Quick! You're going on a wilderness canoe trip. Besides your paddle and PFD, what tool do you value most? If you said "a good sharp knife", you're in agreement with the experts. Most people use a mechanical device of some sort to sharpen their knives. This is fine as long as "moderately sharp" is good enough and you have space to carry the sharpening tool. Actually, it's easy to sharpen a knife to a razor's edge. All you need are the right tools and practice. This method works with any non-serrated blade.
SHARPENING TOOLS A medium-grit and fine-grit whetstone. You need a coarse grit stone only if the knife is badly nicked or very dull. The quality of the abrasive is more important than whether the stone is natural or synthetic. Indeed, Amazon natives use water-worn rocks to sharpen their machetes-and they obtain whisker-sharp edges. Use water to lubricate diamond stones and cutting oil or WD-40 on natural stones. For safety, your stones should be at least six inches long.
Important! If you want the finest edge - and the ability to sharpen your knife in the field - don't ever use an electric sharpener on the blade! Why? Because the angle cut by machine is difficult to duplicate by hand. And never use an abrasive power wheel on a good blade. You'll ruin it beyond repair!
To sharpen Scandinavian-style blades: Do not use a 15 degree angle. Instead, hold the beveled portion of the edge flat against the stone.
To check for blade sharpness: A knife is considered sharp if it will shave hair from the back of your hand. A less barbaric method is to shine a bright light on the edge. You should see no flat spots, no inconsistencies... nothing!
Cliff Jacobson is one of North America’s most respected outdoors writers and wilderness paddlers. He is a retired environmental science teacher, an outdoors skills instructor, a canoeing and camping consultant, and the author of more than a dozen top-selling books and a popular video on canoeing and camping. His flagship book, "Canoeing Wild Rivers", 5th Edition is the premier text for canoeing wilderness rivers. Cliff is a distinguished Eagle Scout, a recipient of the American Canoe Association’s prestigious Legends of Paddling Award and a member of the ACA Hall of Fame. Visit his website at: www.cliffcanoe.com
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