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Sharpening Knives and Tools


Last post we discussed the different knives hunters should all carry. Each with a specific use and function. But as mentioned, a dull knife is all but useless and very unsafe. Now we will discuss how to get the most out of your knife and other cutting tools. It starts with understanding how to sharpen them and keep them sharp.

Most knives and tools come with a good edge on them. But a good edge is only the starting point for which sportsmen need to hone.  Basically there are two schools of thought when it comes to how to sharpen a knife. A long keen edge and the short narrow edge. When in fact, each have their purpose and place in your arsenal.

For instance, for skinning, fleshing and other detail cutting I want a long keen edge that is easy to re-sharpen and holds its edge for a long time. When cutting cordage, tree limbs, and general cutting tools, a short narrow edge will last longer and provide a lot of uses for a long time. While it may be a bit more difficult to re-sharpen, it lasts longer because the edge is not so keen.

There are a lot of ways to sharpen knives and other tools, specifically machete’s and axes. These make up most of the tools sportsmen use on a regular basis. It all starts with a good stone. Most sportsmen know these as Arkansas stones, but there are many different kinds and manufacturers. Suffice it to say that you need three stones to start with. Coarse, medium and fine. The real key here is to move from one another in a methodical manner. Along with the stones, you will need a good oil, or lubricant that will float the metal filings from the stone some of the better oils include Rem-Oil, 3 in1 oil, WD-40 works well also. It’s important to keep the stone well lubricated. Starting with the coarse stone, move the knife edge first, away from you, from hilt to tip. Count your strokes, then flip the knife and pull it to you in the same manner, while maintaining the same angle. Doing this for forty or fifty strokes per side is a good start. Now move to the next stone and repeat the process. Finally with the fine stone, repeat the process. Once a knife is sharp, the re-sharpening should only include the fine stone (unless there is damage to the blade). The last step to making a knife truly sharp is the use of a good piece of leather.

Most of us remember the ole barber who used a leather strop to sharpen his straight razor. (Or you have seen it in movies). The lesson here is that what worked then still works now. The leather takes the micro-edge and fine tunes it to a razor sharp tool.

I have known many sportsmen who would use a knife until it was too dull to cut anything and then throw it away and buy another. It seems to me, that if you cannot sharpen a knife you shouldn’t carry one. Sharpening a knife is not difficult, it takes time, can be tedious, but when the end result is a very useful tool then the process is something that is worthwhile.

Sharpening an ax or machete is somewhat different. These tools are used for cutting and the edge needs to be more robust. Meaning that with these tools the narrow short edge is a must. With these tools, I like to start with a file to get the edge smooth and straight. Here is where many people start, but to get the most out of these tools, the easier you swing them the safer they are. Therefore, the file is just the beginning of the sharpening process. After the file, I switch to a stone that is known as “the puck” it’s a round stone with a coarse and medium side that lets you take the rough file edge and make is shorter, finer and sharper.

Getting an ax sharp is very time consuming, but the effort spent sharpening is better than spending the time swinging the ax longer and harder. Remember that a sharp tool is a safe tool. When I can use minimal effort to get the job done, the entire process is more enjoyable and safer.