Eight Ways to Keep Your Blades in Top Shape for Any Season
February 4, 2019
It takes more than the occasional sharpening to keep a knife in top shape. With just a little time and attention, you can reap a much better performance from your blade for the long term, make sharpening more manageable and ensure it’s safe to handle.
Here are eight ways to make the most of your blades.
1. Buy the Right Blade
Before you can think about maintenance, you’ll have to select the knife that best suits your needs. There is no one-style-fits-all, and there will be advantages and disadvantages to each type. The aim is to choose the one that works for you. For example, a fixed blade knife is easier to care for but can’t be carried everywhere, while a folding knife requires more time to clean but fits neatly into a pocket.
Stainless steel is rust and corrosion resistant but will need to be sharpened more often than a carbon blade. Carbon steel is hard and holds an edge well, but it requires care to prevent rust. As you can see, there’s always a trade-off. It must be noted that there are varying levels of hardness in stainless steel, and harder steels like Elmax and M390 will hold an edge longer but are more difficult to sharpen.
If you want to take a hunting knife on a long trip for big game, you’ll need something entirely different from the one used as your EDC. Each knife’s cleaning and maintenance will reflect its design and purpose. A heavy-duty field dressing will dull a lighter knife before the task is finished and will require sharpening several times. The point here is to buy blades that suit your activities, being especially mindful to avoid the situation where you’re forced to use a blunt knife in the field, which can be dangerous.
Furthermore, purchase a knife suitable for the job you plan to do with it. Using a clip point to baton wood will do nothing but result in a broken knife. If in doubt, go for an adaptable blade; drop-points are possibly the most versatile of blade types.
2. Out of The Box
Some factory-made knives can be shipped without a sharp edge. It is essential to test the blade after purchase to see if it requires sharpening. Some people recommend lightly running the knife a half inch down your forearm. If it shaves hairs with no effort, it’s sharp.
A safer way is to test with some paper. A very sharp blade will bite into the edge of a page with minimal pressure and will also be able to cut a slice off the page when dragged vertically down the paper’s edge.
3. Maintenance Sharpening
Sharpening a knife for the first time can be intimidating. But with a little research and some practice, you’ll master the skill in a short time. Just be sure to practice on a cheaper knife, preferably one made from lower-quality steel, as they tend to be easier to sharpen.
It’s best to have a sharpening set that includes anywhere from three to five stones since you'll want to switch the stones out depending on how you need to sharpen. A coarse stone, such as a 70 grit, is used to remove a damaged, chipped edge, taking the edge back to stronger steel in a process called de-stressing. The knife is run perpendicularly over the stone two to three times, using very light pressure.
The average western knife is sharpened at a 20-degree angle using a 120-grit stone that reconditions the edge. Then, at that same angle, you’d move on to 280 grit for sharpening and the occasional touch-up, perhaps once a month. A 600-grit stone can be used for more frequent touch-ups, maybe every week. Finally, a grit of 1000 or above is used to polish the edge and remove any burrs.
The first few times you sharpen a knife, you will probably create a burr along the edge — this is normal. As you progress in your skill level, you’ll be able to stop before the burr forms. Whether any oil or water is used depends on the type of bench stone, so be sure to check with the supplier before you begin.
For the most part, it is sufficient to clean most knives with some warm water and soap. Even if there is debris stuck hard onto the surface, do not resort to abrasive methods like steel wool or compound chemicals. Just keep working the debris from all parts of the knife with an old toothbrush and dishwashing liquid.
Remember to apply lubricant after cleaning. This will help protect the knife against rust and corrosion.
An overlooked aspect of knife maintenance is proper storage. Keeping knives piled together in a box, drawer or bag can lead to damage from the blades banging against each other. For long-term storage, a knife should be kept outside of its sheath, and for added safety, you can make a cardboard sheath from a folded piece of cardboard and some tape. Of course, don’t store the knife anywhere it will be exposed to moisture.
6. Professional Sharpening
Some steels are very difficult to sharpen and require a fair bit of time and skill. It may be worth it to take these knives to a professional sharpener. For a few dollars a knife, you’ll have a perfect razor edge.
7. Ultrasonic Cleaners
This can be an option for certain knives, particularly hunting knives, if you’ve had them out for a longer hunt. An ultrasonic cleaner could save you a lot of time and effort, guaranteeing a high standard of cleaning. You just drop a knife in and turn it on, and you know that in a few minutes all that debris will be removed.
It is important to note that ultrasonic cleaners are inappropriate for some kinds of knives. In some cases, cleaning the blade too thoroughly can remove plating and finishing, and can also the loosen handle. It is advisable to check with the manufacturer about whether the knife is appropriate for ultrasonic cleaning.
8. Oiling and Waxing
After cleaning and sharpening, it’s a good idea to apply oil or wax to the blade for protection. There is some debate over the merits of oil versus wax, but in most cases, wax will entail less risk of damage. Wax is drier, won’t rub off easily and lasts longer — though oils are less expensive and easier to apply.
Know ahead of time the level of time and care you’re willing to dedicate to knife maintenance and choose your knife accordingly. By doing this, you can ensure that the knife will be reliable for many years, and you’ll get the most from it.
Author Bio: Ross Burgess is the marketing manager for eKnives. When he’s not working, you can find him hiking the trails with his wife and daughter, or hunting with his golden retriever, Judge.
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