A pocket knife is a great tool that can be used for general purposes by those that enjoy the outdoors but don’t want to carry around a camping knife.
However, having a great pocket knife and having a pocket knife that can get the job done when needed are two different things.
There are several ways how to sharpen a pocket knife. Many that are experienced in how to properly sharpen their knives have their own unique way that works best for them.
The method we are going to cover is easy for the beginner. If you are doing this for the first time, our guide will be the one for you.
For this technique, all you need is honing oil and a sharpening stone. These are very simple steps and with practice, you will be able to put a razor-sharp edge on any knife you desire.
1. Examine The Blade
If it has already been used, you might need to clean your knife blade before examining it. Make sure there is no grease or dirt left on either edge of the blade. Then you can check it out more thoroughly.
Start by taking a look at the condition of the blade. If you have a dull knife, you will want to begin with the rougher grit side of the stone.
If your stone is not marked indicating the grit level, simply drag a fingernail across the surface of the stone. You can easily identify which side has a coarse grit and is more porous.
2. Prep the Stone
With the rougher side of the stone identified, you now have to prep it. If you are using oil to hone, which we recommend since it is a little more forgiving, apply a generous amount of oil to the surface of the stone.
It doesn’t have to be completely drenched with it but you need to make sure you have enough of it on the stone.
Additionally, if you are using a brand-new sharpening stone, wait a few minutes to see if the stone soaks up the oil. If so, apply more oil until it doesn’t.
3. Choose Your Sharpening Angle
Place the knife blade on the stone so that it lays flat.
The edge angles (or the edge bevels) of knives might change depending on the type of the knife, but if you raise the blade on its edge to a degree angle of something between 15 and 20, it will do the job.
These are the angles recommended by the makers of Swiss Army Knives, and when it comes to pocket knives, there hardly are any better experts.
While you will eventually be able to tell when you have the right angle, it can be challenging for beginners to maintain a consistent angle throughout the process.
With that said, we recommend using a sharpening guide to help with your angling. They are inexpensive and will be of great use if you have trouble maintaining the same angle.
4. Begin Sharpening Strokes
Start your first stroke. With the blade at the correct angle, swipe down, ensuring you also sharpen the tip of the blade.
Make sure the stone travels through the whole length of the blade so the sharpness of it is evenly distributed.
Remember how many strokes you’ve made because it’s very important to use the same number of strokes on the opposite side to achieve a sharp edge.
5. Alternate Sides
You can do a set number of strokes per side if that feels the most comfortable for you.
However, it’s also ok to alternate sides, doing one stroke on one side of the blade, then flipping it over and doing a stroke on the other side.
Whichever method you choose is up to you, just keep in mind that you have to complete the same number of strokes on both sides or the blade’s edge will not be even and the blade will not be as sharp as you want it.
It’s good practice to finish off with a few alternating strokes regardless of the method you use.
6. Begin Using Fine Grit
After completing the process on the rougher side of the sharpening stone, flip the stone over and repeat the steps with the finer grit.
Remember to apply a generous amount of lubricant and to check for absorption.
7. Strop Your Blade
Although you don’t need to do this after all the sharpening, stropping a sharp blade will help preserve its condition longer than usual because stropping gives its edges better protection, and also a better look.
For this, you need a leather strap or even just a piece of leather and a polishing compound or paste. First, apply the polishing material on the leather and then you can start polishing the blade by moving it on the leather up and down.
While doing this, the cutting edge of the blade should look away from the leather. Otherwise, you might cut the leather, or your knife might become dull again.
Congratulations! You now know how to sharpen a pocket knife. And even better, you have a sharp knife! And thanks to the stropping, it looks pretty polished and cool, too!
Overall, the process of knife sharpening isn’t too hard. The key to it is to maintain a constant angle throughout the entire process. As long as you keep this is in mind, everything else will be a cakewalk.
Sharpening Tools Needed
As we stated above, all you need to sharpen your pocket knife is a sharpening stone and a lubricant.
However, if you have already started looking at all of the different types of sharpening stones available, you undoubtedly are overwhelmed by the choices.
Here is what to look for in a sharpening stone, as well as a lubricant.
1. Sharpening Stone
Sharpening stones, also known as whetstones, are available in many different styles. Some of these have two sides that have different grit levels. Typically, there will be a rougher side and a smoother side.
There are also high-end stones encrusted with diamond dust on their surface. Other high-end stones used for sharpening are known as Japanese water stones, which are meant to be used with water instead of honing oil.
Once you become more advanced at sharpening knives, what type of stone you choose typically depends on the function of the knife and your preference.
Trying the different types of stones is really the only way to find out which one works best for you. For beginners, there are a few factors that should be taken into consideration.
If you are trying to sharpen a high-end pocket knife or a hatchet, you probably don’t want to buy the cheapest stone available in the stores. The low-quality materials used to make the stone could damage your knife blade during sharpening.
They can sometimes be very expensive, but it doesn’t mean it is what you should be going for either. Buying a high-end model might not be the answer. If you’re just starting out, sharpening your knife on a good basic sharpening stone will be perfect.
For beginners, I would recommend the stone produced by Bora. It can be bought for under $15. Once you learn how to properly sharpen your knife, you can try more expensive stones to see if and how they work for you.
Until then, our basic stone will be perfect for honing our pocket knife. Below are some of the relatively popular types of stones used for sharpening and how they are used:
- Oil stones: Oil stones are the type of stones you would find in your Grandpa’s shed. They are available in most hardware stores and are great for putting a very nice edge on your knife. However, if you are working with an older knife that has a very dull blade, this type of stone can take a long time to get the desired edge due to its typically finer grit.
- Diamond Stones: Diamond stones are great for getting a razor-sharp edge on your blade. Ones such as Smith’s DCS4 can be bought for under $20 and will last a lifetime. Diamond dust embedded on the blade will be good for hundreds of sharpenings and will last you forever.
- Ceramic stones: Ceramic stones are another type of sharpening stone that should be used only once you have plenty of experience. If you are a starter, you should be careful picking a ceramic stone, because the quality of the ceramic plays a huge role in how well they do their job. Too hard, they glaze over and will be ineffective. Too soft, they will wear out quickly and will need to be replaced. They also require a lot of care. With proper technique and experience, though, you can get an edge like no other with a ceramic stone.
- Synthetic: Synthetic stones are becoming one of the more popular options. Some require light lubrication while others require a soaking period before you can use them. These are ideal for western style knives. Synthetic stones like Smith’s TRI-6 Arkansas combine great material engineering with design to produce an easy-to-use tool that gets your pocket knife’s edge sharp.
- Natural Stone: While natural stones are probably the best you could ever get your hands on, they are also the most expensive. Once mined in Japan, natural stones, give your knife a long-lasting edge due to the random grits found in the stone. Sadly, the majority of the mines in Japan are now closed. This causes a limited supply and, as a result of that, an ever-increasing price tag.
Picking the Right Stone
As we have stated, there are many different types of stones available on the market. Trying to find the one that is just right for you can be a bit of a struggle – especially if this is your first go at sharpening a blade.
Find a sharpening stone that has at least two different grit levels: a rougher grit, and a smoother grit. If you are working with a really dull blade you will need the rougher grit to shape it, and the finer grit to ensure a nice edge on it.
The size of your knife will be a factor in determining the size of the stone you will need. While 6-inch, 4-inch, and 3-inch stones are common and more than adequate for smaller knives, larger knives will require a larger stone.
If you have a larger knife, consider an 8-inch stone. Keep your budget and need for a sharpener in mind. If your knife is to be a daily used tool, you will want to have a quality stone at hand to hone it. However, good stones can have a high price tag.
Don’t go crazy on the price for something you will only need once in a long while.
2. Honing Oil
Honing oil acts as a lubricant when you sharpen your pocket knife in order to prevent the stone from damaging the blade.
As you run your blade across the stone, metal shavings from the sharpening process can accumulate on it and make it less effective.
Some people use water as a lubricant, others use mineral oil. However, you can buy honing oil designed specifically for knife sharpening purposes.
Additionally, the friction that is created while sharpening can damage the blade of your knife. The oil is there to prevent that, too. Now that you know everything needed to sharpen a pocket knife, you can go enjoy your razor-sharp tool outdoors.
Whether you find yourself whittling away using it as a whittling knife, or setting traps and snares using your bushcraft skills, you can always count on having a sharp pocket knife.
How Do I Know When to Sharpen My Knife
If you have been frequently using it, you’ll probably know when it’s getting dull.
But just to make sure, you can do a paper test to measure its sharpness. Hold a piece of paper and try to cut through.
If your blade doesn’t cut it properly, or if it tears the paper instead of cutting it, then it means you have a job to do.