Monday, March 8, 2010

Keeping An Edge...

...on the various knives I have owned over the years has never been all that difficult for me. I have a really nice Arkansas Whet Stone at home that used to belong to my great-grandfather. It came in a nice box which I now only have 1/2 of (even that half is minus a short side) but the stone is in excellent condition and will last years to come being it is about 6"x3"x1". Now while I have found it easy to sharpen virtually every one of my knives on that stone, I have found that when I sharpen them, I often scratch the sides of the blades. I'll be darned if I know how I manage that because, even when I pay very careful attention to what I am doing, I never see the sides of the blades touch the stone. Another thing I noticed is that even though I can quickly put an edge on most of my blades with it, the length of time that any individual blade holds an edge varies from sharpening to sharpening for that particular blade. That one was easy to figure out, it was likely because I was sharpening at different angles each time I sharpened any particular knife. I also have a nice pocket stone that with which I get virtually the same results as with the bigger stone including the scratches. There had to be a better way.

Looking for the better way I went out and purchased a few different new age knife sharpeners that utilize crossed carbide blades, that in essence form a V, through which you simply run the knife while holding it vertically - edge down and spine up - and pull it through the sharpener so the edge runs through the V. After a few passes you then use the ceramic rods, also in a basic V shape, to put a finer edge on the blade. They work great for a lot of knives but always use the same exact angle for any blade run through it. Remember I just indicated that changing the angle at which you sharpen can change how long a blade will hold its edge from one sharpening to the next and that is not optimal - so wouldn't it be good to only use one angle? Nope. You see, sharpening all types of blades at the same exact angle as one another is also not good. This is because sharpening a utility knife requires a different angle against the stone as compared to the angle for a kitchen knife as compared to that for a hunting knife. They all require different angles from that required by the other type for each to obtain the optimal edge. Then you need to maintain that particular angle for each hunting knife, and he other angle for each kitchen knife and so on. Sure, some folks can do that and come out with finely honed knives each and every time. Like I said though, I can get a nice edge but all to often wind up scratching the sides of the blades or just not getting an edge that last as long as it should. So how is it that you, or I, can do it just right each and every time without just relying on line of sight, guesswork and luck when you are almost all thumbs like me.

The answer was developed many years ago and has been on the market for decades. I remember a fellow agent using one way back when I was in the Border Patrol in Calexico, CA and that was at least 26 years ago, well at least a similar product but it was made by Lansky as I recall. As a matter of fact, the company who makes these started selling their products the year I started government service in the Border Patrol - 1979. All throughout the years of my career, I have often thought of getting myself one but I suppose I just never thought enough of the knives I sharpen and knife sharpening to go out and buy one. Then this Christmas it wound up on my wish list and lo and behold there it was under the tree come Christmas Day. My son Brendan was really nice and bought me that and a nice Victorinox Huntsman folding knife. The it I am hinting at is a
Lansky Knife Sharpening System; Brendan got me the deluxe model.

deluxe version comes with 5 sharpening hones. Each hone is permanently attached to a plastic base that is color coded. A guide rod is inserted into the base, levelled with it, then tightened in place with a screw that is part of the base. There are 5 guide rods included. Nice thing is you can set up all 5 honing stone bases with a guide rod at once so when you want to switch stones you do not have to take a guide rod out of one and put it into another base since all can be ready to go. Once the rods are set properly in the hone bases the knife is then paced into a provided clamp. The clamp has 4 differently positioned guide holes through which the guide rod is placed and depending on which hole you use you get a particular angle at which the hone will then be guided over the blade. You use the right hole for the particular type of blade you wish to sharpen or the particular angled edge you want to put on any knife. You hold the clamp with blade firmly secured in its jaws, then run the honing stone over it in a sort of angled sweeping motion over a small portion of the knife's edge and move along the blade until the length of it has had likewise done to it. Then you flip over the clamp and do the other side of the blade's edge in a likewise manner. The angled guide holes assure you maintain proper angle as you sharpen the knife. The 4 different angles afforded by the guide holes allow you to put the proper edge on various types of knives such as hunting, Exacto, utility, general purpose and kitchen knives. The instruction manual tells you which angle to use for various types of knives.The 5 different hones allow you to start with coarse stone to quickly achieve an edge even on a pretty dull knife and then work you way to the medium through finer stones as you go along until you reach the perfect the edge. There is also a spare tightening screw for the plastic bases of the hones and one spare screw for the clamp (only one despite the fact it takes two different types of screw). A small bottle of honing oil is included in the kit. Everything is packed away in a small plastic carrying case. Everything fits quite neatly into the case. My only peeve is that the carry case is the very cheap type, one piece molded plastic, meaning its hinge is simply a piece of plastic which will break over time from it bending back and forth as you open and close it. Besides what came in my kit, there are several accessories you can buy for the Lansky Knife Sharpening System. Some of these include: a universal clamp mount/base that can be used as a portable or permanently attached base (can be attached to a work table), a pedestal clamp base/mount, various hones such as natural Arkansas stone or diamond faced hones, and a field carrying case (made of Cordura nylon).

It has taken me quite a while before trying it out. I used the sharpening system only about a week ago for the very first time. I tried it out on a couple of the kitchen knives in my temporary quarters while here in Phoenix. It took a little getting used to to hold the clamp right and move the hones over the blades as per the instructions but I had it down within a few passes of the hone. I found out you need to be careful - even if you do it just like they tell you, your hand can be in a position to get sliced as you pass the hone over the blade if you get lax. As opposed to holding the knife in your hand and running it over the stone, you are holding the stone and running it over the knife. just make sure none of your flesh is hanging over the sides of the hone and in the path of the blade. If you are careful all should go well. If you want to see a video on how to do it - click

The end results of my sharpening efforts were some darned nicely sharpened kitchen knives with no scratches on the sides of the blades. They had a pretty sharp edge too and I used only 3 of the 5 stones provided. I then sharpened my Buck Bantam 285. I used all of the stones on it. Once done, I was fairly confident you could shave with it - after testing it on my arm hair I was convinced. Once again, no scratches on the sides of the blade and the edge looked pretty uniform over the length of it. Next thing you know, I'll be ready to sharpen my Spyderco Bill Moran - FB01 on it.

In all, I am a happy man who is quite content with his new knife sharpening system. I foresee my blades being somewhat easier to sharpen, with more uniform edges, and that hold an edge longer thus necessitating less sharpening over the long haul. In addition it is all small enough to bring along on most types of trips that I make such as hunting or fishing trips. To top it all, it only retails for around $40 and can be had at places like sporting goods stores or online at retailers like SMKW. What is not to like about a sharpening system like that - I love it.

All the best,
Glenn B