I don’t care if you’re a hunter, fishermen, rafter, backpacker or a weekend camper, everyone uses a knife and yet I bet less than 5% can sharpen one to a keen edge. To prove the validity of this statement look at how many knife-sharpening gizmos sell on TV. While it does take some skill to learn to sharpen a knife it doesn’t require a PhD.
Let’s see if I can help you out. I say instead of using some preset system, learn to do it the old way and then you’ll have a sense of pride when you learn how. And your knife will be sharper and hold the edge longer.
For the last 30 years I’ve worked for three of the top four Beef Packing companies and have trained literally tens of thousands of meat boners. I’ve taught numerous Knife Sharpening seminars at store like Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shop, Sierra Trading Post, Sportsman’s Warehouse, etc. and I’ve published 30-40 articles on the topic and I still learn something every week. Do you ever really become an expert at anything?
Don’t get frustrated. It took my boners (the butchers who de-bone the meat) one month to just learn how to steel a knife and that’s after it had already been sharpened in the knife room on a machine. So it will take you a minute.
Well let’s get kicked off and see if I can help you get off ground zero. It had to of been 10 years ago I was teaching a Knife Sharpening seminar at Idaho Outdoor Outfitters. Some poor soul had a brown paper sack and kept asking me if I’d seen one of these, then he’d pull out a gizmo. Finally I said, “How many gizmos do you have in that sack?” He had 20 different ones. Unfortunately, that depicts most people’s plight.
I say learn how to do it like your granddad did. That way you’ll have a sense of pride when you master it. All he had was a whetstone. Also all he had was some kind of black-steeled knife. With the mad race nowadays to make the hardest knife you can’t get one sharp anymore on a regular whetstone so buy a diamond stone. The one I use is the Orange (fine) stone made by Smith Abrasives.
There are many good knives on the market nowadays. I’ve tested knives for Buck, Knives of Alaska, Puma, Diamond Blades, Havalon, Packard and they all make good knives. I like a harder knife. It takes longer to sharpen but it stays sharp longer. A soft knife sharpens faster but it also dulls faster. It’s a matter of preference. But I’ve encountered two at seminars that are so hard that I can’t sharpen them. You have to send them back to the factory. What good are they? Out of the last 49 days I’ve been hunting, fishing, backpacking or teaching seminars for 33 days. What would I do without a knife while it’s at the factory getting sharpened?
So to start, you must have a good knife (not one made in China) and not insanely hard. With a diamond stone you can have it moderately sharp within minutes.
What’s the best angle? Most will say 25-degrees and I agree so let’s go with that. Hold the same angle, all the way down the blade. Stone three times on each side. Three is not magical. You can do one or two, just do the same number of strokes on each side. It doesn’t matter if you do it forwards, backwards or circular. All that matters is if you use the same angle and the same amount of strokes each time. I find it easier if I do three strokes, cutting into the stone.
As you get into the curvature of your blade you have a tendency to flatten out. I tell everyone to lift their elbow when they get to that point which will force them to use the correct angle.
Before you start, test it on a piece of paper. After a few minutes when you feel like you’re in a groove, test it again. If you’re almost right there, stop. All you can do is to improve it minutely or more likely, screw it up.
To do the topic proper justice I would have to write a book, but I do have an 11 page article available for purchase from Amazon that you might want to check out.
I’d like to go into which knives are best but I have an article coming out soon in Bear Hunting Magazine. It will describe the best knives for the bear hunter. Look at it to help you decide which knife to carry.
Well good luck and hopefully you’ve picked up a few tips today.
- If your edge catches light, that means that it has a flat or rather a dull spot.
- Wash your diamond stone with warm soapy water when there is a slight build up of old metal shavings.
- On your Arkansas stone do the above but also apply a few drops of honing oil before the next use.
- -Honing oil is a low viscosity oil. In emergencies I’ve had to use Crisco in elk camps but it’s not the best choice.
- -Buy good equipment and it will last longer. Hopefully a good knife or stone will last for decades. Maybe even a lifetime. Why save a few pennies and be stuck working with junk forever?
- -For touching up your knife in the backcountry there are diamond pocket steels available.