How to Sharpen A Knife Properly: Hunting & Survival Blade Sharpening Tips

How to Sharpen A Knife Properly

A proper blade can be the best friend of a person who enjoys the outdoors.

This incredible tool can be used for general purposes; however, having one and having a tool that gets the job done whenever it’s needed are two very different things.

That being said, we will give you the most comprehensive guide on how to sharpen a pocket knife, hunting knife, survival knife or bushcraft knife to maintain its usability.

You have a blade? This guide will help you sharpen it…

After all, one that doesn’t work is literally useless!

There are lots of ways for you to accomplish this task. For those who are experienced in properly sharpening knives, they have their own distinct methods that work best for them.

In this article, we will cover the easiest method for beginners. If you don’t have any sharpening tools, check out this article I wrote on the best pocket knife sharpeners.

Necessary Tools and Materials to Sharpen Your Pocket Knife, Hunting Knife or Survival Knife

  • Sharpening tool
  • Honing oil
  • Cleaning rag
  • Rubber nonslip mat
  • Paper towel
  • A piece of paper
  • Sharpening guide

You already know that you need honing oil as lubricant and a sharpening stone, which is also called a whetstone. The problem is when you try to shop for a whetstone and a lubricant online. There are different kinds of sharpening stones for sale and you will definitely be overwhelmed with the number of options available, especially if you don’t know which one is best for your blade.

To help you make the right buying decision, here’s some information to keep in mind:

Sharpening Stone

Sharpening stones, as we’ve mentioned earlier, come in various types and styles. There are those with two sides with different grit levels. These whetstones have a smooth side and a rough side.

High-end sharpening stones are also available and they have diamond dust encrusted on their surface. Some other high-end sharpening stones like Japanese water stones make use of water rather than honing oil.

As soon as you become an expert or at least a bit experienced at sharpening knives, the kind of whetstone you’re likely going to choose will depend on your knife’s function, as well as your preferences. Using several different kinds of sharpening stones will prove to be the best, if not the only way for you to find out which one is best for you. But, for beginners, there are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration.

If you’re trying to sharpen a high-end knife, we would seriously advise against the use of cheap sharpening stones or the ones that you already have as they might damage the blades.

Although whetstones can be expensive, getting the most expensive model that you can find won’t necessarily be the best for you.

If you’re just starting out with knife sharpening, then a high-quality basic sharpening stone would be perfect. As soon as you learn the proper way of sharpening a knife, that’s when you can try using more expensive stones and that’s when you’ll see what works for you. Until then, a basic sharpening stone can be used to hone your blades edge.

Knife Sharpening Stone

Here are the most popular kinds of whetstones as well as their respective uses:

  • Oil Stones

An oil stone is typically the kind of whetstone that you can find in the shed of your dad or grandpa. It’s available at any hardware store and is great if you want to put a nice edge on a knife. But, this kind of sharpening stone will take an extended period of time if you want a good edge on a very old knife that already has a dull blade. With such tool, you’ll need a stone with a finer grit.

  • Diamond Stones

A diamond sharpening stone is an excellent choice if you want your blade to have an edge that’s razor sharp. It can be bought for $20 or less (Here is a pocket sized one), and it will last you an entire life. A whetstone with diamond dust embedded onto it will be great for hundreds or even thousands of knife sharpening sessions.

  • Ceramic Stones

A ceramic stone, on the other hand, should be used only if you have lots of experience. If you’re still starting out, you need to be very careful as the ceramic’s quality will have an impact on how well it sharpens a knife’s blade. If the ceramic is too hard, it will glaze over and it becomes ineffective. If it’s too soft, then it will simply wear out quickly, requiring you to get a replacement. A ceramic stone also requires a ton of care and maintenance; however, with experience and the proper technique, it will certainly give your blade an edge that’s unlike any other.

  • Synthetic Sharpening Stone

A synthetic sharpening stone is becoming more and more popular each day as it’s quite affordable. Some will require you to use with it light lubrication while others need soaking for hours before they can be used. They’re ideal for knives that are “western style.” A synthetic sharpening stone, with its incredible material engineering, is a tool that’s easy to use in getting the edge of a knife sharp.

  • Natural Stone

While a natural sharpening stone is the best type that you can get, it’s also quite pricey, which is why most people stay away from it. Mined in Japan, a natural sharpening stone will give your knife an edge that will last long from the random grits that are found within the stone. Unfortunately, most of the mines have shut down, which has caused the supply of such kind of whetstone to be limited. This is also the reason why its price tag is continually rising.

Which Sharpening Stone Should You Use?

Choosing a whetstone can be hard if you want to get one that’s the best for you. To help you with your struggle and ensure the sharpening stone you get is the right one for your sharpening experience and the type of knife you have, then read on.

As you already know, there are two grit levels: smooth and rough. The rough grit is a good surface for working on really dull blades while the finer grit gives blades a nice edge.

Your knife’s size will also have an impact on the right size for your sharpening stone. The common ones are 3-, 4-, and 6-inch stones, and they’re more than enough for a small knife. If you have a larger knife, then you will need a larger stone of at least 8 inches.

Honing Oil

The honing oil is necessary in any sharpening process as it’s the one that will prevent your blade from sustaining any damages. As you’re running the blade across the whetstone, tiny metal shavings will accumulate on your whetstone, making it less effective. In addition, the friction that’s created while you’re sharpening can damage your knife’s blade. There are those who use mineral oil as lubricant while others use water. You can purchase a good quality honing oil for sharpening stones for under $5.

Steps on Sharpening a Pocket Knife, Hunting Knife or Survival Knife

Now that you know every single thing that’s needed in sharpening a knife, it’s time for you to move on to the actual process itself!

Give your knife a razor-sharp edge by following the steps listed below:

Step 1:

As soon as you have all the necessary tools and materials to get started, sit down and have a steady table in front of you. Then, take a hold of your knife and keep it at a steady, consistent angle. You should do so throughout the entire sharpening process. The non-slip mat will be your work surface. You can place a clean rag over it to protect the mat from oil stains. Put your whetstone above the rag as well and make sure it’s within easy reach. Remember that if the blade of your knife is extremely dull, you need to use a stone’s rough grit side. You can use the stone’s fine side for a blade that only needs minor sharpening.

Step 2:

Cover the whetstone’s surface completely using the honing oil. The oil will keep the pores of the stone from clogging with loosened metal debris while you’re sharpening your knife. Your honing oil will also prevent friction from heating the knife blade up. Take note that a hot blade will warp, which will make it close to impossible for you to sharpen it.

Step 3:

Now, attach your purchased sharpening guide above the knife blade. Doing so will provide you with a fixed angle to sharpen the blade. Every knife has to be slanted at its exact bevel angle, which is the angle in which the blade slants. Make sure that your sharpening guide is designed specifically for your knife’s angle, which can be discerned from its packaging.

Most manufacturers of knives list bevel angles for their products on their websites, but the bevel angle for most knives is 10 to 20 degrees.

With practice, there won’t be any need for you to use a guide for sharpening a knife. But, you still need to determine the bevel angle of your knife. When you’re sharpening it, you have to hold your knife in a way that it keeps the bevel flat at the angle that’s recommended by the manufacturer.

Step 4:

For step four, hold your knife’s handle using your dominant hand. Make sure that it’s at the right bevel angle. Then, use two fingers from your free hand to firmly press the dull blade into the whetstone as you’re guiding across it. Think of it as if you’re slicing a thin layer off the whetstone’s top. Choosing to draw the knife towards you or away from your body as you sharpen the blade will just be a matter of preference.

Either way, the knife should be following a sweeping arc over the whetstone. If you’re holding the knife in your right hand, then you will move the knife starting from the left corner all the way to the right. Do this up to ten times. The angled movement will ensure that the tip of the blade through its heel touches the stone.

Step 5:

Turn your knife over and then repeat step four in order to sharpen both sides of the blade. Maintain the right bevel angle all throughout the process of sharpening the blade.

Step 6:

To find out whether you’re successful with the endeavor or not, hold up a piece of paper. Position your knife at an angle of 30 degrees, and then slide into the edge of the paper. If your blade goes in easily and creates a clean cut, that means you have been successful in sharpening the knife!

If the blade doesn’t slice through your paper with ease, then repeat steps four and give. Give the blade another set of five strokes per side. Don’t stop sharpening the knife until you’re completely satisfied with the result. Also, remember that you should always complete an equal number of strokes on every side of your knife.

Step 7:

As soon as your knife is sharpened enough, wipe it using a clean rag and remove any oil residue. Use paper towels to pat the whetstone dry before putting it into storage.

We suggest you re-sharpen your knife’s blade after every three to five uses or when you think it’s getting dull. You can check if another sharpening session is needed using the paper test that was described in step six. Through proper care and maintenance, the knife will maintain its functionality for decades!

Here is also a great video I found:

How to Properly Maintain a Knife

Knowing how to maintain your knife is often an overlooked aspect. Here’s the thing: no matter how good you are at sharpening your knife, it won’t hold its edge for long if you don’t know how to maintain it properly.

Below are a few tips on how to extend the longevity of your sharp blade.

  • Keep It Dry

Most people tend to not think about rust if they have a knife with a stainless steel blade.

Keep in mind that rust is a serious problem for a knife. Microscopic rusting is one of the reasons why the edge gets dull faster.

The term stainless steel is a bit misleading.

Steel will always rust.

It’s just that stainless steel is engineered to resist rust for a very long time. However, if you keep getting your pocket knife wet, it will start rusting a lot faster.

This is especially true if you have a knife with carbon steel as it’s more susceptible to rust and corrosion. Keeping your knife in a dry place can help prevent the early onset of rust and dulling. Also, wipe off and dry the blade as soon as you can after use.

Clean Knife

  • Keep It Clean

To keep the sharpness of your knife for longer, you also need to keep it clean. Debris and other foreign materials can cause damage to the knife, which makes it dull faster. This is especially true for pocket knives as it’s easy for foreign materials to get stuck due to the folding mechanism. Hence, you need to regularly clean the entire thing and not just the blade.

When cleaning the blade, it’s best to use a solvent like paint thinner or acetone. Also, stick to solutions that are specifically made for knives. Some chemicals will actually cause more harm than good. A good example is chlorine which can accelerate the corrosion process.

Keep in mind that using solvents is a good choice only if you know the specific type of metal that’s been used. If you’re not so sure, then you can go for the safer route. This typically means cleaning your knife with warm soapy water and a toothbrush. You can use a toothpick to dislodge stubborn foreign materials. Dry off the knife with a dry cloth and then apply oil which is covered in the next point.

  • Keep It Well Oiled

Another essential practice you must do take care of your knife properly is to apply oil or lubricant regularly. This does two things. For one, it will minimize the contact between water, moisture, and air with the knife. This will further minimize the damage like oxidation and corrosion.

Another beneficial aspect of oil or lubricant is that it will keep the moving parts smoother to operate. If your knife is not lubricated, the blade may get stretched or acquire other mechanical damages. Also, your knife may also be unsafe to use if it’s difficult to operate.

While most types of oil are theoretically safe for your knife, it’s still best that you stick to the ones that are formulated for a knife as this will minimize complications.


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