I’ve gotten a lot of questions on this topic, and the most recent querent prompted me to make a video to demonstrate. You can find that HERE.
Knife sharpening seems to strike terror into many hearts. And it’s little wonder. Many famous oboists have gone on record as saying that a sharp knife is the most important aspect of reed making. People have entire systems of stones and strops and rods set up to sharpen their knives. And it is important, of course it is – but I don’t believe that you need your knife to be razor-like, or objectively the sharpest blade of any in your home. The reed knife has one job – scraping cane off in precision ways – and it has to be sharp enough for that, and sharpened optimally for that purpose. More than that is overly fussy for my taste.
This is not to say that I allow my knife to be dull. A dull knife forces you to put too much pressure on the reed and can cause cracking. Obviously it can lead to terribly inconsistent scraping, and scraping which crushes the cane instead of removing it, and a feeling of making NO PROGRESS in your reedmaking. Of course your knife needs to be sharp. But it needs to be sharp in a productive way. Your step 2, below, will control this for you. If you aren’t getting the edge you need, try repeating your steps with a slightly shallower or steeper angle on the knife. Everyone scrapes differently, so everyone needs a slightly different burr on the blade. Experimentation is fine here!
I use a double hollow ground knife, and my stone is a small Spyderco DoubleStuff stone – Amazon affiliate link below – with a very fine side and an even finer ceramic side. It’s light enough to carry around in my case and I use it daily.
To keep this simple, I use three easy steps.
1. Lay the scraping edge face down, flat on the stone, and raise it to about a 10 degree angle. Pull it across once, covering the entire length of the knife and maintaining the same angle throughout.
2. Lay that scraping edge face up and raise it to about a 40 degree angle. This is your main sharpening stroke and can be repeated multiple times. You can pull or push, just keep the angle the same.
3. Turn the cutting edge down again, and draw it straight back towards you, one time.
Repeat steps 2 and 3 as necessary.
You know that I believe in being the Unfussy Oboist, and for years this has been ALMOST the only sharpening approach I need.
When a student comes in with a very dull knife, I sometimes will move to a coarser Norton stone or to a diamond stone just to jump start the process. After getting the edge started, I move back to my fine Spyderco stone to refine it. But I still live in my same three-step process.
Is this helpful or interesting? Please let me know if you have more questions for the Unfussy Reedmaker!