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Keeping Your Blades Sharp Post Disaster

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Editor’s Note: This post is another entry in the Prepper Writing Contest from Redneck Prepper. If you have information for Preppers that you would like to share and possibly win a $300 Amazon Gift Card to purchase your own prepping supplies, enter today.


As a beginning prepper, I have noticed that much attention is given to the blades and implements that would be needed to survive and thrive after a myriad of disaster scenarios. There seems however to be a lack of information on keeping these tools sharp, especially given the amount of articles about the tools themselves. Whether you are using a pocket knife to cut rope, a shovel or hoe to cultivate plants, or a skinning knife to dress your game, they are all guaranteed to dull with repeated use. I believe it is time to shed some light on the methods and implements used to maintain a working edge on your tools. This is what I will attempt to do.

Garden tools, axes, machetes, and chopping tools

Now that you are ready, either clamp your tool to a table, or secure it in a vice to begin.

Now that you are ready, either clamp your tool to a table, or secure it in a vice to begin.

While you can find many different and complicated instructions online for keeping your tools sharp, I will attempt to keep this simple and informative.

Your garden tools are different in both material and blade geometry than a knife blade. The first difference you will notice is that the edge is generally thicker and more rounded. This provides the durability needed for tools that will take impacts such as cutting a tree. And the steel is a less brittle alloy, providing both a more durable edge and the ability to more easily sharpen it. This is where the tool file comes in. A high carbon alloy, such as 5160 or D2, is too hard to be cut with a tool file. If you try to file a high carbon knife blade, the file will skate along the top of the surface and never leave a scratch. But it will cut into your tools. Now that we know the correct tool to keep your blades sharp, we move on to technique.

Work Sharp WSKTS-KO Knife and Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition

Work Sharp WSKTS-KO Knife and Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition – Makes sharpening all edged tools simple.

First you must determine the edge type on your tool. If you look closely at your ax, you will notice it has a double bevel. That means both sides of the edge are cut into a “V” shape with the point in the center of the edge. Look at the edge on your hoe next. You will notice that one side of the blade is flat and the other is beveled to produce a cutting edge. This is where that technique comes in. You always sharpen the blade in the manner in which it was made. Only file the beveled side on the single bevel, file both sides of the double bevel. And as long as you can see the original angle of the bevel that can be used as a guide for you to follow as you file.

The other consideration is how to use the file once you have determined the correct angle and edge type. The most common recommendation is to use the full length of the file as you move along the edge, this way you do not wear the teeth of the file in one small area.

Now that you are ready, either clamp your tool to a table, or secure it in a vice to begin. Align your file with the angle of your blade, and as you move down the edge, press down firmly on the forward stroke. Always release the pressure as you bring the file back. That way you not only have better chance of not cutting yourself, but you will not break the teeth of your file. Now repeat until your tool is sharp.

We are ready to move on to knives next.

Pocket knives, kitchen knives, skinning knives, and survival knives

Now that we assume your blade is only dull, not damaged, or that you have restored the profile to the blade, lets talk about honing

Now that we assume your blade is only dull, not damaged, or that you have restored the profile to the blade, lets talk about honing

 

Without getting too technical about the varying alloys and blade geometries that can effect sharpening, I will attempt to give some basic information on keeping your cutting implements in usable form.

Most of the time the average person will attempt to sharpen a dull blade with either a stone or one of those pull through sharpeners that are laying in countless kitchen drawers. While they will make your knife somewhat sharper, they remove excess material and are not normally necessary. We will examine why.

A stone has a basic purpose, it allows you to remove material from the hardened steel of your blade. This is helpful if you have chipped or blunted the cutting edge and it becomes necessary to re-profile the edge. This will get your blade back into the geometry that provides the best cutting edge. But for everyday sharpening this is unneeded and causes your blade to wear prematurely. The same can be said for the pull through sharpener. It will sharpen somewhat, but it will wear your blade out with constant use. There are numerous instructional articles written on using a stone, and they are far better written that I am capable of, so I will not go into great detail on that.

Now that we assume your blade is only dull, not damaged, or that you have restored the profile to the blade, lets talk about honing. Most everyone has seen a chef whipping his blade up and down a cylindrical tool, but do not realize exactly why. That cylindrical object is known as a honing steel. The idea is not to remove material, but to pull the microscopic teeth that make up your cutting edge back into alignment. Those teeth bend down as the knife is used. This method restores the sharpness to your blade without the effort or wear.

Now back to the chef, he is merrily whipping his blade along the length of the steel without a care. As cool as it looks, it is highly impractical and mostly for the purpose of showing off for his audience. For the rest of us, the correct method is to hold your steel firmly in your hand and press the tip against a table or counter top. Now with a light coating of oil on your steel, it is time for the knife. You want to hold the blade at approximately 22.5 degrees to the steel, beginning with the hilt at the top of the steel. Now bring the blade down slowly while also moving the length of the blade along the steel. This will work better if you have at least the same length steel as the blade you are sharpening. You may not be able to see the effect it is having, but it is working. Just be sure you keep track of how many strokes you make on each side of the blade, this needs to be equal on both sides. Now repeat.

Once you are confident that you have made a difference on your knife, wipe the blade with a rag, and check the sharpness carefully. I will not tell you how I do that because someone will surely injure themselves and blame me. You should notice a remarkable difference in sharpness. Congratulations, you have just taken the first step to keeping your blades in optimal cutting condition.

This article is by no means the most informative source on the subject, nor the most articulate. It is however my hope that I have provided some needed information that may benefit someone along their journey. Even if that is by encouraging you to research the subject elsewhere.

Keep your powder dry and your tools sharp out there.

2 Comments

  1. BobW

    June 8, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    I’m just a layman, and no master at pretty much anything, but it seems to me that this is one of those learned skills. A person can’t watch a video on the internet and understand how to really sharpen tools. One must work at sharpening tools and knives to get good at it; there is no substitution for setting up a little station, and sharpening some knives and tools. I’d recommend starting out with ‘throw-away’ quality knives while you learn. It would be irresponsible to throw your ESEE-4 into your home made knife sharpening station and mangling that beautiful blade.

    While the Advert Pat posted on the Work Smart sharpener is undoubtedly a better sharpener than I am, when the power is gone, you’ll have to pull out a file and go old school if you want an edge on that knife, axe, or hoe.

    The notion that 22.5′ is the end all angle is a bit of a narrow view point. Reality is that different tools call for different angled edges. A gardening hand tool I picked up, that is a 3-prong rake on one side, and a fairly blunt root cutter on the other. Without heading to the garden shed, I’d say its around a 30′ angled 2″ pick. Rubbing your thumb over it, you would say its dull as can be, but i’ve used it to limb fallen trees, and cutting out roots getting too close to the in-ground sprinkler lines. It cuts up to 2″ limbs and roots like they were 5 years rotten. Keeping the edge smooth is all that is required, but occasional maintenance is still required to keep it cutting well.

    I hate referencing other people’s materials here, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Wranglestar’s excellent tutorial on sharpening axes. He discusses different types of axes, and each type’s uses. Many of them had different angled edges, appropriate to their designed uses. You can’t watch it and be a pro at physically sharpening the edge, but it will give you a basis for starting your OJT in sharpening that ‘general’ axe in the barn that hasn’t been maintained since you purchased it.

    • Tim

      June 11, 2017 at 3:49 pm

      I believe the 22.5 degree number was not intended to be the be all end all. Sure different blades for different uses take different angles, it is even stated when sharpening tools to try to maintain the factory angle. However, for most knife blades, 22.5 degrees on a steel hone will produce a serviceable edge. That is what would be important in most cases.

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