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Long Term Field Sharpenability vs Edge Holding

Discussion in 'Outdoor Gear, Survival Equipment & More' started by jmarston, Mar 20, 2017.

  1. jmarston


    Dec 6, 2010
    Looking for some opinions, thoughts and banter on the subject.

    As a bona-fide knife nut, for a very long time I sought the utmost in edge holding. High alloy this, super steel that. As my tastes have changed my preferences have moved more towards good edge holding and easy sharpening. Think 1095 or Buck's 420HC. They dull more quickly than my S35VN, Elmax whatever blades but when then get dull, and for my uses, the knives are often cutting into abrasive matrial. Dust ridden feed bags, scraping ice from the door of the coop so it can close, cutting fuel hose, etc. Different than slicing an apple or opening an envelope anyway. I find each steel ends up inevitably dull and I find a knife that takes two minutes to touch up on a pocket stone versus 15 minutes of grinding away on a diamond bench stone much more handy. Yes I have to sharpen twice as often but each month I may spend 10 minutes sharpening an old carbon steel working knife a few times vs 20 minutes a sitting on the higher alloyed steels.

    I was reading an old outdoorsman book. Which or where I cannot remember. The author was speaking on expedition preparation. Maybe a hard journey of anywhere from a month to six months we will call it. Maybe along an old traders' trail or a thousand miles by canoe into Hudson Bay. True, deep, remote wilderness travel. He spoke of choosing a knife which is soft enough even to be sharpened with a file and it got me thinking and searching. Seeing many images or videos of daily use field tools being sharpened quickly and simply. Files, river stones, old dished and worn India stones. Knives as a real essential tool, maintained in the field by very simple means. Sure you may touch up the edge a time or two dressing through a deer but in 30 seconds your knife is back in service. No fuss. No muss.

    In my conclusions, if I were really to undertake such an expediton, my cut down Old Hickory butcher knife or cut off machete made knife I think would be my knife of choice. If the edge rolls a little, a quick steeling or stopping brings it back. As much as I adore my diamond bench stones, I just cannot see them making the cut on such a journey.

    Well that was more wordy than expected but what are yor thoughts? A brand new Maxamet knife that will never need to be sharpened but Lord help you if it does? Or a simple softer steel?
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2017
  2. rwc53


    Dec 21, 2009
    I am with you on this. I would much rather have knives that were easily resharpened in the field than "supersteels" that are difficult to sharpen. I base this on experience. Here's an example of what I mean:

    These are my "users."
  3. Barabus


    Jun 15, 2013
    Blonds or brunettes? Really personal preference. I like the super steels and bring two knives if really need to and don't want to field sharpen. Sounds like you know what works for you.
  4. Insipid Moniker

    Insipid Moniker Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 28, 2011
    It doesn't take me any longer to sharpen (including field sharpening) M390 or 3V than it does 1095 or 420HC, so that piece of the puzzle becomes a bit of a moot point. What makes me weigh my options more is the possibility of damage to a blade and having to reprofile or sharpen out a good sized chip which will be much more difficult and time consuming with a high alloy, highly wear resistant steel.

    As for which I go for, I lean strongly towards steels with excellent wear resistance and edge retention in folders because I cut lots of abrasive material, but for the outdoors, I generally find that simpler, lower alloy steels like 1095 or 12c27 are more than enough for my needs.
  5. jmarston


    Dec 6, 2010
    Thanks for the replies. RWC53, that knife on the right of your photo was what reminded me of this book. That old reshaped Russell looks great.

    Insipid, I haven't had the pleasure of either M390 or 3v but have read of those who sing their praises. Will be interesting to see what their staying power is like. My thoughts are that daily use in the bush for a month or months on end will inevitably lead to edge damage that will require repair.

    The great thing is that we no longer need to spend months on a river to make a go at it. But we certainly can choose to if we wish.
  6. pinnah


    Jul 28, 2011
    I prefer fine grained steel like 12c27, Bucks 420HC (not Case's) and 1085 or 1095.

    I used to be a carbon stelel only guy but Opinel and Mora's 12c27 convinced me. I like Buck too. I don't mind using a blade up by regular sharpening. I treat them like brake rotors - something to be used up and replaced - not some family jewel.
  7. rwc53


    Dec 21, 2009
    Insipid: point taken! The ability to sharpen well-tempered modern steels is about the same as that of the old, traditional carbon steels. I do own, and use, some of these as well. I should have spent a little more time in explanation, in that I use knives that, for the most part, are not tempered quite as hard as most of the more modern steels may be, so that they are still easy to sharpen and won't chip out under use. I find that my various Swiss Army knives fall into this category, as does my old reliable Buck 500 folder. All around, there's great info being shared here!

  8. Hard Knocks

    Hard Knocks Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 1, 2012
    When I see a design I like, I am usually drawn by the handle ergonomics or blade shape and geometry more than steel type. But if I do decide to purchase, and then really like a knife where it's a keeper, then I try to find it in more than one steel if it's available. For example, grab it in 3V, but then also in something like A2, 154CM, or 52100.

    This is just strictly the way I approach it, so take it for what it's worth because we all have different lifestyles and therefore different requirements that we want out of a blade. But it's hard to put enough use on a good 3V blade in a day trip to require a sharpening. Not impossible, but takes some doing. With my schedule, I get more day trips than extended outings, so it makes sense for me to use a blade that will hold its edge throughout the day, and then maintain it when I'm back home.

    For the fewer times per year that I get to stack a few days together outdoors, then I'm more likely to carry a blade that might be easier to field sharpen. I don't know what it is about 52100, but it just seems like you get a good amount of mileage out of it, and then it maintains like a dream in the resharp department. Plus it takes a really fine edge.

    I will throw this out there for thought, though: It seems to me that this 3V being produced now with the low-temp heat treat resharpens easier than industry standard 3V. I don't know how to describe it other than it feels like it cuts away 'cleaner.' And there's definitely a gain in edge stability with the heat treat tweaks some makers are using now. Maybe getting close to the best of both worlds.....
  9. jmarston


    Dec 6, 2010
    This 3v steel sure is sounding quite amazing. Maybe I need to step it up and try out a knife in this relatively new steel.

    My usage time between access to my stones at home might be up to a week. Honestly I have never had it happen that my knives became so bad that a field touch up was not enough. I likely could have even gotten by without. I think the time when I may need it would be when I dress out a couple moose in a week say if me and a buddy both fill our tags on tge same trip. Thanks for the input gents.
  10. the possum

    the possum

    Jul 31, 2002
    There are some things I agree with, and some I don't.

    Vanadium carbides are harder than the abrasive found in most stones, so I can see where you'd want to avoid steels like that with improvised sharpening methods.

    If I want a blade that's quick to touch up, the main thing I look for is a thin edge. Like, 0.007" thick or less- I have some down to 0.004". You can completely recut the entire edge bevel with a couple swipes, pretty much regardless of how hard the steel is.

    If you need a stouter edge for rough work, that may get nicks & damage, then I would opt for a simple low carbide steel at relatively high hardness. The carbides formed by many of the high grade stainless steels are what really make 'em take a while to grind down; not necessarily the Rockwell hardness. I don't have a direct comparison at hand, but I'd be inclined to think L6 at 60 Rc would still be quicker to sharpen than 440C at 56. And since L6 is much tougher, the edge doesn't have to be as thick for the same durability, and is less likely to take serious damage in the first place.

    The biggest problem I have with softer steels, especially the common cheap stainless steels, is their strong tendency to form a nasty floppy burr that's hard to remove. Sure, it may be easier to grind them down on a coarse stone, but then I spend twice as long dealing with the burr. Whereas a harder steel forms a crisp edge easier.

    I've used found river rocks for sharpening in the past, and it's a handy thing to know. But I decided it would be good to keep a ready made sharpener in my gear, so I bought one of those cheap diamond plates mounted on a plastic base. I used a heat gun to unglue it from the base, and now I have a stone that weighs like half an ounce, is so thin and flat it takes up no room, and is big enough to do real work on. Some quick googling shows you can buy the plates by themselves now:
  11. neeman

    neeman Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 5, 2007
    Also Queens D2 and Schatt & Morgan's 420HC

    When I hike or travel, I carry a DMT Folding Mini EF ( I used to also carry the fine, but I never used it)
    A couple of swipes after use and I never lose the edge
  12. GreenOwl


    Oct 22, 2013
    Simpler steels and knives have this intangible effect that allows me to successfully imagine that I'm somehow more connected to nature and my inner primitive man. That has to make surviving easier I would think.
  13. SilentSargon


    Mar 10, 2017
    I was thinking about this very subject the other day. What got me thinking about it was an accessory that came with my new water stone. It was a small square stone called a smart pebble that's meant to be used to flatten and level the water stone. That made think. Why not cut a really nice stone into small pieces for my various bags? Cutting it up would certainly help with the size and weight issues, but you'd still have a high quality (if small) stone. I haven't done it yet, but I'm seriously thinking about it.

    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
  14. RedFury

    RedFury KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jun 17, 2015
    Jmarston, your points are well taken. I have never trekked off nor do I intend to but I believe daily life on the farm may see as much blade use and more different uses of the blade than a wilderness trek. Farm life is 24/7 365 days per year so the blade use adds up. I own quite a variety of knives in various steels and the choice of knife is not driven by the steel. It's more about fit and feel and ease of use. However, the favorite knives tend to be 1095. They don't have to shine. They just have to cut. I have a diamond impregnated butcher's steel by The Ultimate Edge here in the kitchen drawer. Whatever I'm using gets a couple of swipes across the steel and that's it. I consider that easy sharpening.
  15. jmarston


    Dec 6, 2010
    My current solution is a DMT Diafold coarse/fine stone. Packable, light and able to use dry. Usually my resharpening in the field is dressing and quartering moose
    . Butchering is done at home with access to my array of sharpening methods. I have not really needed the diafold yet but other DMT products lead me to believe it will be excellent. Light years better than the pull through carbide sharpener my hunting buddy uses. *shudder*

    I think it would be the one I would take on an extended trip to service my knives and axe. Maybe a few other basic tools if I intend on building anything. Diamonds make most anything easy to sharpen it seems. I used to love sitting in front of my stones for an hour each week bringing each knife back to a glistening edge but I simply can't find the time these days withe the new little farm. It certainly has changed my carry. While my slip joint continues to ride in my pocket I always have a Leatherman Wave on me in a very functional aftermarket sheath. It is my scraper, abrasive cutter, stone picker knife and I have really appreciated the ease the 420HC steel is removed with the stone.
  16. mete

    mete Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 10, 2003
    Either use one of the Sandvik steels as is used on the new Mora Garber , easy to sharpen and takes a fine edge or use high tech steel like CPM 3V or CPM S35VN with a diamond and learn to sharpen freehand .For all round use the CPMs with a micro-serrated edge works well for all purpose use.
  17. Pilot1

    Pilot1 Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 24, 2005
    I gravitate to a carbon steel like A2 mostly, but sometimes 1095 for field use. It is durable, but I can work with it in the field if need be. I still use my old Buck 119, 420 HC for hunting, and that DOES need to be re-sharpened after field dressing large game. I just acquired a nice Cold Steel Master Hunter in VG1 San Mai III, so I will be using that as a woods, and hunting knife to see how it works. So far I really like it, and the steel.

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