If you’re an old school guy who likes to sharpen your best hunting knives by freehand, learn to do it well and quickly on a bench stone with these techniques.
By Dexter Ewing
Freehand sharpening is a skill that must be developed with practice, along with trial and error — at first, mostly error. Please bear in mind that what I am about to describe is not necessarily the right or wrong way to do it, but my way.
The key to mastering freehand sharpening is keeping the angle of the blade to the stone consistent. If you do not, your knife will not be sharp. The edge bevel will be round instead of flat.
You must be patient to master freehand sharpening. Accept the fact that you will make mistakes. It will take a while to get the feel of it, so do not think you can invest a few hours or a few days and have the technique mastered.
Invest in a good bench stone. You have the natural ones like the Arkansas stones and the manmade ones such as the Norton India stone. There are also the diamond-bonded stones like any of the many that Diamond Machining Technology (www.dmtsharp.com) and others produce.
Select the stone based on your knife’s blade steel. Diamond stones work well with the high-performance steels such as CPM-S30V, BG-42, 154CM and others. While they sharpen blades of high-performance steel — though not as quickly as the diamond abrasives — Norton India, ceramic and Arkansas stones excel at sharpening low-to-mid-grade stainless, as well as all grades of carbon and tool steels. Also, diamond stones use water as lubrication, the rest use oil.
How To Do It
With a black ink Sharpie permanent marker, color the entire cutting edge or primary bevel on both sides of the blade. The objective is to sharpen off the black ink. After you remove the ink from both sides of the blade, it will be sharp!
Take a few strokes on the stone and then examine the edge bevel. If you see ink toward the top of the bevel, decrease the angle of the blade to the stone.
Conversely, if you see ink toward the bottom of the bevel, increase the angle to capture that part. In other words, you must monitor any ink left on the cutting edge and remove it throughout the sharpening process.
After you have successfully sharpened away the marker ink from the first side of the blade, turn the knife over and repeat the same process for the second side.
After you have removed the ink from the second side, flip the blade over to the first side and carefully feel for a small, raised burr across the cutting edge. The last step is to lightly “wipe” the burr off by gently running the side of the blade with the burr across the bench stone. When you complete this step, you have successfully sharpened a knife!
After you sharpen the ink from the cutting edge, you will have to remove any stray marker ink. Goof Off (www.goofoffstainremover.com/how-remove-paint), a liquid-based adhesive and paint remover available at your local hardware store or home center, is ideal for the job. Place a few drops on a paper towel and very carefully wipe the cutting edge.
Another tip: Procure a couple of cheap knives from the hardware store or flea market. Practice on them and make your mistakes prior to moving on to your good knives. This is a great way to practice and gain confidence in short order.
Correctly and Quickly
This technique works with fixed blades and folders, short and long blades, and kitchen, hunting, gent’s and tactical knives. After you get the hang of it, skip the permanent marker step. The marker technique is simply a way to sharpen a blade correctly in the shortest amount of time.
The preceding was an excerpt from a digital download from our sister publication, Blade Magazine. The Sharpen A Knife & Care For Your Collection download features hundreds of tricks, tips and techniques for caring for your blades.