Two different sharpening systems to help maintain that keen edge!
Keeping knives sharp seems to be something of an art form. Some folks are naturally good at it, while others struggle with it. A good sharpening set up helps regardless of your personal skill level. For some folks, that includes a belt sander, leather belts, and buffing wheels. Other folks are more traditional and stick to bench stones and strops.
Either way what works for you at home in your shop isn’t always practical when you take to the field. A good portable sharpening system can be a godsend on a longer outdoors trip and an absolute necessity on a multi-day hunting trip.While there are all manners of compact and folding stones, and myriad number of homemade kits, JRE Industries has put together a nice, fairly compact setup for use with sandpaper and a leather strop. “Sandpaper?” some of you might be asking? Yep, sandpaper. If you haven’t tried using sandpaper to sharpen with you probably should. It’s a great way to sharpen and maintain your blades, especially a convex or Scandi ground knife.
This isn’t a sharpening article, but I’ll touch on the basics here. A quick Google search on “convex sharpening “ will bring you up a variety of discussions of the method as well as YouTube tutorials. Basically, though, you work your knife on the sandpaper much like you would a leather razor strop, moving the spine first across the sandpaper rather than “biting” into it edge first like you would do on a stone. Once you get the hang of it, it’s fast and easy to do. Using sandpaper is pretty cheap, and it allows you to inexpensively replace your honing surface frequently to ensure you always have a good abrasive surface to work with. It’s also very lightweight and doesn’t take up much room. Instead of carrying a variety of stones and rods, and dealing the weight and bulk associated with that, you can carry a pad of various grit sandpaper for a fraction of the weight. Add in a leather strop piece and some honing compound and you can quickly go from dull to shaving-sharp in no time.
Enter the EMS Sharpening System from JRE. While a lot of folks have made their own field sharpening kits as I’ve mentioned before, JRE has taken the initiative to gather up all the various grade abrasive cloths and papers needed to work and maintain an edge and put them all together in a neat package with a very well made and easy to use sanding block. Their kit consists of 2 grades of emery cloth for reprofiling a blade or working out nicks or other damage, and 12 pieces of precut sandpaper ranging in grit size from 320 all the way down to 2000 grit for maintaining your edge. They finish off with a leather stropping piece, once again cut to fit their block. The block that they use is a common carpenters style sanding block but it’s a very well made one. A lot nicer than the two I have for woodwork use in fact! It’s solidly made and contoured to fit your hand for an easy, solid grip. It has easy to clamps that make swapping out paper and cloth fast and easy to do. The surface of the pad is a sturdy rubber that has just the right amount of give to for convex sharpening, but is stiff enough to allow you to sharpen a Scandi edge properly as well. It’s a relatively bright blue color that should be easy to spot if you set it down around the campsite.
While not exactly pocket sized, the whole kit is still pretty compact and would easily slip into the outside pocket of a pack, or even a larger hunting jacket pocket if need be. I think I’d stick with the pack though personally. While designed for the field it has enough surface area to it that its pretty efficient for general use as well. If you don’t want to be trapped in the workshop when your doing your edge maintenance, you could easily use the EMS around the house, out on your deck or wherever your fancy strikes you when you decide to touch up your blades. If you’re near a vice, simply flip the block over and clamp its handle in and you’ve got a rock solid platform to sharpen on.
The complete kits sell for $34.95 and the replacement abrasive packet only (everything but the block) goes for $14.95. That isn’t a bad deal when you compare it to other sharpening systems out there, and especially if you’re looking for something specifically to use on convex and Scandi edges. If nothing else, you’re saving some time and effort in tracking down a quality block and all the various grade papers you’d need to build one yourself!
The Strop Bat:
Another sharpening that JRE produces is their Strop Bat. The Strop bat is a 4 sided leather strop bonded to a 16inch long piece of Red Oak. The actual leather stropping surfaces are approximately 10 inches long by 1 ½ inches wide. The last 6 inches or so is turned down into a comfortable round handle, which is drilled for a paracord lanyard thong. The thing makes for a handy means to hang the strop up in your workshop to keep it out of the way when not in use. Current strops come preloaded with black, green, and pink honing compounds (each progressively finer) with the fourth side left bare for final stropping. I have an older model, which was preloaded with only the roughest black and finer green compounds. I certainly can add something to one or both of the remaining sides but I haven’t done so yet. I’ve heard good things about using Flitz Metal Polish for a final hone and may end trying that soon since I have an available surface to work with.
In use the Strop Bat is very handy. The generous 6 inch grip is comfortable to hold and gives you plenty of space to keep your hand away from the knife edge that you’re working on. I like to rest the far end of the home on the workbench to provide a more stable surface as I work and the Bat’s length and handle are well suited to that technique. The long 10 inch strop surface is about 2 inches longer than the EMS pads, but narrower by nearly an inch. I like having the bit of extra length when portability isn’t an issue. I haven’t really noticed an issue with it being any narrower.
Around the house the loaded strop is my primary tool for keeping my knives sharp. I don’t really like sharpening all that much so I try to keep my blades from getting dull in the first place. Frequent stropping is a fast and easy way to keep that edge where it ought to be and a handy wood backed strop is the way I’ve been doing it for years. I still have my trusty old two-sided model also, but the 4 sided one gives me a couple of more options when it comes to edge finishing and maintenance. Strop Bats go for $35.00 on JRE’s site and they’ll even make custom sized models for you if you need a bigger or smaller one as well!