“A sharp knife is a safe knife” — these aren’t just words to live by if you go hunting, camping or fishing on a regular basis. In a dire survival situation, a well-honed blade can be a lifeline. Skinning a deer, cleaning a fish and chipping away at branches to make a shelter all require a certain degree of accuracy and efficiency you can’t get if your blade is butter-knife dull. So it’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the state of your knife’s edge and make sure it’s razor sharp before heading outdoors.
If the edge just needs a simple tune-up before a camping trip — or if you found grandpa’s old combat knife and it’s burred and chipped — bringing a blade back to straight-razor quality is relatively easy. It takes a little more time and patience depending on the wear, but every step gets you closer to a safer blade.
1Pick the right whetstone. The more severely damaged your blade is the more coarse a whetstone you’ll want to start with. If the blade’s edge has burrs or is dangerously dull, start off with a whetstone as coarse as 220 grit. If the blade is only somewhat dull, start with a medium-Arkansas stone around 600 grit. And for blades that just need a fine polish or tune-up, go right to a soft-Arkansas stone 1,000 grit or more.
2Wet your whetstone. Spread a light oil or water across the whetstone and let it sit to penetrate the stone’s porous surface. Lubricating the whetstone will increase the sharpening tendencies of the stone’s surface while smoothing out the blade’s travel, reducing further damage.
3Find your angle. Lay the blade flat on the whetstone and slowly raise it until you feel it meet the edge’s natural angle. If the blade is too far gone, closer inspection is necessary to find the right angle. The average fixed-blade knife comes with an edge of around 20-23 degrees, so it’s important to hold the blade at this angle as it moves across the whetstone.
4Start sharpening. Starting at one end of the whetstone, with the blade at the correct angle and facing away from you, push the blade away from you. As the blade travels down the stone, pull the blade across the stone, maintaining the angle and light pressure as if you’re trying to shave a piece of the stone off. Since most blades are curved, you have to adjust the lateral angle of the knife to ensure the entire cutting edge is getting sharpened all the way to the tip. Repeat this process five or six times.
5Flip it over, bring it back. Starting at the far side of the whetstone, with the other side of the blade facing up, pull the blade towards you. Again, maintaining the same angle so that each side of the cutting edge is sharpened equally, pull the blade across the stone to sharpen the length of the blade. Repeat this five or six times.
6Repeat as necessary. Step four and step five should be repeated three or four times. If you started with a coarse whetstone, repeat steps four and five until the blade’s condition is good enough to move to a finer stone.
7Test the edge. The easiest and most time-tested way to see if your blade is sharp enough is the “paper test.” Hold a piece of A4 printer paper with one hand, and with the other hand smoothly slice the piece of paper from the edge to the center. The easier the knife can cut through the paper, the sharper — and safer — it is.
Staying sharp, made easy.