Why sharp matters, and how to sharpen.
By Rob Foster
A woodsman was asked, “What would you do if you had five minutes to chop down a tree?”
His response, “I’d spend the first three minutes sharpening my axe.” The time invested in sharpening the tool means less time and effort to achieve the goal.
Having equipment that is properly maintained to do the job is only half the battle. More importantly, dull blades are more dangerous than a sharp blade because a dull blade requires more effort and pressure to use, which increases the chance of slippage. That’s why #SharpMatters.
Sharp or Dull?
There are a few quick ways to safely determine if a blade is dull or sharp. First, perform an initial visual inspection by looking at the edge of the blade under a bright light. If you see any reflection, then the edge is dull and needs honing or sharpening. If you see just a black line, then the edge is sharp.
A tried and true method is to cut paper. Take a sheet of copy paper and hold the knife edge
perpendicular to its edge. If it cuts with limited effort, the edge is sharp. If it leaves a ragged or uneven cut, the blade need to sharpened or honed.
For kitchen knives, an onion is a great test because the skin is slippery and comes off very easily. A sharp knife will easily cut through the skin, gaining purchase on the first pass without the need to use a sawing motion.
When testing wood-cutting tools, the edge should cut wood fibers cleanly without crushing the fibers.
Fillet or skinning knives should quickly and cleanly penetrate with little to no resistance.
Grinding the steel along the entire length on each side of the blade (excluding serrated portion) creates a burr that is critical to creating a sharp edge. It is very important to use the same number of strokes on each side of the blade to ensure a true burr is formed.
Once a burr is created, with each stroke, alternate sides to refine the primary edge. A knife becomes sharp when the two sides are brought together as precisely as possible at the apex of the knife, the sharp part. This requires graduating from coarse to fine grits, and on to honing. It is crucial to decrease the pressure placed on the knife or tool so you finish using only the weight of the blade.
Hand vs. Mechanical Sharpening
Each system has its pros and cons, and much of it is contingent on the individual’s experience, skill set and patience.
The primary benefit of the Work Sharp Pocket Knife Sharpener (WSGPS-W) and the Guided Field Sharpener (WSGF221)is these hand-held units require no electricity, which can be scarce when out in the field, woods or on the water.
Other advantages include learning a skill that can be honed over time and brings a deep sense of satisfaction. The hand-held sharpeners are portable, and provide a lower cost entry point for basic blade maintenance.
Some disadvantages relative to a mechanical system is hand sharpening takes patience, especially for beginners, as it takes time to build muscle memory to achieve highly repeatable motions for different angles.
This is where the Guided Field Sharpener really shines because it incorporates 5 stages of sharpening and honing, each with built-in angle guides for a consistent bevel across the entire blade.
The sharpening guides are purpose-built specifically for hunting knives, pocket knives and filet knives, making easy work of sharpening flat, curved and serrated blades—as well as camp tools such as axes, hatchets and machetes.
Want a perfect edge every time? Have multiple knives? The Combo Knife Sharpener (WSCMB) creates a precise 25° angle for outdoor knives, pocket knives, kitchen knives and serrations by utilizing power driven premium-grade abrasive belts and tapered ceramic rods.
Need to tackle multiple projects? The Original Knife & Tool Sharpener (WSKTS) is a jack-of-all-trades that can sharpen common tools including scissors, axes, hatchets, mower blades, garden shears, shovels, and most any tool with a cutting edge. This system is able to sharpen not just straight bladed knives, but also curved knives, tanto blades, fillet knives, serrated knives, gut hooks and virtually any other shape of knife blade.
Maintaining a Sharp Edge
There is some confusion between honing and sharpening. Honing is the process of straightening out any minor waves or bends in the blade while only taking off minimal material. Sharpening actually grinds the edge to make it sharper.
Honing and maintaining the knife will increase user safety and increase the usable life of the blade. Ceramic rods are a fast and effective solution, many of which are designed into Work Sharp Sharpeners. Another great option is the fine abrasive belt that is included with the powered sharpening solutions by Work Sharp.
Sharp knives and tools may not rise to the top of the list for your next run to the hardware store but starting each job with sharp tools will help you be safe and successful. #SharpMatters