A dull knife is a dangerous knife. While you might think a sharp hunting knife is more likely to cut you, you’d be wrong. A dull knife requires more pressure to operate, which means a greater change of slippage and nasty accidents. Your knife should be sharp as you can keep it for every hunting trip.
Knife sharpening is a practice steeped in tradition, and there’s plenty of old-timers that will say that their particular way of doing it is the only way. Fortunately, getting a sharp edge is actually a fairly simple process, several swipes on a sharpening stone and it will be good as new.
Different Ways to Sharpen a Hunting Knife
One of the most confusing aspects of knife sharpening is the wide array of sharpening devices you can use. Sharpening tools can cost anywhere between $10 to over $100, so it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with them to find out which one is right for your purposes.
Oil Stones: They’re referred to as such because users believed that honing oil was necessary to lubricate the stone and remove metal shavings. Most experts believe that oil is unnecessary though, with water or nothing at all working just as well. They’re made from naturally abrasive stone and usually come in sets of two: coarse grit for really dull knives and fine grit for polishing off an already sharp one. The stones dull with time, and you should replace them as soon as you start to see an indentation in the stone.
Japanese Whetstone: These stones need to be submerged in water for a few minutes prior to the sharpening process. Made from a mixture of clay and silica particles, the water expands the pores of the stone and makes it more abrasive. It’s best to add a little water during the sharpening process for lubrication too. As with the oil stones, they should be replaced when you start to see an indentation.
Ceramic Stones: Ceramic sharpeners are manmade and consists of a ceramic grid bonded to a solid rod. If you have a knife set in your kitchen, you’re probably already familiar with them. They’re similar in sharpening power to the fine grit on the oil and Japanese whetstones. Great for polished up an already sharp knife, but not the best for bringing a dull one back into service. These sharpeners will pretty much last forever, so there’s no excuse for not having one in your toolkit.
Quick Sharpeners: These gadgets are great for carrying in your hunting pack. Maybe you forgot to sharpen your blade before packing it or perhaps your skinning a particularly difficult elk and your knife has lost its edge midway through the process. They’re super easy to use, just slide the blade through the coarse or fine grit openings on the handheld device a few times and your knife will be ready for more cutting.
Sharpening a Hunting Knife with a Stone
Now you’re ready to get down to the business of sharpening the knife and fortunately, it’s actually a lot simpler than a looks.
To start, place your sharpening stone on a flat surface, like a countertop or table. Then hold the knife blade with two hands and slide it across the stone at a 20-degree angle. If you have trouble keeping the blade in this position, there are guides that can hold it in place. Now push the knife across the surface of the stone, imagining that you’re shaving tiny hairs from its surface. Do five to ten of these strokes, and then switches sides to sharpen the opposite edge. Once you’ve done this a few times, your blade should be razor sharp and ready to use.