EDGE OF SURVIVAL
STAYING SHARP WITHOUT SHARPENING STONES OR ROCKS
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.
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.
“… THE EDGED TOOL YOU RELY ON IS ONLY AS USEFUL AND AS GOOD AS ITS SHARPNESS.”
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