How To Sharpen a Pocket Knife – The Freehand Guide To Honing a Sexy Sharp Blade

how-to-sharpen-a-pocket-knife-lessonEvery man and woman should carry a pocket knife with them daily, and every man or woman should know how to sharpen a pocket knife. That’s one thing about pocket knives, if you use them they will get dull! It’s just an unavoidable cold hard fact of life. Okay, well maybe it’s not quite as bad as that, but they will need sharpened from time to time!

How Many Sharpening Techniques Are There?

While poking around online, I’ve realized that there are many people out there asking “How do you sharpen a pocket knife”, “What is the best way to sharpen a knife”, and searching Google for things such as “best way to sharpen a pocket knife”, “best pocket knife sharpener”, and “how to sharpen a blade”. And since my website here is all about pocket knives, I thought it would be appropriate to write an article about the best way to sharpen a pocket knife. We’re going to cover everything you need to know in regards to honing that razor sharp edge on your favorite pocket knives, and we have some great recommendations on sharpeners and stones.

Now there are probably as many techniques for sharpening a pocket knife as there are types of pocket knives, okay well maybe not that many, but there’s definitely a bunch. So is one technique or tool better than all the rest? The answer is no. Don’t be silly! Just as there is no single best pocket knife, there is no single best pocket knife sharpener.

The Only Tools You Will Ever Need to Sharpen Your Pocket Knife

best-way-to-sharpen-a-pocket-knifeThis here is my favorite way to sharpen my pocket knives. It’s the way that I grew up using, and it’s the way that I’ll die using. If you want to keep it simple, stay old school, and follow the knife sharpening traditions that were forged ages ago…

All you need is a great sharpening stone (whetstone) and some sharpening lubricant or water.

Forget all the fancy sharpening tools and gimmicks, this method sticks to the basics and it plain and simple works. We recommend this method due to it’s simplicity and timelessness. Knives have been sharpened this way for thousands of years, why change it now?

Learn How To Sharpen a Pocket Knife with a Sharpening Stone and Lubricant

Here’s a great tutorial that will walk you through exactly how to sharpen your pocket knife. It was recorded by YouTube user kwikshowmehow2.

Here’s The 10 Steps To Sharpen a Pocket Knife with a Sharpening Stone

This technique is call the “Freehand” technique. It is probably the oldest method for sharpening a knife … grind them against stone. Couldn’t be simpler! Well there is a bit more to it than that if you want to hone a REALLY sharp blade. Just follow along to find out exactly how. I link to the tools we will be using throughout the tutorial so you can get them on if you don’t have them, or just get more information on them.


Step One
Get all of your knife sharpening tools laid out and ready to use.

The items you will need to follow this lesson exactly are a coarse/medium sharpening stone, a Japanese water stone, a ceramic stone, either honing oil or water for a lubricant, a towel or mat, and of course your old trusty (hopefully not rusty) pocket knife! If you don’t have all of these sharpening tools, you can get by with just a regular rough/medium sharpening stone, but if you want a REALLY sharp blade, you should think about getting the rest of the items in this list. We’ll be going over the items thoroughly in the steps that follow.


Step Two
Prepare your sharpening stones.

Here’s where you need to decide if you will be using water or honing oil. You’ll find many people on both sides of this debate so go with whichever option you like best, or what your sharpening stone recommends. I prefer to use water while I’m sharpening a pocket knife freehand. Otherwise I tend to get the oil all over myself somehow.

Be careful, some stones only work well with oil or are designed for use with water only.

Preparing your sharpening stone with oil. (oilstones only)

Norton Fine Coarse India Combination OilstoneMany people have a misconception about using oil to sharpen pocket knife. The purpose of the oil when it comes to sharpening a knife with an oilstone, is to keep the pores in the stone from getting clogged with tiny particles of metal, and reducing heat from the friction. The purpose is NOT to lubricate the stone. Some people prefer to use dry stones and they work just as well.

The first step here is to make sure that you have an oilstone such as the Norton Fine/Coarse India Combination Oilstone. Using oil on a whetstone can ruin it so just don’t do that. Now take a look at your stone and see if it already feels a bit oily. It should. If the stone is dirty, you might need to wash it first, then dry it, then rub in some oil and let is soak for a bit.

Lansky Nathans Natural Honing OilNext make sure you have your honing oil such as Lansky Nathan’s Natural Honing Oil. If your oilstone already feels slightly oily and you’ve got your oil ready, go ahead and put some on the surface of the rougher side of your sharpening stone. Remember that a little oil goes a long way. You want just enough that you can see the oil move around when you swipe your blade across it. Just enough that it looks thick on the surface, but not pooling or runny.

Preparing your sharpening stone with water. (waterstones only)

Kotobuki-King-K-80-Combo-WhetstoneThe other option for a pocketknife sharpening stone is awaterstone, or whetstone. Waterstones are prepared differently than oilstones and they cannot be interchanged. Check out the Kotobuki King K 80 Combo Whetstone for a great whetstone.

Different types of whetstones require slightly preparation. If your waterstone is made from a soft stone, then you need to soak your stone for a while before using it. Lots of the harder stones don’t really soak up water so you can just splash some water on and get sharpening. Remember what we mentioned earlier? Wetting the stone is to keep the metal particles form clogging up the stone, not for lubricating it.

Once you’ve either oiled your oilstone or soaked and splashed your waterstone (whetstone) … you’re ready to move on to the next step!


Step 3:
Finding the angle of your bevel.

Now you’re ready to start sharpening your knife! … well almost. This next step is VERY important when freehand sharpening a pocket knife. It’s called “finding your bevel“.

Here’s How to find your bevel.

how-to-find-knife-blade-bevel-200x239Finding your bevel simply means finding the angle of the slant on the edge of your pocket knife. This is important because you want to try to sharpen your knife at the same bevel as it already has. Here is a great detailed article about the different types of grinds and bevels if you want to get super technical. For most of you, you can just skip past that and start finding your bevel. The most basic way to find your bevel is to judge it by feel. If you slowly rock your knife blade edge against your stone, you can feel the spot where the edge of the blade is flat, before it rolls over too far in either direction.

Here’s a tip – you can use a marker to color in a part of your bevel, then when you are sharpening it, you can tell if you’re getting all of the bevel to contact the stone by whether you are wearing off all the marker or not. If not, adjust your angle until you are.

Getting your angle right and keeping it consistent are essential to perfecting your freehand sharpening technique. If you REALLY need some help, you can check out theMinoSharp 2 Piece Sharpening Guides.

Okay, you’ve got all your knife sharpening tools laid out, you’ve prepared your stones, and you’ve found your bevel … LET’s GET STARTED ALREADY!!


Step 4
Sharpen the first side of your pocket knife blade.

pocket-knife-sharpening-stones-200x133Let the sharpening begin! There are two basic directions you can go with the sharpening motion. You can either slide the knife blade away from you or towards you. Some people even like to go back and forth, making use of both directions. I like to move the blade across the stone away from myself like I’m tying to slice a thin layer off the stone, then draw it backwards in the reverse motion towards myself, as demonstrated in the video above. Whichever method you choose, choose what feels comfortable to you.

Watch the video above to see the exact motion that you should be using.

Now lay the edge of your blade at the proper angle to make contact with the entire width of the bevel, and push the knife away from yourself as if you were slicing off a thin piece of the stone, reverse the motion drawing the blade closer to yourself, then repeat. If you prefer the “away from you” method only, start with the blade close to you, and drag the bevel of the blade across the stone away from you. Make sure to add just a bit of pressure, there’s no need to press too hard. You have to just let the stone do the work, not your muscle.

Repeat and count the number of passes you make. I’d say around 12 – 20 times.


Step 5
Sharpen the second side of your pocket knife blade.

best-way-to-sharpen-a-pocket-knife-tips-200x133There isn’t really too much else to tell you in this step except to go ahead and sharpen the second side of your blade. Make sure to keep the angle consistent and do the same amount of passes that you did on the first side. This will help you to keep both sides of the bevel the same angle, and amount of metal that gets removed will be as consistent as possible. It’s best if you can develop a solid, steady technique and keep it as consistent as possible every time. This is the key to freehand pocket knife sharpening.


Step 6
A few final passes and move on to the next grit.

To make sure that you have as sharp of an edge as possible with the rough grit stone, make a few alternating passes on both sides of the blade. Front – back, front  – back. At this step, also take a really close look at your blade’s edge and see if both sides of the edge look even, have the same bevel, and look consistent all around. If you see any differences, do a few more passes on teh side where the correction is needed, and move on only when both sides of the bevel are even.


Step 7:
Repeat the sharpening process on a finer grit stone, or the finer side of your stone.

Now go ahead and flip over your sharpening stone to the finer grit side and repeat steps 4, 5 & 6. The finer the grit, the sharper you will be able to hone your blade since the abrasiveness is not as rough, but keep in mind that you have to work up slowly to the finest grits to avoid damaging your blade. Follow the directions in steps 4,5, & 6 the exact same way.

Now, when you are finished with this step, you’ve followed our directions, and have used the proper technique – your knife will be sharp and ready to go slice open some boxes! You can definitely stop here if you would like and walk away with an “averagely” sharpened pocket knife. Here is where most average people stop, being content with their “averagely” sharpened pocket knife.

… but for those who want to learn how to make a pocket knife EXTRA sharp – read on my friend!


Step 8:
Taking it to the next level with a Japanese Waterstone.

The Japanese know their blades. Just ask any Samurai on the street and he’ll tell you … or his sword will show you. Rather than learning a harsh lesson from him, just read through this step and it will explain it all. So now let’s take after the Samurai and take our pocket knife blades to the next level!

japanese-waterstone-300x192What you’re going to need is a Japanese Waterstone, such as the Woodock SteeleX D1130 Japanese Waterstone. Now you are going to repeat steps 4,5 & 6 yet once again but using your Japanese Waterstone. Make sure to soak your stone for about 20 minutes prior to using it, and pour a little extra water on the surface when in use. The grit on this stone is usually around 1000 grit for the rougher side.

When you are using this fine of a grit to sharpen with, you have to take extra care to get your angle right for maximum sharpness. It’s actually easier to judge your bevel with a grit this fine, and if you pay close attention you can feel and hear the the small differences. Another reason to be extra careful is that if your angle is too steep, you can actually cut into the stone and ruin it.

Once you finish honing both sides of your blade on the rougher grit side of your waterstone, repeat the process on the finest grit side of the stone, usually around 4000 – 6000 grit. On this fine of a grit, you probably won’t hear much of a difference if you don’t have your angle right, but if you pay close attention you can feel it.

So after this step, if you’ve done well and perfected your technique, you will have an EXTRA sharp pocket knife blade. Not only that but your bevel will start to show a nicely polished bevel. It is completely acceptable to stop sharpening your knife now, I won’t think any less of you … but …



Step 9: 
Finishing up with an ultra fine sharpening stone.

spyderco-ultra-fine-benchstone-300x212So you have already been through 3 or 4 different grits, progressing to a finer one each time, and you’ve finished with you 4000 grit Japanese Waterstone. You now have a very sharp pocket knife indeed and the bevel should have a slightly polished look to it. A finely honed blade such as this will definitely get the approval of your buddies … but wait … we can still take it to the next level!

“How?” you may ask?

Go out and get yourself a Spyderco Ultra Fine Benchstone. At a grit of 8000, a handful of precise passes on each side of your blade will turn that extra sharp blade into an EXTREMELY sharp blade. We’re getting extreme here. You will only need a handful of passes to get the job done. Remember that we are just fine tuning the edge of the blade, most of the work has already been done.


Step 10: 
Practice, practice, practice!

There you have it. You now have a pocket knife blade that is so sharp it can cut right through the air … and slice a piece of paper in half like it was air. Good job fellow pocket knife enthusiast, you’ve done your blade well. Go show all your friends just how much sharper your pocket knife is than theirs.

One thing to keep in mind, is that freehand style knife sharpening is an art. It takes lots of practice to master and if you are really bad at it, you can really screw up your knife.We recommend starting out by practicing on a knife that is not one of your best. Once you are able to hone a nice sharp edge on a few test knives, go ahead and take a stab at your good pocket knife. (Pun intended)

Now if all this sounds a like a bit too much, and you could care less about all of the finer details and just want a sharp pocket knife as easily and quickly as possible, we recommend trying out the Spyderco Triangle Sharpmaker. Pocket knife sharpening made easy right there. It’s a great little pocket knife sharpener that takes all of the guesswork and uncertainty out of sharpening your pocket knife.


(The Secret Extra Step)

Shhhh … keep it to a whisper here … we don’t want your friends finding out about this! This little step is how you can achieve  a SEXY SHARP BLADE on your pocket knife. If you want to obtain this highest level of sharpness in all it’s polished glory, you need this or something like it. Plain and simple.

Once you have it, use the same technique you have been using on the sharpening stones, and do between 20 and 40 passes on each side. This is what will give your pocket knife blade a highly polished sexy sharp edge.


Enough said.


An Army of Finely Honed Pocket Knives!

Well, there you have it. My preferred way to sharpen a pocket knife using sharpening stones & lubricants. I hope you had fun learning about the art of sharpening a pocket knife freehand, it’s definitely been fun writing this tutorial! By keeping your blade razor sharp, you will be making sure your trusty tool stays one of the best pocket knives in your pocket.

Whichever method you choose, get those knives sharp and join our army of finely honed pocket knife-wielding gentlemen and gentleladies!