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

Discouraging Words

I can remember at least two old cranky violinists coming to talk to young me about NOT going into music.  There was a session, for example, during a Rochester Philharmonic Youth Orchestra retreat in which a real RPO professional (who was probably 47 but whom I remember as ancient) told us that, statistically, no one who graduates from music school wins auditions for jobs because there are only like 4 jobs out there in the world and 7000 hotshots coming into the job market every week. 

Quit NOW. 

I may have misremembered the details of this speech, but I remember the emotional jolt.  It was designed to discourage.

Last weekend I was presenting at a Double Reed Festival, and heard some oboists grumbling about another presenter who had evidently given something of the same talk to a roomful of masterclass attendees and participants.  High school students and cheerful adult amateurs.

And look, there's an element of truth to this.  Classical music is not a growing field, and it is leg…

Self-Talk

When we started the opera cycle (An American Dream, showing at the Harris Theater tonight and Sunday afternoon), the four woodwinds were sitting stacked in a rehearsal room.  In other words, the flute to my right, the bassoon behind me, the clarinet behind the flute, just like in the orchestra.  And it was OK.  We were fairly close together, the room was resonant, and we were working on orchestral details.  But when we moved into the pit, this seating felt VERY isolating.  The four of us were far apart, on two different levels, the wall was right next to me, and intonation and ensemble were very much more difficult.  Our entrances and releases were not clean together, and because we had to balance to the singers on stage, I found my playing getting more and more tentative.  Don't be too loud, don't come in early before the clarinet, keep everything in the box, try to lead the entrances but stay in the texture... And it felt like everything that was not quite great was my fault…

Generosity in Programming

I had the most interesting conversations with a few of my students after my first recital performance last weekend.  One thanked me for exposing her to so many interesting new pieces that she had never heard before.  One admitted unabashedly that his favorites were the familiar ones, the ones he already knew from his previous listening.  And both of these observations rang true to me.

See, I LOVE learning new music.  I really enjoy digging into a piece and breaking through an unfamiliar harmonic language to get to the depths of it.  To discover the composer's intention, and to find the universal emotion or experience at the heart of the work, and then to communicate that meaning back out to an audience.  This challenge is fun for me, and I think I do it well.

I have to be fair, though.  By the time I have put that kind of work into a new piece, it's not new to me anymore.  By the time I get it to the recital stage, it's an old friend.  I find great pleasure in performing i…