Knives constitute one of the most important tools of an outdoorsman. You have to depend on a good quality knife not only for cutting but also for other tasks like carving and shaping of wood. Knives have remained an important part of mankind ever since time immemorial. The development of science and technology has also played its part in the knife manufacturing industry, as a result of which we are presented with a wide variety of knives that cater to our day to day activities. When it comes to knife types, one type of knives that have been around since time immemorial are whittling knives.
Whittling knives are well known to be an excellent tool for woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts. The act of whittling has also been around for many hundreds of years, and the fact that the practice is still popular among artisans makes the demand for specialty knives to increase.
When choosing a whittling knife, you need to pay attention to the quality of the blade such that you pick a blade that presents good quality material that can hold a sharp edge for long. Because whittling involves extended periods, whittlers ought to look for knives that can comfortably fit in the palms of their hands to allow them a good grip and precision control.
It is apparent that one needs to be careful when choosing a whittling knife. This, therefore, translates to you ensuring that the knife is properly maintained to ensure maximum life and usage. If given proper care, a whittling knife will last a lifetime and serve you well.
Here are a few basic tips to maintain a good whittling knife, and while they seem like common sense, it's amazing how rarely these basic tips aren't usually followed.
1. Use it only for purposes that it is meant to
From the beginning of this article, it is made clear that the knife in the discussion is the whittling knife, and this means that this is a knife that is purposely intended for whittling. Therefore, use it only for its intended purpose and nothing else. Contrary to which will ruin the knife and can even cause injury to the user.
Although most knives manufacturers offer a lifelong guarantee to their products, it becomes invalid if damages are caused by the knife due to misuse. In this case, you cannot use the warranty when the knife gets damaged.
The bottom line is, use your knife only for tasks that are meant for. A whittling knife is specially designed to carve and shape wood. Using them for other purposes like cutting branches of trees or cutting cables can only cause the knife to become dull. There's nothing worse than a dull knife when you are all set to work on your important woodworking projects.
2. Maintain sharpness
Dull knives are not only useless but downright dangerous, especially to the casual and often careless woodworker. And you know who you are. Most of you are guilty of slicing into a finger or two because you applied unusually hard pressure to a dull knife. And, it unpredictably gave way, slicing your finger.
Most people don't know how to take proper care of their knives because they are too frequently in a hurry or they are intimidated by the idea of sharpening a knife. To get the most out of this woodworking tool, it's essential to know how to maintain them in peak condition.
One of the most efficient and least expensive ways to keep your knife sharp is to own a sharpening tool. For those who already have one, then good for you, but if you don’t have one yet, here are some of the various sharpening tools that you can consider.
Electric Sharpener–electric sharpeners are fast and more efficient. They sharpen blades in a precise manner. To use the blade, you will be required to connect the tool to an electric power source and then slide your knife blade through the tool. If you are always in a hurry, electric sharpening is the best and most convenient method to use.
Manual Sharpener–manual sharpeners, on the other hand, are as stated manually operated. These sharpeners are often a diamond or ceramic rod that the blade is passed over in repetition. An advantage of manual sharpeners is that you will have complete control over how you sharpen your knife. The only disadvantage is that it is tasking and requires some practice before you master using it.
Stone Sharpener–There is two common types of stone sharpeners. These include;
- Diamond Stone Sharpeners which have a thin coating of micron-sized diamonds. Like electric sharpeners, these are also pretty fast and efficient.
- Natural Stone Sharpeners which are an excellent way to classically sharpen your blades. The different abrasives from which they are comprised make them a unique way to get the job done.
Step by Step guide on how to sharpen your whittling knife
I. The first step is to take your sharpening tool and place your blade against the edge. Sharpen the blade by passing it on the tool’s surface in long and fluid strokes. If need be, you can also apply multiple strokes, but this is not usually necessary as it can make the blade to become uneven.
II. Once you are done sharpening one side, flip over to the other side and repeat the above process. Always ensure that you make the blade as even as possible and remember to maintain above strokes while sharpening your knife.
III. After you are done sharpening both sides, you can proceed to test the knife’s sharpness but on as often material to see if it’s sufficiently sharp. If the results don’t impress you, then repeat the steps.
Irrespective of the method you opt for sharpening, it is essential that you finish the process by honing and stropping the knife. This will remove any rough edges or burrs that can be left after the stone sharpening is done and will also straighten bend sections. Read more about this two techniques below.
Recommended Read: All You Need To Know About Whittling Knife
3. Honing and Stropping
Once you are done sharpening it is evident that you will proceed to test it to confirm sharpness. You know that you've achieved it because you've found a burr on the knife's edge. This burr is how we are aware that the edge has reached the point of absolute sharpness. It confirms it. But should you stop there?
You've got a burr on your blade edge, and it should be removed. Once you've done that, the edge will usually have tiny bits of metal still clinging to it. These pieces feel like sand on edge. But you'd like to get it as fine as it can be, even slippery sharp at that. This is where honing and stropping is recommended; to ensure that the edges are smooth and straight after sharpening.
One thing that we have to understand is that honing and stropping have some similarities but they are not the same thing. Honing uses abrasives to removes burrs and rough edges. This means that it eats into parts of the blade. Stropping, on the other hand, is a technique used to realign a knife’s edge after sharpening. It is meant to straighten bent sections of the blade and sometimes to also smoothen the surface of the blade after sharpening.
Stropping is done by swiping both sides of your blade's edge over a leather strap. When you can no longer feel clinging bits, and when your edges seem to be straightened, you have successfully stropped your blade edge. It should be straight, shining beautiful, bright at this point.
How to strop your knives edges
Stropping can be done in more than one ways.
You can either strop your edge in one direction using a free leather strap. This will involve you putting the beveled face of your knife flat on the leather strap and then pull it away from the edge parallel to the length-wise surface of the strap. As you approach the end of the strap, lift the knife and turn it over. Place the opposite face of the knife's edge flat on the strap again and pull in the opposite direction, away from the edge and parallel to the strap surface. Do this repeatedly until your edge is smooth enough.
Or, you can choose to use a stropping board which is also known as a honing board which can be bought or improvised by you. Using the board follows the same procedure as that of a leather strap.
One important thing to note when stropping using either technique is to facilitate the strops with a polishing compound (could be paste, powder or whatever works), it makes things much easier.
Every sharpening process is necessary and therefore even the one that seems least important should be discredited. Stropping for that matter should be given equal credence when sharpening your whittling knife. Imagine whittling using a knife with a dirty edge? It will obviously not perform as well as a one with a clean edge would. Using a knife with a ‘dirty’ edge will increase the frequency of sharpening thus wearing the knife out much quicker. So learn to strop your knives after sharpening to improve the quality of its performance as well life span.
It is advisable that novices be very careful when sharpening, honing and stropping. Therefore if you are a beginner ensure that you learn the basic knife sharpening and also be keen when performing any of the three techniques. Otherwise, you will end up damaging your knife or even injure your hand and fingers while doing it wrong.
Cleaning, oiling, and lubrication
Always keep your knife clean after each use. When you clean, make sure to include all parts of the knife such as the blade, handle, pivot points, etc. Any remains of wood on the blade may affect the proper functioning of the knife. For cleaning, you can hold the knife under running water, but try not to soak the knife in water. This will cause moisture to retain in your knife and damage it.
After cleaning, the knife should be thoroughly dried. There should not be any traces of moisture as otherwise, it may lead to rusting of the knife. Never put whittling knives in a dishwasher because it will cause the knife to be in contact with moisture for too long and may lead to the development of rust.
Oiling your knife twice or thrice a year can prevent the development of rust. Any discoloration in your knife may be an indication of the starting of rust. If at all you notice any such discoloration, make sure to wipe the knife clean immediately. Regular cleaning will prevent the metal from rusting.
4. Proper storage
Knives should be stored properly, both for safety and maintenance. With whittling knives, one option is to place the knives on a magnetic strip on the wall, keeping them secure and out of the reach of young children. Alternatively, you can store them in a toolbox somewhere in your workshop where kids won’t be able to reach them
If you have to store your knife in a toolkit, be sure to buy a protective sleeve for it. This will prevent the blade from being damaged, and it keeps searching fingers in one piece.
Of importance is to ensure that before storage, the knife should be well cleaned and dry. This is to avoid rust and corrosion of the blade when stored. In this case, you can also oil the knife before storage to prevent rusting.
I believe this is all you need to know about whittling knife maintenance.
It is also now apparent that your whittling knife deserves your attention, especially if you're willing to invest in a good one. At a very minimum follow these 5 simple maintenance tips to care for your whittling knives properly. By properly caring for a good whittling knife, it will provide a lifetime of quality performance in your woodworking/DIY ventures.