A good pocket knife is a crucial piece of equipment for outdoor lovers. It can be utilized for a multitude of tasks, from foraging and cooking, to removing splinters, cutting seat belts, and even saving lives. The secret, of course, is not just to carry your pocket knife with you, but to ensure that it is sharp and at the ready whenever the need arises. A dull knife is worse than no knife at all, so if knife sharpening isn’t already on your list of skills, it should be. These step-by-step instructions, a good sharpening stone, and some lubricant are all you need to up your knife sharpening game.
1. Buy a Good Sharpening Stone and Lubricant
A decent sharpening stone is an investment that will last many years. For sharpening a pocket knife, choose a stone that is larger than the knife—an 8” two-sided stone with both course and fine grit is ideal. You can go larger if needed, but using a stone that is smaller than your knife will make sharpening much more difficult. If you are looking for a great multi-purpose stone that is suitable for beginners, check out the 8” DuoSharp Bench Stone. This diamond stone is extra-fine on one side and course on the other—perfect for transforming and polishing dull edges.
As for lubricant, if you are using a diamond stone like the one mentioned above, thinned dishwashing soap will reduce friction and keep your stone’s pores from clogging. If you are using a whetstone or a ceramic sharpening stone, you will need either sharpening oil or mineral oil.
2. Lubricate Your Sharpening Stone
Before sharpening your pocket knife with a whetstone or ceramic stone, soak your stone in water for the recommended amount of time. This is usually five to ten minutes, or when you no longer see air bubble rising to the surface of the water. Dry your stone, and apply a thin layer of mineral oil or sharpening oil to the surface.
If you are working with a diamond stone, you can either use it dry or apply a thin layer of water mixed with a bit of dish soap. This is up to your personal preference—using your stone dry is definitely more convenient, but a wet stone will cut down on dust, reduce friction, and give you an improved feel as you sharpen your blade.
3. Identify Your Angle and Use a Rough or Medium Grit to Sharpen Your Knife
If you are new to sharpening knives, you will find that your biggest struggle is in maintaining the angle of your beveled edge. If you hold your knife up to the light, you will see the angle. Ideally, you will be sharpening your knife at the same angle, which is normally about 15 degrees for most pocket knives.
If your blade is very dull, nicked, or has an inconsistent edge, you will start with a coarse-grit stone. If you maintain a decent edge on your blade, you can start with a medium-grit stone. Stroke your blade backward across your stone with a light, steady hand and even control. Do not put too much pressure on your knife, which could damage both your stone and your blade. You can move your knife in a curve or in a straight line, depending on the size of your knife and your stone. Maintain contact between the blade and the stone, and don’t let the tip of your blade skip off the edge.
Stroke each side of your knife five times at the appropriate angle and then take a good look at your beveled edge in the light to see if you need to adjust your angle or your stroke. Continue stroking evenly on both sides of your blade until you feel a consistent drag from the tip to the hilt. Then you are ready to move on to step 4.
Beginner tip: Maintaining a proper angle while sharpening your pocket knife takes lots of practice. If you are a novice, you can use a marker to color the beveled edge of your knife. Adjust your angle and take a few strokes on your stone. If you used a steady hand and maintained your angle, the colored mark will be entirely gone. If you still see marks on your knife, you will know where you need to make adjustments.
4. Switch to a Fine Grit to Further Work the Edge of Your Blade
When you are finished using your medium or coarse-grit stone, wipe your blade dry and follow the same procedure in step 3 on a fine or extra-fine-grit stone. This step will remove the scratches and burr created during your rough-grit sharpening, and give your blade a nice sharp edge. When you are finished, check your blade in the light to ensure you have gotten all nicks and scratches. Next, test your blade by cutting through a sheet of paper. Your knife should cut effortlessly through the paper without resistance.
Like any skill worth learning, knife sharpening takes practice to achieve an even, sharp edge. The hardest part will be holding a consistent angle and developing a smooth, even stroke. After a few tries, you’ll find that you always have a sharp pocket knife at the ready, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t start practicing your knife-sharpening skills sooner!