How to Sharpen a Pocket Knife (By Price Point)
As far as we know, knife history begins with the oldest knife in existence, made approximately 1.4 million years ago. But according to a study done by the University of Colorado, sharpening has been around for about 75,000 years "only." That is roughly 5% of the entire knife time-line. Insane, right? Like, what did they do before? Just make new ones? Well, thanks to sharpening, you can keep using the same knives for a very long time.
One of the first terminologies you have to become familiar with is grit. Grit is basically a fancy way of talking about how rough or smooth a sharpening stone is. The higher the grit number, the smoother and finer the stone, which means you'll get a sharper and smoother edge in your blade. On the flip side, lower grit numbers mean you're dealing with some serious sandpaper-level roughness, which can be used to remove more material out of your blade giving you a rougher and more rugged edge. So, when picking your sharpening stone, think about how dull your blade is when you start to sharpen, and how smooth you want that edge to be at the end of your sharpening process. You will normally start working that edge back to life with a lower grit stone, and work your way up to refine and smooth out the edge as much as you want.
Check out this grit chart 👇
|1||Extra Coarse: Most aggressive metal remover. This grit is almost never recommended for sharpening, as it removes material too fast.||Under 150|
|2||Coarse: Grinds fast as well. It is better to stay away from these stones unless you are reprofiling a blade after it has chipped.||150-220|
|3||Medium Coarse: Great for adjusting the angle of the bevel in your knife. As soon as you get the angle desired, move on from this stone.||220-300|
|4||Medium: If there is no edge adjustment needed, this is a nice grit level to start sharpening with.||300-400|
|5||Medium Fine: Use this grit to refine your edge from the previous stone used.||400-600|
|6||Fine: Most normal people will end their sharpening process with a stone in this grit range.||600-1,000|
|7||Extra Fine: You are not normal, so you kept going.||1,000-2,000|
|8||Extremely Fine: At this point you have clearly walked the extra mile. You are removing material very slowly, but your knife's edge will be beautiful.||2,000-6,000|
|9||Almost Mirror Polish: We get it, you want to be a samurai...||6,000-10,000|
|10||Mirror Polish: This is the slowest metal remover level. It will leave a mirror polish edge in the blade with the highest sharpness possible. Careful, it will cut ya if you look at it too long.||10,000 +|
Now that you understand grit better, let's get into the different sharpening methods there are. Some of these options will require a higher technique level than others, and you will get different results out of each one of these.
1. V-Edge Pull Through Sharpener ($2-100+)
There are so many pull through sharpeners out there for a reason. Most people like the simplicity that these tools bring to the table, as well as the low price point. It is sadly not our favorite sharpening method for a number of reasons:
- You don't have a wide variety of angles for your edges.
- It removes way too much material.
- Because it removes material fast, if the same exact pressure isn't applied through the sharpening process you might change the shape of the edge. Recurves are added on cutting edges all the time with this sharpening method.
There is really only a couple of steps in this sharpening method:
- Pull the blade through the sharpener from the base to the tip of the blade.
- Repeat as needed.
- Strop after sharpening is done.
2. The Stone Method ($20-500+)
There are three types of sharpening stones. Water stones, oil stones, and diamond stones. Even though these stones are made out of different materials, the concept remains. Here is how to sharpen a knife with stones:
- Prepare the stone: Lay the stone down in a flat surface, and apply water or oil depending in the stone type you will use.
- Make sure you understand the bevel angle in your pocket knife.
- Lay the knife in the stone at the desired angle, lock your wrist (this will help you maintain the angle), and start carefully stroking.
- Inspect the knife often to make sure all the grind lines are even.
- Once you have an even bevel with even grind lines, repeat steps 1-4 with higher grit stones. You can go as high as you would like.
- Strop, and enjoy your new sharp edge.
3. Sharpening Grinders ($50-500+)
You want to sharpen your knives with a grinder? You must be one of those speedy folks who's always in a hurry! Grinders can be a great way to get those dull blades back to their sharpness, but let's be honest, it's not for everyone. Some knife enthusiasts are like, "Nah, man, I don't wanna grind down my precious blade to a nub!" And you know what? They might be right. With grinders, there's very little room for error because they may remove metal too fast. So, if you're feeling daring, go ahead and give it a try. But if you're more of a "take it slow and steady" kind of person, maybe stick to the good old-fashioned whetstone. It may take longer, but hey, at least you won't end up with unwanted grind lines. Here are the steps anyways:
- Ensure the grinder is set up properly and securely.
- Determine the angle you want to sharpen your knife at.
- Very steadily pass the blade through the grinder.
- Maintain a consistent angle and pressure throughout the process.
- Repeat the process on both sides of the blade until desired sharpness is achieved.
- Test the blade's sharpness periodically and make necessary adjustments.
- As always, strop the knife after you are done with the stones.
4. The KME System ($250-500+)
A KME system is based out of stones, but it is a precision guided method. This means that the skill of maintaining the same angle as you sharpen your knife and move from lower to higher grits, is no longer needed (the system holds the angle for you!). Because of this, sharpening in a KME system will give you better results if you are just learning the art of sharpening.
- Set the knife to be sharpened in the clams
- Set the desired stone in the rod, and set the rod in the system
- Adjust the angle of the system to match the desired angle you want your blade to have.
- Begin to draw the sharpening stone across the blade with even pressure moving from heel to tip. This will avoid accidental removal of your blade tip.
- Continue grinding each side until a burr forms, then flip the knife.
- Once each side of the edge has been ground to the same grit level move up to the next level of sharpening stones.
- Repeat steps 4-6 until you reach your desired level of sharpness.