A 5-Step Guide to Sharpening Your Knife (The Right Way)



Why should I sharpen my knife?

You knife is your best friend out there in the wild. It will always be your most versatile and useful tool. If I could only choose one thing to bring with me in the field, it would definitely be a good, sharp survival knife.

In the outdoors, a blunt knife can be a real pain when it comes to doing what you want to do. We’ve all experienced this moment where our blade is so dull that it even take effort to cut string!

Blunt knives will never be your friend out in the field, so it is necessary to keep your knife sharp at all times. You don’t want to have to use your axe to cut through your sirloin! But the practicality is not the main problem. A blunt knife is a hazard, not a help.

What’s the matter?

We’ve all heard the saying “A blunt knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife”. At first, my reaction was the same as what you’re probably thinking now (This is bulls**t), but it’s actually true.

What people don’t realise is that while it might not be able to cut rope or other stuff, it can still cut you. The danger is that it requires much more pressure to cut wood with a blunt knife than with a sharp knife. Hence it is more likely that the blunt knife will slip and that the momentum will cause it to slash your hand or your leg.

This is another reason why you should avoid working with blunt knives at all cost.

It’s simply not worth it. You should ensure that you knife remains sharp whenever you need to use it. Here is a COMPLETE guide to sharpening your knife the right way.


What equipment do I need to sharpen my knife?

This is a question that many people ask. Most are scared to buy all this fancy equipment that is advertised for knife sharpening. The truth is that you don’t need tons of expensive things. However, purchasing SOME sharpening equipment is a great investment, since it will give your knives a longer lifetime, and and ensure that you blades always perform as you want them to.

However, if you need to sharpen your knife right now but don’t have the equipment, here are 13 working ways to sharpen your knife with no specific equipment.

The main equipment that you will need is sharpening stones. For a complete, proper sharpening, you want to use three different stones: a coarse grit sharpening stone (Step 1), a medium grit sharpening stone (Step 2) and a fine grit sharpening stone (Step 3).

By following this, you will make your balde finer and finer, and sharper and sharper, throughout the sharpening process. This is essential, since sharpening your blade gradually will give you a much better result.

In fact, trying to go directly from the coarse grit sharpening stone (Step 1) to the honing rod (Step 4) will damage your knife, since the coarse grit sharpening stone will have created little dents in the blade, and your knife will never be sharp.

You will also need a honing rod, which is the ‘finishing touch’ to sharpening your knife. Honing (Step 4) is necessary so make your blade smooth and sharp. Smooth ceramic honing rods are the ones I prefer and the ones I use for most of my knives.

Lastly, you will need some kind of leather strap (a belt will do just fine) for the stropping phase (Step 5). Stropping will prevent your blade from dulling as soon as you start using it. It will give your knife a longer lifespan, and is an essential last step to the sharpening process.

VERY IMPORTANT: You need to moisturize your sharpening stones. This is necessary, because when your sharpen your blade, you take little pieces of metal off the blade. Moisture will prevent these bits of metals from accumulating and clogging up on the sharpening stones. Oil is a good moisturiser, but water is much more practical outdoors.

OUR TIP: Use water to moisturize your sharpening stones. A water stone can be dried up and converted to an oil stone whenever you need, but an oil stone cannot be used with water. Water is also more practical when it comes to sharpening your knives during an outdoors trip.

To summarize, you will need:
  • your knife
  • a coarse grit sharpening stone
  • a medium grit sharpening stone
  • a fine grit sharpening stone
  • a honing rod
  • a leather strap (belt)
  • a moisturizer (oil or water)

Our best choice: Full 3-Piece Sharpening Stone Set on Amazon.

Once you have this, you are good to start!


How do I test if my blade is sharp or not?

You might be wanting to ask: “How do I know when I need to sharpen my knife?”. The truth is that you can often realise by yourself when your blade is not sharp enough. However, if you are unsure, just tell yourself that your blade, when sharp, should be able to cut through paper with almost no effort.

To test this, hold you knife above a piece of A4 paper, and gently bring it down, perpendicular to the paper. Your knife should be able to cut the paper cleanly and easily.

Once you more or less know how sharp your knife is, you can begin with the sharpening process. If your blade is still sharp, and you just want a maintenance, routine sharpening, start with Step 3 or 4. However, if your knife is really blunt, and the blade is significantly rounded, you want to start at Step 1 and go through the entire process.


So what do I need to do?

Here is the 5-step process that you should follow to sharpen your knife the right way. Following these steps properly will always return your blade back to its original sharpness – if not better!

Step 1 – Heavy Sharpening

  • What it it?

You will first sharpen your knife with the coarse grit sharpening stone. This will be the first step of the sharpening process and will create little, microscopic teeth in the blade. The rest of the process will make these teeth smaller and smaller, until your blade is perfectly smooth and sharp.

  • What equipment do I need?

You will need your coarse grit sharpening stone. You will also need your moisturizer (oil or water). And, of course, your knife.

  • What do I do?

Step 1: Lubricate your coarse grit sharpening stone.

Step 2: Set the knife at about a 10° angle with the blade facing away from you.

Step 3: In a smooth movement, drag the edge of the knife away from you, along the sharpening stone. Make sure to cover the full length of the blade.

Step 4: Lift the knife, turn it over so that the blade faces you, and repeat the same movement.

Step 5: Make sure that the angle between the blade and the stone stays the same.

Step 6: Repeat until the edge feels sharp, then move to the medium grit sharpening stone.


Step 2 – Medium Sharpening

  • What it it?

In this step, you sharpen the blade to make the microscopic teeth produced by Step 1 smaller and smaller. This process is the same as for Step 1, but using the medium grit sharpening stone.

  • What equipment do I need?

You will need a medium grit sharpening stone and your moisturizer – using the one you used in Step 1 is the best choice (try to keep it all the same).

  • What do I do?

Step 1: Lubricate your medium grit sharpening stone.

Step 2: Set the knife at about a 10° angle with the blade facing away from you.

Step 3: In a smooth movement, drag the edge of the knife away from you, along the sharpening  stone. Make sure to cover the full length of the blade.

Step 4: Lift the knife, turn it over so that the blade faces you, and repeat the same movement.

Step 5: Make sure that the angle between the blade and the stone stays the same.

Step 6: Repeat until the edge feels sharp, then move on to the fine grit sharpening stone.


Step 3 – Fine Sharpening

  • What it it?

In this third step, you continue sharpening in order to make the teeth smaller and smaller on the blade. The process if the same as for Steps 1 and 2, but using the fine grit sharpening stone.

  • What equipment do I need?

You will need a fine grit sharpening stone and your moisturizer – using the one you used in Steps 1 and 2 is the best choice (try to keep it all the same).

  • What do I do?

Step 1: Lubricate your fine grit sharpening stone.

Step 2: Set the knife at about a 10° angle with the blade facing away from you.

Step 3: In a smooth movement, drag the edge of the knife away from you, along the sharpening  stone. Make sure to cover the full length of the blade.

Step 4: Lift the knife, turn it over so that the blade faces you, and repeat the same movement.

Step 5: Make sure that the angle between the blade and the stone stays the same.

Step 6: Repeat until the edge feels sharp, then move to Step 4.


Step 4 – Honing

  • What it it?

In this important stage of the sharpening process, the microscopic teeth on the blade basically disappear and the blade becomes razor sharp.

  • What equipment do I need?

You will need to hone your blade. The best choice for this is to use a smooth ceramic sharpening rod.

Our favourite: Smooth ceramic honing rod on Amazon

Step 1: Hold the knife in your left hand and the honing rod in your right hand.

Step 2: Rotate the knife so that the blade faces right.

Step 3: Directing the knife away from you, place the honing rod at a 10° angle to the blade, as shown below.

Step 4: Stroke the blade with the rod, in a smooth movement away from you.

Step 5: Lift the honing rod and repeat for the other side of the blade.

Step 6: Make sure that you keep the angle the same throughout this step.

Step 7: Repeat until you observe a burr on the edge of the blade.


Step 5 – Stropping

  • What it it?

Don’t forget this step! Step 4 (Honing) produces a very fine sharp edge. However, this sharp edge can easily bend over, forming a burr. Step 5, the stropping phase, will remove this burr, to ensure that your knife keeps its sharpness for much longer.

  • What equipment do I need?

You will need a leather strap. Your leather belt can be a perfect improvised strop, if you don’t have anything else on you.

  • What do I do?

Step 1: Drag each side of the blade along the strop. However, the direction is different from steps 1-4. Don’t drag the blade into the material. Start with the sharp edge of the blade facing you, and drag the knife away from you along the leather strap.

Step 2: Drag the knife back towards you, so that the other side of the blade is in contact with the belt this time.

Step 3: Make sure that you cover the entire length of the blade.

Step 4: Repeat for about 5-10 minutes.

Step 5: You are now done!

OUR TIP: Perform Steps 1-3 at home or at base camp before an outdoors trip. This way, you will not have to carry around your sharpening stones. Just bring a honing rod with you, and perform Steps 4-5 regularly. This will end up being much more practical, since you will have less to carry.


What do I do if my blade is serrated? Can I sharpen that?

You need to follow a special method for serrated blades, and use special equipment. Don’t use a flat sharpening stone. You must use a sharpening rod. The best choice that we found for such a tool is Buck knives’ 10” Diamond Sharpening rod on Amazon.

So here’s how to sharpen your serrations:

  • Serrations have a grind only on one side of the blade. Before you start sharpening your serrations, observe which side of the blade you need to sharpen.
  • Hold the sharpening rod at an angle that matches the original angle of the grind.
  • Place the top, narrow end of the sharpening rod up against serration and stroke towards the spine of the blade, into the serration.
  • Stop your stroke when the sharpness of the rod equals that of the serration, then repeat the movement.
  • Rotate the sharpening rod during the movement, to make sure that your sharpening is even.
  • Check the sharpness regularly, and stop as soon you observe a burr.
  • Move on to the next serration.


What should I NOT do when I sharpen my knife?

1) Change the sharpening angle during the sharpening process:

This will render all your efforts useless, since your blade will not be sharp. Do your best to keep the same angle of sharpening in every step of the process.

2) Move the knife in the wrong direction on the whetstone:

You have to direct you blade into the stone. Otherwise you’ll probably have to sharpen for weeks until your blade until your blade becomes sharp!

3) Forget to moisturize the sharpening stones:

This will cause the bits of metal that you scrape off the blade to accumulate on the sharpening stones, and these will clog up.

4) Use water on your oil sharpening stone:

You can swap from water to oil, but never from oil to water. This is because it is possible to dry up water completely from the whetstone, but oil cannot be dried up.

5) Only sharpen with the coarse grit sharpening stone:

This will not sharpen your blade. If you were to look at the blade under a microscope after Step 1, you would see that it has small rough teeth, like a saw. If you start using your knife after that step, these teeth will fold over and your knife will become blunt again in minutes. You need to follow all 5 steps so that the teeth become smaller and smaller, until the blade eventually becomes completely smooth.

6) Sharpen your serrated blade like a straight-edge blade:

This will not only not work, but will also completely mess up your serrations. Follow our advice to sharpen your serrations. Don’t use a flat sharpening stone. Just don’t.

7) Forget the stropping step:

You might think that stropping is not useful, but it is as important as all the other steps, if not more. Step 4 (Honing) will produce a very fine edge, but this edge will be so fine that it will form a burr (when the thin, flexible edge of the blade bends over). Stropping is necessary to eliminate this burr, which will cause your knife to keep its sharp edge much longer.


How do I ensure that my blade stays sharp and strong?

  • Sharpen your knife regularly.

If you sharpen regularly, you will be able to skip the stages 1-3 in your sharpening process. However, more infrequent sharpening will require more effort to return the blade back to its original sharpness, since you will have to follow the entire process. It is therefore better and easier to sharpen your knife regularly. ‘Regularly’ in that sense doesn’t mean everyday. I usually sharpen my outdoors knife every month, if I have used it in between, or if I feel really ambitious, every second week.

I would simply recommend sharpening your knife as soon as you notice that it is not performing as well as it should be. The more frequently you sharpen, the easier the sharpening will be, and most of the time you will only need a few side-to-side strokes with the ceramic sharpening rod (Step 4 – Honing) to make your blade sharp again. If your blade is slightly blunt but still cuts relatively well, then Step 3 should be a good start. However, if you blade has definitely changed shape and become significantly blunt and rounded, you must start at Step 1.

OUR TIP: Store your whetstones and rods close to your knives. This way, you will be more inclined to sharpen your knife if it becomes blunt, since all your tools will be within easy reach!

  • Only use the knife for the activities it should be used for.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? Most knives are supposed to be used only for designated activities. Using your knife for stuff it shouldn’t be used for could either damage it or cause you some serious harm. I would recommend keeping to cutting, piercing and other simple things, with your pocket knife. Please don’t throw it, bend it, or use it as a hammer. It’s just stupid. Your blade will either break or be damaged, or it will be a hazard to your personal safety.

Of course, if your knife is intended for throwing (some survival knives fit this description), it means that its blade it strong enough, and that it has been tested and proven safe to use in such an activity. Then yes, you can throw it. But please, just don’t try and throw your Victorinox pocket knife. You’ll either cut yourself because the blade will fold back in the throwing movement, or you will break the blade, or you will damage the knife’s spring mechanism. Anyway, it is very improbable that your throw will be successful because the handle is so much heavier than the knife.

Similarly, you wouldn’t want to use your METAL knife with a METAL handle to fiddle with your phone’s electronics? (I don’t know which creep would do that by the way…)

  • Only cut materials appropriate to the knife.

That follows from point 2. Don’t mess around with your knife. Cutting materials that your knife isn’t designed to cut will not only reduce your blade’s sharpness, but will also be a serious hazard when it comes to your personal safety.

For example, if you have a chef’s knife, only use it to cut food, and make sure you cut on a non-dulling surface, like a nylon or wood cutting board.

In the case of outdoors knives, just don’t use your blade to cut stuff like metal wire, and try to avoid contact between your blade and hard surfaces like stone. Make sure your knife is adapted to what you are cutting.

If you don’t, you blade will lose its sharpness very quickly or will bend or break, or your knife might slip and you will then lose a finger or two. Just use common sense!

  • Store your knife properly.

Storing your knife properly is essential to ensure that your blade stays sharp. Always try and protect you blade, or it will undoubtedly become dull.

For example, store kitchen knives in a storage block or on a knife magnet. For survival/outdoors fixed-blade knives, store them in their sheath when you don’t use them. However, for long-term storage, try and avoid the sheath, since it will eventually tarnish the knife.

Leaving your knives lying around or throwing them in random places will damage your blade. Make sure that you always use appropriate storage for your knife. This is essential if you want to increase your blade’s lifetime.

OUR TIP: When you are camping outdoors, make sure that you DO NOT store your knife with its blade in the ground. This is the WORST thing you can do outdoors that will damage your blade.

To learn more about about the right way to care about knives, here are 12 tips to keep your pocket knife in peak condition.


Are some blade materials easier to sharpen than others?

The most common blade materials out there are Stainless Steel and Carbon Steel.

Stainless Steel blades are stronger on the Rockwell Scale (which determines the hardness of a blade), and therefore are harder to sharpen. However, when sharpened properly, Stainless Steel blade will keep their sharpness much longer than other blades.

Carbon steel blades are easier to sharpen, but are prone to corrosion and their sharpness has a short lifespan. Carbon Steel blades require much more care and maintenance than Stainless Steel.

You can learn more about blade materials by reading our post about Blade Materials and their Pros and Cons.


Was this helpful? Do you have any questions, comments or suggestions for our 5-Step Guide to Knife Sharpening? Let us know by commenting in the section below. Looking forward to hearing from you!

Leave us a Comment !