Pocket Knife Sharpening: How to Get a Fine Edge

I’m of the opinion that everyone should carry a pocket knife. Back in the day, a pocket knife was an essential tool that every man carried with him. It was sort of like carrying your wallet or your keys. Pocket knives go back to the Roman soldiers and explorers of the 1st century, and they were essential tools for American soldiers throughout our nation’s history. Pocket knives help open boxes, cut ropes, tags, and strings, open letters, fight against people who might attack you, creatively get yourself out of some dire predicament, or carve your initials into a tree along with your lover’s. Now that it’s established that you might want to carry a pocket knife around, let’s discuss how to keep your blade edge sharp and polished with a simple and relatively quick sharpening technique.

There are several ways to sharpen a pocket knife. Every knife user has a method that they think is the right one, along with many methods and implements that they think are crucial to getting that sharp blade. A lot of it just comes down to personal preference in the end.

However, for the sake of time, and to give you a quick summary of how you sharpen a pocket knife, let’s just go over one of the easiest and cheapest methods now. You’re only going to need a couple of things: Lubricant and a sharpening stone.

Sharpening stones (or Whetstones)

Sharpening StoneThere are several different ways to sharpen a pocket knife, and there are several different kinds of sharpening stones too. There are stones with distinct grades of grit, stones that boast diamond-encrusted surfaces, and Japanese water stones. Picking a stone is a matter of preference and function. Sample separate types of stones if possible, and decide on one that will give you the kind of results that you’re really shooting for.

If you many have high-quality, expensive knives, you will not want to use some little cheap, low quality sharpening stone you found at the dollar store. However, if you’re just starting out with a pocket knife, you don’t want to spend all your free money on a sharpening stone that costs more than multiple quality knives. Most hardware stores sell sharpening stones for about $10 that feature dual sides with two grits: a fine grit and a rough grit. As the grit gets finer, the sharper and finer you can get your blade’s edge. You will usually begin by sharpening with the rough grit and then finish by working with the finer grit to complete the sharpening process.

Lubricant for Knife Sharpening

The majority of knife enthusiast would agree that using lubricant when sharpening a pocket knife is a good idea. Although not required, lubricant will make the sharpening process go more smoothly and help you produce a finer blade edge. There are a number of different forms of lubricant, from oil to water. A lot of the literature you find out there suggests using mineral oil when you’re doing pocket knife sharpening. The lubricant acts as a friction heat reducer, the kind that gets kindled up when you’re sharpening your knife. If there’s too much heat on there, it can significantly warp your blade. Lubrication will also help you clear away the swarf, or debris, that gets made when you are grinding your knife blade on the stone. You can pick up some lubricant at the majority of hardware stores for about $5. You might try Norton Sharpening Stone Oil.

Step-by-Step Guide to Sharpening a Pocket Knife

Pocket Knife Sharpening System

Recommended Sharpening System for Pocket Knives

So, how do you sharpen a pocket knife? We’ve been over what equipment is needed to sharpen a knife, so now lets get to the step-by-step directions. If you’re really having trouble picturing what to do with just written instruction, consider consulting one of the many videos on YouTube that demonstrate a large variety of sharpening methods and equipment. However, these instructions should be more than satisfactory, even for non-visual learners.

Note: If you are a beginner to knife sharpening, I suggest you start out by learning how to sharpen on a cheap knife that you wouldn’t care about should you make any mistakes (you will make mistakes, it’s the best way to learn). Then as your skills progress you can move on to sharpening your higher quality and more expensive blades.

  1. Begin with the side of your sharpening stone that has rough grit if your blade has become very dull. How do you know which side is the one with the rough grit though? You might be able to tell just by looking at it. You can also do a thumbnail test. Scratch the surface with a thumbnail, and whichever side has a rougher feel, that’s the side you want to begin with. The side with the rough grit will probably also be a lot more porous than the one with the finer grit. If, for example, you put water on a single side of it, and the stone just drinks it up, then it’s probably the rough grit.
  2. Next you will need to prepare your sharpening stone for the process. If you have some lubricant, then now is the time to get it out and apply a liberal coating to the surface of the stone.
  3. Put the knife blade down on the stone and adjust it to your desired angle, usually somewhere between 10 to 20 degrees. The trick to sharpening a pocket knife is keeping a constant angle. Different knives are going to need separate sharpening angles. This will get you an edge that’s sharp enough and just right for most of your everyday needs. Keeping a constant angle with just your hand is hard, and it takes quite a bit of practice. If you’re having trouble, you might think about buying a knife sharpening guide.
  4. When your blade is set at just the right angle, you’re really ready to begin sharpening. Picture you’re carving a little piece of the surface of the stone. Bring the blade into the stone. You can also stroke the blade in a motion away from the surface of the stone too. Both methods work, so just utilize whatever method you want.
  5. Now flip the blade and repeat step 4 for the other side of the blade.
  6. Once you’ve sharpened both sides of the knife blade, continue with many alternating strokes, where you sharpen one side with a stroke on the stone, and then switch to the opposite side.
  7. Turn the sharpening stone over so the fine grit side is exposed and repeat from step 3 to step 6 until the edge of the blade has reached what you consider sufficient sharpness.

That’s really all there is to it. Now you’ve done some basic pocket knife sharpening. You may also consider using a strop after sharpening with your stone to fine tune and polish the blade edge. Again, stropping is also personal preference and many knife users do not strop their pocket knives. If you need a quality sharpening system for your knives without breaking the bank, I highly recommend the TRI-6 Sharpening Stone System that can be found for less than $20.