How to Make Your Knife as Sharp as the Devil Himself

Claude Nelson
By Claude Nelson March 20, 2015 13:53

How to Make Your Knife as Sharp as the Devil Himself

Though I have never been or never desire to be a killer much of my life’s success was predicated on keeping a set of razor sharp knifes. Again, I am not an assassin but I was a chef for many years. On the hot line and in food preparation it is of the utmost importance that you have a properly sharpened tool to do the job. When a day’s work consists of filleting whole salmon and slicing herbs so fine they are hardly recognizable these blades become the most important part of your success.

This is no difference in a survival situation. The blade is by far the most important tool in your kit. I would argue its only rival would be a powerful water filter. Still, with a knife you can create a filter from various materials yet with a water filter you cannot create a knife. Let’s move on.

Tools

1. Wet Stone

In order to sharpen any blade you are going to need something that will work the edges of the blade back to a sharpened edge. The wet stone provides you with a smooth surface that will slowly wear down each side of the blade until your edge is sharpened.

My Japanese Wet Stone

When buying a water stone (must be kept 40min in water before), look for a large one, at least 2.5 inches wide by 8 inches long, and an inch in thickness. I recommend keeping two stones in your kit. One with a medium grit (around 800 or so) to perform major sharpening jobs, and one with a fine grit (at least 2,000) to tune the edge to a razor-sharp finish. (J. Kenji Lopez-Alt – Source)

2. Honing Steel

The honing steel a powerful tool that with align and hone the blade on a knife. In many cases knife that is not performing well can be brought back to life with several swipes on a honing steel rather than shaving away at the metal to create a new blade.

A tool that is used more often in kitchens it’s a powerful and effective means to keeping a strong blade.

The Method:

#Step 1

Your first step is getting an idea about what your blade needs. When I am going to sharpen a blade I first take a look at the knife as a whole to decide how it will best be held, what is the shape of the blade and how best to attack the problem.

#Step 2

Some blades curve some blades are more flat and all of this will dictate how you sharpen the blade. You will need to make sure that your movements on the stone touch each part of the blade. If you aren’t careful you could wind up with a blade that is razor sharp at one end and dull at the other.how to sharpen your kinfe

#Step 3

Lay out a towel or something that will hold stone in place so it doesn’t shift as you begin to run the knife blade across it.

#Step 4

Now before we even start to sharpen a blade I run it across the sharpening steel in a descending manner on both sides. Hold the knife at a 45 degree angle to the blade. I start with 3 swipes on each side of the blade and decrease down to 2 and then finally one swipe on each side. From doing this you will either find the blade has been realigned and is much sharper or its still dull. If your knife doesn’t spring back to life than its time to sharpen it.how to sharpen your kinfe step 1

#Step 5

Run the blade across the stone in a perpendicular direction to the stone itself. Start with the widest part of the blade and work your way up to the point sliding forward and sliding back.

The first factor effecting edge sharpness is the angle it is sharpened. The lower the angle, the sharper the blade becomes.

22 degrees knife sharpeningHowever, the lower the angle, the weaker the edge becomes. A 22.5° should be perfect in most cases (see picture). But when choosing the angle you may take into consideration the hardness of the steel. (Source)

#Step 6

After three trips up and back on the stone it is time to do the other side. Leaving the stone stationery you need to flip your knife over keeping the blade facing away from you. And continue with the same method.

#Step 7

At this point use the honing steel with the method used above before sharpening the blade.

#Step 8

If the blade is razor sharp than you are good to go! If its still dull repeat steps 6 and 7 until your blade is fully sharpened.

If you are dealing with a blade that is well worn you may need to utilize another method first before taking the gentle approach. This is a tactic I learned from a Belgian chef. I had an old chef knife that followed me through several endeavors and it had been worn down pretty well.

This chef ran the knife blade parallel with the stone and did so about 20-25 hard strokes on each side before checking the blade and going back. This old man literally created a new blade on my knife using the stone and I was very impressed. Now it didn’t look pretty but that knife was brought back to life and I still use it some 10 years later.how to sharpen your kinfe step 3

Sometimes it helps to cover the edge with permanent marker so you can see where you’re removing steel. Here you can see that you’re holding too high of an angle to match the angle already on the knife. Notice the permeant marker is removed from the edge but not the top of the secondary edge. Lower your angle slightly and check again. The opposite problem: too shallow of an angle (see picture).

large pic knife

Fine Tuning

Knife Sharppening leatherThe final tool in the sharpening process is the leather. You can use a plain old leather belt. Basically you’re going to be doing the same thing barbers used to do with the razors. (Read more: 30 Lost Ways of Survival from 1880)

The leather polishes those little microscopic teeth off, so you end up with an edge just like glass.

The angle does not matter that much as long as you use pressure, because the leather is really slick.

Notice that you are not dragging the edge across the leather as before…that would probably cut your belt up.

How to Test Your Knife’s Sharpness

First of all “normal sharp” depends on the use of a tool. Normal sharp:

  • For a kitchen knife – should be able to cut vegetables with almost no downward pressure;
  • For a woodworking tool – the tool should cut wood fibers cleanly without leaving marks or crushing the wood fibers;
  • On a fillet or skinning knife – it should be able to cut very quickly without having to saw through the meat;
  • But a Survival Knife has to pass all these tests;

If you really want to test your survival knife, you have to get down to fine-tuned levels of sharpness. And here are two tests you can use.

  1. cutting paper testTake a piece of paper and hold it vertically. If you try to cut it with a dull knife, the paper will crumple beneath the knife. A sharp knife will cut it cleanly when use a slicing motion to cut through the paper. A razor sharp knife can cut the paper cleanly by just pressing down on the edge of paper without any slicing at all.
  1. test 2 knifeAnother test is to shave the hair on your arms. A dull or even moderately sharp knife will just fold over your arm hairs without cutting. A well sharpened knife will cut almost all of the hairs in one pass. A “devil” sharp knife will cut all the hairs in its path. This level of sharpness can only be attained using the finest tools. (source)

Moreover, I beg you to invest in a honing steel and utilize this powerful tool before rushing right into sharpening an edge. I have brought dull knives back from the dead by merely honing that blade. This will save you time and money which can both be invested elsewhere.

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Claude Nelson
By Claude Nelson March 20, 2015 13:53
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29 Comments

  1. Mac March 20, 19:35

    Very interesting. At one time I was in to sharping knifes and I under stand the 22.5 degrees etc I got good but never good enough to be satisfied with my work. Your right to learn to sharpen with out any tools and the art is in your wrist and be consistent with your angle then you can sharpen anytime and any where.Thanks for posting it.

    Reply to this comment
  2. Pro Daddy March 21, 14:56

    Have been using these techniques for 45+ years. Recommend getting good dual side stone, coarse one side fine other side. Will bring to usable edge for most knives. Fine Arkansas stone for finish before leather strop.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Coffeenut August 10, 04:00

    After stoning, work blade back and forth on the top of your vehicle window to get diamond edge.

    Reply to this comment
    • C H E K May 31, 18:00

      The bottom of almost any coffeecup or ceramic plate is a good makeshift sharpening stone when you’re in short of regular sharpening tools or car doors. 😂
      But the edge of a car window is good for “fine tuning” the edge after honing it on a flipped coffeecup. 😅

      Reply to this comment
  4. bob barton September 16, 03:45

    The metal in knives seems to be less quality than 60 years ago.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Graywolf12 January 5, 15:48

    When hunting and my knife needs a touch up I pull my jeans tight over my thigh and use the denim as a strap. Quick touch up that helps speed up gutting, and skinning. For years I carried a small 1X3″ Arkansas stone in a plastic case. It really worked well, so well someone else thought they needed it more than I did. It was 30 – 40 years old, and I never found a replacement for it.

    Reply to this comment
  6. PB- dave January 5, 22:37

    the Coors co. engineered many ceramic products, among them were small plates of ceramic armor. they can be used for an excellent honing stone after the wet stones.

    Reply to this comment
  7. Rattlebone January 6, 04:35

    Great article and pictures! I have always struggled to get a decent edge going! I also admit I am not patient with this task. I have to ask how do I find out if my whetstone is a “water stone?”. I confess to having used 3-in-one oil on mine! Please educate!!! Thank you very much!

    Reply to this comment
  8. RadarRecon January 8, 23:31

    I stopped reading after “wet stone.” If the tools of the trade are not known by their proper names, how much more can there be to read?

    It’s a “WHET” stone.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Mark January 11, 04:33

    Schrade used to make a leather sheathed hone steel that was cat’s meow for smaller blades. The leather sheath snapped into the end of the steel as a safe handle when using the steel. I used the edge of this steel more than the flat.
    That being said, unless I’m sharpening a knife for surgery, a butchers steel is good enough. These are actually better for sharpening Skandi grind or true boning knives than any quick stick or V system.
    If my knife can shave hair off my arm, it’s good to go for anything short of surgery.
    Chopping of firewood is a different story.

    Reply to this comment
  10. Edwardo January 25, 15:44

    Great post. I was checking continuously this blogg and I am inspired!
    Veery helpful inf specifically the remaining phase 🙂 I deal with such information much.
    I was looking foor this particulaar information for a verry long time.
    Thank you and best of luck.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Judy February 17, 22:11

    Some really interesting details you have written.Helped me a lot, just what I was searching for :D.

    Reply to this comment
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