Skip to main content

Knife Sharpening

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!

Comments

  1. Hi Jennet,
    you keep your word and prepared the video of sharpening. It makes it very clear to me how to proceed. Now it should be only a matter of exercises to get good results.
    Thanks a lot.
    Thomas

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure, Thomas! And I'm glad you found the posts - I was planning to forward you the links but it seems that you are ON THE BALL!
      Jennet

      Delete
    2. vYou can imagine my disquietude when I opened your blog, feeling very guilty for not attending last night’s concert as I intended, and seeing, it seems, in big letters: KNIFE SHARPENING!( I read it, saw it was not meant for me, and recovered my heart rate).
      I really mean it when I say I regret attending the concert. When you first announced that you were going to tackle the Rouse oboe concerto I figured, and hoped that you were going to try it out on audiences before the May performance with the SBSO. I was truly delighted. Here was a rare opportunity to follow the “birth of a concerto performance”, its growth and development, its adjustments and readjustments to the moods and techniques of the performer( that’s you Jennet) and the performer’s own concerns, twists and turns, and eventual labor pains.
      I wish that I knew enough about performance to express and convey my impressions about this process. Instead I will just enjoy it to the extent I understand it. And profit by the descriptions and explanations as we go along.
      Thanks and good luck
      Dimitri









      +-
      You can imagine my disquietude when I opened your blog, feeling very guilty for not attending last night’s concert as I intended, and seeing, it seems, in big letters: KNIFE SHARPENING!( I read it, saw it was not meant for me, and recovered my heart rate).
      I really mean it when I say I regret attending the concert. When you first announced that you were going to tackle the Rouse oboe concerto I figured, and hoped that you were going to try it out on audiences before the May performance with the SBSO. I was truly delighted. Here was a rare opportunity to follow the “birth of a concerto performance”, its growth and development, its adjustments and readjustments to the moods and techniques of the performer( that’s you Jennet) and the performer’s own concerns, twists and turns, and eventual labor pains.
      I wish that I knew enough about performance to express and convey my impressions about this process. Instead I will just enjoy it to the extent I understand it. And profit by the descriptions and explanations as we go along.
      Thanks and good luck
      Dimitri









      +-

      Delete
  2. You can imagine my disquietude when I opened your blog, feeling very guilty for not attending last night’s concert as I intended, and seeing, it seems, in big letters: KNIFE SHARPENING!( I read it, saw it was not meant for me, and recovered my heart rate).
    I really mean it when I say I regret attending the concert. When you first announced that you were going to tackle the Rouse oboe concerto I figured, and hoped that you were going to try it out on audiences before the May performance with the SBSO. I was truly delighted. Here was a rare opportunity to follow the “birth of a concerto performance”, its growth and development, its adjustments and readjustments to the moods and techniques of the performer( that’s you Jennet) and the performer’s own concerns, twists and turns, and eventual labor pains.
    I wish that I knew enough about performance to express and convey my impressions about this process. Instead I will just enjoy it to the extent I understand it. And profit by the descriptions and explanations as we go along.
    Thanks and good luck
    Dimitri









    +-

    ReplyDelete
  3. You can imagine my disquietude when I opened your blog, feeling very guilty for not attending last night’s concert as I intended, and seeing, it seems, in big letters: KNIFE SHARPENING!( I read it, saw it was not meant for me, and recovered my heart rate).
    I really mean it when I say I regret attending the concert. When you first announced that you were going to tackle the Rouse oboe concerto I figured, and hoped that you were going to try it out on audiences before the May performance with the SBSO. I was truly delighted. Here was a rare opportunity to follow the “birth of a concerto performance”, its growth and development, its adjustments and readjustments to the moods and techniques of the performer( that’s you Jennet) and the performer’s own concerns, twists and turns, and eventual labor pains.
    I wish that I knew enough about performance to express and convey my impressions about this process. Instead I will just enjoy it to the extent I understand it. And profit by the descriptions and explanations as we go along.
    Thanks and good luck
    Dimitri









    +-

    ReplyDelete
  4. Well, of course I had intended this post to be a direct attack on people who didn't attend my performance. I decided to conceal it with a show of helpful advice to oboists, but you saw through my ruse, Dimitri. Hope to see you tomorrow afternoon?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Please forgive the triple posting. I am not COD. the key got stuck and I couldnt erase it.
    A demain!
    D

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Resonance

When my students get too MOUTHY with the oboe, I put them in a corner.

Really.

They tend to play the oboe only from the TOP of their body, north of the collarbone, and it winds up unsupported.  Fussy.  Weak.  And out of tune.

So I back them into a corner, and have them stand a foot or so out from it, facing out into the room.  And I challenge them to find a sound that resonates BEHIND them, out from the corner of the room that they are not facing, to fill the space without blowing directly into the space.

It's a weird metaphor.  I wouldn't have any idea how to describe the physical technique to do it. When I find it in myself, it feels like my back is puffy and my body is round, and large, and barrel like, and also collected and zipped up, and supremely powerful.  If you know me, you know that these statements about my body aren't remotely true.  But that's what I feel when I'm blowing well, and filling the room, and owning my resonance.

I teach resonance.  I talk …

Five Minute Reedmaker: Length of the Windows

My Five Minute Reedmaker Season Two seems to be largely about experiments.  People ask me how LONG, how THICK, how SLOPED, etc - and I'm running the experiments for them and for you.

I've been posting these videos on YouTube, and sharing them from my Facebook Page, but haven't totally kept up with sharing here on my blog.

Here are the ones you may have missed:
Length of the Heart
Fallacy of the Long Tip
Moldy Cane

And here's the new one:




Here's the YouTube playlist with all of my other Five Minute Reedmaker videos.  You could subscribe right there if you wanted to - I'm dropping a video each week until I run out of ideas this season.
Here's my website, where you can order reeds or cane or ask me questions.  Questions will keep these videos flowing! 

Here's how you can send me your own reeds to analyze and improve on video for your learning pleasure!

Everybody's Got a Thing

I went in for my yearly mammogram last week. As you know, it's not exactly a painful procedure, but it's uncomfortable, and as I was being manipulated into the unwieldy machine I got to thinking about what a peculiar job it must be to jam women into awkward positions, over and over, every fifteen minutes all day.

So after we were done I asked the technician about that, and she LIT UP, the way people do when they FINALLY get to talk about the thing they are passionate about, and she talked about the advances in the technology since she was starting out, and the things this machine was capable of.  She talked about the women it has saved, from dying of cancer, of course, but also from unnecessary surgical disfigurement.  It was completely inspiring listening to this lady love her weird job, and I left feeling fantastic about the whole ordeal. It's great to see someone who is doing what they are supposed to be doing!

Two weeks before, I had my first Mendelssohn rehearsal with…