution depending on what "sharpening" gets applied to. If it's going to be used with pencils, people don't think of that as the term "pencil maintenance". So if "maintenance" is the tag the system applies, (besides looking weird on the question), it wouldn't help people searching on pencil sharpening (as far as I know, searches don't pick up a tag that linked to the final tag).
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 7:08
  • If it also gets applied to artwork, we would probably need a different word for that, since "maintenance" has nothing to do with enhancing visual detail.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 31, 2022 at 7:29

2 Answers 2


After looking through the existing questions, it's clear (at least for me) that is a tag users would actually use because it's an integral part of how we talk about pencils, other stick media and cutting tools. Calling the sharpening of a pencil "maintenance" is not wrong, but it sounds artificial and maybe even lofty.

So I agree that a tag would be useful.

However, using the word "sharpening" for the graphical detail of a traditional drawing or painting seems odd to me. It's not something I see (or rather hear) in everyday common speech. "Sharpness" is a property of digital images, but for a traditional artwork I would use words like "detailed", "life-like", "ultra-realistic" or even "texture" (of hair).

Even looking at plastic arts, "sharpening" a sculpture would probably fall into the first meaning of the word: form a sharp edge or point on the sculpture. For the second meaning the best word that comes to my mind is "detailed" again.

So my thought is that should only mean to produce a sharp edge or point on something. There should be no extra tag for increasing the visual sharpness. Those questions are already covered by tags for the type of artwork like and or the type of medium used like , and . These tags are more likely to attract users with specific know-how than asking a metalsmith who can sharpen a knife to a razor edge how to sharpen your pencils.

  • Looking through sample artwork question, I suspected that might be the case. Thanks.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Nov 2, 2022 at 6:24
  • Actually that is ok. So we have a tag that covers images and pencils. It only means that a few more answers will appear when search for that tag, and they may be what people are looking for. Once you have a tag with general term like sharpening you may have to live with people using it on different things.
    – rebusB
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:50

Sharpening seems both too specific, it is a subset of tool maintenance, and too general. Sharpening a pencil is very different from sharpening the knife you may use to sharpen the pencil.

For pencil sharpening it seems like the combination of [pencils] and [maintenance] makes sense. Seems like that could apply to any tool. Tag the tool type and what you need to do with it.

If you start getting too specific in the tags then you get this: [pencil-sharpening],[knife-sharpening],[wood plane sharpening],[wood chisel sharpening],[cold chisel sharpening],[darning needle sharpening], and so on. The number of tags would explode.

(Sorry, I do not know how to make tags look like tags in answers)

  • The sharpening tag as suggested by @Elmy seems fine, if we can accept it has more than one meaning.
    – rebusB
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 16:51
  • 1
    I think the sharpening pandora's box got opened because pencil maintenance is ridiculous for sharpening (sharpening can be classified as pencil maintenance, but if I want info on sharpening my pencil, "maintenance" would never come to mind as a search term). :-) I think Elmy hit on the key. "Sharpening" is used in digital work, but it isn't the term used in "manual" art, so for now, it can be defined as applying just to objects. If we expand into digital we'd have to deal with it then.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 17:28
  • 1
    It is kind of ridiculous even if technically correct. But so is [pencil] [sharpening]. There are only so many things you can do with a pencil... so why not just use pencil. I'll get this: Because there are so many things you can do with a pencil there needs to be a little more specificity. Hmmm....
    – rebusB
    Commented Nov 8, 2022 at 17:31

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