How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife

Pocket knives, or any kind of knife for that matter, is absolutely no good if it’s dull and can’t actually cut anything. While brand-new pocket knives will come sharpened and ready to go, you don’t need us to tell you that a few uses and your beloved knife just won’t cut as it used too. Before long, it’s time for sharpening.

But how exactly do you sharpen a pocket knife? Not only that, how do you sharpen a pocket knife, so it’s as effective as sharpening as when you first bought it? Since you’re reading this, you’re probably ready to go, so let’s jump straight into it and get your knife is the best condition possible!

A Few Words Before We Start

Okay, just a quick note before we actually get into it. There are literally dozens of ways you can sharpen a knife; we know. We’re going to try and cover some of the best and most effective in today’s guide, but you may go to someone else, and they might swear by another method. That’s fine. It happens. It’s all about finding what works for you.

Okay, now we’re really ready to go.

Test the Dullness of Your Blade

Little pocket knife

The first step you want to take is recognizing how dull your knife is and whether it’s ready to be sharpened. Since sharpening your pocket knife is literally just the act of grinding and stroking away the surface of your blade, the more you sharpen it, the quicker your knife will become smaller and smaller. Eventually, you won’t be able to use it!

Of course, this will happen years, if not decades, down the line, but to ensure the lifespan of your knife is as long as possible, you can check the dullness of your knife and then only sharpen it when you need too. Here are the three ways you can test it.
First, and perhaps the most obvious, way of checking is simply by using your knife day by day and noticing it doesn’t cut as well as it used to. If cutting something is much harder than it used to be, this is a tell-tale sign that it needs to be sharpened.

Secondly, you can point a light at the blade of your knife. You can use a torch or a phone light or a ceiling light, but whatever kind of light you use, if the knife is dull, it will reflect the light. If there’s no reflection, the knife is still relatively sharp, and you won’t need to worry about sharpening it just yet.

Third, and perhaps the last resort, is known as the ‘thumbnail test.’ Run your thumbnail down the blade of your pocket knife. If the blade is blunt, you’ll find your thumbnail catches here and there on the blade; this means it’s dull, and it’s time to sharpen it up!

Using a Sharpening Stone

Knife sharpening

As the header suggests, an easy way to keep your pocket knife sharp is a sharpening stone. This will give you access to sharpening tools whenever you need them. You don’t need to think too much about it and don’t need any tools like grinders or buffers – just a stone, and some lubricant.
Obviously, you can’t just use any kind of stone. You need a sharpening stone. There are plenty of different types to choose from, and it will all depend on your personal preference and how much you’re willing to spend.

There are stones with diamond surfaces, Japanese Water Stones, and more. Most stones vary in the amount of grit they have on the surface, so get the one that best suits the amount of grit you’re looking for. There’s a lot to cover there, so we’ll talk about it in another article.

The best idea is to sample different stones if you can and then choose which one gives you the best results. Don’t forget your oil and lubricant. But if you don’t have any, maybe you’re in the Great Outdoors, and that’s also okay!

To use a sharpening stone, you simply need to follow these steps;

  1. Take your stone in one hand find the side with the roughest level of grit. If you pour a bit (and we mean a small bit) of water on it and it absorbs it very quickly, this is the rough grit side. If you have oils or lubricant, apply to the stone mildly.
  2. Put your knife blade on the stone and raise the blade around 10 to 15 degrees and maintain this angle throughout. This is the edge of your knife. This will take some practice to be about to keep it steady, but there’s no reason you can’t take your time and learn. There are guides online that can help give tips.
  3. Now sharpen your blade! The kind of action you want to be carrying out is as though you’re cutting a wafer-thin slice of ham, but the ham is your stone. You can stroke either away from you or towards you – be safe! It’s whatever you prefer, and this will come with experience.
  4. Now do the same on the other side of the blade!
  5. Once both sides are done, flip your stone over onto the fine grit side and repeat the entire process from step two onwards. That’s all you need to do, and you’ll find your pocket blade is perfectly sharp whenever you need it to be.

Using a Honing Rod to Sharpen a Pocket Knife

As it’s used to ‘hone’ the edge of your pocket knife, a honing rod can be a fantastic investment that you can use on any kinds of knives. They’re super easy to use and tend to be very affordable. In essence, it’s basically the same as a sharpening stone, and will give you very similar results.

Choosing the Right Honing Rod

Just like sharpening stones, there are plenty of different types of honing rod to choose from, each delivering a different result and a different sharpening effect. Probably the most common of all honing rods is the steel version. However, there are diamond and ceramic versions, which could be worth a try if you’re not getting the results you’re after, but these tend to be a little more expensive.

How to Use a Honing Rod

Chef's knife, honing steel and towel on cutting board, preparing for knife honing.

  1. Take your honing rod and hold it, so the sharpening rod is facing down towards the ground. Place the downward-facing tip on your counter. Make sure you pick a safe counter so that the rod won’t slide around. Push into it so the rod is secure and won’t move around quickly. For extra grip, an old towel or tea towel can be placed down first. This will also help protect your countertop, which is ideal if you’re planning to sharpen your knives in the kitchen!
  2. Find the angle in which you want to sharpen your knife. Again, this can be around the 10-15 degree marks, although some pocket knives do cut better around 25-30 degree mark. It’s up to you. Just like when you use a sharpening stone, it’s a good idea to make sure you’re sharpening to the same angle your knife is already angled at, so try and figure it out as accurately as you can. If you’re having trouble with it, just go to any hardware or DIY shop, and they should be able to tell you.
  3. Now sharpen your knife! Just like the stone, just swipe the knife down the honing rod at the same angle you defined in step two. Imagine you’re trying to thinly slice the honing rod. Of course, you won’t actually be cutting it, but this is the kind of movement you want to make. Always make sure you’re retaining the right angle all the way down the stroke, and not just when you’re positioning your knife at the top!
  4. Once again, switch sides, so both sides of the knife are sharp, and you’ll be good to go!
    Tips for Sharpening Your Pocket Knife

Okay, so those are the two mains ways you’re going to sharpen your pocket knife, and if you’ve chosen either a honing blade or a sharpening stone, you’re going to be left with a sharp knife. However, sharpening a pocket knife properly takes practice and a bit of know-how to get right, so to help you have the best experience, here are the tips you need to know!

The Number of Blade Strokes

No matter what technique or equipment you’re using, it’s important that you stroke your blade against your sharpening tool around five or six times before flipping the blade over and then doing it on the other side. Do it one direction, and then do it in the other for the best results.

Get the Angle Right

Metallic pocket knife

We’ve spoken about this a little bit above, but you need to make sure you’re getting the angle of your sharpening knife right. By ‘right,’ we mean so it’s as sharp as it can be, and closely matches the original angle. This can vary, but the sharper knives will sit in the 10-15 degree range, whereas others will sit in the 25-30 range, or somewhere around here.

Ideally, you can figure this out for yourself by simply getting a feel for the blade and through sharpening experience, but to make sure you get it right, you can take your knife to a hardware store where they’ll be able to tell you the exact angle.

Experiment with Tools

Young girl carving a stick

If you’re someone who uses knives and your pocket knife quite a lot and you need it to be sharp, it can pay off to experiment with lots of different sharpening tools to see which works best for you and provides you with the final result that works.

With both honing rods and sharpening stones, there are lots of types to choose from, and most tools will only cost around $10 apiece, so you’re not going to be at a loss investing in them. Of course, you’re probably going to want to go for quality, but once you’ve found the one you like, you know this is going to be the best for you.

Practice on a Cheap Knife

While we’ve said plenty of times that sharpening a knife can take practice to get it right and you may have to try over and over again to get the desired result, the best way to move forward is to make sure you don’t actually practice on your best knife. Instead, buy a really cheap knife that you don’t actually care about and practice on that. Once you’ve got the technique down, then transfer this over to your better knives and enjoy sharper results.

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