When asked about his favorite type of kitchen cutlery, famed chef Wolfgang Puck stated, “I like the Japanese knives. I like French knives. Whatever’s sharp.” But while Puck’s standard certainly seems sensible, therein lies the rub — quite literally. No matter the kind of knife you own and no matter the complexity or advanced nature of its construction, it will eventually begin to pull and tear and (if things get really bad) even rub instead of cutting. In short, it will get dull. And when it gets dull, you will need to find a way to sharpen it again.
This holds just as true for OTF knives as it does for chef’s knives, EDC knives, and tactical knives. However, given the relative complexity of OTF knives, putting an edge back on them can seem somewhat intimidating. Still, take heart! In this post, we’ll discuss the most common means of sharpening knives and how you should go about sharpening your OTF knife.
Common Ways to Sharpen a Knife
Sharpening a knife can seem like a daunting prospect. After all, an ignorant sharpener can easily dull a knife and struggle to recover the factory-sharp edge. However, don’t ignore this vital task. Dull knives are dangerous knives, especially if wielded by an inexperienced hang. (The worst injury we’ve ever heard of here at TacKnives was a young man whose parents intentionally gave him a dull knife and failed to teach him basic handling skills. He tried carving a knotty stick toward himself — and lost an eye.)
Sharpening is conceptually simple. You draw a blade across an abrasive surface at a a specific angle in order to remove small amounts of metal, which gives the blade an edge. There are two basic means of sharpening. The first is an array of gadgets that hold your knife at a specific angle as you sharpen it. The second is the old-fashioned whetstone. Both can work, but both also have drawbacks and cautions to consider.
If you search online for “knife sharpening gadgets,” you’ll discover a bewildering array of implements that all promise to put an edge back on your knives. These may all look radically different, but they function in essentially the same way: They include thing guides and tiny integrated stones that hold your knife at a very specific angle as you run it through a narrow channel. Variations include hand-held sharpeners, sharpening stations, some hybrid inventions intended for chefs that add in elements of a whetstone (more on that below), and sharpening rods designed to for quick touch ups to an edge.
Such gadgets perform reasonably well and (for the most part) require little knowledge to use. One of their disadvantages, though, is that they can strip away far more metal than manually sharpening with a whetstone. This will substantially decrease your knife’s usable life.
Sharpening a knife with a whetstone is an ancient and effective means of keeping your blades keen. It’s also easy to understand how it works. By dampening a rough, flat stone with water and then gliding an entire cutting edge across it, you can carefully remove tiny bits of metal. Whetstone sets typically come in multiple grades just like sandpaper. You’d use the roughest grade to restore the dullest knives or those with dings in the edge. Then you’d gradually work your way to finer grades, the knife getting ever sharper as you go.
There’s one more element of whetstone sharpening that we need to discuss, and that’s a leather strop. Any amount of sharpening will remove metal, and as you sharpen one side, tiny fingers or filaments will jut out from the other. These are called burrs, and you have to remove them. The best way to do so is with a piece of leather dubbed a strop. Think of those bands you’d see barbers working a straight razor over. Such action gets rid of burrs.
Whetstones allow for more precise control and blades that both get sharper and last longer. However, they require significant knowledge, skill, and time to use correctly. You cannot rush whetstone sharpening. You need to hold the knife at a specific angle when both using the stone and the strop. You can’t alter the knife’s angle as you finish your stroke, which is sometimes called rounding up. And you must know the correct angle at which to hold the knife. (When in doubt, understand that a 22.5 degree angle will suffice for most knives.) There are several tips you can implement to ensure that you’re following these steps, and if you’d like a simple guide, YouTuber Army Barracks has created a short video.
Sharpening an OTF Knife
Because OTF knives typically have tactical or utility applications, we would recommend using a whetstone to sharpen them. In addition to the steps listed in the previous section, we have several additional recommendations that might help you in the sharpening process.
The first step is to carefully disassemble your OTF knife. There are several reasons to do this, two of which include the need to remove any dirt or grime and the need to lubricate the inner workings with gun or knife oil. Failure to provide such regular maintenance may lead to poor performance or eventual damage.
The second step is to ensure you’ve removed the handle before you begin sharpening. While certainly not true with every knife, some OTF examples have thicker, heavier handles that make it more challenging to handle your knife as you sharpen it on a whetstone. Additionally, removing the handle makes it easy to apply sharpening clamps or sharpening guides to the blade. These devices let you rest the knife at a specific angle, which helps put an edge on without removing too much metal — and thus extending the useful life of your knife. However, make sure that you know the angle at which your knife was crafted. When in doubt, remember that a 22.5 degree angle is generally standard.
The third step is self-evident: Reassemble your knife! One wise tip involves carefully separating out your parts chronologically during disassembly and then moving backward as you put everything together again.
TacKnives has a wide variety of OTF knives in many different blade styles. Check out our selection!