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Adventurists’ Guide To Knife Sharpening

February 22, 2019

Why Every Adventurist Should Take This Seriously!

Sharpening a knife is a skill-set every adventurist should have under his/her belt. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a hiker, hunter, or camper, your quest to navigate and explore this beautiful planet comes with uncertainties. Uncertainties that aren’t necessarily a reality to everyday people living in the suburbs.

The Best Adventures Happen When You’re Fully Prepared To Take Nature On!

A sharp knife is more useful than you might think. Adventurists and hikers specifically could use a sharp knife to:

  1. Prepare Food: A sharp knife is effective at opening tinned cans, peeling fruits and vegetables and could even be used to skin a dead animal.
  2. First Aid: Ever had a splinter penetrate your skin? If you have, you’ll know how excruciatingly painful it can be. The tip of a sharp knife can be very useful at removing splinters.
  3. Safety: Most people take this one for granted. Living in the city is a far cry from being out in the boonies with not a single person around for miles. It’s you, mother nature, and everything in between! Your survival is dependent on the tools available at your disposal.

My grandpa always used to say:

“You only realize how important something is when you actually need it but don’t have it!”

Hopefully, by the end of today’s post, dull knives will be a thing of the past.

Knife Sharpening For The Adventurist: How To Get It Done!

Let me start off by saying this:

Knife sharpening is about as simple or as difficult as you want it to be. A certain few have made it into a convoluted, confusing subject. If you think of it like this, you’ll never learn to properly sharpen a knife.

If you make it simple and afford yourself plenty of practice, you’ll become a master!

Sharpening A Knife Is Simple, However, It Does Require Practice!

Today there are 3 conventional ways to sharpen a knife:

  1. Electric Knife Sharpeners: They’re awesome for quickly restoring bite to a knife, but they do have their shortcomings. One is that they cost a lot (generally $100 and more), and two, they require power to function.
  2. Pull Through Sharpeners: My least favorite sharpening contraption from the 3, simply because of how aggressive they are to the knife. Dragging a knife edge against an abrasive might restore some bite in the short term, but it won’t take long before it starts to dull.
  3. Sharpening Stone: Old is gold. The tried and true method of the ancient days continues to be a favorite amongst knife sharpening enthusiasts. The most effective way to sharpen a knife is to use a sharpening stone.

Which one of these 3 ways is most appropriate for an adventurist or outdoorsman?

Electric sharpeners are out of the equation because you’re not going to find a 120-volt outlet in the boonies! Pull through sharpeners are also out of the equation because they’re not as effective. That leaves us with sharpening stone……

Sharpening a knife on the stone is the most appropriate method for outdoor enthusiasts!

But isn’t it challenging and time-consuming? No, not once you’re past the learning curve. Once you get the hang of it, it’s actually pretty simple.

Alright, so enough blabbering on about knife sharpeners. Let’s talk about how to sharpen a knife using stone!

Step 1: Get yourself some sharpening stone. In this example, I am using my Work Sharp GSS diamond stones. I’ll be using a variety of grits for this example. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, I suggest diamond stones. They’re incredibly durable, don’t need to be flattened, and can sharpen just about anything!

Diamond Stones Are Incredibly Versatile!

Step 2: Get your knife out and test it for sharpness. I like to do this test before sharpening because it gives a good indication as to how effective the sharpening process has been. There are several ways to test for sharpness. The paper test is the most common. Grab a sheet of scrap paper and try to slice through. A dull knife will never cut clean, it’s always rough and sometimes crooked.

Do A Paper Test!

But what if you don’t have access to paper to do a paper test, then what? Whenever I’m out camping and don’t have access to the paper, I go to a nearby tree and grab a leaf. As long as it’s not dry, it should work just fine!

Step 3: You’ve tested for sharpness, now it’s time to sharpen! The number one rule you should always remember:

Sharpening is the process in which you always cut against or into the stone!

If you remember this one thing, you’ve done half the work already.

Next thing you need to get straight is your sharpening angles, or in other words the angle you’ll be sharpening your edge too.

How do you decide what angle you sharpen your knife to?

Well, it really depends on what you plan on doing with the knife. If you plan on using your knife to whittle wood, cut through the cord, or any tough/hard material, you may wish to consider a stronger 22-25 degree angle. On the contrary, if you’re sharpening a kitchen knife, maybe you’ll opt for a leaner but sharper 15-degree edge so that you can slice vegetables and fruit samurai style!

If your knife’s edge was set at an angle of say 22 degrees at the factory, you don’t necessarily need to use a 22-degree sharpening angle. If you want to change the factory set edge angle, you can alter it by sharpening at a different angle.

Don’t place restrictions on yourself by thinking you need to sharpen at the same angle the edge was originally set at!

Step 4: Take your knife and place it on the stone such that there’s a 90-degree angle between the bevel and stone surface.

This Is What 90 Degrees Looks Like!

This is your reference point. If you reduce this by half, you have 45 degrees. Reduce it by half again and you’re at 22.5 degrees. Tighten it up a bit and you’re at 20 degrees. Since I’ll be sharpening at 20 degrees, this is basically how I’ll be holding and stroking my knife on the stone. Find your angle accordingly!

Step 5: Now that you’ve found your sharpening angle, you can finally start to sharpen!

Employing the sharpening angle from step 4, abrade your knife against the stone in a smooth, controlled motion, moving from heel to tip. If you’re sharpening for the very first time, you’ll want to ensure you do this slowly, so you’re able to get a grip of the technique and form.

Cut Against The Stone In A Slow, Controlled Fashion!

Step 6: Now flip the knife over and do exactly what you did in step 5, but on the other side of the edge.

The exact same motion cutting against the stone, from heel to tip!

Now We Do The Other Side!

Step 7: Repeat steps 4 & 5 for a total of 7 passes on each side. That is, you should complete this motion a total of 14 times.

Step 8: Time for another sharpness test!

Grab a leaf or sheet of paper if available, and try to slice through!

How much difference has sharpening made? Do you find that your blade is noticeably sharper? If you’re satisfied with the results, you’re done! If further sharpening is required, do some more passes and test again. You may want to invest in stones with varying grits ranging from coarse all the way to extra extra extra fine. The finer stones are great for polishing a knife to give you that razor sharp edge!

Disclaimer: Sharpening Is Not The Be All, End All!

Knife sharpening is probably the most important step of knife maintenance, but it’s not the only step. If you want your knives to remain in pristine condition, you need to make honing and stropping your knives a habit. Sharpening is not enough!

Now you might be saying “Oh man, I gotta do all of this just to maintain my knives!?”. The good news is it’s not as bad as it sounds. If you know how to properly sharpen a knife (as discussed above), then honing and stropping will be a walk in the park!

I won’t go into the details on how to hone or stop here, but if you’re interested in learning more: here are 2 well-written Instructables that cover both honing and stropping in great detail.

The 3 Sharpening Tools Every Adventurist Should Have!

There are 3 tools every adventurist should have in his/her gear at all times:

Sharpening Stones Of Varying Grits: I recommend diamond stones when you’re out and about. They’re durable, easy to maintain because they don’t load much i.e. they don’t collect much metal debris, and they don’t need to be flattened. Japanese whetstones are also a great choice.

Steel Honing Rod: If size is a concern for you, get a smaller honing rod that can easily fit with the rest of your gear. There are tons of options available on Amazon!

Leather Strop: You can get away without having a leather strop by instead having some other sort of leather material. A leather belt, for example, would work just fine! You should always strop your knife after sharpening, as this helps clean up any imperfections.

Always remember, a good set of tools can go a long way!

Don’t cheap out, spend a little more and invest in high-quality tools. It’s well worth it!

“How Can I Improve My Sharpening Skills When I’m Out In The Boonies?”

If you remember, I started this post off by saying “knife sharpening is about as simple or as complicated as you want it to be”. If you ask me, I can list out 10 other chores that are much harder!

As simple as sharpening is, it’s still important to realize that it is a skill. Because it’s a skill, it will take time to truly master.

The only way a skill can be perfected is by practice, practice and more practice!

I can’t stress this enough. If you’re truly sick of having to deal with a dull knife when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, then you need to take sharpening seriously. By that, you have to be willing to mess up several times at least! In the end, your patience will prevail. And there’s not a better feeling in the world than slicing clean through a sheet of paper with a hair-splitting edge!

Here’s the thing: there’s no shortage of dull knives!

I’m more than certain you have a dozen stashed away in your kitchen drawer. Start with those and work your way up. When it becomes second nature to you, then and only then should you start sharpening your expensive blades! Take this advice seriously, as it could save you some serious cash. I speak from experience! I’ll reiterate that practice is the key word here, so keep practicing.

A Chef Once Told Me…..

A sharp knife isn’t only an effective knife, it’s also a safe knife. Why am I telling you this? Simply because safety always comes first. I know it sounds super cliché, but there’s truth to it. And if that’s the one thing you get out of this post, I’ll be more than satisfied!

And With That, I Bid You Farewell & Plenty Of Good Fortune!

I hope you enjoyed reading this post, and more importantly got some value out of it. If anything, I hope I’ve inspired you to start sharpening your knives.

If you have any questions for me, it’ll be an absolute pleasure to answer those in the comments. Also, I write posts about knife sharpening and other topics on my blog. If you want to check them out, head over by clicking here!

All the best in 2019! Make it a memorable one, more importantly, make it a sharp one!!!

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