Blast From The Past: Sharpening Secrets from Popular Science in 1977

Nowadays, with all manner of sharpening devices at my disposal, it has been a long time since I have even picked up a traditional whetstone. Between my belt-based sharpeners, my Sharpmaker, and my strops, things are pretty well covered. Still, its good to take a trip down memory lane. Thanks to, excerpts from a 1977 article in Popular Science on sharpening are available online. When I come across articles like this, it reminds me of when I was first learning as a Boy Scout how to maintain my knives, and upon reading we can see that nothing has really changed. Check this out…

From “Sharpening Secrets of a Pro”:

Considering how long people have been using sharpened edges, you’d think we’d know a lot about them. But most people – even professionals in the field – don’t. I’ve seen men who have been sharpening knives for half a century and still have little idea of what they’re doing. We’re found that the largest meatpacking companies in the world don’t know what to tell new employees when it comes to sharpening.

This couldn’t be more true, especially today. Outside of us knife fanatics, the average person you meet has no idea what is going on when they sharpen their knives… if they even can sharpen their knives!

That said, even I found some things in the article that were new to me. For instance, when I was first learning, we were all taught to sharpen using oil on the stone. Turns out, that may actually do more harm than good.

Before I get down to the secrets of sharpening, let me tell you some of the things we’ve learned that aren’t true. ..

…I’d like to puncture the biggest myth going – and I can hear the howls already. But we’ve learned the hard way. You’re better off with a dry hone. I don’t care what every sharpening book in the world says. You can save that oil and use it in your crankcase. The basic problem with using oil for sharpening is that as you sharpen, grit from the hone and steel particles from the blade become suspended in the oil and form slurry. The very fine edge you’re putting on the blade actually runs into the particles of hone suspended in the oil. It’s as though you were trying to sharpen your blade by running it through a sand pile.

Who knew? Certainly makes sense though.

Read the whole thing. Its pretty good.


  1. simonVicAustralia says:

    Even on blade forums it is amazing that people don’t under stand the difference in types of edge available. There is a reason the barber strops while the butcher uses a steel.
    This is a good read:

  2. Sam L. says:

    I recall seeing ads for Juranitch’s book on sharpening, with a picture of a bearded man shaving it with an axe, in American Blade.

  3. Peter says:

    If using oil is wrong, wouldn’t the same reasoning apply to using water? And if using water is equally wrong, what are the Japanese doing with their wet stones and sharpening technique?

    When I bought a set of diamond “stones” the manufacturer recommended using a bit of water.

  4. cmeat says:

    ely has been my put in for quetico trips for forty years; i never knew they were there. what’s with that “mousetrap” sharpener, is it a carbide gizmo?
    conventional thought was that oiling stones floated the slurry to prevent the pores from clogging. about a year ago i scrubbed my hones with hot water after watching a japanese stone video on ttak. it makes sense.
    i enjoyed the multi angle explanation.

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Blast From The Past: Sharpening Secrets from Popular Science in 1977

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