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Hunting knife sharpener

Hunting knife sharpener

Introduction

Often experienced hunters tell that they have seen less experienced hunters with knives of very different shapes and sizes. One would think that there are specific tasks in hunting and specific tools suitable for these tasks. So why do beginners often have knives that are only relatively suitable for hunting? Besides that, inevitably, one will have to deal with sharpening such knives in the field.

There are two main and obvious reasons directly related to each other. First, it partly depends on the stores. The person behind the counter may understand hunting, but if you ask the wrong questions, you will end up with a knife that is uncomfortable to work with.

Second, you can choose a knife at your own discretion, and with a high probability, you will end up with the same result. The reason for the first and second cases will be entirely your own misunderstanding of the purpose and tasks of a hunting knife. To avoid this, try to understand these questions and seek advice from the experts. Another option is to gain your own experience from practice.

That is why an experienced hunter rarely gets into unexpected circumstances and has a single knife for all his hunting tasks. Note that it is just one knife, not one hunting knife and some other just in case.

A first-time hunter, on the other hand, would prefer to have a couple of knives with him.

1. What is a hunting knife?

There is only one answer to the question of whether there is a universal hunting knife - there is no such thing.

A hunting knife is not a luxury item, not a source of pride or admiration, but it is a working tool for a good hunter. What exactly do you need a hunting knife for, what tasks will it perform, and what characteristics will ensure a successful outcome?

The purpose of a hunting knife is both complex and simple at the same time. True professional hunters use one knife, often a rather short one, but many other less experienced hunters consider knives that are more suited to purposes like::

  • A skinning knife
  • boning knife
  • carving knife

Skinning knife - the name says it all - is a non-flexible, sharp knife sometimes equipped with a hook to separate the skin from the meat.

The boning knife is designed for the stages of processing parts of meat carcasses in which the skin, ligaments, and bones are separated from the flesh.

Carving knives are a special group of professional knives, designed for working with pieces of meat of different sizes. The peculiarity of such knives is wide at the heel and tapering to the tip blade, sometimes flexible with different lengths and the ability to penetrate into hard-to-reach places.

Often these tasks can be performed by the same knife and we should not forget that when hunting, one way or another, you will have to deal with household issues as well. That being said, some utility knives may have a number of characteristics similar to hunting knives.

This separation, however, raises the problem that a skinning knife will never be a chopping knife and vice versa. In other words, the more you separate the purpose of the knife, the more different types of knives you will need to have. There is another way to put it. Even if there is no single perfect knife for all purposes, that does not mean that a certain knife cannot perform a wide range of tasks.

But it is also true that when a hunter has one knife and it has certain characteristics, given enough experience, you can cope with many tasks, both during the hunt and with household or kitchen issues.

The Finnish puukko knife is considered to be a certain benchmark and a classic of the best sharp hunting knives in the world by many professional hunters. From a practical point of view, a classic puukko knife is not always a comfortable and entirely safe solution, given its purpose. Often the design of the handle does not include a finger guard. For this reason, some manufacturers produce more practical solutions with a kind of finger choil or a small bump on the handle right before the heel of the blade.

It is possible to injure your fingers or palm by being careless, especially if the handle is wet and your hands are gradually freezing. In such circumstances, you are very likely to get injured.

Pukko in Finnish means "knife," and there are a variety of Finnish knives. Many puukkos have scandi bevels, but there are some with wide bevels and secondary bevels.

Many people will find this choice a bit unusual, but a knife that can handle wood carving will definitely handle animal carcass carving and meat cutting due to its geometry.

Modern models are somewhat different from the classics but have convenient and practical technical additions.

In addition to the puukko knife there are special national knives among some northern nations of the world, which are also very practical, but unfortunately not widely used. Yakut knife is quite practical and convenient according to many parameters, with a very stable blade and a large fuller, very much similar to the Japanese professional wood chisels. Such a knife can cope even with frozen fish and meat and is suitable for slicing stroganina. Besides, you can use it to separate meat from bones.

One of the fairly recognizable and copied by various manufacturers of hunting knives can be considered Nessmuk-style knives. Such fixed knives are well-designed and well-suited for hunting tasks. Knives of this type have one feature. The tip of the blade is raised and its width is greater than that of the handle. Nessmuk knives are used for cutting and gutting prey, as well as for cooking. They are quite popular among hunters, and hiking enthusiasts as well.

Despite the overall massive appearance of the blade, knives with small blades are popular for efficient cutting.

There is one more knife that cannot be left behind. More than a knife, it is an icon known to many on the North American continent - the Canadian Belt Knife. It is a knife with a blade in the shape of an oblong leaf, located at an angle relative to the handle.

You could say that the Canadian belt knife is similar to the Nessmuk knife, but it is a bit more elegant. This knife is presented as a general-purpose tool for cutting poultry, fishing, and tourism, in short, for those who prefer knives of a small size. Overall, it is a very well-designed hunting knife, which feels good in the hand and can be used for many different tasks.

Depending on the purpose, there may be slightly different blade sizes, but professionals themselves often say that the more experienced the hunter, the shorter his knife. It is worth remembering this fact, and we will return to this thought many times.

2. Key features and specifications of the hunting knife

A proper hunting knife is a knife with a fixed blade because it is simple and easy to take out of its sheath and much easier to wash and clean than a folding knife. The main thing that makes a fixed-blade hunting knife different is that certain types of blades are extremely difficult and impractical to try to make into a folding knife shape. Even if some models of folding knives resemble hunting knives, these folding models made of the same materials are often overpriced, unless you consider the cheapest ones, of course. On the other hand, hunting knives made to special order can be quite expensive. Anyway, this is a whole different story.

2.1. Blade material and hardness

The first thing a buyer is likely to think about is what kind of steel a hunting knife should have. Whether it is carbon steel or some conditionally stainless steel is not so important. The condition of the blade should be monitored in both cases since almost all steels that are exposed to the outdoors will deteriorate to a greater or lesser extent.

The cutting quality is not directly affected by the material itself, it only affects on how long the cutting edge will retain its sharpness. A carbon steel edge can be very aggressive, more susceptible to corrosion, and will lose sharpness faster, but is easier to sharpen. On the contrary, a blade of conditionally stainless or powdered steel may also be very sharp, will lose sharpness slower, and will be less exposed to corrosion, but its edge may chip off due to possible brittleness caused by hardening and the sharpening process will be much more laborious and time-consuming.

However, high-end steels with the right and appropriate hardening are not always as difficult to sharpen as they seem with the proper abrasives. For this reason, it is worth choosing steels that are balanced in terms of hardening and sharpening capabilities.

2.2. Blade shape

The blade shape of classic knives, which include hunting knives, was invented and used a long time ago. Many knives resemble each other and this is just a fact. If it was possible to come up with a new design or other technical solution, it would have been invented a long time ago. However, it should be understood that hunters are quite conservative in their ideas and do not need to change what has proven to be of practical use in reality.

2.3. The main types of profiles (tips) of blades of the hunting knives

Let's break down the basic types of blade profiles that are most suitable for the design of a proper hunting knife.

  • Drop Point. This type of blade with a lowered spine line is mostly suitable for penetrating into hard-to-reach places and helps to make punctures. With sufficient width of the blade and a slight length of the blade belly, this shape of the tip will not have a negative effect on the overall shape of the blade.

  • Normal blade / Straight back. An average knife in all respects. The straight part of the blade can be used for planing. A Convex belly is very convenient for pull-cutting, concentrating the cutting force on a limited part of the blade and thus increasing the cutting efficiency.

  • Trailing Point - found on skinning knives, has an increased belly, good for skinning and slicing.

2.4. Bevels type

The type of bevels is the main parameter of the knife, which, with all other points, directly affects the choice of materials and the sharpening method, especially in the field.

  • Straight bevels from the spine with secondary bevels - for honing you can use a whetstone or a pocket hunting knife sharpener, for full sharpening you can use a bench stone, a sharpening bar, a field multiple grit sharpener, or sharpeners with guides.

There can also be problems with the chipping of the edge if the thickness behind the edge is too small.

  • Convex bevels - for honing - a whetstone, for full sharpening - a sharpening bar, a bench stone, or a field multiple grit hunting knife sharpener.

  • Scandi bevels - for honing, a whetstone, for full sharpening - a sharpening bar, a bench stone, or a field multiple grit hunting knife sharpener.
  • Yakut knives - for full sharpening, a sharpening bar, a whetstone, or a field multiple grit hunting knife sharpener. Such knives are suitable for slicing, cutting, skinning, and dressing.
  • Concave (hollow) bevels - such bevels are common, but they are extremely unwelcome, as they do not have enough strength to withstand lateral loads.

2.5. Type of treatment or coating of the blade

Sometimes special anti-corrosion coatings are applied to hunting knives with carbon steel blades when finishing them because it can prevent possible oxidation and rusting. People sometimes apply etching as one of the protective coating types for hunting knives, but this is not always a good thing, as it can affect the quality of the food and meat for which the knife will be used.

For this reason, people often choose knives with a blade made of conditionally stainless or powdered steel without a special coating. Besides, hunting blades can be mirror-polished, which prevents as much as possible the influence of the external environment on the surface of the steel.

2.6. Handle material

Compared to natural materials like horn, bone or wood, which are "warm" to the touch and give some traditional connection to nature, various modern materials are very practical because they are little affected by natural factors like moisture, cold, heat, aging and so on.

On the other hand, you should consider the shape of the handle and whether it is comfortable to hold in your hand and does not slip. 

2.7. Handle mounting method

  • Full tang – is the most stable and reliable design of the knife, which has balance in the area just past the heel of the blade;
  • Rat-tail tang - also a fairly strong design, compared to the previous solution;
  • Hidden tang - not only makes the production of the knife somewhat cheaper but also transfers the balance to the blade and makes the knife as a whole relatively light compared to the previous methods.

2.8. Blade length and handle length

We have already mentioned the length of the blade; it is recommended not to exceed 12-13 centimeters on average. The length of the handle may vary depending on the size of the hunter's hand, or if they use the knife in a glove or a mitten during the cold season when it is the hunting season. This situation requires the handle to be slightly larger.

3. Purpose of the hunting knife

The principle of choosing any knife is not to take a knife and think about what I can do with it for the simple reason that I like it, but exactly the opposite. It is necessary to choose a knife, which will cope with the given task with maximum efficiency. The appearance of the knife is important, but it is not in the first place. When you know what you are going to do with the hunting knife and how you are going to do it, then after taking the knife in your hand, you will certainly understand if this is the right choice. Naturally, this requires some experience.

The main purpose of a hunting knife is to skin and dress carcasses. The first stage of skinning requires a well-sharpened, non-flexible skinning knife with a raised, rounded tip to separate the skin from the meat. Skinners are often equipped with a hook pointing toward the handle for convenience and to speed up the process. The hook allows you to make cuts in one motion, without worrying about making a wrong cut and hitting the insides of the carcass.

For carcass dressing, a more versatile knife for rough tasks may be required, but is not mandatory. Both knives should be short, as the work emphasizes hand movement and a knife with a large blade and weight is more likely to be uncomfortable.

All other knives, sold in stores and classified as hunting knives, are not hunting knives and it is correct to refer them to poor-quality marketing. Of course, you can have any knife for hunting if it is convenient for you and you are used to do different things with it. For example, Victorinox Hunter Pro is a good folding knife, but it is fair to ask whether it can be called a hunting knife.

4. Sharpening systems for hunting knives

It is obvious that the cutting edge of any knife, especially when it is actively used during hunting, will noticeably lose its sharpness. For this reason, it is necessary to have a tool with you in the field, at least for honing of the blade. Sharpening methods and types of sharpening devices can be very diverse, depending on the type of bevels and steels with a certain hardness.

Because in order to sharpen knives in the field during hunting using different tools and methods, it is necessary to know the basics of sharpening each of the individual types of bevels by one or another method, starting with the most common one — manual sharpening with a whetstone.

4.1. Manual sharpening

The advantage of manual sharpening is, first of all, the availability of a wide range of abrasive stones. Second, due to the recommended specifications of a hunting knife, such sharpening stones should only exceed the length of the cutting edge of the blade and are unlikely to be too bulky along with all of the hunter's equipment. Third, many manufacturers have dual-grit stones, which are suitable for honing and finishing. If the knife was properly sharpened before hunting, it is not recommended to use a coarse abrasive in the field. At the same time, the fine finishing of the cutting edge in field conditions is unnecessary.

Besides, manual sharpening is a universal method that is suitable for all steels and all possible types of bevels and gives an almost complete sharpening cycle in two steps and a good cutting quality.

If the abrasive is properly matched to the blade material, it will not take long to hone or finish the blade edge, even in the outdoors. You can even use good and thin oil or water-based aluminum oxide abrasives of about 6000 grit.

During manual sharpening, there may be slight differences in the angle control methods for narrow bevels, for wide bevels like scandi and for convex bevels. For Yakut knives, however, it is quite simple.

The Yakut knife is very easy to sharpen in the outdoors, even with a single grit abrasive. First, you sharpen the plane with the fuller. Then your remove the burr from the convex side. Fine finishing can be done with the leather sheath.

When sharpening Scandi knives, first you sharpen the straight part of the blade edge on one side, and then the belly with a transition to the tip. Then you repeat the same for the other side of the blade edge. The burr is removed with light pushing movements on the abrasive, and the finishing can be done with leather sheaths.

Sharpening a knife with convex bevels is a bit more laborious than with the previous types of bevels. The main challenge is to make sure that you keep the cutting edge even and do not roll it over to one side or the other. Angle control consists of guiding the blade with pads of two or three fingers gently over the abrasive plane. During the sharpening process, the fingers switch guiding points smoothly along the blade and step by step you sharpen all parts of the cutting edge. Actually, you do not need to sharpen the convex bevels, the honing with a whetstone will be enough. The burr can be removed with the end face of the leather sheath or even with a thick cloth.

The process of manual sharpening of knives with straight bevels and thin secondary bevels seems to be the most difficult of all presented. The principle of controlling the angle at the moment of contact with the abrasive plane involves visual and tactile inspection, then you slowly sharpen secondary bevels, and when you move to the belly and the tip, you must gently raise your hand (the hand should be relaxed) to maintain the same width of the secondary bevel. You should make sure that the blade moves along the abrasive plane as if on rails and follow this movement.

Besides, if you take the special Adjustable Angle Guide Hapstone T1, the precision degree of consistency of the angle increases significantly and the work in general gets easier and faster.

A similar, but not quite common would be the use of apex-type bars designed for professional systems. These bars can be used as well as a regular whetstone, or you can use the Adjustable Angle Guide clamp like the Hapstone T1.

4.2. Leather strop

A leather strop can be used for honing or fine finishing of the cutting edge. Quite often it can be found in household and kitchen use. First of all, this method of honing is designed for blades with not so hard steel or for deburring. The leather can be used with or without an abrasive paste. However, this item will turn out unnecessary if you have a leather sheath, because their end face is quite suitable for honing.

4.3. Whetstones

Some abrasives manufacturers and famous knife brands have small pocket whetstones in their catalog, which can be very useful in some cases for minor honing, especially for short blades. Generally speaking, it is quite easy to hone all the described types of bevels, except the straight ones with secondary bevels. 

It is not difficult to hit the same angle of the secondary bevel, when working with a whetstone. It is enough to make three marks with a sharpie on the secondary bevel and place the plane of the secondary bevel on the plane of the whetstone, and then run it along the secondary bevel. You will realize at once how it all should go and whether you got the secondary bevel's angle. Over time, you will develop a certain technique.

If, despite the tips, you prefer knives with long blades, you should have a whetstone of the same length as the length of the blade.

4.4. Pocket sharpeners

Most pocket sharpeners are equipped with tungsten carbide inserts of about 400 grit. A second abrasive surface may have a grit of about 1000 grit. Some have integrated ceramic whetstones. However, many of them work according to the principle of a hand-held kitchen sharpener.

As mentioned above, hunting knives should be honed and fine-finished instead of roughly sharpened, so it is possible, but not recommended, to choose a pocket sharpener for hunting knives.

4.5. Vertical rod systems

Vertical rod systems are devices that feature a number of whetstones of different cross-sectional shapes, placed in the base at a certain angle to each other. This uses the same honing principle as with the whetstone, with the difference that the base predetermines the sharpening angle and the knife blade is guided perpendicular to the base. Besides, the rods are much longer and more conveniently positioned and can be replaced if necessary. There are basically no other special advantages over a whetstone.

4.6. Field sharpeners

Outdoor sharpeners are a kind of a scaled-up pocket hunting knife sharpener, equipped with 1-2 abrasives about 10 centimeters long and 2.5 centimeters wide. The hunting knife sharpener may feature a ceramic whetstone and a strip of leather for finishing the blade edge and deburring. Such devices have special plastic protrusions, the so-called Angle Guides, which define the degree measure for honing of the cutting edge.

The way knife blades are sharpened and honed with outdoor sharpeners is no different from sharpening on a full-size manual bar.

Due to their size and combination, the abrasives efficiently deal with a range of different steels, which also increases the range of use of the hunting knife sharpener. The diamond abrasives of the hunting knife sharpener are long-lasting and can be replaced, which also increases the service life of the hunting knife sharpener itself.

4.7. Portable sharpeners with sharpening angle guides

The largest along with the full-size sharpening bars are the portable sharpening systems, equipped with special Pivot Response System floating pads, which allow the hand holding the knife to remain still when sharpening the secondary bevel at the belly area. When the blade is guided to the tip, the pad, under constant pressure, tilts independently to the side at a predetermined angle. Such technical solution allows to work with convenience and keep the angle consistent, and to process the surface of the secondary bevels with precision, both at the straight section, and at the tip of the blade edge.

There are slightly larger models than the full-size sharpening stones. These sharpeners are equipped with a special rotating panel for switching between three different grit sizes of abrasives. To change abrasives, simply turn the panel and you can continue honing with the next abrasive. The availability of three abrasives makes it possible to perform almost full sharpening cycle, but this also takes a certain amount of time.

These devices are much larger and somewhat heavier and are not easy to carry in a backpack, but can be carried in a car.

4.8. Sharpening systems with a guide and a kit of changeable abrasives

One of the fairly common types of sharpening solutions in the field are compact folding manual sharpeners. It is also worth mentioning systems that combine compact size, good capabilities and ease of use of these systems. These are systems with hand-held abrasive holders with guides.

Such systems consist of a special clamp and an abrasive holder with a guide. Some have several fixed positions, most commonly 3 to 5 positions, and in the more advanced solutions the sharpening angle can be adjusted.

The knife blade is mounted in the clamp, and the abrasive and guide holder are set to the desired position with the appropriate angle markings. You can sharpen the blade edge while holding the sharpening tool in your hands or you can place it on a small, flat surface for greater convenience.

Such systems are available as a sharpening kit and offer a fairly good range of abrasives. For use while hunting, you can take with you two or three abrasives from the kit for sharpening and honing your knife. Considering that the length of the abrasives is about 10 centimeters, such a system will be approximately as effective as a good outdoor hunting knife sharpener.

5. General tips for technical specifications

Skinning knife

Parameters



Technical
specifications

Blade length

about 5 – 12 cm

Blade width
(at the widest part)

about 3 – 4 cm

Spine thickness

about 3 – 4 mm

Thickness behind
the edge,
for sharpness

0,1 – 0,2 mm

Bevels type

straight from the spine;
wide straight bevels
with secondary
bevels

Tip type

trailing, normal,
with gut hook

Recommended
sharpening angle,
for sharpness

20 – 25°,
sometimes more
han 25°


Hunting knife (for dressing)

Parameters



Technical
specifications

Blade length, short

about 10 – 13 cm

Blade length, long

more than 13 cm

Blade width
(at the widest part)

about 2,5 – 3 cm

Spine thickness

about 3 – 3,5 mm

Thickness behind
the edge,
for sharpness

0,1 – 0,2 mm

Thickness behind
the edge,
for retention

0,3 – 0,4 mm

Bevels type

straight from the spine,
wide straight bevels, convex

Tip type

trailing or normal

Recommended
sharpening angle,
for sharpness

20 – 25°,
sometimes
more than 25°

Recommended
sharpening angle,
for retention

30 – 45°


Summary

You can find a lot of knives available on the market, which often have something related to hunting in their name, but from a technical point of view, they are not. There are also many sharpeners, which are recommended for use in the field and during hunting. However, it is still worth paying attention, first of all, to what a hunting knife should be able to do, and from this will come its technical characteristics.

The question of what knife sharpener for hunting knives to use and how to sharpen a hunting knife is obviously important, but it is a small technical task in comparison with learning what knife is really suitable for hunting and what is just a marketing fuss. With time and experience, if we lay a dozen of knives for household purposes out in front of you, you will be able to choose among them those suitable for hunting.

Many manufacturers have so-called coupled knives: a skinner with a hook and a simple cutter. They are definitely worth your attention for the first time. Later, it will become obvious to you whether this choice was the right one or whether you need something else.

Once you understand what you want from a hunting knife, have a clear understanding of its characteristics and know how to use it, it will solve the question of how to sharpen a hunting knife in certain conditions.

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