Last Updated on 12/10/2021
Guide to Sharpening Pocket Knives
Learning how to sharpen a pocket knife might seem hard if you’ve never done it before. Or maybe you have tried it without instruction and failed. With this guide, we are going to make sharpening your pocket knife easy and explain exactly how to give your pocket knife a razor-sharp edge.
Pocket knives need sharpening after any moderate use and if you are going to do it you might as well use the best sharpener for your pocket knife. Before you can sharpen your pocket knife you need to decide what kind of tool you want to use. Some are more beginner-friendly while others will achieve a higher quality finish with the correct technique.
Pocket Knife Sharpening Tools
There is a large variety of sharpening devices for pocket knives available today and some people swear by one method but they all have their own merits. Here is a brief description of each:
Sharpening stones (aka whetstones) are your most common type of pocket knife sharpener because they are easy to use and get a perfect edge every time with the right technique. Some sharpening stones can have double sides with different grit densities or even a ceramic side to help provide a high-quality finish. Sharpening stones are great for any small blade like a neck knife or small bushcraft knife.
Combination Sharpening Tools
Combination sharpening tools are becoming more popular because they are so small, lightweight, and easy to use as well as very affordable. They typically have one or more angled slots and sometimes a finishing edge which will work for most if not all pocket knives. You can check some of these out in our guide to serrated knife sharpeners.
Ceramic sharpeners are best when used after a sharpening stone or other rough grind tools as they don’t remove much material, but they do hone a fine edge. Ceramic rods are a perfect pocket knife finishing tool as they will remove any loose shavings and microscopic rolls from the edge.
Sharpening steels are basically circular files with handles that are ideal for touching up the edges of any knife. These steel sharpening rods are used by butchers and chefs around the world and are necessary to sharpen serrated blades.
Triangular files are most commonly used to sharpen hand saws as the teeth on these have triangular grooves but they can also be used on serrated knives too.
Tapered rods can be made from a variety of materials to provide different levels of finishes including diamond, metal, or stone. They often come on combination style tools and are ideal for using on multitools and different-sized serrated pocket knives.
V-Shaped sharpeners are sometimes called handheld sharpeners and often comprise of two rods or stones set at a v-shaped angle that will give you a consistent edge. They can be made very small and are incredibly rugged which makes them ideal keyring knife sharpeners.
How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife with a Stone
Learning how to sharpen a pocket knife with a whetstone is a skill that is well worth your time to master. The best way to learn how to use a whetstone to sharpen a pocket knife is by practicing. You can use a piece of paper to test the sharpness of the blade so that you know if you have done it correctly.
Step 1: Clean Your Blade
Before you begin to even think about sharpening your pocket knife with a stone you need to clean your blade so that you can properly inspect it and so that you don’t contaminate your sharpening stone with dirt, grease, or gunk on your blade.
You can use regular soapy water on a wet rag or your preferred degreasing solution to carefully wipe and debris off the blade.
Step 2: Examine the Bevel
Check the edge of the blade for visible damage then use your thumb to gently test the edge to see where it is dullest. If you can identify any dull or damaged areas you can focus your sharpening on those points specifically.
The reason you must understand the angle of the bevel is so that you can match it when you run your knife across your stone. That is unless you want to reprofile the knife to have a sharper edge.
Step 3: Identify the Angle
If you look closely at the burr of your pocket knife you will see that it will have a razor-sharp edge that gradually tapers into the blade. The idea is to try and match this profile in the angle of your knife strokes.
Most folding pocket knives, including Victorinox Swiss Army Knives, have an edge angle of 22 degrees or between the range of 15 – 25 degrees and so need to be sharpened as such. Combination knife sharpening tools often have a preset V-shaped sharpening angle that will fall within this range and work on most pocket knives.
Step 4: Pocket Knife Sharpening Technique for Whetstones
The basic technique for sharpening pocket knives is to cover the entire blade in one sweeping stroke as if you were trying to shave the surface off your stone. Aim the blade away from you for safety and work on a table, not your knee so that you don’t injure yourself.
Repeat this process multiple times and focus on any dull or damaged areas first. Once you feel you have sharpened your blade evenly up its entire length you can move on to the next step. If your sharpening stone has a coarse and fine side then always start sharpening with the coarse side first to clean up the burr.
Step 5: Hone the Edge
Honing and finishing your edge not only gives you a sharper blade but also helps to retain its sharpness for much longer. If the sharpening was done using the coarse side of your stone, honing is done with the fine grit side of your stone or a ceramic stone to give your edge a polished finish.
To hone the edge of your pocket knife you simply apply the sharpening technique used with a coarse grit sharpening stone and do the same process with a fine-grit or ceramic stone.
Step 6: Test and Repeat
After sharpening and honing your edge until you are mostly satisfied you should test its sharpness by cutting through a piece of paper. If it is razor-sharp it should slice through it with barely any resistance and make an extremely clean cut with no rips or snags.
You can also use your thumb to carefully test the edge but be warned that if you have done a good job sharpening your knife then you may be surprised about how sharp it becomes.
Getting a Razor-Sharp Edge
The best knife sharpening tip is to always start with a coarse stone to clean up the edge and revive the original profile and then use something finer to finish it off. Ceramic penknife sharpeners are ideal for getting the most professional results but a fine whetstone will work almost as well.
The trick to getting a razor-sharp edge on your pocket knife is to understand and feel the angles of the bevel so that you are left with an edge so sharp it will slice through most things.
Learning how to get a razor-sharp edge on your pocket knife takes practice and there are no doubt knives in your kitchen that haven’t been sharpened in years. Start by sharpening these and learn how to identify the correct angle to sharpen at.
Household Items You Can Use to Sharpen a Pocket Knife
What household items can you use to sharpen a pocket knife? Well, quite a few actually. You can use the base of a coffee mug like a sharpening stone and get a fairly good finish on your knife.
Sandpaper or nail files can work to both sharpen and hone your pocket knife if you don’t have a proper sharpening tool. Using the same sharpening technique as you would a stone, you can sharpen your pocket knife using household items.
Leather belts are often used to hone the edge of a blade after it has been sharpened but they can also add sharpness if it’s all you have. In place of a leather belt, you can also use a nylon strap or even cardboard to hone the edge of your penknife in an emergency.
Using a Rod or File to Sharpen Your Pocket Knife
Frequently Asked Questions About Sharpening Stones
Can You Sharpen a Pocket Knife with a Kitchen Sharpener?
Kitchen knife sharpeners can be used on a pocket knife in exactly the same way as they can with a kitchen knife. Kitchen sharpeners are actually easier to use for beginners because they are longer and don’t require as swift of a pass with your knife.
You can get kitchen sharpening rods as you would see at your local butcher’s, you have your handheld V-shapes sharpeners, and your standard sharpening stones. All of these can be used on your pocket knife without issue.
Can You use Sandpaper to Sharpen a Pocket Knife?
Sandpaper can be used in multiple ways to sharpen a pocket knife including pinching the edge of the blade with the sandpaper and running it up and down. The other ways are to use it like a sharpening stone by laying it on a flat surface or block, and as a handheld sharpener that you hold at a 22-degree angle and draw smoothly across your blade.
What is the Best Way to Sharpen a Pocket Knife?
If you are a complete beginner then a combination knife sharpener with different v-shaped angles is the most foolproof way to sharpen your pocket knife. You simply draw the knife through the v-shaped slot and it sharpens your knife at the preset angle.
If you prefer to learn the proper technique on how to sharpen a pocket knife with a stone then you can get a much cleaner and more professional edge with a proper whetstone.
What’s the Difference Between Honing and Sharpening a Knife?
Sharpening is when you are removing material to create a straight and clean edge and honing is when you are polishing up the edge to give it a smooth and long-lasting finish. You will typically start by sharpening your knife with a coarse sharpener and then hone it with a finer sharpener like ceramic.