Sharpening a hunting blade -- how fine of a grit?

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Feb 16, 2010
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When I am sharpening knives to be used for hunting tasks -- gutting, skinning, meat processing -- at what grit level should I stop? A related question is how do you maintain that grit level as the edges need to be retouched? That is, if you are leaving a toothy edge on it, my guess is that you would use something like a butcher's steel rather than stropping with some fine compound.

I've seen a few different opinions out there -- some people seem to prefer a toothy edge, while others say they like a pretty well polished edge for gutting and less polished for skinning. Ultimately, I will experiment and find my preference, but I'd like to hear opinions.

I'd prefer it if you could keep it in terms of stone grits or provide an estimate. The progression of stones that I am using right now if I am starting from scratch on an edge is a Shapton glass 220 followed by Japanese water stones from 500 to 1000 to 3000.

By the way, I am using pretty standard steels such as 1095 and simple stainless steels (no super steels) and I plan to use at least two different blades in this process -- a standard hunting knife like my old timer sharp finger and a boning knife. I may add others to the process like a skinner and/or cimeter if I feel the need, but my guess is that a hunting and boning knife will do me just fine.

Thanks!
 
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For that purpose, and that purpose ONLY, I leave a toothy edge on the knives I sharpen. Meat knives I finish on a fresh 220 grit belt, followed by stropping to remove the burr. I maintain them by stropping with whatever I've got handy until the teeth have all folded and it requires a complete sharpening again. I have not found the toothy edge to last as long as a highly-polished one for my uses, but it does a lot better job with meat than a very high polish.
 
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+1 on the coarse edge. i made a knife for a buddy back in 92 that has skinned 15 deer so far and it has yet to be sharpened. i put a 120 grit edge on before going to the slotted buffing wheel.
 
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Wow that is toothier than I expected. I had already moved to the 500 grit stone on one of my knives -- I was thinking that I would etiher stop there or go to the 1000, or someone would suggest something in between (usually that happens so I end up buying more stones).

Do you strop bare leather or is there compound on there? Is the idea that you smooth out the teeth a little but keep them?
 
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Personally, I power-strop on a leather belt loaded with 1u Boron Carbide. I'm going to be changing that out to 4.5u Cubic Boron Nitride here shortly, I think, and using the 1u as a step-down finer for polished edges.

By and large, stropping does not remove teeth, but it polishes the teeth and the valleys between them. More importantly, it removes the burr as with any edge.
 
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Wow that is toothier than I expected. I had already moved to the 500 grit stone on one of my knives -- I was thinking that I would etiher stop there or go to the 1000, or someone would suggest something in between (usually that happens so I end up buying more stones).

Do you strop bare leather or is there compound on there? Is the idea that you smooth out the teeth a little but keep them?

Keep in mind theres a big difference between using a powered belt and a stone of the same grit value. Also powered finishing methods are going to produce a different edge than manual methods using the same materials. IMHO an 800 - 1000 grit waterstone will make a fairly toothy edge for this sort of work. I'd also recommend stropping with some newspaper as it seems to do a real good job of polishing a toothier edge without smoothing out the irregularities. Do your best to remove all burrs with just the stone. You can also use some newspaper to carefully wipe up the swarf and mud from your waterstone, wrap it around the same stone and strop with that. In that case I'd have a go with the 500 grit, as using an abrasive strop will definitely smooth out the edge some leaving you with a still toothy edge, but nothing like the edge straight off the 500 stone.
 

David Martin

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For a hunting knife (haa, and all my knives) I sharpen them to 320 grit a fine India or a coarse diamond grit as this is the lower level which is enough refinement for me. Plus, I find this lasts a long time. I remove the burr on the final stone and don't strop. After some use should it need a touch up I take it back to that last stone for a few passes. A cutting edge is a personal taste and the level I like may not be fine enough for others. You'll have to determine what suits you. DM
 
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I use a Randall Model 15 as my hunting knife. I sharpen it to 600 grit. I don't want to 'saw' through a deer. I want to slice it. That seems to last through two deer. (One during bow season and one during regular season.) It will also last for about half a bear...

Stitchawl
 
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This is an old thread, but I'd like to see some more input on it.

I like cutting meat with a 500 grit edge, but find that it gums up a bit with fat or membranes, so a finer edge is needed. I keep all my kitchen knives polished razor sharp (50,000 grit or so), and a normal pocket knife I would usually finish out to 8000 grit... (guys always want the knife to shave arm hair!) but am a little unsure about what grit to use with a hunting knife. I don't hunt anymore, so I can't really experiment with it... but I sharpen for others and want to give them the best edge for the job. I'd think you'd want a little sawtooth on it, but not so much that fat will gum it up... maybe I should do an experiment on cutting meat, skin, and fat with different grits. Unless someone else has done so? Everybody does edge retention tests with manila rope. Anybody do a test like that with meat and skin?

There must be a butcher out there with a definite opinion on it...
 
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Most of my customer butcher/hunter knives get a 3k-5k finish. When it comes in for sharpening next I ask them about how the liked it and adjust accordingly.

If they want to get spendy I can go to naturals. Much more expensive for them , and I don't really like using them on 90% of knives. But a good Nakado stone will leave a great mid grit finish that still has enough "toothiness" for a butcher , without getting clogged up as you put it.
 
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I came across a chef's website, and he generally recommends 4000 grit as the best compromise between sharpness and durability. That's right in line with your recommendation of 3k-5k, Sadden.
 

Ben Dover

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I also like to slice, not saw. I've had truly excellent results on deer, elk and moose with knives polished to 8K or even 15K.
 
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I use an Edge Pro instead of Japanese water stones, so I don't know how the grit designations relate to each other. I take my hunting knives to 400 or 600 grit on the Edge Pro stones, which is 17µ or 10µ, respectively. Strop on cardboard back of a notepad and I'm good to go!
 
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