How To Sharpen A Pocket Knife

A pocket knife is one of the most important tools you can take with you into the wilderness. That’s assuming it still carries an edge, of course. A dull pocket knife is useless when compared to the versatility of a sharpened knife. If you’re taking the knife into the wilderness, it’s downright dangerous to not have it sharpened. If you take care of your knife, it’ll take care of you and keep you safe and comfortable on many occasions.

That’s why you’re reading this guide. Here you’ll find out how you can sharpen your pocket knife once it has turned dull. We have detailed what equipment you’ll need, how to avoid damaging the blade, and how to test how sharp it is once you’re finished, too.

How To Sharpen A Pocket Knife

Get Sharpening Tools

First, you need to get the tools required to actually sharpen the knife. Maybe you’ve done this before and have an idea, maybe you haven’t got a clue, either way, we’d advise getting a brand new handheld travel sharpener for use out on the trail. There are many of them available at all price points, so you buy whatever is manageable for you.

No matter what you get, you’ll be buying a stone of some kind that you’ll put into contact with the knife. This slowly shaves away the edge of the blade, making it thinner and sharper. You should also get a whetstone and, if necessary, lubrication in the form of oil or water. Read the instructions for the sharpening tools that you get, they’ll tell you exactly how it is used.

Clean The Blade

Before we start, you should clean your blade. You don’t want to start sharpening your knife when it’s dirty, you won’t be able to see the edge, and debris on the blade could further damage it.

Cleaning it is easy, just use soap and water and then wipe away any visible residue or dirt. The important part is that you let it dry completely, so no moisture is left on the blade or trapped in any of the nooks that might be on your blade’s handle.

How To Sharpen A Pocket Knife

Find The Edge

Your knife is going to be unique, especially when it comes to the edge angle. Whether it was made that way or the angle has changed over time, your knife will have an edge angle that you need to find if you want to sharpen it properly. If you sharpen without matching the angle, you’ll be creating a new edge.

A good idea is to look up your exact brand and model, just in case somebody online has posted the information you need. Many specialist knives carry their edge at a 15 to 20-degree angle but this isn’t always the case.

You could even contact the manufacturer yourself if you can’t find the information that you need. Sometimes the manual that shipped with your knife will give the edge angle too. Once you’ve identified the edge angle, some put ink on it so that they know they’re hitting it during sharpening.

Sharpen The Knife

Now it’s time to sharpen the knife. While we have some generalized tips, keep your knife’s instructions close by and follow them, along with the instructions from the knife sharpening tool.

If you’re working with a stone, put your blade on it and run it up in grand, sweeping movements. This shaves away small layers of the blade, creating a thinner and more powerful edge. Fortunately for you, the process of sharpening a pocket knife is pretty easy. It’s one of the easiest knives you can work with because of how smaller and shorter the blade tends to be.

You’ll probably have multiple stones if you’ve bought a sharpening tool kit. If your blade is dull, start with the stone that has the coarsest grit and then advances towards the fine grits, which are better for honing the blade. If you’re regularly maintaining the blade, you don’t need to break out the coarsest-grade stone every time you need it.

Don’t hold the knife with too much of a rigid grip, you shouldn’t put much pressure on the blade as it makes contact with the stone. You need to hold the knife with reliable pressure and at the constant edge angle, which can be quite difficult for beginners.

How To Sharpen A Pocket Knife

Hone & Strop The Blade

By now, you should have taken a lot of the dull out of the blade. That doesn’t mean it’s very sharp yet, so you need to hone and then strop the blade. This is where you stick with the fine-grit stone to create a sharper edge.

Stropping is optional and is just where you add polish to leather and then pass the blade over it, to polish the knife itself. Keep the edge away so that you don’t cut the leather or yourself. Stropping can help safeguard the blade’s knife, too, helping it last even longer once it has been sharpened.

Test The Blade’s Sharpness

By now, your knife should look pretty sharp. To test it, try cutting through paper. Printable A4 paper is fine but more substantial pages, like magazine paper, are a great test of your blade’s edge. You may be able to get adventurous with other suitable materials, as long as it shows off how sharp the knife is.

To do this, you pull the page taut and then pass the blade downwards. If it breaks seamlessly, you’re sharp. If it doesn’t, by getting stuck or wrinkling the paper, then you should go back to honing and fine-tuning your blade. If the disruptions are happening in a specific area, that part of the knife is too dull and compared to the rest.

Once you’re done, you now have a functional pocket knife. Not only that, but you can also proudly say that you sharpened it with your own two hands.


By reading and following the steps above, you should know everything you need about knife sharpening, as well as cleaning and honing the blade to keep it in great condition. As one of the most important survival tools known to mankind, you should treat your knife well – it will return the favor.

Knowing how to sharpen knives is a great skill to have, especially if you’re adventuring outdoors. No matter the shape or type of metal your blade is made from, the sharpening process looks practically the same across knives. This means you don’t just know how to sharpen your own pocket knife, you can apply our steps to any knife and get results.

Eric Willis
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