12 Effective Ways to Sharpen a Pocket Knife

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By Bear

It is far too easy to neglect taking care of your pocket knife and run into the problem of the blade not being sharp enough when you need it the most. Fortunately, this catastrophe can be avoided easily if you sharpen your knife using the simple techniques discussed below.

How do I sharpen my pocket knife? There are 12 effective ways to sharpen your pocket knife:

  1. First test the sharpness of the blade
  2. Choose a knife sharpener that is easy to carry
  3. Whetstones
  4. Synthetic Stones
  5. Use honing solution or water while you sharpen your pocket knife
  6. Manual pull-through sharpeners
  7. Automatic knife sharpeners
  8. Pivot Sharpeners
  9. Honing Rod (Sharpening Steel)
  10. Tungsten Carbide File
  11. Everyday objects
  12. Store your knife properly to keep it sharp

The 12 most effective ways to keep your pocket knife sharp will be discussed in further detail below. You will find out how you can even sharpen your knife using everyday objects if you find yourself in a bind without a knife sharpener.

How Often Should I Sharpen My Pocket Knife?

Pocket knives should be sharpened routinely in order to maintain performance demands. More importantly, a dull pocket knife is a safety hazard. Dull blades cause you to overcompensate and apply more pressure when cutting. This can lead to injuries and can also damage your knife blade.

Higher-quality pocket knife blades can hold their edges for years, depending upon the frequency of usage and type of usage. Every pocket knife blade will need to be sharpened at some point. Look for a loss in the performance of the blade to determine when the blade needs to be sharpened.

1. How to Test the Sharpness of Your Pocket Knife

You know it’s time to sharpen your pocket knife when it starts to take extra force to cut through objects, but how do you know for sure whether a knife is sharp or not? There are simple tests you can perform to determine whether your pocket knife is sharp or not. You are encouraged to test all your knives for sharpness before you plan on using them.

The best way to test the sharpness of a knife is to use it for its intended purpose. Start out by collecting scraps of rope and some sticks or branches from your yard. These are probably the types of materials that you will cut the most with your pocket knife. Once you have collected these items, test the sharpness of the pocket knives you own.

You can then set aside all the knives that have more difficulty cutting through the materials. It is important to be proactive with the testing of your knives. Even unused knives will become dull over time, especially if they are stored improperly. It’s a common misconception that a knife that hasn’t been used often will still retain its sharpness.

2. Choose a Pocket Knife Sharpener That is Portable

If you use your knife frequently, you may need to sharpen the knife regularly enough that you will have to sharpen your knife in the field. If you are an avid outdoorsman or do quite a bit of work in remote locations, you should look for a knife sharpener that is easy to move around.

If you spend a lot of time in remote locations, it also wouldn’t be a bad idea to put together an emergency kit in case you become stranded. A critical part of your emergency kit is a pocket knife and a pocket knife sharpener, which together can serve a large number of utility purposes.

Most pocket knife sharpeners are portable, as you would probably anticipate, it doesn’t take a very large tool to sharpen a pocket knife. However, I will still identify which sharpeners are the best for taking out into the field. Some pocket knife sharpeners are small enough to be carried in a pocket or placed amongst other items in an emergency kit.

3. Whetstones

You may have noticed that many survival kits come with a sharpening stone or whetstone. This is because sharpening stones are a useful tool that you can easily carry in your pocket. If you are planning a long hiking trip, there are few better choices for sharpening your pocket knife then a quality sharpening stone.

There are a variety of other situations in which a pocket knife and sharpening stone combo can come in handy.  They are an essential tool for the avid outdoorsman, particularly for trips that take place off-the-beaten path.

Whetstones are most often made of a type of stone known as an Arkansas stone, a form of Novaculite.  Whetstones come in 4 different standard grades. Each of the standard grades technically has different uses.

The four standard grades of whetstone are:

  • Washita: used to remove nicks from the blade, fairly coarse grit
  • Soft Arkansas: a general-purpose stone for finishing edges, medium grit
  • Hard Arkansas: only for fine-finishing, extra fine grit
  • Black Arkansas: this is a rare stone used for honing surgical instruments 

If you are going to use just one whetstone, your best bet will be to go with a Soft Arkansas stone because this is the most versatile of all whetstones. You can find Soft Arkansas stones sized specifically for pocket knives. A popular example of this type of product is this Premium Whetstone Knife Sharpening Stone. This stone comes packaged within a leather pouch that is easy to carry around.

4. Synthetic Stone

There are also synthetic sharpening stones that can be more affordable than genuine Arkansas stone.  The most popular synthetic sharpening stones are typically made from aluminum oxide, but some may be made from silicon carbide.

The aluminum oxide sharpening stones (often referred to as India stones) are more coarse than soft Arkansas stones. They are often paired with Arkansas stones in order to serve a diverse set of uses, covering all levels of coarseness. 

The silicon carbide sharpening stones are the quickest way to sharpen a knife. Just like the aluminum oxide stones, they too are often labeled as being either fine, medium or coarse. They are also more affordable than the natural Arkansas stones.

You will often see synthetic stones included within a knife sharpening kit that also includes a natural stone. Such is the case with this 2-stone sharpening kit. The kit includes both a synthetic and natural stone plus a bottle of honing solution. This kit is perhaps the most versatile among sharpening options, while still retaining quality characteristic of genuine Arkansas stones.

The downside to the synthetic stones in general is that they will take longer to sharpen your pocket knife than natural stones will. Natural stones will be more effective at sharpening your knife quickly while you are out in the field.

How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife Using a Stone

Sharpening a pocket knife with a stone is quite easy. It can also be quite effective once you get the technique down. Sharpen your pocket knife in accordance with the instructions from this video

  • Start off the side of the stone that has the roughest grit.
    • Rough grits are usually porous and feel tough to the touch
    • You can also tell the rough grit apart by being able to put water on it and observe the water soaking into the stone
  • Prep the stone by placing the lubricant, whether mineral oil or water, on top of the stone
  • Place the knife blade flat on top of the stone and then raise to a 10-15 degree angle
  • Slowly bring the blade of the knife downwards, you do not need to apply very much pressure as the stone will do most of the work
  • Never bring the knife back up in a direction towards your body
  • Pass the knife over each side of the stone at least 5 times.

5. Use Honing Solution or Water When You Sharpen Your Knife

It is commonly recommended that you use some kind of lubricant or honing solution when you sharpen your pocket knife. The reasoning behind this that it will improve your ability to sharpen your knife without it incurring damage.

Damage that can occur during the sharpening process can include the deposition of metal debris known as swarf on the surface of the blade. The build-up of swarthy on the knife blade can cause a deterioration in the performance of the knife.

The sharpening process also generates quite a bit of heat. Even the manual sharpening of pocket knives generates quite a bit of heat. Some of the same tools and techniques that are used to sharpen knives are also utilized to start fires in off-grid or survival situations.

The sharpening stone kit listed in the section above came with a bottle of honing solution. You can also find honing solutions online, as is the case with this W.R Stone Case & Son Honing Oil. With many sharpening stones, you can actually use mineral stones or even just water. 

The key takeaway here though is that you should at least do something to ensure that sharpening your pocket knife doesn’t actually harm the performance of your knife more than it helps it.

6. Manual Pull-Through Knife Sharpener 

Another portable knife sharpener is the manual pull-through knife sharpener. These usually feature different types of sharpeners, designed to sharpen a variety of different knives. If you are looking to sharpen a diverse set of knife types, then the manual pull-through knife sharpener is a good fit for you.

Take for example this adjustable manual knife sharpener.  This knife sharpener can sharpen both standard knives and serrated knives. The two-stage sharpening system in this sharpener contains both coarse and fine sharpeners for multiple uses. Thus, this manual sharpener is more versatile than a traditional whetstone.

How to Use a Pull-Through Knife Sharpener

The instructions for operating adjustable pull-through knife sharpeners are all similar. You can see how convenient the pull-through knife sharpener is convenient to use by looking at the instructions for the Smith’s Adjustable Angle Pull-Through Knife Sharpener.

You start out by adjusting the sharpening angle with an adjustable knob located next to the sharpening slots. The ability to adjust the sharpening angle is a characteristic unique to these types of sharpeners. If you use a sharpening stone, you will have to eyeball the angle. The recommended sharpening angle for pocket knives is 20 degrees.

Then you will place your pocket knife in either the coarse or fine-grained slots. There is also a serrated knife slot for pocket knives with serrated sections. One manufacturer recommends pulling the knife through the slot from heel to tip, or towards you. 

Proper care of the pull-through knife sharpener involves the following steps:

  • Clean the sharpener gently with a damp cloth
  • Never rinse out the sharpener with water
  • Store the sharpener in a dry, ventilated place 

7. Automatic Knife Sharpener

The best way to sharpen your knife quickly is the automatic knife sharpener. Forget having to work with a whetstone or manual sharpener, the automatic sharpener will help you maintain your blade with ease. These stems are also versatile in the same way that the manual knife sharpeners are versatile.

One of the most popular automatic knife sharpeners is the Work Sharp Knife Sharpener. This automatic sharpener is certainly versatile. It has a fine grit honing rod designed to refine smooth edges. It is useful for sharpening pocket knives, kitchen knives, and serrated knives.

Automatic knife sharpeners are well worth the cost if you use your pocket knife pretty often. The sharpener is not very portable, as it does require a 110v power source to run. However, it can be run via a 12V power inverter from a truck, boat, camper, or other vehicles.

Battery-Powered Knife Sharpener

The problem with many automatic knife sharpeners is that they have to be connected to a power source in order to work. They may work well when you have access to a vehicle power source, but they obviously don’t work well out in the field.

Enter the Smith Cordless Knife and Tool Sharpener. This sharpener is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery. It is really best suited for someone who has many different types of knives and who will have a consistent need for a knife sharpener out in the field. Otherwise, a sharpener like this may seem like overkill given the price tag.

How to Use a Powered Knife Sharpener

The powered knife sharpener is quite convenient for a diverse set of uses, but the instructions are also a little bit more complicated. Due to the powered knife sharpener’s diversity of applications, it is far too easy to select settings that will actually damage your pocket knife.

The instruction manual for this powered knife and tool sharpener includes a plethora of helpful tips and instructions.  It includes a section on how to use this powered sharpener to sharpen your pocket knife.

The pocket knife sharpening starts off with you installing a belt that is specifically-designed for pocket knives. Correct belt selection is of utmost importance, as a belt that is not of the proper coarseness for pocket knives.

Specific instructions will vary depending upon the specific model of knife sharpener being used. These sharpeners typically include an angle guide to ensure that you are setting your pocket knife at the correct angle while you are sharpening it. 

You will also usually have to switch out to a different belt before finishing. This is because the knife will develop a burr from the first sharpening belt and must be honed. Switching the belt out should be pretty easy. This is a minor inconvenience though. This sharpener is great for a multitude of uses, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for someone who is planning on using it solely for the purpose of sharpening pocket knives.

8. Carbide/Ceramic Pivot Knife Sharpener

If you’ve ever shopped for pocket knife sharpeners, you may have noticed pivot sharpeners. These are sharpeners containing a few different sharpening slots designed for specific uses. The pivot knife is a great choice for those who are looking to get a knife sharpener that is easy to carry around.

This Work Sharp EDC Pivot Knife Sharpener is highly versatile. It has a convex-carbide sharpener one side, a ceramic home on another and a diamond plate on the other. This knife sharpener’s uses are not limited to pocket knives. The diamond plate can be used to sharpen fish hooks. The convex-carbide material is used to create a convex cutting edge on your pocket knife.

9. Use a Honing Rod

Another effective way to maintain a pocket knife is to use a honing rod, such as this BloominGoods 10-inch Knife Sharpening Steel. A honing rod can be quite effective at maintaining pocket knives, as they are best known for being used in commercial kitchens.

A honing rod is technically not a knife sharpener, but it does serve the critical purpose of helping you maintain your pocket knife. A honing rod realigns the edge of the knife, effectively folding the steel back into place to rejuvenate the cutting power of the knife. Honing rods will extend the life of your pocket knife. 

One potential downside to the honing rod is generally the lack of portability. It may be a bit of an annoyance to carry around while you are on an extended off-road trip. You can improve the portability of this tool by choosing a honing rod that is retractable.

Retractable honing rods include the Dret Diamond Retractable Sharpening Rod. This retractable sharpener includes a tapered rod for serrations and a sharpening groove for fish hooks and pointed tools.

How to Use a Honing Rod on a Pocket Knife

You are encouraged to use honing rods to rejuvenate your pocket knife with a serrated-edge blade. Over time, the serrated edge of the blade will begin to break down and become misaligned. One of the best ways to realign the serrated-edge of a pocket knife is to use a sharpening steel, also known as a honing rod.

You will start out by grasping your pocket knife firmly and letting the blade hang over the edge of your workbench, table or even a stump. Then you will:

  • Take out your honing rod and place it on the first scallop (this is what the saw-like notches are called)
  • Avoid using a honing rod that is wider than the width of the scallops themselves
    • You may need to only use the very top of a tapered honing rod
  • Applying minimal pressure, force the honing rod over the scallop in a downward motion, do not pull the rod upwards towards yourself on the way back
    • Only a downwards sharpening motion should be used
  • Pass over each scallop a few times before finishing
  • You can watch this instructional video

10. Use a Tungsten Carbide Sharpener

You can also sharpen your pocket knife using a tungsten carbide file such as the Gatco Edgemate Sharpener. Using a tungsten carbide file is an effective way to restore dull blades. This method is not recommended for sharpening serrated blades, but it is a convenient way to sharpen straight blades.

If you are going to use a file, it is best that you do so on a knife that is made of steel that is softer than the file, according to the University of AlaskaIf the blade is made of steel that is as hard or harder than the steel of the file, then the file will slip on the blade’s surface and the file will become damaged.

Only make forward strokes when you are using the file to sharpen a knife. If you make backward strokes you will damage the blade. Tungsten carbide sharpeners cannot be used that often because it eats away material quickly. 

11. You Can Sharpen a Pocket Knife Using Everyday Objects

You may get caught out in the field with a knife that has become dull and without a sharpening stone or other pocket knife sharpening tool. You can use everyday objects to sharpen your knife enough to make use of it, at least temporarily.

Coffee Mug

One everyday object that you can use to sharpen a pocket knife is a coffee mug. Look for a coffee mug that has a rough and flat bottom. You will want to look for a coffee mug that you are not worried about getting scratched up a little. 

Look for a surface that is smooth, flat and also not slippery to set the coffee mug down on. Lay the coffee mug so that the bottom of the cup is facing up. Hold the coffee mug down firmly so that it doesn’t slip during the process. Place the blade of the knife against the bottom of the cup. Slide the knife back and forth at least a few times.

Remove debris from the sharpened knife by using a clean cloth. This is not the preferred method for sharpening a pocket knife. If you are in a bind and don’t have a sharpening stone or kit, then a household item can often be enough to at least temporarily sharpen your pocket knife.

Bottom of a Plate

Using the bottom of a plate to sharpen yours is similar to using a coffee mug to sharpen the knife. You will make use of the porcelain ring at the underside of the plate, as is shown here.  

Start out by placing the blade at a 20 degree angle against the rough porcelain ring at the underside of the plate. Only slide the blade in one direction. Repeat several times on each side before rinsing the blade off in the sink.

Car Window

If you are out in the field and without a pocket knife sharpener, you can actually use the top of your car knife to sharpen your pocket knife. Start out by rolling down your car window until it is about halfway down.

Then place the blade of the knife on the top of the window, flat and horizontally. Then: 

  • Tilt the blade upwards until the angle of the blade matches the angle of the grind
  • Place a finger at the top of the spine to control the motion of the knife. 
  • Make at least 3 passes on each side
  1. Store Your Pocket Knives Properly

A big part of keeping your pocket knives properly sharpened is making sure that they are stored in a way that is not harmful to the blade. Pocket knives often come with protective cases. Keep your knives in these protective cases when you are not using them. Also keep the blades retracted into their handles when you are not using them.

There are many types of storage bags or containers for pocket knives. One of the most popular storage cases on the market is the Kershaw Knife Storage Bag. You can store up to 18 different knives, just in this nylon bag. It is certainly a worthwhile investment for the avid outdoorsman, who may have difficulty organizing a variety of camping, hunting, and fishing knives.

You may also be interested in a leather pouch, such as this one,  that can strap to your belt.  This is one of the most popular carrying options for sportsmen who are in need of a safe and easily-accessible device to store their pocket knife in while they are out in the field.

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The most amazing writer we have, Bear is the man!