The cheap $5 ceramic stick made me cringe as the coarse cement scraping sound screeched from the edge of the knife. The so-called “sharpening stone” was on special from the catalog for a reason. As usual, I moved over to my trusty Spyderco Sharp-maker. Before I became comfortable using stones without a bevel guide, I used the Sharpmaker religiously. The setup helped me avoid hours of frustration and, with the fine white ceramic triangular stick, it put an edge on the blade that would make Crocodile Dundee happy. Over a course of time, I started to split up the Sharpmaker, only using the final white stones to touch up knives and machetes out in the field. They would travel very well in my pack, and I used the rubber ends of another sharpener to protect both tips of the stick. It was a large ceramic crock stick, with an 8 inch honing area. I had adopted this set up as my main field kit, until one day I happened to stumble onto other sharpeners that Spyderco made. I was enthralled when I found out that they make stand alone sharpeners in the same ceramic that they use for the Sharpmaker. Just what was so important about this ceramic that set it apart from all the other concrete coarse sharpeners out there? I asked Joyce Laituri from Spyderco and this is what I found out.
First of all, the Tri-Angle Sharpmaker was one of Spyderco’s original products. This product is a great and versatile sharpener, and has been covered in a Woods Monkey review previously by Jim Holman. The important part was that the stones themselves are patented.
“Made from alumina ceramic, they’re manufactured in the U.S.A. with a process combining a bonding agent with alumina particles (that are actually synthetic sapphires 15 to 25 microns in size). They are shaped into a triangle, then kiln fired at more than 3000 degrees F (1649°C). On a Mohs hardness scale, alumina ceramic stones measure 9 (out of 10) and don’t require lubricants such as oil or water while using them,” wrote Joyce. “These fine stones do not take off enough metal to re-profile an edge they simple aren’t designed to. The white alumna ceramic sharpeners from Spyderco are designed for people who take knives out into the field that are already sharp. If you want to take serious amounts of metal off at once, I would suggest a file, then using one of Spyderco’s brown stones to clean up the mess afterwards, or even using a belt sander.”
The extremely fine micron size must be part of the reason that the stones put such a keen edge on the knife. But wait, with that fine size, wouldn’t honing a knife result in clogging the sharpening material? Most water stones and oil stones require a lubricant to keep the metal particles from clogging up the stone. The fluid lifts the metal out of each pore and the user can wipe off the clogging metal particles making the stone cut better. So why do the Spyderco white ceramics not clog? Joyce told me that their, “(white) fine and ultra-fine grit stones are closed-cell ceramics and won’t wear with usage or time. They’re less abrasive, excelling at polishing and professionally finishing edges. Ceramic is essentially glass and can shatter or chip if dropped or handled roughly. Alumina ceramic stones are temperature resistant, dishwasher and autoclave safe,” Joyce informed me. They do need to be cleaned after a while, just to get the ceramic back to normal, and I usually use an abrasive cleaner such as Comet or Ajax. The Spyderco reps at the shows use a ceramic cleaning device made by Lansky, called the Eraser Block because it is hard to get to a sink during knife shows. The Lansky Eraser block would be extremely handy out in the field where sometimes even water can be a precious resource that one would not want to waste.
By far the most handy field stone is the Double Stuff sharpener which Spyderco manufactures. A fine stone and a medium stone are combined together to bring a dull edge back to hair popping sharpness. The brown stone consist of the same material found in the brown triangular rods of the Sharp maker, just not as fine as the alumna ceramic but still easily cleaned. Both the brown stones and the white stones are fragile though, due to their ceramic nature. If you drop them on the tile, they may break. If you do happen to break one though, do not fret, for that fine sharpening shrapnel can be distributed among tackle boxes, toolboxes, and anywhere else that would need such a stone. Just because the pieces are smaller doesn’t mean they still can’t be useful! Spyderco has a knack for innovation, and their Slip Stone is no deviation from this tradition. The Slip Stone consists of an angled 4 inch by 2 inch sharpener with a long taper from back to front. The Slip Stone is round on both of the longer ends.
One side is much larger and rounder than the other side. The larger side works better to hone convex edges; the roundness gives a more forgiving edge if you are using the stone to touch up your convex edge in the field. The round part of the stone helps follow the rounded bevel better. Speaking of convex edges, all of the ceramic sharpeners (except the Sharpmaker) come with a suede pouch. I don’t know if Spyderco meant for this, but I ended up charging one side of the pouch with compound to use as an improvised strop for fun. The material has a wonderful aroma to it; every time I smell it, I think of losing hair on my arm while testing out the keen edge of my blades. The Slip Stone’s tear drop shape, with its ergonomic curves make it easy to “Slip” into the back pocket. It reminds me of the old axe sharpening pucks that the experienced outdoorsmen of yesteryear carried. I’ve seen a few axmen that really know their stuff, and I noticed that their pucks had a distinctive shape to them after use, and it wasn’t a big flat rectangle that you see sitting on a bench.
But, that isn’t to say that Spyderco can’t pull off the flat stone. They also make a very large alumina ceramic stone 8 inches long and 3 inches wide–known as their Bench Stone. Though not the most portable stone, this large, fine ceramic’s purpose is to finish off any edge one may have started on the other honing material. The large abrasive area is great for Scandinavian edges; the large bevels go hand in hand with the big wide bench stone. If you keep at it a while, the edge will become so polished that the hairs will come popping off the skin. With the glossy polished edge, knife makers would have a great time with this large bench stone as well. I would have liked it to be a little bit thicker however. At ¼ of an inch it will need to be raised off of the table for some larger handled knives but it is not uncommon to have to make a special holder for bench stones anyway. Once I get my Frankenstein knife modification shop into place, I plan to have this stone, a Norton double sided India stone, and a large strop all next to each other to make a molecule slicing edge on any piece of steel requiring it.
The company also sells a multi-pack of small ceramic files available to take out in the field. These small files have all the variations of shapes that Spyderco offers gathered into one compact pouch. The suede pouch keeps each of the small ceramic rods separate. A square sharpener is the first of the bunch, offering four different sides to put an edge on your blade. Joyce, of Spyderco, told me about how these stones become dark and then white again after washing them. You have four sides available with this stone, and you can use them one at a time until all four sides are dark. There is a triangular stone that could work much in the same way, though it can hone fine serrations as well. This triangular stone is especially handy for sharpening saw blades, and I put an evil edge on my large 24 inch Bahco camp saw at PWYP with it. There is a tear drop shaped sharpener, which I use to for very fine serrations, and it also contains a special groove for pointed objects.
This tear dropped sharpener and the Sharpmaker both have grooves for honing all types of objects including darts, fishing hooks, and dental equipment. I use it to sharpen dissecting tools such as a pointed metal object used to pull out insect organs. To sharpen pointed objects such as a round dart, you push (not pull) the point along the groove while turning it, maintaining a good angle and taking metal off both the point and the small bevel you form near the tip. If you think honing a fish hook is dumb, it should be noted that many Mepps and Panther Martin spinner baits have hooks that are not able to be replaced easily. You can touch up your favorite lure, and the sharp hook will not just benefit you, but also does not harm the fish as much as a dull hook would. If you are in a catch and release situation, a sharper hook that doesn’t damage the fish as much is a definite plus. Those who have to fish with barb-less fish hooks, such as in a protected trout area, would be wise to invest in a hook sharpener that can put a fine edge on points as well. The ceramic file set also includes the timeless round ceramic stick design that many of us know well, and would be great alone carried in a pen slot inside the pack. I have a feeling that I will have to pry these small ceramics off of my fiancée, who is a dentist, as the stones are autoclave safe and can put a mean edge on a cavity explorer.
Spyderco makes some spectacular knives, but the company also deserves some recognition for the fine ceramics they produce. Anyone who has dismissed ceramic stones outright should come to the white side and try these out the next time the chance arises. Who knows, you may be as smitten with the simple abrasive as this author. The handiness and originality combined with each “niche” that the stone’s shapes fill really show how useful various stones can be. The different shapes, combined with the different uses, also show just how practical and different some of Spyderco’s products can be too.