Knife Sharpening Part I »

Knife Sharpening Part I

If you really get into it there is a lot of necessary equipment. On Steels alone, at various times/circumstances I use a Rough, Diamond, Ceramic, Smooth or a Diamond Pencil Steel. I use After Market plastic snap-on scabbards on my sharpened boning knives,  since they don't come with a scabbard.

By: By Tom Claycomb III -


I’m going to cover this topic in a two-part series. Today we’ll do an introduction into knife sharpening and cover blade hardness and necessary equipment. In the next article we’ll get into actual knife sharpening.

 I bet I’ve written close to 100 articles on Knives and Knife Sharpening and who knows how many seminars I’ve conducted on the topic. I always start out by stating that “All outdoorsmen use a knife, but I bet less than 5% can sharpen one”.
Unfortunately it is a long lost art. It does take some skill but it doesn’t take a PhD so let’s see if we can’t help you out a little. In the old days our granddads used was a smooth Arkansas stone. Now that would take all day though due to the hardness of our modern knives.

 Used to be most of the angles were close to 30 degrees. Now, they’re 24 and some on down to 16-degrees. The way they’re able to do this is because of the hard metal that they use now. Sixty years ago if they had made a knife with a 16-degree angle the edge would of rolled, flattened or chipped off.

 So now it takes longer to sharpen a knife than it used to do. So which is best? Hard or soft metal? The last few years there’s been a mad rush to develop the hardest blade. I think that a few companies have gone overboard. 

I was doing a Knife Sharpening seminar in Denver. A guy handed me a knife and I worked on it for nearly 30 minutes and couldn’t get it sharp. I called the knife company and asked him what the deal is. He said we make the hardest knife on the market so when it gets dull you have to send it back to us.

I said that probably works good for the guy that kills one deer every three years but when we take kids bear hunting for the TV Show, we may kill two bears per afternoon. What do we do then? Stack them up for two weeks while you sharpen our knife? So to me, in their mad rush to develop the hardest knife on the market, 2-3 companies have gone overboard.

So which is best, a soft blade or a hard one? It’s a matter of preference. A soft blade sharpens faster but dulls faster. A hard blade takes longer to sharpen but it last longer. This is a big deal if you’re back in the mountains and kill an elk. You can clean and skin it without even sharpening your knife but if you have a soft metal blade then you’ll have to carry along a whetstone (more weight).

I prefer a hard blade but not over the top hard. Everyone likes options so I’ll list out a few that are easy for me to sharpen and that are popular manufacturers. Knives of Alaska makes some great knives-design and metal wise. Puma has a lot of functional options available. Case Knives has been around forever and have a million options available to choose from. If you want the ultimate knife, check out the Diamond Blade line. I like their Traditional Hunter or Summit model.

In my seminars someone invariably asks me what is the best metal. I know when I sharpen a knife if I like it or not but I don’t really know much about metal and felt like that I should, since I’m always talking about knives. I contacted a well-known knife maker in Texas and he agreed to help educate me. He finally said. “ I’ll tell you what. I’ll write down some thoughts and send them to you. “ About 30 days later I received a 30 page pile of info about knife metals. Wow, this was going to be a lot more complicated than I had originally thought. I needed a Master’s Degree if not a PhD to talk on his level. I quickly decided to retreat and just write articles and conduct seminars about knives and not be a metallurgist. 

Let’s move into what equipment to use. According to how bad your edge is and how hard the metal will determine what equipment you need to use so I’m going to speak in generalities. I’ve had good luck with Smith’s Consumer Products so I’ve used them exclusively the last quite a few years.

If your edge is really bad then use a coarse diamond stone (Don’t let your edge get bad enough to need a coarse stone). To put the final edge on you’ll then progress to an Arkansas stone. The old timers then went to a leather strop with resin. To put the final edge on your boning knives you want to use a smooth steel.

Well, we’ll knock off for now and next time jump into the actual basics on how to sharpen your knife.

* * * * * * * * * *

Tom Claycomb has been an avid hunter/fisherman throughout his life as well as an outdoors writer with outdoor columns in the magazine Hunt Alaska, Bass Pro Shops, and freelances for numerous magazines.  He has an expanded Knife Sharpening e-article on Amazon Kindle. You can read more about Tom and access more of his articles at his website


knife sharping




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