NC Scout, writing at American Partisan, has a good introductory article to sharpening stuff, Survivalist 101: Knife Sharpening. Like NCS, and probably many readers, I, too, have received some good cuts because of using a dull knife. Most often this happens in someone else’s kitchen because someone is afraid that having sharp knives will lead to cuts when the opposite is usually true. Yes, you can cut yourself with a sharp knife, but the cuts I have given myself with my own knives have tended to be around the severity of a paper cut, and can be blamed on my own inattention to the task at hand. With a dull knife, you end up applying more force than should be necessary and the knife or the object to be cut rolls and something like a finger is suddenly the recipient of a heavy, dull knife whack.
The ability to keep a good edge on a blade is a principle task to anyone spending time in the outdoors. The old saying, “A dull knife will cut you” is absolutely true and I’ve got the scars on my hands to prove it. Once before loading the birds for an air assault I flayed the tip of my left ring finger to the bone cutting 550 cord for dummy lanyards for my guys. Wrapped up in electrical tape and stuffed in my glove, it was a painful reminder that a working with a dull knife takes more effort to cut, meaning less controlability and probably a little less care- proving that age old idiom correct. Had I known then what I know now, I’d have had a better working edge on that old Buck-Strider like it has today.
One of the takeaways from the various schools I’ve attended and classes I’ve taught is that knife sharpening is becoming a lost art. Outside of folks with some serious culinary training, like chefs and traditional butchers, knife sharpening seems to fall into one of two categories- either deferring to a marketing gimmick or handing the blade off to someone who knows what they’re doing. Often that’s an old timer with patience and skill that’s been fostered over the years and probably handed down a few generations. That said, sharpening is not hard. It takes time to find and perfect your technique. The key to it all is consistency- sharpness is a function of symmetry between the edge geometry.
For the entry level sharpener, starting with a simple blade is critical to learning the craft. I suggest picking up a Old Hickory knife in 1095 and learning how to sharpen on it. They’re cheap, durable, and disposable and you’ll learn a lot more from a simple blade than something wildly complicated. Knife edges come in a handful of different types depending on the intended purpose. For me, I tend to favor full flat grinds or convex for both general purpose needs and relative ease of sharpening. But for the beginner finding a flat ground knife is probably the best to learn to sharpen on. The learning curve is low and you’ll get better results faster which will in turn raise that confidence level. The other thing to know as a beginner is that while different types of steels suit different purposes, they also have varying degrees of difficulty with common sharpening tools…