Instructor Corps Pro Tip:
You can do a lot of things with a knife. You can build fires and shelters, you can feed yourself, you can even defend yourself. If you could only choose one tool to enter the woods with and survive, you’d be hard-pressed to justify carrying anything else. It’s arguably the most valuable invention humans have ever come up with. But the Achilles heel of any knife is this: It gets dull. It doesn’t matter whether the blade you’re carrying is carbon, stainless, laminated, Gerber mystery metal, or a space-age super steel, it’s going to lose its edge eventually if you use it. And like our grandfathers all told us, a sharp knife is a safe knife. A sharp knife is also an effective knife. If you’ve ever used a dull knife (who hasn’t?) you know that the frustration level and effort expended to accomplish even the simplest tasks are multiplied exponentially.
Thankfully, there are near-endless options here in civilization to put a great edge back on your blade. Our choice (insert shameless product placement plug here) is the Worksharp Guided Field Sharpening System, and you can get yours in the SARCRAFT Outfitter Store here: https://www.sarcraft.com/products-1/work-sharp-guided-field-sharpener
But if you’re on your own and have minimal gear, or even just that knife, what do you do? Say you’re truly in a wilderness survival situation and your blade gets dull. Or you’re out hunting, downed a great deer, need to field dress it, and left your sharpener at home. Or you’re just bushcrafting and want to decrease your reliance on so much stuff.
You do what people have done to sharpen their metal blades for thousands of years, and use rocks. As we’ve said before, nature can provide you with everything you need, if only you know where and how to look. Does your blade need serious sharpening? Does it have a burr or a chip on the blade that’s interfering with your work? If that’s the case, then you can take a rock and use it in much the same manner as a Lansky Puck, if you’re familiar with that technique. What matters is finding and following the correct bevel angle and keeping steady, consistent strokes down the length of the blade. What kind of rock should you use? Well, I’m no geologist, but I can tell you that harder is better. Avoid shale or limestone, and try to find quartzite, granite, or flint. Anything with a Rockwell hardness lower than 7 will work. (Quartz is 7, as a reference point.)
But what if you just need to touch up the edge, and don’t really need to do serious sharpening? And let’s be honest – this is really by far the most common type of blade maintenance we do in the field. If you’re careful and prudent with your knife and don’t do things like baton it into rocks, most of the time, all you need to do is hone it to bring it back to shaving sharp. One cool way to do this also underscores the multipurpose baton’s claim as the ultimate bushcraft multi-tool.
First, you’ll need a piece of wood. A baton is ideal for this, but any piece of wood will work, as long as the end grain is intact and it’s a smooth surface. Then you’ll need two small rocks. Rocks collected from a river or creek are great for this. Ideally, one of these will be slightly concave and the other will be slightly convex, so you’ll have a tiny bowl for the next step, but what really matters is that they fit well enough with each other to have plenty of contact surface. Take the rocks, wet them down, and grind them together in a circular motion for a few minutes to create a slurry or paste. Take this wet slurry and apply it to the end grain of your baton. All plants, including trees, have a vascular structure that transports water and nutrients from the earth to their uppermost branches, and because of this, wood always absorbs things from the end grain. The water from your paste will soak in and be absorbed by the wood, bringing the tiny, abrasive rock particles with it. By impregnating your baton with this rock paste, you’ve essentially created bushcraft sandpaper. Your baton is now an excellent knife hone, and just a few strokes across the end of it will get your blade back where it needs to be.
Have you ever used this technique? Or sharpened your knife with a wild rock? Tell us in the comments!
Wanna see this technique demonstrated in the real world, and get a chance to do it yourself? Join us for Sunday Afternoon Bushcraft: Art of the Baton this Sunday from 2pm-7pm! Register now at https://www.sarcraft.com/course-registration/register-sunday-afternoon-bushcraft!