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Over the years we’ve heard dozens of ways to sharpen a knife ranging from leather to stones — even to numerous crazy contraptions.  And clearly the exact method will vary based upon what type of knife you’re sharpening.

But let’s assume for a moment that you’re sharpening a simple medium-sized drop-point pocket knife blade.  What’s your favorite method?  Let us know in comments, and be sure to explain why you do it the way you do.

(Thanks, pate, for the great CC-licensed photo.)

 

33 Responses to Reader Question: What’s The Best Way To Sharpen A Pocket Knife?

  1. Rob says:

    Man, you guys know how to leave a question open. I sharpen all of my knives on diamond stones and ceramic stones. I use them because although they are pricey, they also last a long time (I don’t think the ceramic will ever wear out) and they stay flat (which any stone, manmade or otherwise will have to be periodically flattened). There is also the glass and sandpaper route but again, you have to keep buying the sandpaper (not a huge deal but I prefer the laps). If the knife is not too bad off, a few passes on the fine then x-fine ceramics is all it should take, five to ten strokes per side per grit, always going into the lap (like you were trying to take a slice off of it) at the angle already on the blade. I do it freehand using my thumb riding long the lap to keep the angle constant. If the blade is duller, then I’ll start on a medium grit ceramic or even the medium diamond. If it needs nicks ground out, I’ll start on the coarse diamond or as a last resort, the grinding wheel.

  2. Mike R says:

    I’ve read that the Spyderco Sharpmaker is the best way to go for under $100. I plan to get one sooner or later

    http://www.amazon.com/Spyderco-Tri-Angle-Sharpmaker-Kit-Medium/dp/B0001WOV5M

  3. Chris Byrne says:

    I use “scary sharp”. It works, it’s cheap, it uses stuff almost everybody has around the shop, and anyone can figure out how to do it.

    http://www.shavings.net/SCARY.HTM

  4. Joe says:

    I use a couple sharpening stones if the edge is damaged (ie chunks missing) but most of the time I use a leather strop. My strop is just a piece of leather glued to a plywood board about 2″ wide. I rub it down with polishing compound and run the blade across it. If your blade is dull from use but in fine shape, using a strop every so often works great to bring back that edge.

    The test I use to tell if an edge needs to be stropped is to hold it under a bright lightbulb with the edge pointed up at the bulb. You then look down at the edge from above. If you can see any bright spots on the edge, then it needs to be sharpened. A sharp edge should have no reflection when looking at the edge from in front of it. Hard to explain but I hope it makes sense.

  5. TMIB_Seattle says:

    I’ve been a fan of the Lanksy sharpeners for years:

    http://www.lanskysharpeners.com/

    It’s nice to be able to get the exact angle you want, every time.

    –TMIB

  6. paket says:

    The key to a great edge is keeping a consistent blade-to-stone angle while sharpening. Any sort of jig or clamp that does this for you will produce an edge far superior to anything done by bare hands.

  7. G1ZM0 says:

    Angle is the key.

    I have a sharpmaker and I’ve had great success with it. I think it’s the best thing for serrated edges.

    I’ve heard good things about the Edgepro also.

    There’s also some guys who swear by Harbor Freight 1″x30″ belt sander.

    http://www.harborfreight.com/cpi/ctaf/displayitem.taf?Itemnumber=2485

  8. Parker66 says:

    I have a spyderco sharpmaker, and it is the best sharpener I haver ever used. The desighn of it allows you to maintain a consistent angle which is the key to getting a knife sharp

  9. Mark says:

    I agree that angle is key. I also have the Lansky system, so ditto TMIB_Seattle:

    > I’ve been a fan of the Lanksy sharpeners for years:
    >
    > http://www.lanskysharpeners.com/
    >
    > It’s nice to be able to get the exact angle you want, every time.
    >
    > –TMIB

  10. DaleC says:

    Perhaps not on the same par as some of the above for a ‘fanatical’ sharp, but I believe every person should have one of these: http://www.accusharp.com/

    It keeps my stainless chef knives ready for action as well as my kitchen shears sharp for the multitude of materials I cut with them. At less than $10.00 everyone can afford them.

  11. Roscoe says:

    Guess it makes me old-fashioned, but for plain old pocket knives that get used everyday, I keep two stones in the garage with a small bottle of honing oil and a rag. I enjoy sitting on the front porch and sharpening the blade by hand, sometimes I get bored and do my hand pruners at the same time. One of the stones is coarse, the other is fine, I don’t remember the grits any more.

    Sometimes I think we get so wrapped up the most accurate way to do something that we spend too much time and money on it. My blade’s always pretty sharp, but yours probably is sharper. I’m also probably more comfortable using mine as an impromptu stake, wedge, prybar, hammer, etc. as a result.

  12. chs says:

    I’ve been using the Lansky system for a few years now, and I love it. I have 3 Benchmade pocket knives that I carry on a regular basis, and two of them have some interesting curves on them that are almost impossible to hit with a regular stone.

    The Lansky system with it’s half-inch wide stones makes hitting those curves real easy, and the fixed angle system gives me a repeatable edge.

    With my 3 blades I just set aside “sharpening night” once a month, and go over all three of them with the fine and extra-fine stones for a couple minutes each.

    Once you’ve put a good edge on a blade the first time, unless you’re abusing it you won’t have to work hard to keep it sharp as long as you hit the edge fairly often to get rid of the burs.

    I love my Lansky :)

  13. Jaxx says:

    The cheapest thing to do is blunt the knife on a leather belt and then draw it along the top edge of your car window, at about 45deg. Try it.

    (obviously not on your brand new Ferrari’s window)

  14. Ash says:

    I sharpen my pocket knives at the bench grinder. It takes a little delicacy not to detemper them and you end up with a blade like a banana after a year or so but the payoff is a fast, easy hollow grind I don’t feel bad about scoring aluminium or prying trim bits off with.

  15. Evan N. says:

    I use the Spyderco Sharpmaker. I think I even submitted this tool once. Anyway, I only feel like having one sharpening set, so the Sharpmaker is it. With the right stones you can get really high quality edges on pocket knives, but I enjoy sharpening the kitchen knives as well. I don’t know how chefs do it, but I can’t get an edge out of that rod thing no matter how hard I try. My edges are usually good for a month with the Sharpmaker, depending on use.

  16. Jim K. says:

    Put me down as old school on this one. All my blades are sharpened by hand on a variety of stones. I keep my pocket knives sharp with one set of med and fine grit (actually a ceramic fine), my kitchen knives sharp with a similar (but cleaner) set of stones, and finally a different group for my chisels, hatchet, pruning shears, etc. I’ve tried the scary sharp method and had good success with that as well. One day perhaps I’ll try a diamond set or one of the “systems” but for now I’m pretty happy with my results.

  17. Old Donn says:

    Tennessee sticks. Wood base, two ceramic sticks in a V shape. Three or four passes on each side and it’s scary sharp.

  18. Trevor Dyck says:

    My friend Chuck, ’cause he knows what he’s doing and I don’t! : )

  19. Craig says:

    This is one of those things where there is no definitive answer. There are plenty of perfectly correct ways to sharpen a knife and get good results.

    Personally, I use a Sharpmaker for all of my average sharpening needs. However, the standard rods on the Sharpmaker are not course enough to quickly reprofile a knife made of quality steel, so I have a course bench stone that I use for that. The only caveat to the Sharpmaker is that it only has 1 standard edge that it sharpens to (and angle to remove back bevel). Some suggest putting a pencil under the Sharpmaker to change the angle, but I personally haven’t done it.

    I’ll also say that I’m saving to get an Apex edgepro in the near future so that I can quickly and easily sharpen my kitchen knives as well (different angles than my pocket knives)

    As for the belt sander, that’s definitely an acceptable way to sharpen, however it is not recommended very often because there is a very high probability of overheating the blade and ruin the temper of the steel. This is, however the way that most handmade/custom (as in non mass produced) pro knives are sharpened before leaving a shop (at least from my research).

    For some more info (way more info) you should check out

    knifeforums.com
    and
    bladeforums.com

    Both sites have incredible wealths pf information within them (specifically in the forums).

  20. JB says:

    I like regular stones and use a Z pattern when sharpening. The edge comes out sharp enough to cut 1/2″ nylon rope with one pass.

  21. jhopps says:

    I’m down with Old Donn. I have spendy Japanese knives and my diamond stones scratch the damascus pattern or laminations away from the bevel and these don’t polish out. I found this ceramic rod honing kit at Lee Valley for $8.50 and after drilling angled holes to hold the rods, I sharpened all of my pocket and kitchen knives in under 20 minutes, even the worst offenders that bang around with dishes in the stainless sink. Once it’s set up it’s easy to use and foolproof: even my mom could do it, although she won’t be coming near my Japanese knives.

    http://www.leevalley.com/wood/page.aspx?c=2&p=46363&cat=1,43072,43079&ap=1

  22. Tom says:

    I usually use regular sharpening stones for sharpening.

    About knife steels that you see those don’t actually sharpen a knife, they are intended to straighten the wire-edge of the knife. The wire-edge is kinda like the burr you get on opposite side you are sharpening on. The wire-edge is hella sharp and has micro-serrations use makes a cross section look like a ‘J’ and not like an ‘I’ and a steel straightens it.

    There are also diamond sharpeners that look the same and those are actually sharpeners.

  23. Cam says:

    Another vote for the Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker. It really doesn’t get much easier that this, and the kit is so versatile.

    Evan N. – I’m not suprised you have a hard time with a steel – that’s a pretty old fashioned kind of sharpening tool and most modern blade steels will be harder than your sharpening steel. About all you can do is straighten your edge back out with those.

    I also use a 1×30 belt sander and a leather strop. Shaving sharp in about 20 seconds. The sander is awesome for chisels as well.

  24. [...] And even more accessible: a couple dozen seasoned whittlers explain how to sharpen a pocket knife. [Toolmonger] [...]

  25. Patrick says:

    A bazillionth vote for the Spyderco. Since purchasing it I’ve become completely over-the-top anal about making sure I can shave with every knife in the house because, well, YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN YOU’LL LOSE YOUR RAZOR.

  26. a teenager says:

    i use a method my grandpa told me he used when he had little money to afford a stone to sharpen it. he would find a nice smooth stick about an inch thick.then he would run some water on it.then find some pebbles and crush them up.then roll the little bits of rock on the wet knife then sharpen it.he has a knife now it is in perfect condition(although it looks very ugly due to the fact its so old.)

  27. AggieMike says:

    I use a good two sided oilstone with some 3in1 oil. If i really want a nice edge, I’ll strop the blade on a leather scrap charged with fine honing compound.

  28. ronald says:

    i use a stone they sell in stores look like rough cement and anyways i i rub jently forward and flip the knife over back toward me and so on this usualy make it shrp if you dont press hard

  29. I’m not very good with virtually any plumbing jobs,only wish that i had a little primary knowledge just to save money with local plumbers!

  30. SLYSUE says:

    Hey my husband is a plumber, but he’s the one that “ASKED” this question…. Thanks for all the
    great suggestions…now I can get before the xmas rush.

  31. Dan says:

    Sometimes people become obsessed with these sorts of things i sharpen my knife on an old arkansas stone with a bit of water for lubricant always riding the stone as if i was trying to slice a chunk off 20 swipes later is a fine edge that will cut anything from thin plastic to widdling wood honestly you can never go wrong with a arkansas stone

  32. Larry says:

    Use a belt sander to grind a burr onto both sides of the edge. Make sure the angle is something less than 55 degrees included. Then use something fine such as a black arkansas stone to polish off the little wire edge/burr you made on the sander. Try for about 55 degrees included angle for a shaving sharp edge, slightly higher for a more durable edge. Depending on the steel this could take up to 200+ alternating back and forth strokes (“cutting into” the stone). Don’t try to actually cut the stone! Use light pressure, just barely more than weight of hand and knife at first and less later as the edge nears a highly polished state. Test by shaving forearm. Should be able to wisk hairs off without wetting.

  33. Larry says:

    Oh, yeah! You’ll know when you have it right because from then on, untill you just ruin the edge with knicks or out right blunting over, you should be able to just do touch ups with the arkansas stone. Say 30 or 40 strokes to get back that razor edge.

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