Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker

Quality Without Compromise

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Knife Maker's Mark for Jay Fisher Knives
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"Izanami" 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Nickel Magnesite gemstone handle, Rayskin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath

Care of your fine handmade or custom knife

Modern knife care with renaissance wax, simichrome, and soft cotton for gemstone and hardwood handles and high chromium and high molybdenum stainless steel blades

"Altair" obverse side view: CPM154CM stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Pietersite gemstone handle, Frog skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
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Modern handmade knives and their care

This is actually a popular page on my site. You might be surprised how many knife makers, dealers, purveyors, or factory knife outlets on the internet do not include simple instructions on how to care for your custom knife, or any knife for that matter. Some people think that when the knife sale is over, the transaction is complete. I think about it differently. After the sale is when the knife goes into the field, into the hands of the user, and that it when it has to prove its worth and maintain its value.

A fine knife is like any investment in a tool; you have to do some simple things to care for it. Unlike silverware, which may sit in a drawer for years without the slightest care, a custom knife is a finely made tool with an organic component (the carbon in the steel), and can deteriorate if not cared for. The simplest comparison would be to a fine custom-made firearm of blued steel. You must keep it clean, dry, stored with access to dry air, avoid sudden changes in moisture, shock, corrosive environments, and residual contact left by handling.

The use of a knife is also an important factor. A knife is not a pry bar, not a screwdriver, not a shovel, or an axe. Please read these instructions below for a clear, concise description of knife care.

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"Xiphias" (the Swordfish) 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Brecciated Jasper gemstone handle, black rayskin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
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Knife Care Points

Your Jay Fisher knife has been constructed with the finest materials available. It is, however, a tool, and though some fine knives will never cut anything but gasps of admiration, all knives deserve proper care. My knives are built to last for several generations, with sheaths that should last at least one generation with moderate care. There’s no reason your knife can’t outlive you, unless you’re a relentless cutting maniac! Some important points:

  • The weakest part of any knife is usually the tip, which happens to be the most abused part! Take care of the point, and the rest of the blade will follow.
  • Never throw knives, unless specifically designed for that use. I don't make throwing knives.
  • Never use knives to pry, dig, or chop. Get a pry bar, shovel, or axe instead.
  • Do not leave knives and sheaths in direct sun or high heat. Ultraviolet light oxidizes woods and bleaches the color out of some gemstone. Heat bakes the protective oils out of most hardwoods and weakens adhesive bonds. Prolonged exposure to the sun and heat can also destroy knife sheaths.
  • To clean, hand wash blades when necessary with non-abrasive gentle detergent, rinse well and dry.
  • Clean handles and sheaths with damp cloth and buff with soft dry cloth. A light coat of Renaissance Wax can bring back luster. Do not over-wax. A very small amount goes a long way.
  • Do not use any kind of oil on the sheaths; this will cause them to soften, weakening their protective function, softening glues, sealants, and dyes.
  • Never oil any knife! This is an old practice from the 19th century. Even if a sheath is wood, don't use oil. Oil attracts dust and small abrasive particles. These particles will end up in the sheath, no matter what the sheath is made of, and will scratch the blade. Wax will remain slick and resist dirt, sand, and abrasive particles. More about waxes vs. oil at this link.
  • Protect carbon steel and stainless steel knives with a light coating of hand-buffed wax, not oil. Oil attracts dust as well as weakens the sheath. Renaissance® wax is the best!
  • Some carbon steel knife blades are blued (related topic). Nitrate bluing is a very thin patina that can eventually wear away, leaving a gray metal finish. Sodium (gun) bluing is black, more penetrating, but can also eventually wear away. These are hot blues; used to temper, lightly protect, or cosmetically enhance the blades. They are rust inhibitors, not rust preventatives. Keep clean and dry, wax as above.
  • Chemical etching is used in the maker’s mark on my mirror finished blades and for cosmetic enhancement. If you live long enough to polish away the etching without the help of power equipment, you won’t have any fingertips left!
  • Wood handles usually benefit from a light coating of furniture wax or Renaissance® wax and a good hand rubbing.
  • Brass and Nickel Silver fittings can be hand-polished with Simichrome® and lightly waxed for protection. It is normal for some scuffing to show on the front bolster or guard, this is where the sheath holds the knife (related topic). Polish brass often, coat with wax.
  • For very long term storage, store your knife with the sheath, not in it! The chemicals used in tanning of leather sometimes react with moisture in the air, leading to corroding of even stainless steels! Condensation even within military grade kydex sheaths can invite corrosion. If you can't keep the knife in the open, dry air, store with photographic quality desiccant in a plastic bag apart from sheath.
  • Keep knives sharp. Most accidents occur when dull knives are pushed too hard. For sharpening: The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening, by John Juranitch (Warner books 38-002) or go to Knife Sharpening (related topic).

Thanks for caring for your knife!

It is interesting to note that if you have one of my knives that has a stainless steel mirror polished blade, with 304 stainless bolsters/fittings and a gemstone handle, the most ambitious care requires only an occasional dusting and waxing. Most gemstones will outlast the blades!

"It gives me great (if somewhat apprehensive) satisfaction that ninety percent of the pieces I make will still be admired centuries after my bones are dust."

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"Procyon" liner lock folding knife, obverse side view,in hand-engraved ATS-34 high molybdenum stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, anodized 6AL4V titanium liners and lockplate, Pounamu New Zealand Greenstone Nephrite Jade gemstone handle, case of Granite, Quartz Terrazzo composite
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Special Polishes: Simichrome®, Flitz®, and other metal polishes

Polishes for metal are not protectants, though they often contain protective elements. Don't confuse polishes with waxes, they are starkly different! Polishes usually contain extremely fine abrasives such as aluminum oxide and iron oxide. These particles, though very small, actually abrade the surface of the metal, though lightly. These polishes also contain metal oxidizers and acids, which chemically break down the surface of the metal to accelerate the abrasive process by etching the metal chemically. Some steels, like blued steel, can be ruined by repeated uses of these harsh metal polishes. Some metals, like brass and nickel silver, will benefit greatly from the etching and abrasive action of these polishes, which can leave a bright, beautiful finish.

This is why it is very important that you know what you are using to protect your knife, components, and fittings. Waxes typically contain only non-abrasive mediums, and do not abrade, cut, etch, or chemically react with the surfaces of metals.

So how do you know what to use, when to use it, and where to use it? The table below should give you a good idea. Notes on the table:

  • Stainless Steels: Blades: 440C, ATS-34, CPMS30V, CPMS90V, CPM154CM, CPMS35VN, CTS-XHP, D2. In fittings: 304, 302 stainless steel.
  • Non-Stainless Steels: Blades: O-1, A2, damascus carbon steel. In fittings: mild steel, low carbon steel, damascus carbon steel
  • Other fitting metals: Brass, Nickel Silver, Mokume Gane (diffusion welded similar metals), Copper, Titanium.
  • Finishes: I've only listed the finishes I typically provide: mirror, satin, or media (bead) blasted.
  • Treated: Etching, Plating, Bluing: this column refers to the surface of the metal, whether etched with text or designs, electroplated, electroformed, or patinaed with a surface treatment. This includes passive oxidation (bluing) in either the sodium based process (black bluing) or the nitrate based process (peacock in cobalt, vermillion, or straw colors). The surface may also be electroplated or electroformed with gold, nickel, copper or other metals.
  • Condition: Excellent to good means completely blemish free to light clouding, fingerprints, or scuffing. Fair to poor includes heavy scuffing, scratches or signs of discoloration or rust.
  • Care: Cleaning: You'll see the word clean in the Care column. This is done only to remove dirt and debris, as well as used polishing compound. This means washing with a mild detergent and water, lightly scrubbing with an old, soft toothbrush, then rinsing clean and drying. This will remove dirt and debris before waxing to protect the metal. You'll see it listed after polishing; this is done to remove the acids and compounds left behind by the polish
  • Care: Wax and Polish: In the Care column, wax only means only Renaissance Wax® or BriWax®. Polish means only Simichrome® or Flitz®. Other waxes and polishes are not listed, because I don't use them, and since they vary greatly in their composition, abrasive potential, and chemical make-up, you shouldn't use them either. Other polishes may have the abrasiveness of rubbing compound (abrasive iron oxide) or even lapping compound (abrasive and scouring silicon carbide). Don't use them, they can scratch and ruin your knife and fittings!
Material Finish Etching, Plating, Bluing Condition Care
Stainless Steel Mirror or Satin None Excellent to Good Clean, then Wax only
Stainless Steel Mirror or Satin None Fair to Poor Clean, then Simichrome®, clean, then Wax
Stainless Steel Mirror or Satin Treated Any Clean, then Wax only
Stainless Steel Media (Bead) Blasted None Excellent to Good Clean, then Wax only
Stainless Steel Media (Bead) Blasted None Fair to Poor Clean, then Simichrome®, clean, then Wax
Stainless Steel Media (Bead) Blasted Treated Excellent to Good Clean, then Wax only
Stainless Steel Media (Bead) Blasted Treated Fair to Poor Clean, then Wax only
Non-Stainless Steel Mirror, Satin, or Media (Bead) Blasted None Excellent to Good Clean, then Wax only
Non-Stainless Steel Mirror, Satin, or Media (Bead) Blasted None Fair to Poor Clean, then Simichrome®, clean, then Wax
Non-Stainless Steel Mirror, Satin, or Media (Bead) Blasted Treated Any Clean, then Wax only
Other Fitting Metals Mirror or Satin None Any Clean, then Simichrome®, clean, then Wax
Other Fitting Metals Media (Bead) Blasted None Any Clean, then Wax only
Other Fitting Metals Any Treated Any Clean, then Wax only

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"Flamesteed" obverse side view in mirror finished, hot blued O1 high carbon tungsten-vanadium tool steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Bird's Eye Rhyolite gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-dyed leather sheath
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The number one complaint

My number one complaint is that the client has stored his knife in the sheath, or forgotten that he's left it in the sheath (sometimes for months or years) and that there are little spots of rust starting to form. I can't say this enough: don't store knives in sheaths! Incidentally, what do you think would happen if you stored a blued firearm in its leather holster for years, and never looked at it? Sure, you want to keep it with the sheath, and carry it in the sheath, but long term storage in the knife sheath is probably the most destructive thing you can do to your fine custom knife.

Please remember that stainless tool steels can corrode. These are not low carbon steels used in mass-produced and mass-manufactured kitchen knives, and they are not completely rust-free austenitic steels used in flatware; these are fine, high carbon, high alloy martensitic stainless tool steels, and as such, are more resistant to corrosion than non-stainless, but can still corrode because of the high carbon content. I have posted this on my care sheet that I give out with every knife (and has been available on this website since the beginning in standard and military form).

It makes no difference whether the sheath is leather or kydex and aluminum, whether the air is as humid as Florida or as dry as Nevada. The knife blade needs to breathe (have access to dry air) and stay dry. When humidity and temperature changes in the normal course of the day or seasons, condensation can form on any steel and in any sheath. If the steel is allowed access to free air, it can stay relatively dry, and corrosion can not gain a foothold. But if the knife is stored in the sheath, and even atmospheric moisture is allowed to stay against the blade, the blade will start to rust.

On a mirror polished blade, this can be ruinous, and if the knife has been custom etched, the only recourse is to grind off all the etching and corrosion, regrind and refinish the blade (including polish) and re-etch, which is very expensive and time consuming and may not even be possible. Even if the knife is coated heavily with wax, long-term storage in the sheath will encourage corrosion. Please don't do it! Please read the related topic on my FAQ page.

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"Trifid" reverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Brecciated Jasper gemstone handle, Ostrich leg skin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
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What about scratches on the blades and fittings?

In use, it's normal to encounter small scratches, scuffing, and marks on the surface of a mirror polished blade, as well as media blasted or flat finished blades and fittings. Just inserting the knife into the sheath repeatedly will cause scuffing or burnishing of the surface, and this can be seen, particularly on mirror polished surfaces. The higher the polish, the more this wear pattern or scratches, in general, can be seen. The human eye can detect minute differences in a polish, and the pattern or scratch may seem much deeper than it actually is, but it's noticeable.

A lot of makers hand-sand or hand-rub their knives along the length of the blade so that these small abrasions will not be noticeable. They figure that the direction of the scratches will be in this pattern, so they help the owner along by "pre-scratching" the blade and leaving it in an unfinished state, and this also saves them a lot of laborious handwork, as they don't actually have to finish the blade surface, and any errors will be unnoticeable. When a maker graduates to a mirror polish, his work, by necessity, becomes much more detailed, much more difficult, as any irregularities in the surface will be amplified when contrasted with the monolithic and uniform mirrored surface. A mirror polish is a sophisticated and refined finish, definitely not for the casual maker of any handmade product.

The benefits of a mirror polish are tremendous, and I detail this on this section on my "Blades" page. Simply put, the mirror polish is the highest form of finish for all metals, and the most valued through history. So keeping that mirror polish is important to the knife owner, and certainly helps the long-term value of the knife overall. Some distinctions of individual knife use and care must be made.

  • If a knife is to be an investment vehicle or collection piece, care needs to be taken to keep the mirror polish as intact as possible. Knives I build that are on display stands, in cases, and in collections should be kept clean and dry, on padded surfaces if possible, and out of damaging exposures like direct sun, drafts, or radical temperature or humidity changes. These collector items are like any other collection, cared for with pride. The nice thing is that most of my knives are high alloy stainless steels and do not require oiling or coddling, but an occasional waxing is all that is necessary to keep them pristine.
  • If a knife is to be used, there is simply no way to keep any blade surface pristine, and normal scuffing and marks will eventually appear; this is the nature of use. The only way a steel could be made non-scratch is if it is harder than anything it ever contacts. On the surface (pun intended), this seems simple enough; don't use the knife to try to cut harder objects, don't use the knife in any abrasive environment. In reality, this is much more difficult, as the simple exposure to one grain of sand (silicon dioxide or quartz), or just a trace of any type of abrasive particle (silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, garnet, tin oxide, or many of the other abrasives) can and will impart tiny scratches into the steel. You might think that these particles are rare in our world but I'll assure you that every piece of furniture, every bit of metal, every home, every open field, lawn, or patch of dirt has these particles in abundance! Sand is everywhere, and so are the sophisticated abrasives that our culture uses to finish every item. If you use the knife at all, it will become scuffed at the least, and openly scratched at the most. Most people who use knives know this, and over the years (or decades) the blade assumes a uniform, warm, and even wash of use that does not diminish its working value. Here's a section on my Chef's Knives page that details what a mirror polished knife looks like after decades of use (and abuse!). By the way, these small scratches and abrasions do not hinder cleaning, and the blade featured is still cleaned with a simple rinse!
  • In sharpening, an error might impart a scratch into the surface of the steel. If the blade is laid down too low on the stone, or dragged off of the corner or edge of the stone, it will scratch the surface, and this is generally irreparable. The abrasives used to sharpen the knife are specifically made to abrade the steel, and they are usually ultra-hard ridged steel rods, ceramic abrasive rods, or stones of silicon carbide, aluminum oxide, rock, or diamond. While it may seem that a simple overplay of the buffing wheel will erase a scratch, any knifemaker who mirror polishes will assure you that extensive grinding will be necessary on significant scratches. An abrasion by the sharpener can not easily be removed, and I don't attempt this for several reasons:
    • The main reason is that polishing a finished, sharpened blade is highly dangerous. The power buffer is the most dangerous machine in the knifemaker's studio, and trying to polish a knife with a sharpened cutting edge is out of the question. The buffer can grab and catch on any surface it encounters, and has a propensity to grab a sharp edge or corner of the object, instantly pulling it from your hand, and sending it at over 100 miles an hour toward the operator! This has killed several knifemakers and severely injured others. There is no reason to take this chance. Of course, when I make a blade, I polish it long before there is a cutting edge applied to diminish or prevent these accidents. One could, I suppose, completely grind the edge off of a finished knife, but this will drastically change the geometry of the blade, making it markedly smaller, and on a thin blade, may not even be possible.
    • Another reason is the change of geometry itself. If a scratch by sharpening is deep or if it's at the grind line (between the flat and the hollow grinds), a great deal of metal must be removed to bring the grind lines back into pristine condition, and, by necessity, must be removed from both sides of the blade so the grind lines match. This will drastically alter the geometry of the knife. Most of my knives have very thin grinds anyway, and it is likely that this will not even be possible, making the blades too thin.
    • Regrinding means starting with a grit that is the same size as the grit that caused the scratch and working forward. For example, if the sharpening stone or device has a 200 grit surface (most are coarser!), the grind would have to be started with a 200 grit abrasive belt or disc, and worked through the steps (280, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1200, and 2000) before it could be polished. This will remove a tremendous amount of material and drastically change the geometry of the blade. On thin knives, this is simply not possible as it will literally grind through the blade!

When asked to work on knives I've previously made, I have to be clear that refinishing or repairing knives is not something that I can do, and I hope that this section details the important reasons why. I write about refinishing extensively on my Business of Knifemaking page at this bookmark. The cost of refinishing, the danger involved, the unlikelihood of acceptable results, and the five year backlog I have of other orders means that this is just not something I can do.

What to do:

If the blade has light scuffing, there really is only one thing to try. Place the blade on a firm, non-scratch surface, and use a specific metal polish (Simichrome® is the best) to hand buff it with a soft cotton cloth. Make sure the cutting edge is as flat as possible in contact with the surface (hard wood covered by thick leather is the best), so that your fingertips can not come in contact with the cutting edge! Try hand-buffing the surface. The cotton with the Simichrome will become black; this is the metal being oxidized and abraded away by the fine polish. Don't expect too much with this method, Simichrome is a very light polish, with extremely fine aluminum oxide and iron oxide, and works chemically to react with the surface with ammonium oleate, an acidic salt that dissolves the surface on a microscopic scale. It won't do much, but it may be enough to remove a light fog of scuffing.

Do not use any rubbing compound, or any abrasive polishing compounds. The reason is that these are extremely abrasive, and will totally ruin a mirror polished surface. These are usually sold in the automotive department of stores and are made for cleaning up heavy corrosion. They have relatively coarse grit iron oxide and aluminum oxide, some have hard ceramics, and the blade will be left in a foggy, scratched surface, much more noticeable than the scratch. Also, corrosion resistance will be affected, as a roughened surface is much more likely to corrode than a highly polished surface, as detailed on my Blades page at this bookmark on finishes. While a rubbing compound may be fine to remove heavy rust on a steel vehicle part, it is far too abrasive for a polished tool steel surface. Good grief, some of these compounds are used to grind hardened engine valve seats!

If the blade has heavy scratching that can't be removed by the Simichrome, or (heaven forbid) you can actually feel the scratch with your fingernail, I'm sorry, but there's not a lot you can do. The blade would have to be reground, which, as I detailed above, is probably not possible.

For some knife users, the patina and surface of a well-used knife develops a character of its own; it's not a safe queen or a protected work that simply collects dust; it's a working tool that wears the charm of use like an old face. It attests to its value in the action of cutting, and while the first scratch or two is hard to take, like a new vehicle, after a while it becomes the dependable tool that you're not afraid to take out of the garage. For me, that's the ultimate honor; to have the knives used, worn, resharpened, and used again, and depended on to perform. That's why I've conveniently put handles and cutting edges on each and every one!

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United States Air Force Pararescue "Paraeagle" after 15 years of use:
USAF Pararescue "Paraeagle" obverse side view in hot blued O1 high carbon tungsten-vanadium tool steel blade, maroon Micarta phenolic handle, nickel silver pins, tension sheath in kydex, aluminum, nickel plated steel
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You can sharpen your knife. Sharpening the knife is one of the most critical operations a knife owner is expected to perform. There are some important things to understand in the world of fine and custom handmade knives that can help tremendously with sharpening the blade.

  • First, it may help to know that every knife dulls. There is no such thing as a blade that does not dull, unless it's a blade that is never used. No matter how hard the steel is, no matter what the alloy, no matter how it is used, eventually it will dull. Humanity makes no knife that never, ever dulls.  All knives dull because they have thin cutting edges, and force and abrasion are applied directly to that edge in many hundreds or perhaps thousands of pounds per square inch. Even the hardest material we know of, diamond, will wear down at an edge. Knowing this, it's clear that if you use your knife, you will have to sharpen it. Clearly, you can dismiss any claims by any maker or manufacturer of knives that they never need sharpening.
  • High alloy, stainless, hypereutectoid steels hold better edges at a high hardness than most other steels commonly used for knife blades. If you have one of mine, you've got a very good start on holding the edge for a longer time than any medium, low carbon, hypoeutectoid, or lower alloy steel. If your knife made by me is cryogenically hardened and treated, it is in the best condition the steel can possibly be, holding an edge for as long as possible. Even though the hardest and most wear resistant steels will wear, it's an extremely good start to have one of my knives.
  • Sharpening is not complicated! While the constant drive to sell sharpening products, devices, equipment, and methods can be confusing, please know that sharpening a simple hand knife is, well, simple. All you have to understand is the idea of an acute angle. What these angles are and how to apply them to a cutting edge is not complicated; it's extremely simple. Understand that companies selling equipment to sharpen knives are making money by complicating the process, suggesting that you purchase their product to make sharpening simpler and somehow better. This is not the case; they are simply selling their product.
  • There is a classic, clear, and simple method to sharpen knives available in print, and it takes about a half of an hour to understand. Once you read it, you'll know exactly how to sharpen every knife you may have, and you'll probably be eager to do it. While you may read or see that the method is "dated," "old," "folksy," or described by other terms, know that the guy who wrote this simple text was a sharpening consultant to industry, including the meat packing and textile industry for 40 years. I know of no current professional who has had such experience in the field, and many years ago, he wrote a clear and simple text. You need to get this book and read it. It's The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening by John Juranitch (ISBN-10: 096660590X), (ISBN-13: 978-0966605907). You can find it on Amazon and many other online sources; just plug the title or numbers into any search engine. It's about $20.00 and it will be worth every penny. Once you have it, you'll have a simple, clear understanding of how to sharpen your knife. If I thought I could improve on this method, I would, but even in the most modern technology cutting edges, there is nothing that is as clear and simple as John Juranitch's method for the knife owner and user.
  • You need a good stone. I use the word stone, but know that I'm talking about a whetstone, a sharpener, bench stone, and a hone. If you have one of my knives, I will suggest the investment of a diamond abrasive stone. These are steel or plastic-bodied blocks, with nickel plating adhering industrially grown diamond particles on the surface. The best of these are made by DMT (Diamond Machining Technology). The diamond stone is expensive, but it will probably be the last stone in any particular grit that you will ever buy. It will not cup, wear down, or clog. It does not require water, oil or any liquid. It's durable, solid, and wide enough to assure that your blade will not become wavy, which happens with point contact sharpeners like rods, steels, tubes, shafts, or cutters. Sharpening by hand will make sure the blade is never microscopically heated at the cutting edge, something all motor-driven edge grinders do, no matter how much water is used, and no matter what the company selling these sharpeners claim.
  • Two grits are necessary for complete sharpening, and only one grit is required for simply sharpening an existing edge without relieving. A very coarse grit is used to establish the relief, and a fine grit to apply the cutting edge. I usually recommend DMT's "Extra-Extra Coarse" (120 micron or 120 mesh) for the relief, and DMT's "Fine" (25 micron, 600 mesh) for the cutting edge. You'll understand more once you read Juranitch's book, and may wish to purchase other grits for your specific desires. The only difference and change to Juranitch's method is the development of diamond abrasive technology, which was not widely available at the time he wrote the book.

Knife makers, distributors, hobbyist makers, and enthusiasts can get very complicated about cutting edges. They suggest ridiculous complexity, paper wheel abrasives, motor-driven polishers, complicated angle-establishing jigs, holders, and guides. You don't need any of these. As a knife client, you deserve to know the clearest, simplest, most reliable and proven method to sharpen your knife, and it's been established many, many years ago. Do you honestly think that we have improved on a method that industry uses to dispatch thousands of miles of cloth, material, and textiles? Do you think that packing plants have some complicated and lengthy process to separate billions of pounds of meat from bones? Meet the clearest method and the guy who advised them in a classic, reasonable process that anyone can understand. Get the book, read it, practice on some of your older, cheaper knives, and be amazed by what you can do!

I have no relationship whatever to Juranitch's book, his family, or endorsement of any kind, just like I have nothing to gain by recommending DMT for diamond sharpening stones. These are the methods I use, they work, and I simply suggest them because my clients deserve a reasonable, reliable, and simple method to sharpen and maintain their knife's cutting edge.

Note on serrations: If you have to sharpen serrations on your blade, I've included a simple system to sharpen the serrations I make on my knives on a special section about sharpening serrations on my "Serrations" page.

More about sharpening on my "Blades" page at this bookmark.

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"Yarden" point view in CPMS30V powder metal technology high vanadium tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel guard and pommel, Sambar Stag handle, hand-stamped heavy leather sheath
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Sharpening and cutting edge types;
Refinement of sharpening by the knife owner

Typically, I advise clients, makers and knife enthusiasts to get and acquire John Juranitch's book on sharpening, because the information presented there constitutes the majority of the details needed to establish, maintain, and preserve an effective cutting edge on the modern knife. For most people, this is enough information. However, I'm not so rigid and dated as to believe that it constitutes the absolute complete set of details about the cutting edge, and in this section, I'm going to dive into some of the limitations of his text, his process, and how these apply to modern cutting edges.

You might think that cutting edges of knives have not developed in the last 20 or 30 years, but just like everything else in our world of knives, they have. Some of these developments are so substantial that they have an effect on cutting itself and its interaction with the material being cut. I'll detail these one by one below, but first some history.

In my early years, I used to sharpen my knives to their absolute pinnacle, at least that described by Juranitch in his text. When using his technique, this means creating a very smooth, slick cutting edge. He recommends a testing stick which is hard plastic that is dragged, pushed, angled, and pulled across the blade, the stick magnifying every tiny microscopic irregularity in the blade. I accented the word irregularity because using this technique, the slightest little uneven area will be felt, as the stick bumps and hangs up at these irregular points. In theory, this is sound practice, particularly if a knife is made for and used to cut meat. Please remember that the mainstay of Juranitch's method was for butchers and meat packing plants, with secondary emphasis on textiles and cloth cutting. If a knife is sharpened and brought to its highest finish at the edge, some issues do occur, mainly, the appearance and feel of a slick or smooth cutting edge. When I supplied these edges to clients, particularly military and professional tactical knife users, they would complain that though the edge was extremely sharp, it lacked tooth, or the ability for the edge to grab particular materials to cut them. I had to back off on my sharpening regime, to only finish a blade to about 220 or 320 grit to satisfy what they requested. This brings me to the first development about sharpening technique and the cutting edge:

  1. Every knife client, every knife user, every person who uses or owns a knife prefers his own kind of cutting edge. This goes hand in hand with every knife is different and makes sense when you consider the variety of knife uses, applications, and designs. For goodness sake, I have over 450 different knife patterns now, and knives vary in handle shape, bolsters and fittings, steels and finishes, and sheaths and accessories. Why wouldn't there be variations in the actual cutting edges? I have some blades with abrupt and thick edges, some with razor keen concave profile edges, and a great number of variations of serrations. Sometimes, these occur on the same knife blade! It then makes sense that there are variations in the cutting edge itself. Luckily, the fine details of a specific cutting edge can be applied by the knife owner; this is the only mechanical adjustment and action that the owner of a knife typically performs. If the edge is not his own when he receives the knife, he will, by necessity, make it his own the first time he sharpens it.
  2. The material that the knife will cut will dictate the particular type of cutting edge needed. What? You're probably wondering why I recommend a very specific process for sharpening and then claim that it can vary! You are right. While the Juranitch method is a great starting point, there are (as with all things) some limitations to the process and application. While the majority of items and materials to be cut will be adequately handled with his sharpening method, some flatly will not. Plastics are a great example. In Juranitch's time, there wasn't a lot of plastics being cut with hand knives. There was meat, flesh, hair, cloth, textiles and wood, but plastics and hard manmade materials were not often found on the cutting chore list of hand knives. Some of the harder nylons, ultra high molecular weight plastics, cross linked polyesters, and thermoset epoxies didn't even exist in his time. Not to mention  that these are often reinforced with Kevlar, fiberglass, or  carbon fiber! These were not something that were regular materials to the knife blade in the 1960-1990 era, and they are common today. Plastics are a special case, and if you are going to be cutting them, the blade needs to bite into them aggressively, or the cutting edge will just slide along the surface. Juranitch even recommends a testing stick of hard PVC and notes that the knife should bite in at an angle but slide along the surface in a push-pull test of a fine edge! This is an obvious contradiction that I've never previously discussed, but bears mentioning, since no universal sharpening process is applicable in all materials. In my upcoming book I'm diving into this in greater detail (you're probably wondering how more detail is even possible), and I assure you that there is a lot more to the cutting edge than most people, knife enthusiasts, knife users, knife manufacturers, and knife makers even realize!
  3. The blade shape and geometry dictate the cutting edge. This is a little harder for most people to understand, but if you're reading this I'm certain that you're not most people. Knives have great variations in not just pattern and style, but in geometry and shape of the actual cutting edge. After all, this is why we have variations in blades. Some are thick and have a higher sharpening angle (all need to fall into the 25 degree maximum angle that Juranitch describes) and some are thin and have incredibly low and acute angles. Some edge shapes are convex, some are concave, often along the same blade edge! Think of a khukri or recurve style of blade with belly and concavity at the recurve. Some are straight. Even in those, a tanto point might have a thicker point area with a higher angle in front of the dividing line (yokote). A cutting edge on a fine handmade knife might well have a variation of thickness along its length, and is made that way on purpose! See this section on the Blades page to detail what I mean and why this is advantageous. There are variations of the regularity of the cutting edge that are developed into micro serrations, and even mega serrations like line cutters and gut hooks. Some knives even incorporate chisels! These are all different types of cutting edges, and in advanced knives, they are expected. In Juranitch's time and in his text, none of these are considered, mainly due to their complexity, and that knives simply didn't have a lot of these features. While his standard method is a great starting point, slight manipulation of the sharpening angle, sharpening grit, and even the angle of abrasion (how the knife is dragged across the stone) has bearing on the type of cutting edge developed.
  4. The knife blade steel type has a great bearing on the kind of cutting edge. When I started making knives, we were somewhat limited by the steel types, their treatment, their finish, their application and use. Now, we have tremendous high alloy hypereutectoid steels that are extreme performers in their class. New ones are being developed all the time. I don't go into this in great detail on the site, but there are variations in the steel cutting edge from alloy to alloy. I'll save the detailed stuff from my book but know this: on a microscopic level, if you are a savvy and tactilely sensitive person, you can feel the difference between the cutting edge of an O1 tungsten-vanadium alloy steel and a CPM154CM powder metal technology tool steel blades. Both are high alloy, both are hypereutectoid high carbon tool steels, but they have distinctly different characters, and cut differently. Again, another detailed discussion for my book, but Juranitch's method is a great starting point.
  5. The hardness of the steel has an effect on the cutting edge. A harder steel will hold an edge longer, and less sharpening will mean less chance of variation in the cutting edge, particularly in the relief. This is well-known in knifemaking as the knife owner typically raises the spine and increases the angle of the relief every time he sharpens, effectively dulling the cutting edge due to a less acute angle. This happens because the knife owner is usually not determined to spend an hour on properly relieving a knife blade, and the hand naturally accommodates by seeking a less laborious  effort. Softer steels simply sharpen easier due to this effect; more in my book.
  6. The blade steel treatment by the knifemaker has a profound effect on the microscopic cutting edge. Knife blades can be treated in conventional  heat treatment, sub-zero treatment, shallow cryogenic treatment, or deep cryogenic treatment, and all of these will result in variations of the cutting edge; this is ultimately why they are done. I'll save the details for the book, but just to tease you, consider this: there is a proven and remarkable change in the asperity of the knife blade steel in cryogenic treatment. This is an improvement and refinement of the carbide structure that only happens in sophisticated cryogenic treatment. It has a noticeable effect on the surface of the microscopic cutting edge, and it can actually be felt while cutting, if you're sensitive enough.. A coarser-toothed sharpening regime may perform better in cryogenically treated steels, particularly if the blade is expected to cut slick, hard, plastics or abrasion-resistant materials.

I recommend a starting point, and the Juranitch method is the best I've found. No universal sharpening process is applicable in all materials. In my upcoming book I'm diving into this in greater detail (you're probably wondering how more detail is even possible), and I assure you that there is a lot more to the cutting edge than most people, knife enthusiasts, knife users, knife manufacturers, and knife makers even realize!

Thanks to Bill S. for inspiring me to write this section in his search for his perfect cutting edge!

"Hooded Warror" obverse side view in 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Amboyna burl hardwood handle, hand-tooled,  hand-dyed leather sheath
More about this Hooded Warrior

What about powered sharpeners and systems?

For as long as man has been alive, he's needed to sharpen his cutting edges. I suppose, in the stone age, a dull piece of flint was taken to the tribe's most skilled knapper to do his magic, and refine an edge. I'm sure he had to explain to the user that he would have to chip away some of the rock to make it sharp again, and it wouldn't look the same. But when it was finished, the blade owner was happy, and the mystical wisdom of blade sharpening would be a coveted and magical talent carried down through the generations, like cooking meat.

This mystery of sharpening and the need for a sharp blade is a never-ending quest. Every single blade needs sharpened eventually, and there are individuals and businesses who thrive on and make profit from the sharpening need. Just like new mouse traps, new sharpeners are developed every day, and because the value of knives continues to climb, so must the value of the sharpeners, right? Now we bring electricity into the mix, with drive wheels, discs, and pads, to make easy this completely unknown and unobtainable result of a razor sharp blade. Don't do it, don't fall for it, just don't!

Any power-driven sharpener is a bad investment, a bad choice, and a bad result will be experienced with these units. Sorry, you probably didn't want to hear this, but it's time a real knife professional spoke up and told some simple truths about these units, since everybody and his brother are getting on the power train, and these power tools are literally flying out of the People's Republic of China at unbounded volume. What are they, why are they popular, how do they work, and why are they actually detrimental to knife blades?

The problem is this: every kitchen has cheap, crappy knives. These are foreign made junk, knives we simply don't care about, knives that are bought for cheap, given as gifts, used, abused and replaced like worn socks. They typically have blades of low alloy, low carbon, hypoeutectoid stainless steels (420 is the most common), steels that can never be hard, never be wear resistant, and are never expected to last. Is it any surprise that frequent sharpening is needed? Is it any surprise that because these knives need such frequent sharpening, people are looking for an electrically powered machine to do the work? Is it any wonder that the same companies that sell the cheap knives also sell the powered sharpeners because these blades simply don't hold an edge? See how this all works? You buy the cheap knives, and then you have a bunch of them, and you tire of the softness and wear at the cutting edges, so you then are convinced you need a power sharpener to aid in constantly grinding up an edge, since the knives are eternally dull. What a hopeless cycle! Here are some salient points to consider:

  • Cheap knives will not hold an edge. 420 stainless steel, the most commonly used knife steel for kitchen, chef's, working, and imported knives can not be made any harder than 52 C Rockwell. This is softer than a sewing needle, and softer than a wood saw. This steel and most other steels used on common knives will hopelessly wear at a very high and continuous rate.
  • Since there is no way to improve wear resistance (and edge retention) on low alloy steels, sharpening must take place continually, sometimes before (or after) every use! This is the bane of the chef's steel, a rod that must continually be dragged across a dull knife to keep it sharp. When a professional knifemaker sees this, it screams out to him that the knife is eternally and continually dull (and also that finings of metal are finding their way into the food the chef is preparing, since they never rinse the knives before using them).
  • The problem is the knife, yet people will spend more on a powered sharpener than on dozens of sets of these cheap knives.

Powered sharpeners are bad (yep, that's what I wrote). They use an electric motor to make the task of grinding and sanding (and grinding and sanding is exactly what they do) faster than what can be done by hand. They speed up the process of abrading away steel to create a cutting edge. Their main advantage is speed. Faster, quicker, with less effort is the promise. Like everything, there is a cost to this concept:

  • Because they use speed and abrasives, they will absolutely affect the temper of the steel, even though the speed is though of as "slow." Most people don't get the microscopic nature of the crystalline lattice of steels and how small these particle arrangements are. For an idea of how small they are, please take a few moments and read this section on my Blades page: "Which steel has the greatest tooth for the cutting edge and other carbide particle nonsense." When you realize how incredibly small this balance of allotropes is in steel, and how incredibly thin the cutting edge is, it's easy to see that localized heating at the cutting edge is unavoidable with powered sharpeners, even in the liquid cooled models! You won't notice that an area would be hardened (by reaching a localized austenitizing temperature) but you will reach a temper-affecting temperature, and the result will be a softer blade, exactly at the cutting edge, where you don't want it! Thus more wear, thus more sharpening, thus more powered sharpeners, thus more knives, since they are ground away sooner, thus more sharpening discs, wheels, and machinery, thus more and more and more... do you get the capitalism behind this marketing technique? It's like a sick addiction!
  • Pressure is not controllable on any of these machines, leading to more localized or irregular heating and cutting of the blade edge, softening the steel and creating waviness and abnormality in the profile and shape of the edge.
  • Feed rates are not controlled, leading to more localized or irregular heating and cutting of the blade edge, softening the steel and creating waviness and abnormality in the profile and shape of the edge.
  • There is only marginally limited control of the angle of the grind, since these machines are designed to service a variety of blades and thicknesses. They are an estimate of grind angles, and are not accurate.
  • They are used for only the cheapest of knives, by the most unskilled of people using the knife, and they will absolutely ruin every knife they are used with. This may not matter on a throwaway knife made of 420 SS with a plastic molded handle, but they are disastrous to fine knives.

What about skill? Many people complain that they just aren't skilled enough to use a bench stone, in any type. This, I say, is bunk. If you are so badly fumbling with your hands that you can't simply drag a blade across a stone, slowly and carefully, you have no business using a knife to cut! It's the same hand that cuts the zucchini, the same hand that dices the garlic, or skins the whitetail, or opens a box without ripping through the contents. You can guide the knife through all these cutting chores yet you can't simply drag it at a relatively constant angle across a stationary stone? This is not rocket science; man has been sharpening metals since the bronze age, and cutting things for the same amount of time. Just as a person learns how to cut mushrooms, julienne carrots, or dice radishes, he can easily learn to sharpen a knife. Please read the section above again, to see just what I recommend to do this. Don't be hoodwinked into buying a motor-driven blade-ruining wheel that will grind away and soften your blades in every pass. Learn to hand-sharpen on your cheap, throwaway knives (yes, they will sharpen, each and every one of them) and then look for a better knife, once you have that simple skill down. I guarantee that by the time you sharpen 10 knives by hand on a bench stone, you will be the envy of every person who uses the knives, no matter how cheap they are. Do a little practicing, learn to sharpen, and never be taken again.

If you can't, if you've bought the book, a good stone or two, and practiced for several hours and you still can't get the process recommended above down, you do not have the "skills" to manipulate anything involving a sharp edge or a point. Do not go anywhere near a knife, razor, chisel, or saw, and maybe even pins and needles should be removed from your vicinity. Seriously, it's not that difficult and you owe it to yourself to try to learn what every serious knife user and owner has known and used for millennia to sharpen a knife blade: a good piece of metal and a flat rock.

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"Concordia" fine master chef's knife, obverse side view in CPM154CM high molybdenum powder metal technology tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel bolsters, Brecciated African Jasper gemstone handle, chef's roll case in latigo side leather and leather shoulder, hand-tooled, hand stitched with stainless steel snaps
A fine cutting edge on this "Concordia"

What about military, tactical, and combat knife care?

Though military combat and tactical knives are often tougher, and made with more corrosion resistant materials, they also have specialized care needs that may not apply to collectors, investment, hunting, or daily working knives. I've created a special page for Tactical, Military, and Combat Knife Care.

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"Magdalena Magnum" obverse side view in D2 extremely high carbon die steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Pilbara Picasso Jasper gemstone handle, hand-carved, hand-tooled leather sheat
More about this Magdalena Magnum

Some emails about knife care

Here are a couple interesting emails about common knife care. Some of these are posted on my Funny Emails pages.  Though I've answered some, others I have not been able to respond to. I do hope you find them interesting.

Hi Jay,
I wonder if you can give me some advice.; I have a set of beautiful antique bone/sterling tipped handle knives.; The bone is suddenly looking really dull with small cracks. Is there a way to bring back at least some of the bone's beauty and increase the longevity?
Thank you, J.

My response:

Hello, J. Thanks for writing.
Unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to preserve bone, as it is porous and changes dramatically with moisture and temperature. A light microcrystalline wax and keeping them out of the sun is best. If the knives are valuable antiques, the less you do to them, the better.
Good luck,

J.'s response:

Thanks for the advice....BTW you have a very good website...

Hi Jay:
My wife put an antique horn handle carving knife into the dishwasher and completely ruined it. Is there anything that I can do to bring it back? It is all dried up like an old bone. Thanks in advance for any advice.
B. L.

"Bring it back?"

I inadvertantly put my housemates bone handled knives through the dishwasher, the dishwasher is broken and ran for 9 hours straight! Is there anything I can do to care for the knives now to stop them drying out?

Lots and lots of lotion, Linda. (I'm kidding!)

I have a custom knife that I left in the sheath too long and the sheath is a bit stained from the brass hilt. Is there any way to clean the sheath stain?
Thanks. Weldon

Cleaning out my dad's closet I came upon a knife made by the Sidney R. Baxter & Co. of Boston. Carbon steel, rusty and corroded. How can I best clean and get in good condition. I see you want me to use silicone car wax, but what will first stop the rusting? Thanks for your time and expert advice.

It is easy to see that once certain damage is done to blades and handles of knives, there simply is no realistic, economical, and reasonable way to eliminate the problem and return the knife to its original form, finish, and value. The best thing you can do with knives is to not neglect them in the first place.

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"Izanagi" fine handmade knife, reverse side view: 440C high chromium stainless steel blade, hand-engraved 304 stainless steel bolsters, Noreena Jasper Gemstone  handle, Rayskin inlaid in hand-carved leather sheath
More about this Izanagi

Much more detailed information about knife care

This page is simply a light overview of the knife care process. For a much greater detailed examination of different steel types, discussion and information on preservatives and protectants, recommended care procedures, compounds, and treatments, chemistry and cleaning, as well as care of the sheath, stand, components, and accessories, please visit my Tactical, Combat, and Military Knife Care page. Most of the detailed information on that page also applies to collector's handmade and custom knives.

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"Kochel" custom art knife, reverse side view in hot blued, mirror polished O1 high carbon tungsten-vanadium tool steel blade, 304 stainless steel fittings, Polvadera Jasper gemstone handle, stand of American Black Walnut, Wenge, Cocobolo hardwood and Polvadera Jasper
More about this Kochel

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