How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife, With and Without a Stone

gray and black folding pocket knife

The trusty pocketknife is a favorite utility for people around the globe, and it's important as an owner to know how to sharpen a pocket knife. From Swiss Army knives, with their many functions, to a basic single blade pocket knife, it's handy to keep a utility blade on you. You'd be surprised how many uses you'll find for a reliable knife once you have one. From opening a package to dealing with a stubborn knot, keeping a pocket knife handy removes these tiny stresses from your life, adding up to a great deal of relief in the long run.

As you continue to use your knife, however, the dreaded specter of a dull blade is bound to raise its head. Even the best-made knife will dull with use eventually, so it's important to know how to sharpen a pocket knife properly. Knife sharpening techniques restore your blade to a like-new condition so that you can cut through life's entanglements with ease. Once you know how to sharpen a pocket knife, it's easy to keep yours working at peak condition.

Why Keep Your Pocket Knife Sharp?

A sharp knife is more effective than a dull one. Nobody wants to be the person who pulls out their knife when they really need it only to find a blunt edge. Suddenly, you're spending minutes sawing away at what ought to be a clean cut. That's not a concern when you know how to sharpen a pocket knife and can keep your blade sharp at all times.

Counterintuitively, a sharp blade is also less of a risk to injure you. While it may seem logical that a blunter blade is safer in case you slip, it's not the case. The reason is that the benefit of reduced risk is canceled out and then some by the risk of slipping more often. Dull knife blades don't slice through things effortlessly. The harder you are working to get your knife to cut, the higher the risk of it catching, then pulling loose suddenly out of your control. When you keep your blade edge finely honed, you ensure that such incidents stay at a minimum.

Tools for Keeping a Pocket Knife Sharp

Learning how to sharpen a pocket knife is a surprisingly easy skill, which requires only two primary tools. For effective pocket knife honing and sharpening you require a stone to work on, and some lubricant to keep it moving smoothly over the stone's surface.

Sharpening stones come with two sides, a rough side and a fine side. Just like sanding a wood surface, you begin on the rough side, then move over to the fine side after the initial smoothing. Sharpening stones come in a variety of stone materials, with costs starting as low as a few dollars. A cheaper sharpening stone is no good for a larger, more expensive blade. With a pocket knife though, there's rarely a need to break the bank. Pick up an affordable stone and get sharpening.

Lubricating oil reduces the friction on the knife edge. The more you slide the blade, the more friction generates, which produces heat. Too much heat on your blade has the potential to cause damage. Applying lubricant protects your blade so that your sharpening does more good than harm.

How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife Most Effectively

Although other options exist in a pinch, you simply cannot beat the results of a sharpening stone. It's always a good idea to use a stone whenever possible. Stone-based sharpening produces the sharpest, cleanest blades to make effective cutting strikes.

Identify the sides of your stone

You can't start with the rough side and move to the fine side if you don't know which is which. Experienced knife sharpeners only need to look at most stones to quickly tell one from the other. If you're new to sharpening and they both look the same, however, don't worry. Simply test each side out using the top of a fingernail, or a similarly scuffable surface. The side which produces more pronounced marks is the rough side.

Apply lubricant to the rough side

The oil for your stone keeps the motion going safely, so don't be stingy with it. Apply a few drops to the stone then spread the oil around the surface. Add an additional drop if you are not able to get consistent coverage along the entire stone.

Angle your blade and start sharpening

The key to successful sharpening is finding the right angle, then maintaining it consistently. Most pocket knives have an ideal angle in the range of 10 to 15 degrees. If you know the angle your blade came at, do your best to replicate that angle. If you are not sure about the ideal angle, use the above range as a guide.

Position the sharpening stone so that one short end is near you. Place one side of the blade down on the stone, holding it lifted to the desired angle. Slide the blade away from you along the length of the stone. If your blade is wider than the width of the sharpening stone, start the stroke with the base of the blade at the edge of the stone, then pull the blade horizontally as you slide it so that the entire blade moves across the stone.

Repeat the same stroke 10 to 12 times on the same side of the blade. Flip the knife over and repeat the identical process on the opposite side of the blade. Once both sides have received identical treatment, switch to alternating strokes. Complete one stroke with one side of the blade, then flip it over and complete one stroke with the other side. Do an additional 10 to 12 strokes total in this manner to complete your rough sharpening. This process removes any significant flaws in the blade edge and sets you up to move on to fine honing.

Fine sharpening

Once the rough sharpening is over, it's time to make the blade truly sharp. Flip the sharpening stone over and oil the fine side of the stone. Repeat the same sharpening process as the rough side on the fine side. The filing on the rough side of the stone handles major dings in the blade, but the fine side is required to get a genuinely sharp finish on the blade.

Test your blade

ganzo knife stuck on wood stump

Now that you've finished sharpening your blade, how can you be sure that it is sharp enough? There are several simple ways to test your sharpness. The two simplest ways require just a piece of paper or an unshaved arm or leg.

To test your blade on a piece of paper, hold the paper in one hand by the corner. Hold the knife over the loosely hanging paper then bring the blade down. A sharp blade should cut through the paper easily. If your blade simply pushes the paper out of the way and requires the paper to be held taught in order to cut through, then it's not sharp enough yet. Return to rough sharpening if the knife fails to cut the paper when hanging loose. Return to fine sharpening if it cuts the paper but there is significant resistance.

A properly sharpened knife blade should be as sharp as a razor blade. That means that if you drag the blade across hairs on your body, it should shave them off. Test your blade without paper or any other target materials by simply running it along a small patch of unshaved skin. If it shaves the patch clean, your blade is ready to go. Return to rough sharpening if it does not cut the hairs at all, and fine sharpening if only it only cuts some hairs, or it cuts the hairs but stubble remains.

How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife with Everyday Items

Using a sharpening stone and lubricant is the best way to sharpen your knife, but that's not always an option. If you're in need of a better edge in a pinch, there are many common items you can use to make your blade cut cleaner. While these options won't provide as effective results as a proper sharpening set, they're handy when a stone is not available. Knowing how to sharpen a pocket knife without a stone helps you to keep your knife safe and sharp at all times.

When using improvised sharpening elements, it's important to understand the difference between the two types of blade care, honing and sharpening. Sharpening is a more thorough process that includes both removing imperfections and refining the edge of the blade. With honing, you simply remove any large nicks and marks in your blade's edge.

Honing options

Although honing won't provide a razor's edge, it is still useful for getting a more efficient cut. If you don't have sharpening tools available, honing helps you make cleaner, safer cuts.

Leather belt

brown leather belt

If you're out for a hike, it's likely someone in your party has a leather belt on. Belts are excellent for honing a blade when a stone isn't available. Simply run the blade along the inside of the belt as if it was a stone to remove any major imperfections.

Nylon straps

Although not as effective as leather, nylon also offers an alternative honing option. As with the leather, lay the strap out then drag the blade along the strap at an angle as if sharpening it. This method yields a slightly inferior edge to leather.


The low option on the totem pole, unlaminated cardboard is still better than nothing if you need to improve your edge. Don't expect a razor-sharp finish with cardboard, but you can count on smoothing out major flaws.


When you need to get the finest possible edge on your blade, stopping at honing just won't do. These sharpening stone substitutes are the next best thing to using a proper stone. With enough effort, you can create an edge similar to what you'd make on a designed sharpening stone.

Another knife

When you have two knives, you're never without sharpening options. To use another knife as a sharpening agent, turn it over so that the flat back of the blade is facing up. Sharpen your pocket knife along the back spine of the second knife until you have a sharp edge.

Coffee mugs

white happy camper printed cup on brown wooden

Ceramics are a surprisingly abrasive surface. Identify the most abrasive section of the mug. Most commonly this is the bottom of the mug. The bottom of the mug is also a convenient option as there are no concerns about nicks to the mug as you sharpen. Sharpening on a ceramic mug only works if the mug is unglazed, however. Mugs with paint or glaze on them will not provide a suitably abrasive surface, and sharpening on them is likely to cause damage to the finish.

Natural stones

four rock formation

The best substitute for a stone is a different stone. An ideal sharpening stone has a long, flat surface. Select a stone which does not feature significant bumps or crevices, as these will negatively impact the edge of your blade.

Now You Know How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife

Pocket knives are handy tools and a worthwhile addition to anyone's pocket. A knife is only as good as its edge, however, which is why it's so important to know how to sharpen a pocket knife in a variety of situations. Be sure to keep your blade sharp at all times. Don't wait until you're ready to use it, only to find that the blade is too dull to be effective. Pick up a sharpening stone and some lubricant, and make a habit of regularly sharpening your blade whenever it begins to dull. You'll be glad you did the next time you take it out, and it makes quick work of what you need cut!

Do you have any special tips and tricks you use on your pocket knife? Let us know about it in the comments.


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