My main knife is small but tenacious as the ant which takes its name: the ESEE Izula. It’s quite comfortable to use and well-balanced for whittling and other delicate tasks for which a larger knife is less suited. I have used it even for more heavy-duty tasks as batoning wood (both cross grain and normal splitting) without any problem.
It’s a carbon-steel knife so it has a good edge retention but sometime it needs to be sharpened. A dull knife is perhaps the most dangerous tool: it slides when you want it to cut and it cuts when it stops sliding, usually when it hits your fingers.
Using a sharpening stone
There are several techniques and many more products to sharpen a knife blade but i like to use the less sophisticated ones. In the woods, simplicity is always the way and so i prefer not to use a liquid on the sharpening stone. Stones have different grits ranging from coarse to extra-fine, but if you keep a close eye on the sharpness of your knife, you’ll need to use only the fine stone to hone the edge and every once a while you should take it back to the medium grit.
- place your stone on a horizontal surface in front of you.
- lay the blade flat on the stone at a 45 degree angle with the edge of the blade facing you.
- grasp the knife by the handle. Raise the blade off the surface of the stone until the edge side, named bevel, is at full contact with the stone (around 20 degree angle);
- keeping the edge of the blade in contact with the stone, firmly and carefully draw the knife towards you. This action will grind the blade from hilt to point. Maintain the 45 degree angle, and the angle that you have raised the blade off the stone.
- apply medium to light pressure as you’re drawing the edge across the stone. The amount of pressure depends on how old the knife is, how many times you’ve sharpened it, and the current condition of the edge. A very dull edge requires a lot of pressure.
- turn the knife over, and repeat the process on the other side. If you keep the knife in the same hand, this time you have to push the blade away from you. It’s important to maintain the same angles on both sides of the blade.
- go slowly and alternate strokes on the stone several times. A very dull knife needs more strokes than a better kept one.
At this point you should have a pretty sharp knife. You can test it by holding a piece of paper vertically, and drawing the blade across the edge and down. A sharp knife will cut the paper.
Once you’ve sharpened your blade, the edge usually has tiny bits of metal still clinging to it. If you move your finger along the side of the edge, you’ll feel them like sand grains. Stropping is the technique used to clean off a blade’s edge after sharpening bending and twisting those clinging metal pieces until they fall off. It’s also done to realign the microscopic teeth created on the edge while sharpening.
Stropping is done by swiping the blade away from edge (the opposite of sharpening movement) on the inside of a leather belt, alternating side each stroke. If a leather belt is not available a smooth piece of wood can also be used.
You can rub wood ash on a stained blade to remove the stains without scratching the blade. Leaving some ash on the blade, you can prevent future rusting (just remember to blow away the ash before using the knife).