A pocket knife is a universally carried tool that has a permanent place in the pocket of any man or woman. From simple, standard versions with merely a good blade to decked out ones with everything from a wine corkscrew to a toothpick, there are a plethora of finely designed knives for your pocket.
There are many relevant questions on which pocket knife to choose and which brand to purchase, but one question asked consistently is “how the heck do you sharpen one of these things?” After all, you’ve spent your hard-earned money on a nice knife, so it’s imperative that you take proper care of it.
The first bit of advice is to point out that there are many ways to sharpen a knife. There are at least a dozen off the tops of our heads. Everyone has a way they feel is best, with specific techniques and tools. Knife sharpening takes on a vast array of different forms and methodologies.
The internet is filled to the brim with how-to guides on this topic. Adding to the confusion are companies promoting everything to help you sharpen a blade, from a five-dollar gadget to a state of the art machine that will cost you thousands.
It comes down to basic preference, ability, and use. After you try a few different methods, one will speak to you more than the others and become your trusted way. There is also a learning curve based on experience and how comfortable and skilled you feel your abilities lie in sharpening. Thinking about how you will be using your pocketknife the majority of the time can also be a consideration. For example, maybe you use your knife for whittling.
Perhaps you are a survivalist and take it with you as you brave the elements. Or maybe it’s more of a “just in case of an emergency” item. Maybe you’ll be taking it camping and using it to cook on the campfire while entertaining your family and friends. Each of these uses dictates a different sharpening method. However, unless you’ll be crafting world-class, fancy meals with it, you probably won’t need to sharpen it the same way you would an expensive chef’s knife.
To be fair, there isn’t truly a right or wrong way to sharpen your pocket knife and no one method will benefit all users, all ability levels, and all knife uses. Each knife is a unique instrument that will necessitate a unique approach to both its maintenance and care. With that being said, after researching a wide variety of methods, there is one method that seems to be regarded as the best in general for most users new to sharpening their pocket knife.
Tools Needed to Sharpen Your Pocket Knife
To properly sharpen your pocket knife, you just need two things. The first item is a sharpening stone. The second is a lubricant.
A sharpening stone is sometimes called a whetstone. As previously mentioned, just as there are many varied ways to sharpen a knife, there are also dozens of different sharpening stones. Each has its own special advantages. Here’s a closer look at three of the most populous styles.
Oil stones are the standard that many people grew up using. They are typically less expensive than other stones and perform well. On the downside, they have a slower cutting rate and are messier than other types of stones.
This category of stones uses oil as a lubricant to aid in sharpening. They are composed of aluminum oxide, novaculite, or silicon carbide. Novaculite stones are the most common and are quarried in Arkansas, which explains why they are commonly called Arkansas Stones. Aluminum oxide stones are man-made and are very popular.
They cut fast and leave a fine edge on the knife. Silicon carbide stones cut the fastest of the different versions of oil stones, and they are considered to be excellent and preferential for initial coarse sharpening.
Water stones are relatively newer to the Western hemisphere but boast many wonderful advantages. You can find them in natural or synthetic materials but are typically comprised of aluminum oxide. Water stones cut faster than oil stones, but unfortunately, they do tend to wear down faster.
Diamond stones have tiny diamond particles attached to the face of a metal plate, creating a harder, stronger surface than other types of stones. The most common type contains little holes which can be an issue if your blade has points, as they may get caught.
For that reason, you can also find continuous diamond stones with no holes. The advantage of a diamond stone lies in its tendency to sharpen extremely fast and its ability to retain its shape without wearing down. The disadvantage is the initial cost to purchase one. They are very expensive but last much longer than other stones.
You’ll use your sharpening stone to do the majority of the work when it comes to giving your pocket knife a clean, sharp edge. Most come with a rough side and a fine side. Unless you are sharpening a very expensive knife, there’s not much reason to invest in a costly stone, but it depends on your preference and budget as to which will be the best fit for you.
Lubricant can be found in different forms, from water to oil. This liquid allows for the reduction of heat caused by the friction created while sharpening your blade. It is also helpful in clearing away the debris (swarf) left behind by the sharpening process.
You aren’t technically required to use a lubricant, and some stones will work fine without it. So if you were trapped in the woods and had to sharpen without it, you could get away with it. However, it is nice to have a lubricant since the friction can in some cases damage your pocket knife. For the most part, outdoor enthusiasts tend to sway towards mineral oil as their favorite lubricant for knife sharpening.
How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife
Now that the basics of what is needed and what you’ll use it for are covered, it’s time to get to the main event of sharpening. Remember to take your time and go the first few times slowly until you get the hang of the sharpening process. Before you know it, you’ll be a pro.
Step 1: Stone Prep
First, you’ll need to determine which side of the stone is the rough grit and which is fine grit. You can sometimes tell by sight alone. If you aren’t able to tell by looking at it, you can use the thumbnail test. Scratch each side of the surfaces of the stone. Whichever side feels the roughest is the rough side.
If you will be using a lubricant, gather it and your stone. Pour a decent amount of the lubricant all over the surface of your sharpening stone. It doesn’t need to be drenched, but you want to be sure that both sides are covered evenly.
Step 2: Roughing It
Place the blade of your pocket knife flat on the stone then raise it to a 10-degree to a 15-degree angle. This is the perfect angle for sharpening a pocket knife. Different types of knives may need a different angle.
This angle will give your blade an edge sharp enough for everyday use and needs but not so sharp that you run the risk of accidental injury. Keeping the right angle consistently while sharpening takes practice. You can also purchase a sharpening guide for around $10 to take the guesswork out of finding the angle.
Now that the blade is at the perfect angle, pretend that you are carving a slim piece of the stone surface off with your blade. You can either bring your blade to the stone or the stone to the blade depending on your preferences and which method feels best to you.
If you are working with a curved blade or one that is longer than your sharpening stone, you will have to sweep the blade sideways as you sharpen. This ensures that the entire edge gets sharpened evenly.
Make sure that you apply smooth, even pressure without bearing down on the blade. Try to use light to moderate amount of pressure. As far as direction, you can bring the blade towards you or push it away from yourself; it’s up to you.
If you move it towards yourself, take extra care to ensure you don’t accidentally cut yourself. After you complete your first stroke, bring the blade back to the starting point and repeat ten to twelve times.
Step 3: Flipping Out
Next, flip the knife over and repeat the process of the other side of the blade. Technically, you should continue this process until you have raised a burr. The burr is a slightly raised edge or tiny pieces of material that remain attached to the blade after sharpening.
It occurs when one bevel is sharpened until it meets another. It is weak, so you do not want it on the blade edge as it could break off. If you hold the knife edge up to bright light, you can see a highlight along the edge that won’t be present on the other side.
Next, you will continue to sharpen each side across the stone as before, but this time you’ll alternate sides. Perform another 10 to 12 strokes, changing the side of the blade on the stone with each stroke. Make sure to use even pressure on each side of the pocket knife.
Step 4: Fine Tuning
Flip the stone over to the fine side. Make sure there is still plenty of lubricant on this side if you are using one. Repeat the process, starting with ten to twelve strokes on one side before switching to the other. Then complete 10 to 12 alternating strokes. The use of the fine side of the stone will eliminate the burr created during the sharpening on the rougher side.
Step 5: The Paper Test
To determine if your pocket knife has been adequately sharpened, you can use the paper test. Take any ordinary piece of paper and position your knife at 30 degrees in front of it. Slice into an edge of the paper. If the blade can cut into the paper easily and leaves a clean cut, then you’ve successfully sharpened your pocket knife. If not, then repeat step 4, using another five strokes across the stone per side.
Step 6: Finishing Touches
Once your pocket knife is perfectly sharpened, wipe it with a clean cloth to remove any lubricant residue. You can wipe your stone with paper towels to keep it clean as well. You should aim to sharpen your pocket knife after every few uses to keep it working properly.
In closing, sharpening a pocket knife is a relatively easy and quick process, once you know what to do and what to expect. You can always check your blade at any time with the paper test to see if it needs sharpening. The proper care and maintenance of your blade will ensure your pocket knife lasts for decades of use.
How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife
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