Few things annoy me as much as having to use a blunt knife. Being handed a blunt knife (or a badly maintained firearm) makes my blood boil. It does not take a lot of effort to keep a knife in good shape, but so few people take the time. I learn’t a few tricks I did not know in Tony Sculimbrene’s two part series (Part 1 here, Part 2 here) on knife sharpening and maintenance …
Sharpening a knife is simple task that is difficult to master. Like chess, it’s easy to explain what needs to be done and how to do it, but getting all of the subtleties down is another matter.
Knife sharpening also happens to be a topic where everyone has an opinion. But let’s get something straight: the point of sharpening is to get a sharp edge on your tool so you can use it. Sharpening an edge beyond what you need is a distinction without a difference. You can talk about slicing free hanging silk all you want, and a sharp knife is a safer knife to use, but to an extent there is a cult built around sharpening. People see it as this Zen exercise, and if you really go down the sharpening road, you’ll find that there are people that do more sharpening than cutting. That strikes me as incredibly silly. So get your stuff as sharp as it needs to be to do a given task and then move on.
Yes, everyone has an opinion. I personally use the relatively inexpensive Smith’s TRI-6 Arkansas TRI-HONE system (it usually costs between $20 and $30 on Amazon). This system has three stones, a fine Arkansas stone, a medium Arkansas stone and a corse synthetic stone. The natural stones require lubricant but for me is not a negative. I oil my guns and some of knives regularly anyway, so a few drops when sharpening is nothing. The downside to a system like this is what it takes a little practice to get the technique right (practicing on an cheap knife is a good idea).