Looking Sharp

Some knives are hung in glass display boxes on our walls. These knives are made by various bladesmiths and collected over the course of the past 20 years. As pragmatic pieces of art, we can admire their craftsmanship, or elect to take them out of the display to use them in the field. We all want to be sure that our knives are ready for the tasks at hand. I’m a believer that the tools we use should always be in tip-top shape, ready to perform.

During your adventures, your knife edge will become dull with regular usage. Interestingly, a dull blade is considerably more dangerous than a sharp blade. How is this? It takes more strength and ergonomic dexterity to handle a dull knife. In trying to cut with a dull knife, the blade may slip through unexpectedly and end up cutting you or something else unintended. This is how accidents happen. How often should you sharpen? That is dictated by activity level and wear-and-tear. I usually test the knife sharpness by cutting through a piece of paper.

In order to avoid dull-knife associated accidents, we look to sharpening methods for solutions. One commonly accepted method is using sanding stones such as whetstone, or diamondstone, and mineral oil. The knife should be sharpened using sides with rougher grits and then progress to sides with finer grits. This process will remove more metal from the knife, but will theoretically keep the blade sharper for the longest period of time.

There are some temporary sharpening techniques that can get you by if you don’t have access to sanding stones. One such sharpening method includes using a honing rod for a quicker and less invasive way to sharpen blades. Using a honing rod will not remove as much metal from your knife and will tide the knife over until it can be sharpened using a stone. Even the ceramic bottom of a coffee mug can be used to hone a blade. Glass can be used in a similar way. Just like all sharpening methods, this will prolong the sharpness of the blade. Stropping is a technique that employs a leather or nylon belt as a temporary method used to make the edge sharp and aligned. Grab a newspaper! The black ink acts as polish (due to carbon-based compounds in the ink) and the material has enough grit in it to sharpen a little.

Many individuals enjoy using tools like Work Sharp as a one-stop-shop for knife shaping, sharpening, and honing of edges. For on-the-go sharpening, there are also pocket-sized tools available for purchase that are built complete with diamond sharpening plate and ceramic honing rod. You’d be surprised how well a guided field sharpener works! There are various other brands that have small sanding combos available for purchase as well.

Knife makers and collectors enjoy coming together and sharing their experiences and thoughts about the proper sharpening methods to use. Each knife is different and not all sharpening methods work best for different knives. I’m a big supporter of pocket sharpeners, especially when you’re outdoors, packing light, and miles away from your garage. As always, it’s a pleasure interacting and hearing the thoughts about methods that others have experienced success with. Please share your go-to sharpening methods with me in the comments below and subscribe to this blog if you enjoy reading this content! Thank you!

Boot knife made from 440C stainless steel and blue burl elder wood.

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