DIY: Keep your knives sharp

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Image: Kitchen knives, wiki

Many people think knives are only useful in the kitchen, but every survivalist should know better. A knife can be a lifesaving tool– as long as you keep it sharp! Here are some tips to keep your knives well-maintained.

Maintenance    

If you have a stainless steel blade then rusting is not a worry. With carbon steel, you should make sure you dry it after use and apply a thin coat of oil to the blade periodically.  If you are using your knife to cut food, be sure to use a light cooking oil and not a petroleum base oil.

Most synthetic handles should not require any maintenance. Natural handled knives should not be washed in the dishwasher or left soaking in water as it can cause the wood to swell and split. Just hand wash the entire knife with soap and water. Then, wipe dry the blade, pat dry the handle and allow the knife to air dry further.

 

Sharpening   

Sharpening the blade is the most important part of maintaining a useful knife. There are a number of different kinds of sharpeners on the market, but many are not worth the time or money.

Some are just simply bad for the blade, leaving the cutting edge jagged and rough. A good flat sharpening stone is the best way to get a good edge on a blade, but sharpening with a stone requires some practice to master. If you do not have the time for a flat stone then there are other options that have many of the same advantages.

Regular flat stones are of two varieties: oilstones and water stones. The choice between these depends on the fluid used to lubricate the sharpening action. Oilstones do not wear out as quickly, but water stones sharpen faster and leave a finer edge. Oilstones only need a little oil on top when sharpening, wipe off any excess oil when finished and store. Water stones need to be soaked in clean water for about 10-15 minutes before use.  You will also need to keep water on the top while sharpening, store them dry and avoid getting any oils on them. A Japanese water stone is natural stone that has been milled to uniform grit and pressed back together; they are some of the best sharpening stones you can get.

When choosing a stone, consider grit.  Grit is the size of the particles that make up the stone. The higher the number the finer the particles; 80 grit(#) is about like beach sand. At the least you need two stones, one around 800# and another anywhere from 3500# to 5000#. Many Japanese water stones have both grits on one stone, one on either side.  By sharpening first with the coarse grit (800#) you remove any major dings and grind the edge back to the proper shape. The finer grit (4000#) polishes the edge and removes the microscopic burrs that would otherwise quickly break off and dull the edge.

With proper use and care a good knife will last a lifetime or more. Remember to keep it clean, dry and sharp!