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Tuesday, December 1, 2015

It's Not Really a Knife Sharpener, But You Want One Anyway

There are a great many "miracle" knife sharpeners advertised, and unlike most miracle products, these actually work... mostly. By that I mean they will actually restore an edge to a blade, although they have some weaknesses. Instead of sharpeners, these tools would be better termed as "dressers."

Sharpeners vs Dressers
  • Anything that advertises a sharp edge in 5-10 strokes is a dresser. They put an edge on ("dressing" the blade, also known as honing), but lack the ability to re-shape a damaged blade or remove serious nicks and chips from an edge.
  • Whetstones and other proper sharpeners have the capability to make these kinds of repairs, and do them well. However, they are bulky, cost more money, and are slower and harder to use. In addition, most sharpening tasks don't need the full capability that sharpeners provide.

Most folks think that knives dull like this, with the edge actually becoming blunt:
Simulated cross-section of a knife edge
While this does happen in some cases, it's uncommon and is usually the result of rough work or abuse. Damage like this typically requires an actual sharpener to repair.

This is how most blades actually dull:
Not a crotch. This is another cross-section. 
Repeated work creates a curl of steel at the edge, which blunts the cutting ability. This where dressers shine. They quickly "dress" the blade, removing the curl and restoring cutting ability, in a few quick strokes.

There are quite a few common knife dressers, and they all work at roughly the same level.  My two favorites are the Smith's Pocket Pal and the Speedy Sharp.

The Speedy Sharp is a carbide cutter bonded to a handle. Its shape and size mean that it can be used to dress almost any blade, from a small pocketknife to a machete or axe. Using the Speedy Sharp requires a bit more attention, because holding it at a consistent angle to the blade gives the best edge, and it is a free-hand tool. (Editor's Note: I feel this is actually a sharpener, as I have used the carbide cutter to literally carve an edge where none existed. The trick with using it, as Loki says, is attention to angle and pressure. An understanding of the difference between Positive and Negative Rake is also important. For more information, see my review of it here.)



The Pocket Pal has two grooves, one with coarse carbide edges, and one with a finer ceramic surface. It is very user friendly, with paired edges guiding the blade to a consistent stroke. It also has a diamond rod for sharpening serrated blades and other odd cutting implements.


Both of these tools are about the size of a small pocketknife, and weigh mere ounces. They're quite durable, and will readily extend the life of a blade between uses of a larger, more complex sharpener. They're also inexpensive enough to be good stocking stuffers, or simply to stick in all your bug out, EDC, car and other bags.

Sharp knives are safer, and get the job done faster. Knife dressers make keeping your edge quick and easy.

Lokidude

The Fine Print


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- Noncommercial- No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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