Being prepared is the keystone to any successful hunting trip. That means having the right gear ready when you need it. It also means having that gear in working order for the tasks at hand. You can own the most expensive hunting knife on the market but if it is not properly sharpened, it will be useless. Knife sharpening is one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of hunting trip preparedness. With just some basic sharpening knowledge and a couple of simple tools, however, any hunter can be sure to have their knife ready.
Testing Your Blade
A number of simple tests exist to test the sharpness of your hunting knife. Some outdoorsmen test a knife’s sharpness by shaving a small patch of hair on their arms or hands. This test is quick and effective but, let’s be honest, a little dangerous for a novice. For those not confident that they can tell their blade is dull, there are blade edge testing kits available at through outdoor equipment retailers. These kits can be expensive.
Experienced hunters can often tell if a blade is dull just by looking at it. To visually look for dullness, hold the blade with the edge in line with a strong light source and move it back and forth a bit. If you see a reflection or glint then you have a dull blade. If all else fails, walk into your outdoor goods store and ask a professional to help you assess knife sharpness.
The Right Tools
Once you have concluded that your knife needs sharpening, you will need to get your hands on the right sharpening equipment. Sharpening stones are effective, commonly used, and come in a variety of styles and sizes. When purchasing a stone, look for one made from compounds with a relative hardness of 9 or higher. Stones made from bonded aluminum oxide or silicon carbide work very well, as does silicon carbide sandpaper glued to a wooden block or something similar.
A sharpening guide is a clamp-like tool that attaches to the blade of the knife and aids in controlling the angle of the blade. This may be helpful for notice knife sharpeners because they are the only way to guarantee an accurate sharpening angle. More advanced hunters may find them unnecessary.
Sharpening The Blade
There are two basic steps to correctly sharpening a blade. The first is to develop a burr, or, a rough, ragged edge on the surface of the blade. Once that is created, the blade then needs to be polished until the edge is smooth.
To develop a burr, first set the angle of the blade correctly and then grind one side until you have removed the old edge. Continue grinding until you can feel the burr with your thumb, it should feel jagged and serrated. Once you have a nice burr on one side, flip the blade over and raise a burr on the other. Keep in mind that some knives (ceramic and very hard steel primarily) will not raise a burr. If you’ve tried raising a burr on your blade without any success, you may have one of these kinds. Consult a professional for information on sharpening these blades.
Once you’ve raised a burr on your blade take the time to put some finishing touches on your knife by polishing the blade. There are three basic polishing strokes you can use to finish the sharpening process – on-stroke, off-stroke, or circular strokes. The off-stroke is the easiest technique for beginners. Begin to grind away the burr made by the first stone you used. The burr should gradually begin to fade. Once it is almost undetectable, switch to the circular stroke and finish grinding off the old scratch pattern. Finish up by using light strokes to get rid of the remaining burr. At this point your blade should be extremely sharp, with no burr and only micro-serrations.
Don’t be afraid to ask professionals for help. Woodworkers and butchers are usually more qualified in the art of sharpening than knife makers or collectors. Ask one in your area if they can assist you or provide you with some simple techniques.
It is important for all your hunting tools to be in prime condition before you go on a trip, and your knife is no exception. With these tools and proper techniques you can effectively sharpen your knife before or during your trip and not have to worry about the problems a dull blade can cause.