How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife in 9 Quick Steps

Want to know how to sharpen a pocket knife? Learn the simple steps to keep your pocket knife performing its best.
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A pocket knife is an exceptionally useful tool to have on your person at all times… unless you have a dull blade. A useless edge doesn’t help anyone, so it’s important to know how to sharpen a pocket knife. In this article, we cover the tools you need and steps to take to maintain your pocket knife’s edge.

In the market for a new knife? Check out our recommendations of the best serrated knives and the best EDC knives.

How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife

There are many different methods and techniques to get a sharp knife, and personal preference plays a large role in determining the best approach. In this guide, we’ll be discussing a basic method that is suitable for beginners and has proven to be effective. However, if you have a preferred method that you’d like to share, we’d love to hear about it in the comments.

It’s also worth noting that the process for sharpening a knife may vary depending on its intended use. For example, the method for sharpening a pocket knife for whittling may differ from the method used to sharpen a chef’s knife for fine dining. As a result, it’s important to consider the specific purpose of the knife when deciding on the best sharpening approach.

Now let’s walk through the important steps to sharpening your knife.

1. Gather your tools

To sharpen a pocket knife, you will need the following tools:

  1. A sharpening stone: This is the most essential tool for sharpening a knife. There are many different types of sharpening stones available, including water stones, oil stones, and diamond stones. Water stones are made of porous material and require water to be used as a lubricant. Oil stones are made of harder material and require oil to be used as a lubricant. Diamond stones are made of abrasive particles embedded in a metal or plastic base and are effective at sharpening very hard materials.
  2. Lubricant: If you are using a water stone or an oil stone, you will need some form of lubricant to help remove debris and create a smooth surface for sharpening. Mineral oil is best, but water can be used as a lubricant for water stones. Some people also use a honing oil, which is a special oil formulated for use on sharpening stones.
  3. A honing rod or strop: Once you have a smooth, even edge on your knife, you can move on to honing it. A honing rod or strop is a tool used to fine-tune the edge and remove any burrs or imperfections. Honing rods are typically made of steel or ceramic and have a smooth, round surface. Strops are made of leather or canvas and are used to polish the edge of the blade.
  4. A clean, dry cloth: You will need a clean, dry cloth to wipe the blade clean and dry it off when you are finished sharpening.
  5. Protective gear: It is always a good idea to wear protective gear when sharpening a knife. This could include gloves, eye protection, and apron.

2. Clean your pocket knife

It’s important to make sure the blade is clean and dry before sharpening, as any dirt or moisture can interfere with the sharpening process and result in an uneven edge.

First, rinse the blade under warm water to remove any dirt or debris. Use a soft cloth or toothbrush to gently scrub the blade, paying special attention to any crevices or hard-to-reach areas. Then dry the blade thoroughly with a clean cloth or towel.

If the blade is particularly dirty or has been used to cut through acidic foods (such as citrus fruit), you may need to use a mild detergent to remove any lingering residue. Simply mix a small amount of dish soap with warm water and use a cloth or toothbrush to gently scrub the blade. Rinse the blade thoroughly with warm water to remove any soap or detergent and dry again with a clean cloth.

3. Find your edge angle (or edge bevel)

To sharpen a knife effectively, it’s important to match the angle of the blade’s edge. Different knives may have slightly different angles, so it’s a good idea to either consult the manufacturer or refer to the owner’s manual to find out the correct angle for your specific knife. Most manufacturers recommend sharpening at a 15-20 degree angle on both sides. 

If you’re using a sharpening stone, you can mark the edge of the blade with a marker before sharpening. This will allow you to see when you’ve achieved the correct angle by checking for the presence of the marker ink after a few sharpening strokes.

4. Lubricate your sharpening stone

Pour some lubricant over your sharpening stone. You don’t need to make a puddle, but don’t be stingy either. You may need to reapply lubricant throughout the sharpening process depending on how long it takes and whether the lubrication runs away.

5. Start sharpening your pocket knife

If you’re using a sharpening tool, it’s important to follow the directions included by the manufacturer. Those steps should supersede our advice.

If you have stones with multiple grits, start with the coarsest grit. Hold the blade at a consistent angle and use a sweeping motion to run it along the length of the stone. This will allow you to make contact with the entire blade and use the abrasive material to reshape the edge.

It’s important to maintain a light grip and apply minimal pressure on the knife, letting the stone do the work. For pocket knives with shorter blades, this process is often easier to do than with larger knives.

As you sharpen, you may notice a burr of metal forming along the blade. When this happens, it’s time to switch to the other side of the blade and repeat the process. Consistency in holding the angle and pressure is key to achieving a properly sharpened blade.

The Weavers of Eternity Paracord have an excellent video on this process.

6. Transition from  rough grit to finer-grit

Many handheld sharpening tools come with multiple stones of different grit levels. When sharpening a pocket knife, you should start with the coarsest grit stone that you need based on the dullness of the blade. If the blade is extremely dull, you may need to use the coarsest stone to remove a significant amount of material.

If the blade is in good condition and just needs a bit of touch-up sharpening, you may not need to use the coarsest stone at all. Instead, you can start with a finer grit stone to save time and avoid removing more material than necessary. As you sharpen, you can progress to finer grit stones to achieve a finer edge.

It’s important to keep in mind that regular maintenance can help keep your blade sharp and minimize the need for coarse grit stones.

7. Hone your pocket knife blade

If your blade is in good condition and you sharpen it regularly, you can often skip right to this step. Use a fine-grit stone (such as a ceramic stone, which usually comes with a knife-sharpening kit) to get an even sharper edge, using the same consistent motion as you would when sharpening.

8. Strop your blade

Passing the blade over a piece of leather with a polishing compound can give the blade a final polish and help to maintain its sharpness. This is called stropping. It’s optional, but many experts swear by it to improve the blade’s overall performance.

9. Check the blade’s sharpness

A properly sharpened knife should be able to cut smoothly through a moderately thick sheet of paper, such as a page from a magazine. There should be no hang ups or tearings. Experiment by slicing your blade through paper. If you notice a spot that gets stuck repeatedly, that section probably needs more attention.

A knife should be able to cut smoothly through magazine paper without any hang ups or tearing. If there’s a particular spot on the blade that gets stuck, that part likely needs more attention.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife

Here are some common questions people ask about how to sharpen a pocket knife.

What can you sharpen a pocket knife with?

There are several tools and methods to sharpen a pocket knife, including sharpening stones, handheld sharpening tools, electric sharpeners, honing rods, and leather strops. The right tool depends on the kind of knife you’re sharpening and your technique.

What is the best tool to sharpen a pocket knife?

Ultimately, the best tool for sharpening a pocket knife will depend on your individual needs and preferences. Some people prefer the control and precision of using a sharpening stone while others find electric sharpeners to be more convenient. Experiment with different tools to find the one that works best for you.

Can I use a kitchen knife sharpener on a pocket knife?

It is possible to use a kitchen knife sharpener on a pocket knife, but the results may not be optimal. Kitchen knife sharpeners are designed for larger, thicker blades and may not provide the same level of precision and control as other sharpening tools specifically designed for pocket knives. If you are looking to sharpen your pocket knife, it may be more effective to use a sharpening stone, handheld sharpening tool, electric sharpener, honing rod, or leather strop specifically designed for pocket knives.

Should pocket knives be sharp?

Yes, pocket knives should generally be sharp in order to perform their intended functions effectively. A sharp blade allows the knife to easily cut through a variety of materials, including ropes, cords, paper, cardboard, and food items. Additionally, a sharp blade is less likely to slip or bind when making cuts, which can help prevent accidents or injuries.

Is it worth it to sharpen a cheap knife?

It can be worth it to sharpen a cheap knife if the knife is still functional and you plan to continue using it. However, it’s important to keep in mind that the quality of the blade and the materials used to make the knife can impact its ability to hold an edge and be sharpened effectively. In general, cheaper knives are made with lower quality materials and may not be as durable or hold an edge as well as more expensive knives.

Is it better to sharpen a knife wet or dry?

The best method for sharpening a knife will depend on the type of blade, the type of sharpener being used, and the desired level of sharpness. Wet sharpening is generally considered more effective for producing a very sharp edge on a blade, while dry sharpening is more commonly used for maintaining the edge of a blade that has already been sharpened. The best method for you will depend on your personal preferences and the condition of the blade.

Why can’t I get my pocket knife sharp?

There could be several reasons why you are having difficulty getting your pocket knife sharp.

  1. You are using the wrong sharpening method or equipment: Different types of knives require different sharpening techniques and tools. Make sure you are using the appropriate method and equipment for your specific type of knife.
  2. You are applying too much pressure: Applying too much pressure while sharpening can damage the blade or create an uneven edge. Make sure to use a light touch and follow the angle of the blade as you sharpen.
  3. You are using the wrong angle: The angle at which you sharpen the blade can have a big impact on its sharpness. Make sure you are using the correct angle for your knife.
  4. The blade is damaged: If the blade is damaged, it may be difficult or impossible to get it sharp. In this case, you may need to have the blade repaired or replaced.
  5. You are using a dull or worn sharpening stone: A dull or worn sharpening stone will not be able to effectively sharpen your knife. Make sure you are using a sharpening stone that is in good condition.
  6. You are not using enough strokes: It may take several strokes to properly sharpen a blade. Make sure you are using enough strokes to get a clean, sharp edge.

If you are still having difficulty getting your pocket knife sharp after trying these suggestions, it may be helpful to seek the advice of a professional knife sharpener or watch some instructional videos to get a better understanding of the proper technique. Many brands offer their own sharpening guide. 

How many swipes does it take to sharpen a knife?

It can take anywhere from a few swipes to several dozen swipes to sharpen a knife. The number of swipes it takes to sharpen a knife will depend on a number of factors, including the type of blade, the type of sharpener being used, the condition of the blade, and the desired level of sharpness.

Furthermore, the number of swipes needed to sharpen a knife can vary depending on the technique being used. For example, using a back and forth motion with a sharpening stone or honing rod may take more swipes to sharpen a blade than using a single stroke motion.

How often should a pocket knife be sharpened?

How often you sharpen your pocket knife depends on how often it is used and what it is used for. A pocket knife that is used regularly for everyday tasks such as opening boxes or cutting string may need to be sharpened more frequently than one that is used infrequently for more specialized tasks.

Sharpen your pocket knife when it becomes dull or difficult to use, just remember that sharpening a knife too often can cause the blade to become thin and prone to damage.

Do you push or pull a knife through a sharpener?

It depends on the type of sharpener you are using. Some sharpeners, such as electric sharpeners, are designed to be used by pulling the knife through the sharpener. Others, such as manual sharpeners that use a sharpening stone, may be used by either pushing or pulling the knife through the stone.

Regardless of the type of sharpener you are using, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper use. Sharpening the blade incorrectly can damage it.

Do you sharpen both sides of a pocket knife?

In general, you should sharpen both sides of a pocket knife. Most pocket knives have a double-beveled edge, which means that both sides of the blade are sharpened to create a sharp point. This allows the knife to cut more efficiently and effectively. Follow the same steps to sharpen a knife on both sides of the blade.

Do knife sharpeners ruin knives?

No. Using a knife sharpener correctly can help extend the life of your knives by keeping them sharp. However, if you use a sharpener improperly or use a sharpener that is too harsh, it is possible to damage your knives.

It is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use the appropriate sharpening angle for your specific type of knife. If you are unsure about how to use a knife sharpener, it may be a good idea to have a professional sharpen your knives or to use a different method, such as a honing rod, to maintain the edge of your knives.

Why does my knife get dull when I sharpen it?

Sharpening a knife involves using an abrasive surface, such as a honing rod or a sharpening stone, to remove a thin layer of metal from the edge of the blade. This can help to restore the sharpness of the blade, but it also removes a small amount of metal from the blade in the process. Over time, this can cause the blade to become dull more quickly if it is not properly cared for and used.

What should you not do when sharpening a knife?

There are several things that you should avoid doing when sharpening a knife to help ensure that the blade is sharpened correctly and does not become damaged:

  1. Don’t use the wrong sharpening angle.
  2. Don’t use too much pressure.
  3. Don’t use the wrong sharpening stone.
  4. Don’t sharpen too often.
  5. Don’t sharpen serrated blades with a smooth sharpening stone.

If you are unsure how to sharpen a knife or are not comfortable doing it yourself, it is generally a good idea to have it professionally sharpened to ensure that it is done correctly.

Why is my knife still dull after sharpening?

There are several reasons why a knife might still be dull after sharpening.

  1. The knife was not sharpened correctly: If the knife was not sharpened at the correct angle or with the correct technique, it may not have been sharpened effectively.
  2. The blade is damaged: If the blade has chips or nicks in it, sharpening may not be able to fully restore its edge.
  3. The blade is too thin: If the blade is too thin, it may not be able to maintain a sharp edge for very long.
  4. The blade is made of a low-quality material: Some types of steel are more prone to dulling than others.
  5. The blade was not honed properly: Honing a knife helps to realign the edge of the blade after sharpening. If the knife was not honed properly, it may still feel dull.

If your knife is still dull after sharpening, try honing it with a honing rod or to have it professionally sharpened. It is also a good idea to regularly maintain the edge of your knife by honing it regularly. This can help extend the time between sharpening sessions.

Can you ruin a knife by sharpening it wrong?

Yes, it is possible to ruin a knife by sharpening it incorrectly. Some common mistakes that can ruin a knife include using the wrong sharpening angle, using too much pressure, using the wrong sharpening stone, and sharpening too often.

It is generally recommended to have your knives professionally sharpened if you are not comfortable sharpening them yourself. This will help ensure that they are sharpened correctly and that you do not damage the blade.

What is the easiest way to sharpen knives?

There are several methods that you can use to sharpen knives, and the best method for you will depend on your experience level, the type of knives you are sharpening, and the tools and equipment you have available. You could use a sharpening stone, a honing rod, or an electric knife sharpener. No matter which method you choose, it’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use caution to avoid accidents.

How do you tell if a pocket knife is sharp enough?

The level of sharpness that is “enough” will depend on the intended use of the knife and your personal preferences. Some people may prefer a very sharp blade for certain tasks, while others may prefer a blade that is slightly less sharp for general use. Ultimately, the best way to determine if a pocket knife is sharp enough is to use it for its intended purpose and evaluate its performance. If the knife is not performing as well as you would like, it may need to be sharpened.

How much does it cost to get a pocket knife sharpened?

In general, the cost of getting a pocket knife sharpened at a professional sharpening service can range from $5 to $25 or more, depending on several factors, such as the type of blade, the condition of the blade, the sharpening method being used, and the location of the sharpening service.

Some sharpening services charge a flat rate for a basic sharpening service while others charge by the inch or by the type of blade. It is generally more expensive to have a serrated or a difficult-to-sharpen blade sharpened than a straight-edge blade.

What is a burr on a knife?

A burr is a thin strip of metal that rises off the surface of the blade. It’s a piece of old metal that peels away from the edge but doesn’t break off completely. It feels like a fine wire along the opposite side you’ve been grinding. The presence of a lot of burrs means you’re done sharpening that side of the blade.

How do I know when to sharpen my pocket knife?

Check for sharpness using the paper test. Hold one side of a piece of magazine paper (or something of similar material) and cut through it with your knife. Use the entire cutting edge of your knife. If the blade catches or tears the paper, it needs more sharpening or honing.

Dennis Hammer
Dennis has been a part of EDC since he was young - before he even knew what it was! As an artist, he loves beautifully designed products that function well. He also likes to be ready for any situation, which makes EDC perfect for his lifestyle.