Sharpening your tools is very important. This post is part of a series brought to you by RAM. For more information about RAM Series trucks visit us at: http://www.ramtrucks.com/en/guts_and_glory/. What’s this?We’ve all seen it before—the pocket knife that you couldn’t cut warm butter with on a hot July afternoon. It’s a little rusty, the joints are gunked up with who-knows-what, and the only thing it’s good for is opening letters. Almost as bad (or worse depending on your viewpoint) are the kitchen knives that can’t cut tomatoes, or anything remotely tough without repeated sawing.There’s no reason it has to be this way. I think sharpening edged tools is one of the more useful outdoor skills, and it has a glorious payoff in the home as well. The good news is that it’s no longer an art practiced exclusively by mountain men who eat only bear meat. The old days of nothing but Arkansas stones and a little luck are over. It’s really not hard at all; you just need the right equipment.
Techniques - Sharpening in years past was difficult, as it necessitated keeping the proper angle on the knife blade so that you had a clean, consistent, flat edge, rather than a rolled edge that dulled quickly. One tended, without any sort of guide, to rock the blade and create an inefficient cutting edge. A master carpenter could free-hand an angle like a machine, but most of us can’t. Tools to keep this from happening are now common. One of the more popular sharpening tools is the Spyderco Triangle Sharpener (and others of its type). It works on the principle that while the human eye has a hard time eyeballing a 21 degree angle, pretty much everyone knows what a straight, right angle looks like. By angling the sharpening media, the guesswork and much of the imprecision is removed, and all you have to do is move the knife down the media in a cutting motion toward the base, alternating sides. If you follow the directions, you can shave with the blade of your knife when you’re finished.
Axes and Other Potentially Sharp Things - Axes and hatchets are a little different than knives, as usually there is a lot more metal to deal with, and the angle of the edge is higher–more like a cleaver. A good axe has the same quality steel (though not the same alloy) as a good knife. But don’t try to make an axe razor sharp. If you sharpen an axe with a knife blade angle, it will be extremely sharp for about ten strokes. The first few chops will take off that edge, and your careful sharpening will have become a waste of time. Axes and hatchets need a little blunter edge, so they’ll hold up to the tremendous forces put on them. The one exception to this rule is when you do it for fun. I have cut soft bread with a double-bit axe that could shave a whisker off a mouse, so I know it’s possible. I have pictures, I have proof. It’s also fun to shave with an axe as a proof-of-concept. I’ve done it once, but stopped short around my nose and ears as I like them very much and want to keep them.
As you stroke away from you, the file should feel smooth and not be jumpy. If you feel something that feels like it’s caught between your work and the file, something is. Stop and clean your file with a file card or small wire brush. If you look at the surface of the edge you’re filing, it should be smooth. If your work looks like your windshield when a maple tree seed gets caught in the wiper, you’re messing up your nice, smooth surface. You really want to see a long, flat face, not several bevels. This is pretty good…but there are a few flaws to point out. On the edge closest to the bottom of the picture you’ll see a little facet that shouldn’t be there, caused by a moment of inattention. Not fatal, but I wanted you to see what it looks like wrong. Second, you’ll see some scoring in the edge parallel to the bottom of the picture. That’s caused by a bad file, a dirty file, or both. Easily cleaned up by using a diamond stone, but it takes more time the deeper the scoring. I used an old, abused file. Time to make some strikers. If a blade or other tool has been abused (it happens a lot with cheap axes and splitting wedges), after sharpening a tool I’ll protect it with a compound I create myself. This is a secret formula, with carefully-hidden ingredients. It’s a good thing no one knows about my 9:1 ratio of linseed oil to beeswax, melted and mixed and applied to metal then wiped and buffed a little with an old t-shirt.