Episode 170 S5-7
Dark Days in Denver Ch 7
In the Dark Days in Denver adventure, Erika finds herself with plenty of downtime, filling it with weapons maintenance, including knife sharpening. James E. Hart, author of Urban & Wilderness Emergency Preparedness and wilderness survival instructor, is here to show us how to properly sharpen and maintain our knives.
When sharpening your knives, your kitchen knives should get a slightly different edge than your bush knives. Kitchen knives are thinner. They are designed for slicing, cutting, dicing, etc. Therefore they can receive a twenty degree angle. A bush knife takes more abuse. It is often used as a chopper but it still needs to slice too. If you put too fine of an edge on it, the edge will bend. A twenty five to twenty eight degree edge is best. Anything less wears off too fast.
When you sharpen you knife, you can look down the blade and see a "v" shape. Often times you will see rolls and chips along the edge. The tip of the knife is prone to bending and breaking. Sharpen both edges for an equal amount of time. Do three strokes on one side. Then three strokes on the other. Go the full length of the blade each time from hilt to tip.
Make sure you use plenty of oil. The oil helps prevent grooves that will take away from your edge and make ridges. The oil protects both the knife and your sharpening stone. The stone will get grooves in it if you don't use the proper amount of oil. You want your stone to wear evenly or it will not sharpen your edge adequately.
If you have a chunk missing from your blade, continue to work your knife evenly. Never work one area more than another. Use the course stone. Remember deep blemishes may take time to remove fully.
The tip is a common breaking point in a knife. If you have a bent tip, don't use the stone to try and fix it. Take a hammer and try to straighten it first. Then use the stone. This will help to preserve the longevity of your stone.
Use the three on one side, three on the other method. If you are sharpening your knife and it's getting sharp but then suddenly it's dull, then you rolled your edge. You will be able to see this if you look down the knife blade. You may have used the wrong angle or held the knife wrong. Take a deep breath and try again.
Sharpening takes practice to develop the technique and maintain the angle. Have patience and take your time. Each knife is a piece of craftsmanship that should be treated with respect. Use it right. Sharpen it properly. Take care of it correctly and honor it. The knife will become a part of you because of the pride you take in its maintenance.
When using your stones, you should place the stone on a solid surface. This helps you to maintain the proper angle as you sharpen it. You only have to worry about the angle of one hand not both of them.
Handy sharpeners you buy at the hardware store are not a bad investment. These types of sharpeners are great for a quick touchup. Keep one in your pack. They won't give you an edge that holds, but they are great in a pinch. The angles on these types of sharpeners are generally set up in too wide of a V, giving the knife and edge that will dull quickly.
Some stones don't need oil but James recommends Arkansas stones to do the job right. They do require oil to protect both the blade and the stone. Liberally apply the oil about a quarter inch wide from one end of the stone to the other and about one inch from each end. Wipe off the old oil and add new each time. The oil fills in the pours in the stone. The course stone is going to require much more oil that the fine stones. Run the blade through the oil on each stroke.
Some folks recommend using a leather belt, strap or strop. This puts a fine edge on the blade. Barbers may use leather strops for their razers when doing a shave. James recommends having a ceramic rod. It will work just as well at applying the final touch to your knife. The ceramic rod will remove any fine ridges and burs that may be left behind. It will make a glass smooth edge.
Be careful with your knives! They are tools but they are sharp and can seriously injure you. Most time people are actually injured due to a dull knife. They have to apply too much force with a dull knife and may lose control of it. However, once you start to sharpen knives well, if you are not used to a very sharp knife, you need to be very careful. It may surprise you how easy it is to cut with it.
Axes and hatchets are much harder than your knife. You do not want to use your knife sharpening stones on them! Use a "bastard" file on them. It should be a #10-#12 first. Clamp the axe head at an angle and run the file along it at a thirty degree angle. Go along the whole edge, just like a knife. Do that ten times on each side. After that, use a finer file and do ten times on each side again. Make sure you remember to carry a file in your pack.
Treat your tools with care and they will last for a long time. Each tool was crafted with care and you should treat it as such. Take care of your axe and other metal headed tools as well. Coat it in oil and wrap a terry cloth around it to store it. Make sure you sharpen them properly each time.
The Changing Earth Series
A veteran of 2 tours of duty in Viet Nam, James began his survival training at the age of 7 when he was stranded in the Mojave Desert for 7 hours without food or water during a family move in 1954. Since then he has been through the scouting program where he attained Life scout, served as Scoutmaster, Assistant Scoutmaster, Venture Advisor, and earned the Badden Powell Award. An avid outdoorsman, he has winter camped in Utah and northern Quebec, Canada, snowshoed in upstate New York, Utah and Quebec, and camped in the Mojave Desert of California, the Uintah Mountains of Utah, and the Piney Woods of East Texas, among numerous other locations. James has traveled and been through 42 of the 50 states of the US. Three provinces of Canada, sailed the Pacific Ocean, and crossed the Equator and 35 countries from jungles of South America to the Himalayas of Nepal. Having earned an Associates of Photography Degree from Houston Community College, he has beautifully captured many of his travels with his camera.
Now retired from a career with the Trinity River Authority of Texas, James resides in Dallas, TX, where he lectures on Wilderness and Survival Training. He is the author of SWET Survival & Wilderness Experience Training, Urban & Wilderness Emergency Planning, 35 other booklets on wilderness training, monthly articles for Survival Life Magazine, and a column and articles for The Garland Messenger Newspaper. James also does workshops and speaking engagements.