Category Archives: knives
A number of years ago, Work Sharp, which is a division of Darex, set the cutlery world on its ear by introducing an electric belt sharpener that would put an edge on most anything in seconds, and without overheating the blade, tearing off steel, or baffling the user.
Now, Work Sharp has outdone itself by having custom knifemaker and designer Ken Onion put together an improved version that bears his name. The new Ken Onion Work Sharp has a more powerful, variable-speed motor, wider belts with better abrasive, a guide that lets you adjust your bevel from 15 degrees to 30 degrees, and upgrade kits that expand its already awe-inspiring capabilities. Using its full range of accessories, this tool can sharpen anything from a shovel to a scalpel.
Among its features is something I haven’t seen before—a work chart printed on heavy cardboard (also suitable for framing, in case you’re tired of your Vermeer or Lautrec) that shows you just how to proceed with all this technology. Let’s say you want to sharpen a hunting knife, so you look under “Hunting Knife” and below that you choose between “Haggered” (That’s how they spell it, and it’s the wrong word, but what the hell.) and “Dull.” Choose one of the two sets of directions that follow and you get the angle and speed at which to sharpen, the progression of belts to use, and how many strokes you give the edge on each side.
Especially intriguing is the subcategory called “Bragging Rights,” below which appears “How sharp can you get?” and below that, “Ridiculous,” following which is a formula that will get your knife sharp enough to perform corneal surgery.
What Worksharp does not make much of, and should, is the fact that its system gives you a rolled, or Moran-style edge, which can only be gotten with a belt. The rolled edge is convex in cross section rather than flat, and is very strong and long lasting because it leaves more steel where the metal meets the meat. When I asked Worksharp why they didn’t make more of it, the answer was that not many people appreciate such a refinement. So be it. But now you do.
If your needs are more modest, there’s another Worksharp product that costs far less than the Ken Onion Sharpener (which is $150) and that is the Guided Field Sharpener 221, which is about all I ever use, and which is so good that I have three—one in the shop, one in the kitchen, and one with my hunting gear. It ‘s about the size of a large folding knife, offers five sharpening steps (of which I only use only two) and costs $34.95. It’s as foolproof in its own way as the Ken Onion Sharpener.
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Here is a great video on how CJ Buck, President and CEO of Buck Knives sharpens a knife. Knowing how to properly sharpen a piece of equipment can not only save time but keep you from permanently damaging your knives as well.
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It doesn’t matter how many knives you have at home. The one you reach for when you’re in the woods—to gut a deer, cut brush, carve a fuzz stick—that’s your field knife, your everyday companion. There’s no one perfect model, but here’s how to pick the ideal features for you.
1) Fixed or Folder?
The traditional choice, a fixed-blade knife is stronger than most folders. With no moving parts, it’s virtually fail-safe, and cleaning is as easy as wiping off grime and wiping on oil. If you need a deep belly for skinning big game, fixed is the primary choice due to the challenge of storing a wide folding blade inside its handle. A folder, on the other hand, makes everyday carry simple: Just pop it in your pocket. The increasing popularity of pocket-clip folders has spawned huge innovation in materials and designs, so the options are breathtaking. Bottom line: Fixed or folder, you can’t lose. But you have to choose.
2) Steel Yourself
Basic steel is just iron and carbon. But there are hundreds of alloys. The least you need to know is that the more carbon, the harder the blade and the better it holds an edge—but too much can make a blade brittle. Also, adding chromium prevents rust (stainless steel usually has at least 12 percent), but it can soften the steel. It’s a balancing act. Here’s a breakdown:
Non-Stainless Steel: It rusts easily but makes a great blade if you take care. High-carbon examples (1095, D2) really hold an edge. A few are both hard and tough (A2, CPM 3V, 8670M).
Stainless Steel: If you want low maintenance, this is the way to go. But low-carbon versions (18/8, 420, 440, 440A, AUS-6) can be too soft to get or keep a fine edge. More carbon or a harder alloy is better (440B and C, AUS-8 and 10, 8Cr14MoV, 154CM).
Powdered Steels: The newest stainless alloys (S30V, Elmax, M390) are made of powderlike granules that are heated to form very hard steels that take a wicked edge. They pretty much have it all—corrosion resistance, hardness, and strength. Naturally, you pay for it.
3) Get the Point
Most field knives have a drop point or clip point, either of which may be combined with a deeper belly for skinning. The drop point is ideal for field dressing game without slicing innards. Its thicker tip also helps with separating joints and with heavy camp chores. If your hunting knife will double as a fish cleaner and camp-kitchen slicer, the finer clip point is the better choice, and it’s fine for gutting game as long as you’re careful with the tip.
4) Find the Grind
Likewise, most field knives hew to one of two grinds: hollow or flat. A hollow-ground blade has a concave shape, as if material has been scooped out of the blade’s thickness. It’s easy to resharpen and best for shallow cuts, such as field dressing, cutting hide, and simple camp chores. A flat-ground blade is the more common choice; it is tougher, holds its edge better, and excels at deeper cuts, working around sinew and bone, and chopping food at camp.
Now that you know what to look for, check out our field knife gear test to see which brands of fixed and folder blades are worth their metal.
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