Get to the point

Thursday February 09, 2012 Written by rohan

In days gone by most men would carry a knife for outdoor tasks: to slice, cut and slash what needed to be sliced, cut and slashed. But modern blokes only really use knives for generic stuff like opening a tightly packed eBay delivery. Even though few of us carry this great tool, many of us still appreciate it. Knives are almost an extension of character. Some blokes like the simplicity of a pocket knife, some like the sleek design and function of a classic fixed-blade hunting knife and some even like to collect antique knives that have plenty of stories to share. I like all of the above.

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No matter what your poison is, there is nothing more frustrating than a blunt knife. It's as useful as a car with no engine. And like a car, a knife needs maintenance. I carry a knife with me every day, everywhere I go (except when flying). This knife is sharp. It's useful in the garden, it's handy gutting fish, skinning hunted game, in food prep and for protection when gambling with gypsies (obviously).

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Sharpening a knife is not a hard task, but it requires a little bit of skill, which comes from experience. There are places you can get your blades sharpened, but it's a great skill to have up your sleeve.

If you have space, run a bench grinder with a cutting stone attached or, even better, a two-grade purpose-made sharpening bench grinder. These aren't too expensive, and to cover the cost you can charge a few bucks to sharpen other peoples' knives... once you get the hang of it. It's good to practice on something that you can potentially 'destroy'. Don't use your favourite $300 kitchen knife from Tokyo.

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A knife has two edges. Both of these need to be ground evenly to bring them to a sharp point. The idea is to start slow. Hold the knife with one edge of the blade facing the spinning grinding stone. Wear safety goggles and keep your fingers away from the grinder for obvious reasons. Slowly press the blade onto the stone as it spins, then move the blade either left or right depending on which side of the edge you started working on. You will get the feel for this; the key is not to push too hard and drive away a chunk of metal. Take baby steps. For a hunting knife I usually start with a fine-grain stone, for an axe I'll start with the coarse stone then move onto the fine stone.

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Once you have both edges trimmed you will need to clean up any rough work by using a very soft hand-sharpening stone. There are a few types, the older ones may require a bit of lubricating grease and some have this function built in, so read the packet. The idea here is to push the knife along the stone like it's sand paper to remove any rough edges that you can feel with your finger as you run it down the side of the blade.

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You'll only need to machine sharpen kitchen knives every few months. In between I tend to use a steel sharpening bar to maintain the edge. When the edge gets too scrappy it means it's time to return to the workshop for a thorough go with the grinder.

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At this point I should mention that it's not a good idea to break out into a maniacal laugh when sharpening knives, nor is it something you'd offer as a service on your first date. This is something done in a man shed, where you can scheme and sharpen to your heart's content.

Rohan Anderson is the man behind Whole Larder Love, an online portal to an offline reaping, sowing, growing, hunting and cooking world.