Getting the edge

By Tom Seymour | Dec 17, 2020
Photo by: Tom Seymour Tom's new sharpening stone.

It happens all too often. You buy a razor-sharp knife and after a few week’s of use, it is no longer razor-sharp. So you dig out the little toy-like, ceramic-dowel knife sharpener or some other plastic-handled, ineffective device and try to put that like-new edge back on your knife. But it isn’t to be. The blade becomes somewhat sharper but never regains that factory edge.

Additionally, the harder steel of today’s knives are notoriously difficult to sharpen. This explains why the old, soft-steel knives are so desirable. Yet, such knives are hard to find.

There is an answer. Buy the best knife-sharpening stone you can find. Over many years of use it will pay back your initial investment tenfold.

Don’t look in the supermarket for a good stone, though. All you will find there are the mostly useless devices mentioned above. Instead, find a good hardware store, one that carries a wide variety of practical items.

Using a stone to sharpen a knife goes back centuries. Not surprisingly, there is a learning curve involved. The most difficult thing is to hold the knife at the correct bevel. With a bit of practice, though, anyone can easily become an expert.

Sadly, too many people today don’t know what a truly sharp knife is. They get by with a half-dulled blade and since it works okay if you apply enough pressure, it suffices for the job. With a sharp blade, you needn’t apply much pressure. The blade does the work for you.

A buddy once asked me to lend him my jackknife, which I did. When he returned it, his index finger wore a bandage. He was indignant, too. “Why didn’t you tell me it was sharp?” he said.

I answered with a question, “Why would you think I would carry a dull knife?” I felt sorry for him, but did not feel even a twinge of guilt. In my book, a dull knife is the next thing to having no knife.

Think back to the television ads for those super-sharp knives advertised by TV chefs. They use these to slice tomatoes into paper-thin slices, with seemingly no effort. While many of those offers are overrated, the ads do a good job in pointing out just how sharp a good knife ought to be.

Back to knife-sharpening stones. For years, I used a Washita stone, a type of very dense, marbled stone that put a great edge on any knife. But in moving to my new house, my Washita stone lost its way. The same goes for my antique knife-sharpening steel. So today, I set out to remedy that situation.

Finding a knife-sharpening steel (a long, steel rod with a handle. Good ones have a hilt,) in a store ranks as a great challenge. I shopped all over and could not find one. Turning to Amazon, though, I found a wide variety of steels.

Fortunately for me, I was able to buy the last sharpening stone in the local hardware store. This was a combination stone, with one coarse side for larger tools or very dull knives and a smooth side, for putting the finest edge on a knife.

Sharpening stones are best used after applying a drop of oil, such as Three-In-One oil. Some manufacturers make their own special oil. In a pinch, a drop of water will do. My grandpa, being Scottish and not willing to part with money unnecessarily, just used a drop of saliva.

Hold the blade at a slight angle and using a circular motion and very little pressure, slide the blade back and forth. Then flip it over and repeat the process. It helps to wipe the blade during the process, since grit can build up and hinder the operation.

I used my new stone today, with excellent results. My knife, a well-made one, has hard-steel blades and both were relatively dull, at least by my standards. In just a short time, the pointed blade was razor-sharp.

As per the other blade, a cordage-type with a dull, slanted point, was so dull that I first gave it a few passes on the coarse side of the stone, after which I wiped it and then went to the fine side. In short order, both my blades were razor-sharp, as they ought to be.

Now, with a good-quality sharpening stone at my disposal, I shall go about sharpening all the knives in my collection, including kitchen knives.

There is nothing so handy as a sharp knife and nothing so useless as a dull one. So if you don’t already have a high-quality, knife-sharpening tool, I suggest you get one and learn how to use it. Your knives will acquire new lives and you will never again need to work with a dull blade.

Tom Seymour of Waldo is a homeowner, gardener, forager, naturalist, Registered Maine Guide, amateur astronomer, magazine and newspaper columnist and book author.

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