Knives Illustrated - - News - STORY AND PHO­TOS BY EJ SNY­DER

This story is de­rived from a re­cent mem­ory when my part­ner and I were deep in the Ama­zon jun­gle in Peru. I was amazed to no­tice that there were sim­ply no rocks around the jun­gle floor or in the river. I was as­ton­ished that ev­ery­where I looked, I could not find a sin­gle one, at least where I was.

When you are out on an ex­pe­di­tion, a mis­sion, or a mere trek, the edged tool you rely on is only as use­ful and as good as its sharp­ness. So, what do you do if you need to sharpen your ma­chete or knife and find your beloved whet­stone or knife sharp­ener is miss­ing from your pack for what­ever rea­son—like tak­ing a nasty fall down the side of a steep em­bank­ment? Well, all you need to do is use a field ex­pe­di­ent method for sharp­en­ing, so you quickly grab a rock and a lit­tle wa­ter and get to work. But, what if you look around and there are none?

Now what does one do? Well, you sim­ply have to improvise, much like an­cient peo­ple, you have to find a way. Be­cause, try­ing to hack your way through triple canopy jun­gle with a dull blade is ex­haust­ing—not to men­tion, a dull knife just doesn’t lend it­self well to any task.

Six Steps

I found that many of the lo­cal guides use the “sand stick” method to sharpen their ma­chetes. When you think about this con­cept, it is ac­tu­ally very sim­ple and makes com­plete sense. If you do not have rocks, you need to cre­ate a sim­i­lar ef­fect to achieve the same goal.

This method takes a bit of prac­tice, pa­tience, and tech­nique to get it down, but af­ter go­ing through a dense jun­gle with a dull blade and your arms are smoked, what bet­ter way to take a break and try to ease your pain. Here are the steps to the sand stick method:


First lo­cate an area with wa­ter. Prefer­ably a small creek or trib­u­tary with some coarse sand in it.


Find a piece of large branch that you will cut down into a board, roughly an inch or so thick. You can make one side flat or both sides flat (much like a hearth board for a fire drill kit), what­ever your pref­er­ence. Each board type uses a slightly dif­fer­ent tech­nique, which we’ll ex­plain later.


On the flat side of the rounded branch, or on one side of the dou­ble-flat-sided board, bore small holes ran­domly spaced all over. Or you can use a scor­ing tech­nique, ei­ther one will work. This will give your sand paste, which you are about to make, a way to stick to the board.



Place some coarse sand onto the board and add a bit of wa­ter un­til the con­sis­tency is paste-like. This will cre­ate a sand­pa­per ef­fect. The mois­ture works the same way it would for a rock or whet­stone.


Now, set up your sand stick board for sharp­en­ing. When us­ing the rounded board, sit down with your legs to­gether and place the rounded side within the “V” formed by your legs. If you are us­ing the dou­ble-flat-sided sharp­en­ing board—my go-to tech­nique—sim­ply lay it flat on the ground, kneel down, firmly grasp­ing the end clos­est to you, and hold it down tightly.


Then, drag your blade across the sand stick board and sharpen away. You might find that ap­ply­ing some down­ward pres­sure to get the blade to bite into the board may help, but you will need to de­velop a feel for what is right and works best for you.

Prac­tice Makes Ef­fec­tive

This tech­nique takes a bit of prac­tice to de­velop but it does work. It goes back to the old adage, “If there’s a will, there’s a way.” I have al­ways loved and ad­mired what indige­nous peo­ple of the world do to adapt to their en­vi­ron­ments. Some­times all you need to do is see what the peo­ple of an area have been do­ing— for thou­sands of years, in many cases—to find the solutions to your prob­lems on the edge of sur­vival. KI

Above: EJ Sny­der demon­strates hon­ing an edge on a ma­chete with the sand stick method.

Above: A well­sharp­ened ma­chete is your key to get­ting through triple canopy jun­gle.

Web Time Check out the au­thor’s of­fi­cial site at Ejs­ny­der.com

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