Friday, January 29, 2016

TUTORIAL - Knife Maintenance

Arguably, your knife is the single most important, useful piece of equipment in your bag. As such, it needs to be maintained well in order to keep it functioning at peak performance.

Now this topic could be expanded into a BOOK-LENGTH article, and indeed it has. This article, specifically, will not go into the actual methods of knife care, as that info can be found anywhere you turn. You can't open YouTube without finding eight hundred thousand videos on the topic.

What you don't see much of are knife care kits. There are plenty of store-bought options out there, many of which are excellent, such as the Spyderco SharpMaker:

These kits are great for edge retention, but don't look after the knife completely. There is more to it than just maintaining a razor-edge. What about getting rid of a chip or burr? Keeping any hinges clean and free? How about keeping an AXE sharp or performing gradiated reconditioning of a too-far-gone blade? That takes a bit more equipment, and putting together a kit for it is relatively simple and inexpensive.

There are many versions of what that kit might look like, but here's one I made just to get your brain juices pumping a little, and, like most of my kits, it fits snugly into a little pouch:

If you know me at all by now, you'll know that organisation is key when it comes to my packs, so within this pouch, everything is laid out nicely and ready to use:

So here's the contents, numbered in the order you'd be putting your hands on them during a standard sharpening routine:

1. Microfibre cloth/oilcloth. Some sort of cloth suitable for working with oil for cleaning and oiling the blade and stones.

2. Bottle/canister of a superfine knife oil. A well-made knife oil is not just good for lubricating a blade's movement if it has any, but can also help to clean a dirty blade and ward off rust. Can't afford fancy knife oil? Standard 3-in-1 oil works just fine in most cases.
3. A knife steel. Quickly bust out any burrs and keep your edge aligned to stop future burrs before they happen. A lot of people forget this step.

4. A gradiated stone. These stones have a SUPER LOW grit side, and a slightly less low side. When you're starting from scratch, or dealing with something like a machete or axe, one of these babies will get your edge ready to BE sharpened if it isn't currently. They're so good they'll even work on a lawnmower blade. The curved surface also helps to sharpen those trickier blades, like kukris.

5. An edge refinement file. A lot of places mistakenly call these a diamond sharpener. These things are great for helping get your edge ready to be sharpened, but they remove a LOT of material from your edge and will ruin any current razor-sharp sections you currently have, so use it when you're reconditioning a dull blade only.

6. An ACTUAL diamond sharpener. These can cost serious money to get a good one, but you can get an alright one for about thirty or fourty bucks. This is the first stage of your ACTUAL sharpening process, once your blade steel is properly prepared. Remember never to use oil on your blade if you're using one of these. You'll ruin it within two uses.

7. A refinement tool. The one I uses is made by a company called Lansky and is called the Blade Medic. I love it. It has a diamond sharpener, carbide edger and two ceramic refiners all with replaceable parts if they wear out. Once you've done your diamond sharpen, this will get your blade quite usable on its own and will KEEP it that way for a long, long time. One of the most bang-for-buck tools you'll ever buy. Just remember that a carbide sharpener should be used very, very moderately as they remove a HEAP of material from your blade compared to other sharpeners.

8. A whetstone. And I mean a PROPER whetstone. In my humble opinion there are only two countries which produce proper whetstones - Japan and the good ol' US of A. My personal preference is Arkansas Blue stone as it has never, ever let me down. The company "Dan's" make them nicely, too. They're also the perfect mix of quality and affordable. Also, do yourself a favour and look up proper whetstone technique. One tip that I learned from a professional chef was to substitute knife oil for dishwashing liquid when you get to the whetstone stage. You can have that one for free ;)

So do yourself a favour and look after your baby. That way, it can keep looking after you when you're in a bind.

- CumQuaT

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