Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Whetting a Blade...

Every now and then (like every day, or very nearly) I visit MD Creekmore's Survival Blog. And why not? He has tons of useful information and lots of readers- some of who have most excellent questions. Such as today.

One reader was asking about the proper way to sharpen a knife.

I made a (probably futile) attempt at answering his question using words. But we all know one picture is worth a thousand words. So here are some pictures, with words, to make another attempt at answering the question.

One thing we all know- or should- is that a dull blade is about as useful as an empty gun. Makes a good Yawara but not much else. Not to mention, being cut by a dull blade hurts a helluva lot more than being cut by a sharp blade. (Of course I speak from experience!)

While I'm talking about MD's site, I should probably mention that he has a contest going on now for a couple DVD's that are definitely worth going after. One is by Gabe Suarez- modern American gunfighter with some unorthodox techniques, for sure, but every one proven in Force on Force training. For one, I highly chop rocks, recommend Gabe's books, videos and training.

The other is by James Talmadge Stevens, who I have no real knowledge of- but will admit if MD has it in his library, it's got to be good.

OK, enough advertising... back to the task at hand.

In order of priority, one needs ("one" being a person) a good stone. A bad stone will put some kind of edge on a blade, but for a really good, razor sharp edge, get the best you can. My recommendations in that area are two: a diamond stone is best; then a hard Arkansas stone, fine or superfine grind. Honestly- a "superfine" grind is probably best saved for straight razors or double edge razor blades- and yes, I do sharpen both, but it's beyond this.

In diamond, go for a red- the "fine" stone. If you're the kind who uses his blade to chop rocks, then a blue stone will be needed as well, or a grinder.

In the top photo, you'll see the diamond stone being wet under a faucet- you can use a lake or mud puddle or swimming pool, a river or rain barrel. It doesn't matter, but diamond stones work with water as lubricant, so get it wet. (Most instructions say to run it under sink faucet.)

Once the stone is wet, put it on a flat, stable surface such as a table top. I sometimes use my knee when in a rush, but for best results, use a table.

Holding the knife at right angles to the stone, at an angle of about 25 degrees- your best guide is going to be the original grind angle of the blade. You can look down the edge of the blade as it rests on the stone to get a better picture of what you want. Just know that differing angles of grind have different purposes. A thin, flat edge is really good for things as filleting fish, where a more round or flat edge will follow the skin better than a steeper "utility" edge. What we're going for is a utility edge here- which won't work for straight razors all too well: want more of a fillet edge there.

Dang, I digress again. With the knife at right angles to the stone, draw the blade down the stone with an even pressure. The picture shows the start of the stroke- draw toward the blade edge. This eliminates burrs right from the start, maintaining a smooth edge. Pull the full length of the stone, don't stop in mid-stroke. Two reasons for this. One is to get most use of the stone, the other is if you're using a genuine stone, you don't want to hollow it and this will slow that process.

Once at the "end" of the stroke, follow the curve of the blade by using your wrist to "flick" the tip of the blade off the stone.

Now, flip the blade in your hand to face the opposite direction and push the blade back up the stone to your beginning point. Again, try to maintain the same pressure and "flick" the blade off the stone in the same manner.

Again, what you're trying to do is maintain the same angle and pressure on the blade as on the first stroke.

Repeat the process an even number of times- I begin with ten strokes- and the reason for this is wear on the blade: you're trying to keep the edge even on both sides.

Once you've done ten strokes, look at the blade. Is there a visible edge on it? One that catches light? If so, do four more strokes- or enough to eliminate the light reflective edge. If there is no edge you can see, draw the knife edge across your thumbnail. Does it "drag" or does it slide smoothly across the nail? If it "drags", give the blade two to four more strokes on the stone and try again. If it slides smoothly - almost without feeling- across the thumbnail, you can put it away cuz it's sharp.
Or, if you're like me and can't resist it, hold the blade against your arm and try shaving off some hair. (I say arm, but you can go to your chin or throat or leg or... any place you have hair :) )
Shaving hair from an arm has long been the mark of a sharp blade, but understand that hair arm is a lot less coarse- not finer- than chin hair. You can shave some chinny-chin-chin hair if you want, but be careful and put on a more rounded edge to your blade.
And, yes- the blade I sharpened did shave hair from my arm. One thing that will really be a determining factor in how sharp your blade will get is the quality of the steel. My experience has been that higher carbon content steels will "take an edge" better than stainless- especially Chinese stainless. But- and there is a "but"- Rockwell 440C stainless does take a very good edge. I have shaved with my Westmark 702 (awarded as a test sample back in 1976 as part of a Centennial blade produced by Western Cutlery and a most wonderful blade).
IF you find a need to "strop" a blade, here's how I do it- no guarantee that it's right, just the way I've done it for years with my straight razor and edged weapons.
A "strop" has two sides: one "coarse" and one "fine"- just flipsides of the strop. They're actually the inside and outside of a tanned hide. The coarse side, used to work an edge to a razor, is actually the inside of the critter's skin. This will put a "rough" finish on your blade. To get a silky edge to your blade, use the fine/smooth side of the hide. My strop is the one Dad gave me, about 90 years old and still working fine. However, my opinion is- and I've tried it- is that nearly any 1 1/2" wide belt will work so long as both sides are smooth, without the fancy carving we find on so many wide belts these days.
And there, my Dear Friend, is a quick primer on how to sharpen a blade. Don't be discouraged if your first couple attempts won't get you to a razor edge- it's an art that really does take some patience. Later you can utilize a steel to hone your edge, but again, a steel is for an edge that's already sharp- they won't put a good edge on a bad blade. It's pretty much the same technique in use: draw the edge of the blade down the steel, getting opposing sides as you go.
Now... back to MD's blog and his review of How to Survive Without A Salary -- definitely a book many of us should read, especially if we can't impeach or withdraw all these politicomats we have in office...
We now return you to your regular programming. Thank you for viewing.
Bless God, God bless.


  1. Screw blades! I'm ready to do some shooting... There's 219 traitors that need disposing of. Aw hell, more than that....

  2. Mechanic in IllinoisMarch 23, 2010 at 9:05 PM

    Next to the blade I prefer feeding the +219 to the hogs like in the movie Hannibal. Although, Peta might get after me for cruelty to animals.

  3. ...i love that sound...sssnick

    ...don't give up folks,sometimes it takes practice,practice,practice...


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