Sunday, October 4, 2009
Stropping A Flat Ground Blade
There has been a ton of writings about the importance of keeping your carving knife sharp. What I am about to explain and show is how I learned to keep my knife sharp. My knife blades are ground flat. When the blade is ground flat, there is no bevel. When I get a new knife I make sure the blade is ground flat and that the knife maker makes it as sharp as possible. If I don't buy from the knife maker, I send the knife to one for a flat regrind and sharpening. This way I know I start out with a well shaped and sharp knife. From this point on it is my responsibility to maintain the blade as sharp as possible. This I do by stropping the blade about every 15 minutes of heavy use, and at the end of each carving session. I use a leather strop. On one side of the strop the leather is rough side out. This is the side that I rub stropping compound into. I think that most of the "harder" stropping compound will work. The other side of the strop is the smooth side of the leather. The leather on a strop should be thin and a bit hard. By this, I mean, you do not want a soft leather that will compress when you strop the knife blade. You should be able to keep your knife sharp by frequent and proper stropping. One of the best practices to follow is to never let your knife blade get really dull before stropping. And I never use a stone or anything other than my strop except if the blade somehow gets damaged. And in my humble opinion a really dull blade is damaged. And yes, while learning to keep my knife sharp I've damaged it a few times. Stropping: Start by placing your strop on a flat surface, with the rough side with the compound facing up. Place blade flat on the strop surface. Place your index finger onto the blade tip, holding the blade flat against the strop. Use your finger to put a little pressure on the blade tip, while holding the blade flat against the strop and push the blade to the right, keeping the same amount of pressure on the tip. Do this three or four times. Do not let the knife "run" off the end of the strop. Do not let the blade "roll" at the end of the strokes, lift it straight up. Do this same stropping of the same side of the blade, only move your finger holding the blade flat against the strop, down for each sequence of stropping. Keep moving your finger down the blade to strop the whole length of the blade. After the one side of the knife blade is completely stropped do the other side in the same manner. After both sides of the blade have been stropped on the leather with the compound, turn the strop over and complete the same sequence on the side of the strop with the smooth leather. A simple test to see if the blade is sharp is to lay the blade perpendicular (at right angle) to your thumb nail, and with hardly any pressure, pull it towards you over the nail. If the blade sides without catching (digging in) it's not sharp. Most of my whittling is done with my pocket knife. This means that my knife is always carried with me. There isn't a day that goes by when I am not tempted to use my knife for something other than whittling. Don't do it! The fastest way to dull and quite possibly damage the knife blade is to use it for anything other than whittling/carving good wood. The following are things that I have done in the past that have really dulled the blade, and in some cases damaged it as well: Cutting twine, rope, opening a cardboard box, sharpening a pencil, cleaning my fingernails, opening plastic packaging....you get the idea. You don't have to remove a hubcap with your knife to damage it.