Last Updated on June 3, 2017
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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
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.
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
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.