Nature’s Waterstones

Keeping your equipment in tip-top shape is undoubtedly necessary for your own comfort and safety, and nowhere is this point more stressed in the Bushcraft Community than in the functionality of your cutting tools, particularly when it comes to sharpening. As such, many outdoorsmen/women take pride in their blades and the maintenance of a keen edge. Perhaps we over-state this element, focusing all our efforts on the performance of our axes and knives that we  neglect other areas of our kit; nevertheless, taking proper care of your tools will ensure that they have a long, serviceable lifetime.

In this current day-and-age, there are numerous highly portable and affordable sharpening stones available. Most popular are the ceramic or diamond stones, such as the Fällkniven DC-4 and Spyderco Doublestuff. They are small enough to fit in a pocket and much lighter than conventional bench stones, which are impractical to carry out into the field.

For this post, I will be talking about another option, one that has been around since the development of bronze; and that is the use of river or creek stones. You can find them wherever water flows or has flowed in the past – streams, dried-up riverbeds, or even drainage ditches eroded by rainwater are ideal places to look. Suitable stones (without getting into unnecessary specifics) will be very hard, smooth, and have as flat a surface as possible so that a blade’s edge may be sharpened evenly.  They won’t be as perfectly flat as factory-made stones, but do not be fooled…they will get the job done well. Mind you, creek stones should be considered medium to fine grit, so don’t expect to be able to fix a nick. Moistening the surface with water is recommended, as it helps to keep tiny metal fragments from clogging the stone’s pores.

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For this demonstration I’ll be using the larger blade on a Victorinox Huntsman (my EDC), which is a flat grind with a secondary bevel. The edge is somewhat sharp, dulled a bit through regular use, and in need of honing.

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Sharpen as you would normally. My technique is to start at the hilt (or where the grind begins) and push forward, keeping the edge bevel flat to the stone, and then turn the blade slightly to hone the tip at the end of the stroke. To sharpen the other side, simply reverse the process – flip the blade over so that the edge is facing you, and pull towards yourself, starting at the hilt and finishing with a slight turn so that the tip makes contact to the stone. If your knife has a convex grind, sharpen it like you usually would. With axes, you must move the stone around the edge in circular motions on both sides, but be very cautious, as it’s easy to slip and slice open a finger.

After a few minutes and about 20 strokes on each side…

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It is hair-popping sharp :) .

On a final note, creek stones are not ideal for portability because of their weight and bulk, but it is good to know where you can find them should the need arise. Hardness, smoothness, and a flat surface are more important features to look for than knowing nitty-gritty geological details.

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