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A Sharp Knife...

... is your best friend. Without a sharp knife, you are wasting time, cane, money and ultimately end up extremely frustrated. Every source you consult about reedmaking is going to tell you how essential it is to have a sharp knife and I'm no different. But what exactly does it mean to have the right kind of edge on your reed knife and how do you achieve it? An excellent discussion about sharpening a knife to scrape reeds is found in Joseph Shalita's Making Oboe Reeds: A Basic Guide to Reed Making. While I highly recommend Joe's book, I would also like to offer some advice as well, especially since the book only describes how to sharpen a new, unsharpened knife.

The proper edge for a reedmaking knife is a scraping edge and not a cutting edge. This means your knife is going to scrape in only one direction, either right-handed or left-handed. To achieve the proper edge, you must first prepare a burr on the opposite side of the knife, flip it to the scraping side and then hone it.

Preparing the burr requires a coarse sharpening stone, especially if your knife is not new and needs a fair amount of steel to be removed. I use a diamond, extra-coarse sharpening stone.
1. Place the stone vertical to your body, one short side closest to you, one short side furthest from you.
2.Take your knife in your sharpening hand (right-handers in your right hand, lefties in your left) and lay the knife flat on the stone with the edge facing toward you. It is important to get and keep the entire edge in contact with the stone at this stage. You may need to angle the handle somewhat in relation to the stone in order to achieve this.
3. Tilt the back of the knife up until the frontmost part of the edge makes contact with the stone. If your knife has previously been sharpened, you may need to tilt the blade a significant angle (45+ degrees). While an angle of about 20-25 degrees is the preferred bevel for knives, the critical angle is determined by the current status of your knife's bevel.
4. With the knife in the position described in the previous step, rub the knife back and forth across the stone until a slight burr begins to form. Try to keep the angle of the knife constant. If you are trying to reduce the angle of your knife's bevel, you made have to spend some time (30-40 minutes) grinding the blade in this manner until the front part of the edge starts to make contact with the stone. Only then will a burr begin to form.
5. Turn the knife over so the edge faces away from you and grind exactly the same as in the previous step.
6. Repeat step 4 but continue grinding until a visible and significant burr is formed along the entire edge of the knife. You may have to repeat steps 5 and 6 one or more times if your knife needs serious attention.
7. After the burr is formed, repeat step 4 but this time use a fine honing stone India Sharpening Stones
8. Repeat step 5 until the burr is completely flipped over to the scraping side.
9. Now position the blade perpendicular to and flat on the stone with the tip of the blade hanging over the side of the stone and the edge of the knife closest to you. Tilt the back of the knife up slightly and very lightly draw the blade diagonally toward you along the length of the stone about 3-6 times so as to allow the entire edge to come into contact with the stone. Lift the blade each time you retake a stroke. Adjust the angle of the blade until you feel the burr "pull" against the stone. I cannot emphasize enough how lightly you must lay the blade on the stone for this and the following steps. No pressure beyond virtually the weight of the knife is required.
10. Turn the knife over and repeat the previous step, this time with the edge of the knife away from you; the stroke also going away from you. Remember, use only the weight of the knife and be careful not to sharpen at an angle higher than necessary: the burr will "pull" slightly.
11. You may need to repeat steps 9 and 10 one or more times to get just the right edge.
12. Test the edge on your thumbnail. If, without hardly any pressure, the edge "sticks" or "grabs" immediately, then you have a good scraping edge. If it slides across your nail or you need to apply some pressure, then you need to repeat some steps.

Sharpening your knife to scrape reeds is an important and difficult skill to learn. Be patient and consult with your oboe instructor to troubleshoot any difficulties you encounter.

Copyright 2005-2007 David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC

David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC
213 Church Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027 * (215) 782-CANE

Copyright 2007 David Schast Reed Service & Supply, LLC