Sharpening seminar

By Tom Claycomb January 03, 2014 09:24 am

Tom Claycomb sharpens his Trihone Knife fold-up knife on his diamond stone. It can be a tricky task, but one that Claycomb says all outdoorsmen can learn to do.
Tom Claycomb sharpens his Trihone Knife fold-up knife on his diamond stone. It can be a tricky task, but one that Claycomb says all outdoorsmen can learn to do.

Whether you’re a hunter, fisherman or backpacker all of us use a knife, and yet, I bet less than five percent can sharpen one. Let’s see if we can’t help you out today. 

I remember my first knife sharpening seminar 13 years ago. There was an older gentleman attending and he had a brown paper grocery sack with him.  

About every 3 to 4 minutes he’d pull out some knife sharpening gizmo and ask me if I’d ever seen one of these. Finally I stopped and asked him how many he had in his sack. I bet he dumped out 20. 

 He must have bought every knife sharpening gizmo ever sold on TV. Unfortunately, this situation depicts most of us. But don’t panic, it does take some skill to sharpen your knife but you don’t have to have a PhD.

 Let’s get into it and see if we can’t help you out a little. You see some people cutting into the stone, some sliding the knife backwards or even rubbing their knife in a circular motion. 

Which is the correct method? All can be if you learn to master them but I teach everyone to cut into the stone three times on each side. Use the same angle all the way down the length of the blade.

 Most people flatten out the angle when they get into the curvature of the blade. To prevent this I tell everyone to lift their elbow. You can have a partner in front watching to make sure that you keep the same angle. 

 In the old days, our granddads used a smooth whetstone. Nowadays the knives are so hard that you’d work forever with a smooth stone so I suggest using a smooth diamond blade. I like 

Smith Abrasives gear. For me I like a stone that is at least 2.5-inches x 8-inches.

 What is the perfect angle? In the old days most knives were probably 30-35 degrees. Now you see a lot of them at 24 on down to even 16 degrees. Why the change? Well first, that tells you that they’re made of harder metal. In the old days they couldn’t get much past 30 or the edge would roll or chip but now due to the harder metal that manufacturers are using they can utilize smaller angles.

 Which is the best? Soft steel or hard metal? It’s a matter of preference. A soft knife is easier to sharpen but it gets dull faster. A harder knife is harder to sharpen but it stays sharp longer which is nice if you’re out in the field skinning a moose or a couple of deer.

 What is the best stone to buy? There are a million options on the market. I’d suggest that you need at least two. A fine diamond (orange) Smith stone and a smooth Arkansas stone to obtain a fine edge.

 There are a million options on the market and I’m halfway convinced that if you learn to master them that many of them are functional but I say learn to sharpen the old way with a stone and then you‘ll have a sense of pride.

 What about grinders? If you know what you’re doing they’re fine but if you don’t you can grind down the life of a blade muy pronto. If you break off a tip then of course you will have to use a grinder to reshape the blade but a knife is only good for a certain amount of sharpenings.

 Make sure that you have a good knife. I was teaching a Knife Sharpening seminar in Colorado yrs. ago and the manager of the store told me that the main reason that he had me in was because he couldn’t sharpen a knife. He worked on his knife a while and couldn’t get it. No wonder. It was a cheap piece of junk from China. I’ve yet to see a quality knife made in China. So maybe some of your problem is that you have a cheap knife.

 To begin it is probably best to work on one with softer metal so you can build up your confidence. If you’re 85% there, Stop! There’s a good chance that you’ll go south if you keep messing with it. I know that it can be frustrating when you’re starting. I have an e-article on Amazon Kindle titled Knife Sharpening for $.99 if you want to check it out. Good luck.