Most outdoorsmen consider a good, sharp knife to be one of, if not the most important, tools for outdoor adventures that you can have with you. I feel 99 percent sure that if you stop a hunter or fisherman in the act of taking part in their outdoor sports that they’ll have a good knife on their belt or in their pocket. The really smart outdoorsman will have a knife that’s extremely sharp.
I’ve spent hours and hours over the years keeping my various outdoor knives sharp and ready for any job. When I first began to be concerned with that good, sharp knife in the Boy Scouts of America we depended on a special wet (or whet) stone to carefully rub the edge of the knife across until we felt that it was as sharp as we could possible get it. It wasn’t until later in life that I had the opportunity to hunt and fish with real experts in the art of sharpening a knife properly.
One day when I was quail hunting with Anson Byrd from Hyde County we were in the act of cleaning a good mess of quail (that was a long time ago - to find enough wild quail to brag about it these days would be a rare thing) when I noticed that the folding Buck knife he was using was obviously very sharp. He replied that a friend in the business of sharpening knives and scissors in the area had worked his magic on it for a small fee. I decided that having a real expert to sharpen your knife might be a good thing. For certain, Anson’s knife was sharper than any knife that I’d ever sharpened.
A few weeks later I was at one of the many outdoor shows in North Carolina when one of these professional knife sharpeners had a booth and, for a reasonable fee, sharpened customers knives on the spot. He was using a rapidly turning polishing compound covered cloth wheel on a bench grinder to literally buff the cutting edge of the knife to a razor sharp edge. After he’d finished with my pocketknife I was convinced that I had to learn how to do this myself.
Some time later while hunting with the famed Edwin “Booger” Harris at his Pungo Acres Hunting Retreat I had the opportunity to meet and get to know John Anthon from Buffalo, New York. Anthon was (and is) the President of The Great American Tool Company (GATCO) that produces high quality knives and very effective knife sharpening systems. After shooting a few deer and swans on the Hyde County hunting grounds Anthon set about teaching several of Harris’s friends how to bring our hunting knives to a razors edge and how to keep it that way. He was, of course, using one of GATCO’s sharpening systems to accomplish this goal.
Basically the GATCO system uses a specially designed clamp to grasp the back of the knife’s blade firmly. The back of the clamping device turns at right angles to the actual blade of the knife and has several strategically placed holes located in it to guide the actual sharpening stones at a set angle.
By maneuvering the sharpening stones at a set angle over the knife’s cutting edge the cutting edge can be precisely ground at the desired angle for best cutting. By turning system over the same exact cutting angle can be achieved on both sides of the knife’s blade.
If the original sharpening process with the GATCO system needs to remove a substantial amount of metal from the blade, one begins the sharpening process with a coarse sharpening stone. Once this angle is achieved on both sides of the blade the stones are progressively changed to medium and then to fine to bring the blade to a very sharp edge. One might think that this is sharp enough but, wait, there’s more!
Switching from the part of the GATCO system’s sharpening stones to two ceramic rods held at another set angle in a plastic frame that protects the sharpener’s fingers from being cut. The cutting edge of the knife’s blade is slowly drawn over the ceramic rods for several passes. This really puts the fine edge on the blade.
Because the cutting angle on the blade was set up with the set system of guide rods combined with progressively finer stones and brought to a near-finished cutting edge, it doesn’t take many swipes across the ceramic rods to bring what could seem to be a merely sharp knife to a really sharp knife. What’s more, since the cutting angle was already established, when the knife seems to be getting a little dull, a few quick swipes through the ceramic rods re-established that very fine cutting edge to the blade.
Since most outdoorsmen don’t carry one of these full sharpening systems into the field with them and knives do get dull with hard use, GATCO does make a small field sharpener that works with a little ceramic rod set. These work but at times I’ve found that I need a little more than the ceramic rods give me. Both GATCO and other knife sharpening systems also make handy little diamond sharpening rods that can really put a sharper edge on a really dull knife blade in a hurry. They are about the size of a ballpoint pen and fit easily in ones pocket. Some of these diamond sharpeners even have a pointed section that works beautifully on the serrated edges of some knife blades.
My personal favorite, all-around pocketknife is also a GATCO Timberline knife called a Special Services folding knife. It’s about 8 ¼ inches long overall with a 3-½ inch blade made of AUS 8 steel. The scales of the knife are solid stainless steel making the knife very flat so that when it’s clipped inside your pocket it lies flat against your hip. You can carry it very handily there in your pants pocket and it scarcely takes up any room. You can easily forget that it’s even clipped there in your pocket. The knife holds an edge beautifully and is very strong.
There’s an old outdoorsmen’s saying, “A good sharp knife seldom accidentally cuts one. It’s always that dull knife that causes accidents.” I have the scars on my hands to add credence to that saying.