The Sharp Knife slices memories
I suppose everyone my age has a few wild stories, and some of them even involve the truth. One of the best liars I ever knew had a saying that went, “This is the truth, I don’t usually tell the truth, but this is the truth”. I have a story that’s pretty wild, but it is absolutely as true as I know how to tell it, and it involves a Secret Service counter-sniper and a very sharp knife.
Not all Secret Service guys wear suits and sunglasses and have ear buds. Most wear uniforms and do general duty where needed. The guys I knew were the uniform guys. They were counter-snipers and they spent their time on top of buildings with scopes, binoculars, and rifles, looking for a potential threat to the President. They were, for obvious reasons, very good shooters, and several of them attended the National Long Range Rifle Championship every year at Camp Perry. One of my rifle team mates met them on the range and he invited me to come and meet them at the Days Inn, in Port Clinton, where they were staying. It was decided we’d cook out on the patio around the pool. We were having Bratwurst and I brought some big Vidalia onions to grill with the brats.
As I as preparing to slice the onions, I realized I’d left my knife back at the hut, and asked if anyone had one. One of the Secret Service guys, we’ll call Ed, instantly volunteered and ran off to the room to get the knife. It was a Buck Folding Hunter, and when I began slicing the onions, I realized Ed was a knife guy. Most knives are barely sharp enough to be useful, but this Buck was sharp enough to shave, in fact, it was as sharp as any knife I’ve ever handled.
Later, when the Lake Erie mosquitoes had run us out of the pool area and to an air conditioned room, I mentioned how sharp the knife was to Ed. “You must be a knife man,” I said.
Ed smiled broadly, “I love knives,” and he took the knife out of his pocket and began to look at it. He tested the edge, reached behind him, and felt the wall. I didn’t understand what feeling the wall had to do with the conversation, but then he said, “Do you ever throw knives?” Before I could respond, he stood and hurled the knife to the other end of the room. It stuck in the wall over another Secret Service officer’s head, and all of them began berating Ed for throwing knives again. Apparently, this was something he liked to do, and it happened fairly often. At that point, I realized these were real guys and that I was not in their league.
Like Ed, I also really like knives, though I’m sure he has much more skill with one than I can even imagine. I’ve liked knives since I bought a cheap sheath knife out of the counter at Robbie’s Army Surplus, in Thomasville. I was about twelve or thirteen and I was amazed they’d sell me such a knife, but they did. I’ve owned dozens of interesting knives since then, and I’m still fascinated by a good knife with a sharp edge.
The frustrating thing is that most knives are dull. Most knives are too dull to do a good job of opening an envelope or slicing a steak. I love to cook, and if cutting is involved, the knife is tested and sharpened before the cooking begins. I want my pocket knife to be shaving sharp. Knives are designed to be sharp and dull knives are little better than putty knives. The problem is most folks don’t know how to sharpen a knife.
The better a knife is, the harder it is to sharpen. Cheaper knives can be sharpened reasonably well with commercial sharpening tools. I have a Smith’s kitchen sharpening tool that rests on a table and will sharpen most kitchen and lower quality hunting and pocket knives. There are two small stones, one for a basic edge and a finer set of stones for a more refined edge, You draw the dull knife through the vee and the proper angle is reached. Almost anyone can use one of these and they work reasonably well for almost any non-serrated kitchen knife.
Sharpening quality knives is a different story, but it can be accomplished with a little patience. For this, I use a Smith’s Tri Hone. It’s a whetstone with three progressively finer stones set as a triangle in a vee block. The coarsest carborundum stone is only useful for a coarse edge and I never use it. The middle grit is a soft Washita stone. It’s the most useful and will provide a shaving edge on all but the very best steel. The finest is a hard Arkansas stone, so fine it almost feels like fine marble. The hard Arkansas stone is required to finish the edge of really good steel. Ed’s Buck Folding Hunter could only be brought to a shaving edge with a really hard stone.
To sharpen a knife with a flat stone, you must shape the steel before you put the final edge on. Holding the knife at about a 15 degree angle and using a consistent stroke, make ten strokes on the right side and ten on the left side with the medium stone. Then make nine consistent strokes on each side. Continue with a decreasing number of strokes until you get down to one stroke. If you make consistent strokes, most knives will then be sharp enough to shave. Higher quality knives will require you to repeat the process on the fine grit stone. During this process, keep the stone wet, either with oil or water. I use water because it’s cleaner and I can’t tell any difference in the finished edge.
We’re at the beginning of the season when outdoorsmen use knives the most. A good, sharp skinning knife will make a world of difference. Butchering with a dull knife is torture, and a good edge for cutting bait and filleting is the only way to go.
OK, I realize most will never learn to throw a knife like Ed. I hope none of us ever need such a skill, but the ability to create a sharp edge on a good knife is something every outdoorsman should know. Spend a little time and you’ll get the hang of it. It’s a skill you’ll never forget or regret.
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or offtheporchmedia.com