Why is Sharpening your Knives Important?
By Stan Watson, Technical Director of Diamond Machining Technology

When was the last time you sharpened your knives? There are many important reasons why a hunter or fisherman would need to carry a knife but most overlook the simple task of regularly sharpening their knives. As anyone who has ever tried to use a dull knife can tell you, a knife is useless if it is not sharp. Regardless of a manufacturer’s boastful claims, every knife will eventually lose its sharp edge and ability to cut over time. This is due to one factor - repeated cutting with a blade always dulls the cutting edge.

Generally, knife manufacturers engineer a certain “bevel” or angle on their knife based on how it is used and what it is designed to cut. For example, chopping knives have heavy blades with less acute angles while skinning and fillet knives, which are commonly used by both hunters and fishermen, have much more acute angles. When it comes to sharpening, a rule of thumb is the steeper the angle - the sharper the blade. This also means that sharper blades have much thinner edges, making them dull quicker.

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A knife’s overall sharpness can be determined by a number of methods, but the easiest is the paper test. Try cutting a sheet of paper with your knife. Does the knife tear or get caught in the paper? Does the knife’s cut look ragged and frayed on the edges? If you have any trouble cutting through a sheet of paper, your knife could use some sharpening.

There are many reasons why sharpening a knife consistently is essential, but the biggest and most important is safety. A sharp knife takes less force to cut than a dull one. Less force and less pressure lead to fewer accidents and slip ups. Have you ever had to utilize a sawing motion when cutting? If so, your knife is not working effectively and that sawing motion could lead to accidents. Fortunately, innovation in sharpening technologies, such as diamond, can easily sharpen today’s advanced steel alloys and keep your blade functioning properly.

Yet, the value of using properly sharpened knives extends beyond just safety. Another major reason why a hunter or fisherman should sharpen their knives is performance. Sharp knives can save time. When you are preparing your catch or game, utilizing a dull knife can not only be ineffective, it can be downright frustrating. There is an immeasurable value in the pleasure of working with a knife that just seems to perform its tasks effortlessly. It is also important to remember that your knives are expensive tools. If you neglect their maintenance, you are wasting your money and will eventually have to go out and buy replacement knives.

So how do you go about sharpening your knife at home, on a hunt or out on a fishing trip?

The first step in sharpening is making sure you match the angle of the bevel with the manufacturer’s recommendations. A simple way to accomplish this is to take a magic marker and color the edge of the knife. Then stroke your blade across a diamond sharpener. Look at the edge - if it is too high and completely takes off the marker and more, or if it is too low and doesn’t eliminate the marker, you have the wrong angle. You will need to keep adjusting until you have matched the angle. Marking the bevel edge also serves two additional purposes. It lets you know when you have effectively sharpened the knife and can help you avoid over sharpening or wasting blade life.

Once the correct angle is identified, take your blade and stroke it over a diamond sharpener six to eight times on each side of the bevel. It is important that both sides of the knife are sharpened equally. However, focus only on one side at a time - alternating from side to side while sharpening makes it more difficult to maintain the correct angle. If you want to lubricate your knives during this process, all you need is water. Also, it is important you take your time and do not rush this process. Diamond sharpening technology does make sharpening quicker (approximately 10 times faster than conventional abrasives), but you still need to be careful whenever you are working with knives.

It is easier to keep a knife sharp than it is to rescue a dull knife. However, it is possible to salvage older, duller blades by utilizing multiple grits. Basically there are three types of knife sharpening grits – coarse, fine and extra fine. Each grit provides a different level of sharpening. The smoother the edge of a knife is, the longer it will last and the easier it can cut. If a knife is extremely dull, start with a coarse grit and then move on to a fine grit. If a knife just needs a bit of sharpening, the finer grits will be more effective.

Lighten up on each stroke for a more refined edge and be careful not to over sharpen your knives. Removing extra materials from your knife will affect the longevity of your blade.

This sharpening technique can work on almost any edge that needs to be adjusted. From hunting knives to broad heads to fishing hooks, this process can keep all your sharp edges safe and effective. The most important thing to remember is to be patient during the process and handle your blades and edges carefully.

Stan Watson is the Technical Director of Diamond Machining Technology, a leading diamond sharpener manufacturer, and the inventor on nine engineering patents in the sharpening industry. He can be reached at swatson@dmtsharp.com.

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