How to Sharpen A Pocket Knife: Both On and Off The Grid

How to sharpen a pocket knife is one of the most important pieces of information you can have  – especially when you are out in the wilderness. If the pocket knife you have right now is dull, you will need to learn how to sharpen it.

If it is currently sharp, that doesn’t mean that when you are off the grid it will stay that way. If there is an emergency situation, or disaster strikes and you get stuck somewhere you’re going to need your pocket knife to be razor sharp.

It is essential to know exactly how to sharpen your knife, both at home and when you are out in the wilderness.

While there are specific tools you can purchase online to help you get your blade sharp in a hurry, there is more than one way to sharpen your blade.

If you are wondering what the best way to sharpen a pocket knife is, you’ve come to the right place!

See also: Best Camping Knife: Stay Sharp and Protect Yourself

How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife With a Sharpening Stone

1. Test the Sharpness. Before you start to sharpen your pocket knife, test just how dull the blade is. A good test is to see if your knife will cut through a ripe tomato.

If you don’t have any produce handy, you can also use a bright light to test the sharpness. A dull blade reflects light, while a sharp knife will not.

2. Wet the Stone. Lubricating the sharpening stone is really optional, but it is recommended to help prevent damage to your blade. Add a small amount to the roughest side of the stone.

3. Set the Angle. In order to get the blade sharpened you need to set the knife at the correct angle on the stone.

The right angle for your knife will differ from blade to blade, and usually ranges between 15° to 30°. Once you set the blade on the stone at an angle, you may need to practice to find the correct angle for your knife’s bevel.

You should be able to feel it, but if you have trouble simply contact the customer service department of your knife’s manufacturer.

4. Sharpen the Knife. Face the blade away from you and hold the knife at one end of the stone. Maintaining the angle of the blade, pull the knife towards you with smooth movements in your direction.

When you reach the end of the stone, flip the blade over and repeat this process 10 times. Be careful not to press too hard, as this may cause you to hit a curved part of the blade and damage your knife.

5. Use the Other Side of the Stone. After you use the course side of the sharpening stone, flip it over to the fine side. From there you can repeat Step 3.

6. Wipe Your Blade. Now that your blade is sharp, you can clean off any debris left behind on the blade. Use a dry or damp cloth – as long as it’s clean. It will be ready to go when you are!

Alternatively, you can use a honig rod (also known as sharpening steels) to sharpen your blade at home.

It is also a very cost-effective option for keeping your knife sharp.

What You Need:

  • Honig rod
  • Lubricant (water, mineral oil, other liquid)
  • Your pocket knife

How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife With a Honig Rod

1. Choose the Rod. There are many different types of sharpening rods out there. These types of blade sharpeners are most commonly found in the kitchen, and you may already have one for use with your cooking knives.

These types of sharpeners are usually made of steel, but also are ceramic and diamond. Diamond rods typically will keep your blade the smoothest.

2. Hold the Rod Firmly and Place on Solid Surface. You will need to hold the rod in a perpendicular position on a flat, sturdy surface. If you cannot find a surface like that, you can alternatively place a towel or rag under the tip of the rod to eliminate dangerous slipping.

3. Set the Angle. As with sharpening stones, you will need to hold the beveled edge at the correct angle to get the knife sharpened. Ideally, between 23 – 30°.

4. Run One Side of the Knife. Being careful not to apply too much pressure, gently swipe the blade across the rod from the handle to the blade. You may need to do this up to ten times, depending on how dull your knife is.

5. Sharpen the Other Side. What good is a knife with one sharp side and one dull side? Be sure to remember to sharpen both sides. To do so, simply repeat Step 4 on the other side.

Sharpening Your Pocket Knife Off The Grid

If you love to get out into the wild you will need a sharp knife as a companion. However, there may not always be a perfectly grained sharpening rock available to you or a tool designed for sharpening your blade.

In this type of situation, you will need to know how to sharpen your knife with what is available in the wild.

That can get a little tricky, but never fear – we’ve got you covered!

Finding the right tools to sharpen your blade when you are out in the wilderness or just on a day trail can be a challenge. Here are some of the most effective tools for sharpening a knife out in the wild.

Make Your Own Whetstone Powder. This fine sharpening powder was developed by ingenious outdoorsmen who knew that a sharp knife is a survival necessity.

All you need to make this type of sharpener is small rocks. Take tiny rocks in your environment, and smash them into smaller bits. This fine power is able to substitute as a makeshift whetstone that you can use to slide up and down the blade to sharpen it.

A Leather Belt. Add this item to your list of outdoor must-haves! In the event of an emergency there are a wide range of uses for a thick leather belt. Sharpening your pocket knife is just one of those purposes.

To use it, simply stretch the belt out and start stropping your knife. This will not necessarily get your blade razor sharp, but it will realign the blade making it more useful to you.

A Dense Rock. If you can find a large, dense rock – one that will not break down when you apply the pressure of your knife to it – you have found a great way to sharpen your knife in the wilderness.

You can use any rock, but some may break down under the applied pressure of sharpening a blade. All you need to do to use a rock to sharpen your knife is to glide the blade against the surface.

Always remember to face the bade away from you, and to set the angle according to the bevel of your blade.

Your Car Window. In situations where you have your car or truck and keys handy, you can use the window of your vehicle. Obviously, this method is not ideal, but will suffice if you are in a type of survival situation.

To use a car window to sharpen the blade of your knife, first you need to roll down the window to expose the uncoated top edge of the window.

That is where you will be applying the bevel of the blade. Once you have the window rolled down enough to use the top as a sharpener, place the blade on the window at an angle that matches the bevel of your knife.

Face the knife away from your body and gently glide the blade’s beveled edge across the top of the window up to 10 times. Remember to do this on both sides. If you feel a lubricant is needed, water, oil or (worst case scenario) your own spit can be used.

A Ceramic Mug. To use a coffee cup as a knife sharpener, first turn the mug upside down.

Then you will see that the bottom of the cup has a raised edge perfect for sharpening the blade of your pocket knife. This unglazed edge exposes a ceramic surface ideal for setting the beveled edge of your knife.

Place your blade on that edge, facing away from your body and use the same method as with other sharpening tools. Gently slide the knife’s edge on the ceramic lip of the mug up to 10 times. Don’t forget to sharpen both sides.

Don’t forget to read our review of the best Swiss army knife for your use outdoors.

Sharpening A Blade with A Serrated Edge

For the most part, blades that have serrated edges are sharpened the same way as other types of knives.

These types of knives are usually beveled evenly but tend to favor one bevel over another. You can still use the same sharpening tools on blades with serrated edges, but you will need to keep the knife’s grooves in mind.

Testing The Sharpness of Your Knife

One fast, simple and reliable way to know how sharp the knife you have is to use the paper test. Just take a piece of paper and see if your blade is able to easily slice through it.

If it seems like the paper is ripping, and not being sliced, that is a good indication that you need to sharpen your blade.

Here is how to sharpen a pocket knife with a sharpening stone. This method works at home and is a very inexpensive option.

What You Need:

  • Sharpening stone
  • Lubricant (water, mineral oil, other liquid)
  • Your pocket knife

Types of Knives

Pocket knives are one of the most useful tools on Earth and there are many different types of knives and blades to choose from.

Get to know these 3 types of knives as each blade and bezel is distinctive and therefore has different requirements for sharpening.

1. Plain Edge. Many pocket knives have a plain edge. This is the standard straight edge blade that you can find in a basic Swiss Army knife.

One advantage of this type of blade is that it allows for greater control than other types, making cuts more accurate.

This type of knife is generally one of the easiest types to sharpen as it only has one edge, and one angle to set for sharpening.

2. Fully Serrated Edge. This type of knife is very common and is used for everyday tasks. One of the best advantages of fully serrated knives is that they are able to cut through hard materials like wood or rope.

However, the jagged edges of these types of knives make them more challenging to sharpen. Stones may not work for a knife like this because each serration needs to have a sharpness for the blade to cut effectively.

Sharpening rods are best for these types of knives. Every serration must be sharpened individually, so you will need to set the beveled edge up to the rod for each serration. Sharpening each one, gently pull the knife back and forth with the blade facing outward.

3. Partially Serrated Edge. These pocket knives are a blend of both types of edges. This type of combination knife allows you the cutting capabilities of a serrated knife, and the versatility of a straight edge. It’s the best of both worlds.

Relatively easy to sharpen, a partially serrated pocket knife is a little more difficult to sharpen than other types, but will work with a sharpening stone (at least one half of the blade).

Here are a few tips on how to sharpen a pocket knife with serrated edges:

  • Identify the knife’s prominent bevel
  • Maintain a very shallow angle
  • Only sharpen the side of the knife that is beveled
  • Take time and care to sharpen the knives gullets individually
  • Clean off any burrs that were left behind on the blade
  • For safety, use short strokes
  • Always face the knife’s sharp edge away from your body

It can get a little tricky, but it’s not insanely challenging, after all…

Shopping for A Pocket Knife

It is highly recommended that if you travel out into the wilderness that you keep a pocket knife with you, and that you make sure it is always sharp.

While it is not necessary to always keep your knife razor sharp, it is a good idea to regularly sharpen the blade of your knife and other outdoor tools including your machetes, hatchets, axes, meat cleavers, wood chisels etc.

You might also like to see our article on how to select the top backpacking knife to keep you protected.

There is nothing MORE DANGEROUS than a dull pocket knife. Just imagine being off the grid and you reach for your cutting tool, but it is too dull to work! That isn’t just inconvenient – it is downright dangerous.

Finding the right knife for you can be challenging, but we recommend that if you are new to knives in general or simply need a little help in finding which knife is right for you, you should head into your local surplus store to get the assistance of a qualified and knowledgeable salesperson.

For more insight on how to sharpen a knife using a stone, see our popular article to this topic.

Since you will rely on the knife out in the wilderness, you will need to purchase a high-quality pocket knife that you like. After all, some knives just won’t cut it.


6 thoughts on “How to Sharpen A Pocket Knife: Both On and Off The Grid”

  1. Another – albeit lazy – option is to send your knife back to the manufacturer for sharpening. Normally costs a small fee, mainly to cover shipping I believe. Victorinox and Syderco definitely do it, for sure, whilst I know other companies like Gerber have done it in the past. No idea if they still do. Would you happen to know Mark?

  2. Hi Jake, you might want to contact the manufacturer for that. Although I’ll give you one of my secrets: I let one of my buddies do it for me when I lack the time. There’s usually a friend who has lots of sharpening equipment around and who’ll do it for you in a jiffy. 🙂

  3. I love sitting down to sharpen a blade or two. I feel like the time you take to clean and hone any type of weapon gets you more in tune with it. Treat it well and it won’t fail you when you need it most. I also find many of the methods for sharpening to be just monotonous enough to act as a stress reliever for me. I appreciated the suggestions for off the grid sharpening, some where commonly known, but others I had not heard of before.

  4. Sharpening your knife off the grid takes it to another level Jay, LOL. That’s just to say that when you weren’t able to sharpen your knife so it performs poorly when you’re out camping, then you’ve got to be creative. My favorite is sharpening my knife using a rock or the underside of a ceramic mug.

  5. Fantastic article. I’ve actually been wondering how to sharpen knives for awhile now. I find it interesting. I really do have a curiosity for how I would fare in a survival situation. I hiked in the bad lands a few years back and there’s about 90 square miles of nothing and always thought it’d be so amazing to rough it out there for a couple weeks. This knife sharpening skill could definitely come in handy!

  6. Thanks Rebecca and I’m glad you appreciated this post. As I’ve always said before, it just takes a bit of practice in starting to sharpen your knives. The key here is the angle so make sure you know the correct one. I’m sure that you’re going to do well when you “rough it out” . Just make sure you have the proper gear and equipment. Don’t forget to hone your basic survival skills, too.
    Good luck!


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