We can always be certain that the things we don’t want to happen will happen at the worst possible moment.
So, if you are out in the wilderness, hunting, camping, on a retreat, and your knife starts dulling, this is going to be a moment of dread for you.
But, do not fret, even in the wilderness without a wet stone, you can still sharpen your blade. You do not need to have every possible resource from your home in your backpack.
Take advantage of what mother nature has to offer for you, even in these difficult and stressful moments.
Why Do You Need a Sharp Knife?
Let's hypothesize a minute here, you are out in the woods, but you’ve had a long day and while you are cutting, perhaps making a snare, but you are tired, and you slip and BAM, the blade is damaged.
What will you do! You don't have any sharpening previsions! You know you will need the blade later, what on earth are you going to do now?
You could just call it quits, pack up and go home, head hung in shame. Or, you could take a deep breath and take to the resources mother nature gave you.
Nature has everything you need to get your blade back to its former glory. You can remove stock, you can hone it and polish it, all from the forest. Using a creek bed or even an old campsite, mother nature has got your back.
Find the Right Stone
Okay, we know what you are thinking and no, you can’t simply fix up your blade using just a river rock, this isn’t the movies. Sorry.
You need a rock with an aggressive texture to start up, think concrete, something hard, like a granite or graphite even. The coarser the rock the more easy it will be to remove any rolled steel. Refine the scratches on the steel while checking to ensure that the edge is still uniform.
Run the blade over the stone in a circular motion on one side until you see a wire/ thin layer of steel coming from the edge, then flip the stone/ blade and do the next until you gain a consistent grind.
If you are struggling to find hard rock that has the texture you seek, trying smashing a couple open in the streams or river beds using another rock. You can rub these parts together to achieve the grit you seek.
If all else fails, embed some sand into a wet log to create a large sharpening strop.
Hone Your Blade
What even is honing right? Well, it is the process of realigning the carbides at the edge of a blade in order to create a noticeably sharper edge.
It doesn’t remove material like stock removal does, but it is important in achieving a fantastically sharp blade.
It is something that even professional chefs do, using steel to do this prior to carving. This may give you a better image of what we mean.
Since the outdoors isn’t rife with steel, you can use broken glass to hone a blade, since it is hard but brittle, when steel is drawn across it, it acts a lot like honing steel does.
Similarly, you could use a coffee mug, the edge of a car window, or even the internal rim of a toilet lid to do this, although that last one might not be so hygienic if you are sharpening a knife that will be used for food.
As you are in the wilderness you may not have any of these available you can actually use the underside of a leather belt to strop the blade.
You can pass the buckle over a log, pass the tail end through and tighten the slack. Place the blade on the stop with the flat laying on it.
The belt should be placed on a flat surface for the best results, apply a similar amount of pressure as you would when you are shaving with a safety razor for the best results.
Polishing Your Blade
Okay, we hear you. Polishing doesn’t sound all that important at first right? It's just making the blade shiny right? Wrong! A polished and clean blade will always, always perform better than a dirty one.
You can easily polish the flats of the blade using hardwood charcoal from the remains of a burned out campfire. Use it dry or with just enough water to make a slight slurry.
Hardwood charcoal is not as hard as the steel of your blade is, so it will not damage the blade at all.
As you probably know from all the beauty, skin care and vanity products out there, charcoal is a fantastic cleanser and not only does it work on skin but on metals too, so it will clean your blade up nicely once you have finished sharpening it.
If you want an even more subdued polish to your blade once you have finished honing it, you can get creative. In the wilderness a patina can be forced onto a steel blade by exposing it to the natural ooze that is found inside trees, these contain sugars and do a fantastic job.
If you want to get this effect at home, you can do this with things in your kitchen, stab a potato and leave it overnight, the potato will do the same thing. Or just submerge your knife into vinegar, we all know vinegar is a stellar cleaner, why not give it a try?
Having a sharp and clean knife is key to any blade related activity, whether you are chopping up vegetables in your kitchen, hunting, carving yourself a wilderness longbow, creating a snare, or anything else you can imagine.
A dull knife is no real knife, and a dirty one won’t do the job it is supposed to.
Though we often think that we can only do these things with all the resources in our homes, people were sharpening their knives and blades long before the invention of wet stones, why not do it the old-fashioned way? You never know when you might need to.