Want a sharp knife? Don’t let it get dull

A honing steel helps keep your knife sharp by reshaping the steel at the cutting edge. (Photo by Mike Schoonveld)

I’d rather have to clean a fish or field dress a deer with a small, razor-sharp pen knife than face the task with a dull, appropriately sized knife. There is only one secret to having and keeping a knife razor sharp – don’t let it get dull.

My brother is a butcher who cuts up pigs and cattle all day, nicking bones, slicing meat, gristle and skin tougher than what’s found in any fish, whitetail or most any other wild game. You know his knife has to be sharp and stay sharp. What you probably don’t know is, most days, he doesn’t sharpen his knife all day.

What brother Russ has learned to do is keep the edge on his knife honed razor-sharp by touching up the blade constantly (every minute or two at most) with a honing steel. A few strokes of the steel makes his blade as good as new, or better than when it came from the knife-maker. In essence, he never lets his knife get dull and seldom has to sharpen it.

Whether you are cutting up walleyes, steelhead or other fish with tough, hard bones, or processing deer from field to freezer, get that knife sharp, then keep it sharp with a honing steel. Make it a habit.

Notice I called the tool a honing steel instead of a “sharpening” steel – though that’s what they are often called. They don’t sharpen. Sharpening involves removing material from the blade. Hones, in this case a honing steel, simply reshape the steel at the cutting edge of the blade.

The cutting edge on a really sharp knife is only a few molecules thick, and like any piece of steel, the thinner it is, the easier it is to bend. As a knife is being used, the thin edge gets bent and a bent edge is less sharp than an unbent edge. Honing the edge with steel straightens the edge and keeps the knife sharp.

An easy way to picture this is to think of the knife’s edge as an ultra-thin wire. Bend a piece of wire 90 degrees or more several times. It will weaken and eventually break. However, that same piece of wire can be gently flexed dozens of times, just a few degrees, and remain strong.

Scaling this down to the razor’s edge, frequent honing with a steel tunes up the edge while it’s only slightly deformed. It can be honed straight dozens and dozens of times. Use the knife until it’s noticeably dull and chances are some of the edge is already chipped off or will chip off when a steel is used to put it straight.

That’s when a sharpener (whetstone, ceramic stick, grinding wheel or other) will be needed because steel will need to be removed the length of the blade to get it sharp.

Want a sharp knife? Don’t let it get dull.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *