In any survival situation a defective tool is pretty much worthless and will cost you dearly in frustration or even your life. I’m sure you can think of a lot of examples. Effective tools are a big part of my life and most all of them need to be sharp, and some of them very sharp, like chisels and planer blades. When I started thinking of all the tools that I keep sharp the list started running into the dozens, everything from a potato peeler to a chainsaw. A lot of you are like me in one way or another as far as needing something with a keen edge to get the job done. For instance, the little scissors for trimming those pesky nose hairs or loping shears for the trees and shrubs. All of us have knives in the kitchen drawer or knife block, but how many of them are sharp and I mean really sharp. From experience I can tell you that most are not very sharp at all. Many examples of this come to mind like taking fresh baked bread to a neighbors party and asking for a bread knife that turned out to be so dull I could have done a better job with my shoe. Or someone pulls out the trusty chainsaw to cut a pine that fell across the drive, and when they finally get it started it whines and bogs and sticks and smokes until the poor guy gives up and calls his brother-in-law. In a normal world these are frustrations, but in a situation where you cannot replace that chain or that blade or those shears, things will become a lot more serious and important. Think of all the items you use during the week or month that work so much better when they are sharp. In hard times these tools will not just be a convenience they will become a necessity , and the more effective they are the greater your chance of survival. The reason being they will save you energy and time.
I do not have the space or time to teach you how to sharpen all of the items in your home or retreat but I can tell you what tools I use to keep things edgy. Having some or all of them and a little knowledge will be a huge help in your current or post collapse life, and most or all sharpening tools come with easy to follow instructions. Some of the tools I will list can be used on a multitude of things. The reason I list them all is because some work best on specific things. The old song says that “Diamonds are a girls best friend “ I don’t know but I sure love those things. I’m talking about the industrial diamonds used to sharpen steel. I use about six different types but will only list four to keep it a little less boring. Starting with the Kitchen knives the first tool up is: (1)The Ultimate Edge sharpener. Good tools are not cheap. It has a 10” long by 1/2” wide sharping surface and a plastic handle. If you have one of those steel rods with the little groves down it to sharpen with, you need to upgrade. This thing uses a diamond coated surface and is convex on both sides and thin at the edges. With a little practice and finding the right angle you will be amazed at the results. Again, I will not belabor the technique. Most tools have a guide or a quick internet search will do. This is one of the cross over tools because of its shape and length, it can sharpen serrated and flat blades and pretty much anything else that only needs a tune up. One key thing to know about this process of sharpening is think in terms of grit. Coarse for really dull followed with Medium and then Fine to finish. Most of the time if you maintain your tools Fine is all you will need. The diamond coated sharpeners will last a lifetime if only used on steel, although my water saws use diamond blades and they cut granite and concrete. Just wash them with soap and water occasionally and they’re good to go. I have some with a 20 year service warranty and they work perfectly.
Next up: (2) the DMT Diamond Sharpening Kit. This comes with all three Grits I mentioned plus a tapered Diamond Rod for use on serrated blades. This is a great tool and will sharpen anything from a Kukri knife to a paring blade and the tapered rod works on the steak and bread knives, it packs away in a zippered bag and weighs about 8.5oz. The instructions are very easy to follow and allows seven angles to work with and tells which knives to use them on. If you have a lot of dull knives this might be a good way to develop this skill. With this set the clamp and rod guide take all the guess work out. Just clamp the guide to the back of the blade and select the angle you want 1 thru 7 then place the desired Grit in the holder and you can sharpen both sides at exactly the same angle. I really like this tool as it always gets good results and quickly.
Another tool I use frequently is the (3) EZE-LAP Diamond Hones.These can be purchased as a set or single. They look like a plastic tongue depressor with a 2” x 3/4” Diamond surface on one end. Different Grits can be had from Coarse to Super Fine. These small little hones work on things like wood boring bits or fish hooks. I have used the Super Fine Grit to put a fine smooth finish on such things as a trigger sear and other bearing surfaces. A great design feature is the way that the gritty end tapers down the last 1 1/4” and at the end is another small bevel that leaves a tiny portion of the steel Grit surface showing. This is extremely handy for working on small things such as veggie peelers or cuticle scissors. I even use them to sharpen the carbide cutters on my router bits.
Another item that is on the bench top often is the (4) Smith’s Micro-Tool Sharpening Pad. More of a traditional looking sharpener, mine is 21/2” wide and 6” long. Again, it is a Diamond coated surface that looks like the one on the DMT tool. I use this one for chisels and hand plane blades but it is not limited to that. It can be used for large knives and many other items. For me the big advantage of this tool is the ability to handle large blades. Chisel and plane blades can be free handed with practice on the MicroTool Pad but I use it in conjunction with a pricey (5) Veritas Precision Honing Guide–but not so pricey if purchased used.I have the basic model of this guide and use it a lot, it holds the blade in a screw clamp with a brass wheel underneath. After the blade lies nice and flat on the diamond surface glide it back and forth with light pressure and a few drops of oil, it works well. Some of the hand planes I use are nearly 100 years old but I can zip down the edge of a board and peel off a long ribbon of wood thin enough to see through. This happens because the blade is sharp so I do not have to force the tool thus saving me time and energy. The Veritas Guide is a little more versatile than it might seem. Sometimes I use it on long bladed type framing chisels, but instead of the Diamond Pad I just use different grits of wet or dry sandpaper with oil right on the bench top and work it with the Guide.
Most chainsaws I see have died a terrible death, often because chains never sharpened or they were run dry with no bar lube and never a thought about chain tension. The filters were never checked or changed and the carburetor, what carburetor? So when the thing cannot be started anymore it is tossed into the corner of the garage to collect spiders and await the next yard sale. If you live in a wooded area where power is out frequently, or a place where a fallen tree on a rural road may block your escape route, you need to have a decent chainsaw and develop some skill with it. I keep two good saws in ready to cut shape all the time. In 1993, a huge snowstorm and power outage forced me with the help of one man to clear about 25 pines from my home to the road. From there we cleared another 25 to 30 pines in order to reach the main road. My failure to have kerosene in storage sent me on that trip, so I get an “F” grade on that one. However my $139 Poulan saw was well tuned and sharp and the fuel can was full with pre-mix as well, so I get an “A” grade there. If you own a chainsaw or are going to need one, learn to sharpen and maintain it. The (6) Oregon File Guide comes in different models. It clamps onto the bar and uses a round file for the teeth and a flat file for the rakers. The process is pretty simple, a bit of technique here. Always use the same number of file strokes on each tooth and when you start, mark the first tooth on top with a Sharpie marker to keep track of when you’ve made each full circuit of the chain loop. The teeth alternate cutting sides so the guide is swung around to file the other direction, be sure to also mark that starting tooth (I use blue and green pens). This tool can be used in the field but is most effective when the bar is clamped in a bench vise because that way the chain runs free and the filing is more precise. You will need to know what size of round file to use on your chain, (one size does not fit all)and buy two or three.
This brings me to another important tool: (7) Files. There are a great number of different kinds files, for most uses a Mill Bastard or Flat Bastard type will do. For example for sharpening axes and hatchets or heavy garden tools. A set of needle files is also handy for delicate jobs. At most flea markets or estate sales you will find a box of barely used tools. I did not say clean. With files If you press your thumb lightly in the cutting direction and feel a good bite, that thing will cut metal. And for 50 cents or a dollar it’s yours. Files are very useful not just for sharpening but also for the fitting of metal parts one to another. Just remember to cut in one direction and tap the filings out of the file often. If you sharpen a mower blade or such, use the same number of cutting strokes on each edge. This will help to keep the weight balanced and avoid vibration.
One last sharpening tool I use nearly every day is an (8) Opti-Visor. That is a magnifying visor with changeable lens of different powers. Maybe the most important lesson I have learned about getting things sharp is being able to see the edge. This tells me exactly where the tool is cutting because of the shiny cut marks on the metal. I use the 5 power lens for most work but 7 and 10 power are handy, the drawback to the higher powers is that the higher the magnification the closer you must be to the work. The Opti-Visor would be at the top of my list of things to own, It is indispensable for gunsmithing and digging thorns and metal out of skin. I also use it to look at suspect skin tags and moles, it’s perfect when soldering small wires or to keep a close eye on things when reloading.
I can not help but mention another simple and effective tool. Although not designed for this purpose a 3”x5”x1” thick foam sanding sponge works great in a pinch. These cost about $4 each and can be had in different grits. I use a 120 and a 240 grit to keep dry wall blades and knives sharp on the job. The sponges are coated with aluminum oxide or a ceramic blend material on all sides which gives you 40 square inches of cutting surface. They can also be washed with soap and water to expose the grit when dirty. It was a great complement when my wife visited the shop with a grandson. As they entered the door she looked at him and he immediately said,“ I know, everything in here is sharp.”
I will close with these Bible verses: “Now there was no smith found throughout all the land of Israel: for the Philistines said, Lest the Hebrews make them swords or spears: But all the Israelites went down to the Philistines, to sharpen every man his share, and his coulter, and his axe, and his mattock.” – 1 Samuel 13: 19-20