How to Sharpen a Blade

Pruning shears. Hatchets. Pocket knives. Splitting mauls. Chainsaws. The Jawsaw (my favorite tool)! Even kitchen knives...slicing a tomato with a super sharp paring knife is so satisfying.

 The jawsaw!

The jawsaw!

Like climbing with cams that have a smooth trigger, or putting up a tent with snappy-corded poles, not ones with a cord that's lost all its elasticity, having sharp, burr-free tools makes the work so much easier, so much more fun. I recently have been learning this.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I made a commitment on a chunk of land, tucked in steep forested hills above the South Fork of the Payette River, surrounded by the Boise National Forest. We're only an hour from the city of Boise. But on days when supplies run low, forest fires get close, bear poop appears outside the back door, or the sky explodes with millions of stars, we are reminded that we're Out Here.


We have big plans for this place that shape a long and happy life. The hitch is that every step demands a whole new set of skills than I ever imagined. Everything is new. Everything. Skills and knowledge I've never really practiced to any level of semi-mastery are a requirement.

How to pour a concrete pillar below frost depth, attach a 6-foot post, and make it plumb on a steep hill? Um. ???
How to melt the water pump power box in winter when it's a solid block of ice after a freak rain-sleet storm? Well, guess we shoulda plugged those holes we didnt know were there... 
How to put out a chimney fire? Fast!

These days, sharp tools come in handy a lot more often than cams and tents. Of course, it helps to know how to sharpen them. Guess it's a good thing that I've always liked learning.

But spending every day asking, How do I do this? How does this work? Why doesn't that work? How did that even happen? over and over in order to accomplish what seem like small tasks in a mountain of work is exhausting. It can be acutely frustrating too; just ask my husband, (it's helpful being so far out here that when you scream in frustration, no one can hear you). And it's humbling to be a novice at everything, all the time. I never realized how reassuring, and restful it is to know how to do things. It's been a while since I spent much time doing stuff I know, and it's been quite a while since I did any writing...guess I've been busy learnin'.

Chopping enough wood to get through an Idaho winter requires a lot of effort... and a good maul is key. So, que Yoda, "there is no try, only do." Luckily, Neal has a more experience at a lot of this than I do. And he is patient.

 Getting it done...

Getting it done...

So, how to sharpen a blade: 
1. Get your tool to be sharpened and sharpening stone. Take note of the sharp, cutting edge vs. the meaty center/cheek of the blade or maul (this may seem obvious, but when ya don't know nothin' bout it, maybe it's not)
2. Spit on your blade, near the sharp edge where it needs sharpening.
3. Set the stone at a 10°-ish angle, (near that handy spit), just inside from the sharp edge.
4. Use smooth strokes pulling the stone out to the sharp edge and away from the cheek.
5. Repeat those smooth strokes, spit again if needed, and smooth out any burrs. Don't over sharpen your maul.
6. And never, ever pull from the sharp edge in toward the cheek. Just don't do it. 
7. Keep in mind I've only done this a handful of times, so really, you're on your own.