How To Sharpen A Pocket Knife – A Useful Guide

a pocket knife on a mossy surface

In urgent need of a pocket knife, you find one, but the blade is dull and so is your face when you see it?

Say no more. I know the feeling.

Luckily, sharpening your knife can be done a couple of ways – both of which are fairly easy once you know what you’re doing.

Keep reading, and you will find out everything you need to know about how to sharpen a pocket knife.

Tools Needed To Sharpen A Pocket Knife

There are two methods to sharpen a pocket knife:

  1. Sharpening with a stone
  1. Sharpening using a honing rod

To sharpen a knife you need tools. The tools you need will vary depending on the method you choose.

If you go for method 1 – sharpening with a stone; you need a sharpening stone and a lubricant.

If you go for method 2 – using a honing rod; well, a honing rod.

Sharpening Stone

several different sharpening stones

There are a few different types of sharpening stones you can use.

Whichever stone you choose, it should be at least 2×6 inches, so you can easily maneuver your sharpening.

The most common stones used for sharpening are:

  • Whetstone
  • Ceramic stone
  • Diamond stone

Whetstone

Whetstones, otherwise known as water stones, can be natural or artificial stones.

Artificial stones are made with bonded abrasives. Bonded abrasives contain abrasive grains that provide a faster and more effective cutting action than natural stones.

They usually make them as a double-sided block with a coarse grit on one side and a fine grit on the other. This way, one stone has everything you need to sharpen a knife.

Natural whetstones are made of quartz, such as novaculite.

Whetstone blocks can be big and intended for use on a bench. We call them – bench stones. Whetstone can also be small-sized and portable. These are known as pocket stones.

When sharpening a larger blade, it’s hard to maintain consistent pressure and angle using a pocket stone. However, for a pocket knife blade a pocket stone is the right fit.

Before you start sharpening your blade on it, you should put your whetstone in cold, clean water for ten minutes.

Generally speaking, whetstones are the easiest to use.

Ceramic Stone

These stones are made as a fused block or rod of ceramic material.

You can use ceramic stones dry or soak them in water for three to five minutes before you use them.

They are harder than whetstones which means that they will sharpen your blade faster.

Ceramic stones last longer than whetstones, but are a bit more challenging to use.

Diamond Stone

These stones are made in several different levels of coarseness. Hard, fine, and superfine.

Diamond stones look like metal plates with small diamonds attached to their surfaces. Hence the name diamond stones.

Diamond stones are the hardest sharpening stones. That means that they will sharpen your blade the quickest.

Diamond stones also last the longest. Their longevity and the fact that they contain small diamonds make them the most expensive type of sharpening stone.

Lubrication

We recommend using a lubricant when sharpening your knife with a stone.

Some stones you can use dry, but that can create enough heat to warp the blade.

Cover the surface of your sharpening stone with mineral, baby, or canola oil.

The lubrication of the stone does more than just prevent heat due to friction building up. It also prevents the pores in the stone from getting clogged up with metal shavings.

Mineral oil is an ideal candidate for sharpening because it is light and does not harden or go rancid. Light oil is desirable because a heavy or viscous oil can hinder the sharpening action of the stone.

If you are out in the field and you do not have any oil on hand, don’t worry. While oil is better, water will also do just fine.

Honing Rod – An Alternative To Stone

a honing rod

What is a honing rod?

It is a kitchen tool that looks a bit like a small lightsaber.

Mounted on the handle is a round rod. Which is usually made from steel, ceramic, or diamond-coated steel.

While rods will, in a way, sharpen your knives, what they actually do is hone the blade.

Sharpening removes material from the blade to produce a new, sharp edge. Whereas, honing keeps the blade sharp by pushing the edge of the knife back to the center.

Honing the blade brings pretty much the same result as sharpening your knife on a stone.

There are several kinds of rods.

The most common is the steel honing rod, which is also known as sharpening steel. It is a very effective and reliable way to sharpen your knife.

Rods can also be made out of ceramic and diamond.

Both ceramic and diamond rods are very reliable. Be sure that both will sharpen your knives quickly and effectively.

It is a well-known fact that diamond rods create the smoothest blades.

Sharpening With A Stone – Step By Step

a pocket knife on a tree stump

Sharpening stones are very useful for sharpening a pocket knife.

Sharpening stones have two sides that have different grit levels. One side is rougher and the other is finer.

When you start sharpening your knife, first you sharpen using the rough side, then you sharpen using the fine side.

Follow the step-by-step guide below to sharpen your knife properly.

Step 1 – Take your sharpening stone and position yourself properly

It is important to hold your knife steady at a consistent angle while you are sharpening it.

So place your stone on a non-slip surface or a mat. You can also put a clean rag or paper towel underneath the stone. This way you can protect the surface you are using from oil stains, or if you are using water, to keep the surface dry.

It is better to start with the rough grit side of the stone facing up. Then when you’ve sharpened both sides of the blade, turn the stone over so that the fine side is facing upwards.

If the blade is extremely dull, definitely start with the rough grit side of the stone facing up. Use the fine side of the stone for blades that only need minor sharpening.

Step 2 – Lubricate your sharpening stone

Completely cover the side of the stone you are using with mineral, baby or canola oil, or water.

When using a whetstone or ceramic stone, you should use mineral oil. If you don’t have mineral oil on hand, you can soak the stone in water for the correct amount of time (mentioned above). For diamond stones, baby oil works best.

The purpose of lubrication is to prevent the stone’s pores from clogging up with the swarf, filings, and grit. It also prevents friction from heating the knife blade. A hot blade can warp, which will make it impossible to sharpen. It can also make it difficult to open and close the pocket knife properly.

Step 3 – Clean your knife

Don’t forget about this step, as it’s important to make sure your knife is clean before you begin.

You can use soap and water to wipe the blade clean of dirt, grease, and any other residue.

Be sure to dry it completely before you start the sharpening process.

Step 4 – Position the knife at the proper angle against the stone

Every knife varies and has a different edge angle. Your goal in sharpening is usually to match that angle. Unless you want to completely alter your knife.

Experts recommend sharpening at a 15- to 20-degree angle on both sides.

Be sure to keep your hand as steady as you can and maintain the angle throughout the entire process.

If you want to keep the same angle that your knife came with, you can check for that information in the pocket knife’s manual. If you don’t have a manual, you can contact the manufacturer and ask them what the right angle is for your knife.

Some experts suggest drawing a marker line along the edge before sharpening it.

That way, you can tell whether you have the right angle after a couple of sharpening strokes. If the ink is all gone, the angle is right. If not, the ink that’s left will show you where you need to adjust the angle.

Step 5 – Start sharpening your knife

a person using a whetstone to sharpen a knife

Hold the handle of the knife in your dominant hand at the correct bevel angle. Use one or two fingers of your free hand to press the blade gently, but firmly, into the stone.

Now you can start gliding the knife along with the stone. This movement looks as if you are slicing thin layers of the stone.

Sweep the knife down and off the end of the whetstone. You can bring it towards you or away from you. That is down to personal preference.

Repeat as many times as necessary to produce a sharp edge, usually about 12 times. If the knife was extremely dull to begin with, it might take more.

It is crucial to try to maintain the same angle throughout the sharpening process.

As they say, practice makes perfect! So, be easy on yourself, and don’t expect to do it perfectly the first time you try it.

If you get fed up and need help, consider using a sharpening guide. It is a cheap, but handy and helpful tool for maintaining that constant sharpening angle.

Step 6 – Repeat sharpening on the other side of the blade

Flip the knife over, and repeat step 5 to sharpen the other side of the blade.

Remember to maintain the correct bevel angle throughout the sharpening process.

Step 7 – Flip the stone over so that the finer side is facing up

Repeat steps 1 to 6.

Step 8 – Test your knife’s sharpness

a man testing his knife's sharpness

No, not like this guy.

Instead, take a piece of paper, hold it up and try slicing down through the paper with your knife. A sharp blade will slide easily through the paper and create a clean cut.

Step 9 – Clean your tools

When you have finished your knife sharpening and sharpness testing, wipe your knife down with a clean rag to remove any oil residue or moisture.

Then, you can wash it with soap and water to be completely sure it’s clean.

Finally, use paper towels to pat the sharpening stone dry before you store it.

Sharpening With A Honing Rod – Step By Step

A honing rod, also known as honing steel, is used by lightly placing the near edge of the blade against the base of the steel.

Then slide the blade away from yourself along the steel while moving it down towards the tip of the rod. The blade should be moving diagonally, while the steel remains stationary.

Follow the step-by-step guide below to use your rod the right way.

Step 1 – Choose your honing rod

Rods are better for ‘honing’ the edges of knives.

Whether you choose a steel honing rod, ceramic, or diamond rod, be sure that they will sharpen your knives quickly and effectively.

Step 2 – Position your rod properly

You should hold the rod by the handle, and the rod’s tip should be on a stable surface.

The rod should be held straight up so that it stands perfectly vertical.

Step 3 – Identify the right bevel angle

You need to define the right angle at which you should hold the blade against the rod.

Pocket knives are usually held at a 25- to 30-degree angle.

Step 4 – Start swiping the knife’s edge along the rod

When you start swiping the knife against the rod, you should do it gently and with a light touch.

Move the knife from heel to tip while you are swiping it down along the rod.

Make sure that you maintain the same angle throughout the swiping.

Step 5 – Hone the other side of the blade

Flip the knife around and repeat step 4, honing the other side of the blade.

Step 6 – Test the sharpness of your knife

a person cutting paper with a knife to test sharpness

Hold up a piece of paper and try slicing down through it with your knife.

As I mentioned above, a sharp blade will slide easily through the paper and create a clean cut.

What have we learned?

You can sharpen your pocket knife with a sharpening stone or using a honing rod.

Which method you will use is up to your personal preference.

If your knife is relatively sharp, you will only have to swipe it along the rod or stone a couple of times on each side. If your knife has a very dull blade, you will have to swipe it several more times.

If you are often out in the field, carrying a pocket sharpening stone with you for your pocket knife is a great idea.

If you’re in the comfort of your own home when you want to sharpen your knife, I suggest you get both a stone and a honing rod.

Here’s why: the honing rod will realign the edge of the blade while a sharpening stone will remove steel and create a new edge out of freshly exposed steel.

Knowing this, you can choose what you want to use, based on what you want to achieve with your knife.

Voila! You are now ready to do some sharpening. Just be careful not to cut yourself!