How to Sharpen a Knife: 10 Tips for at Home and in the Field

It has been argued by more than a few outdoor enthusiasts whether a sharp knife or a dull knife is more dangerous to the user. The logic has always been that the dull knife might not plunge as deeply into you as the sharp blade, but the more jagged wound may take longer to heal (not to mention that you have to push harder to even use the dull knife, increasing the likelihood of a mishap).

So let's take the dull knife issue off the table by learning some sharpening tricks that work at home AND in the field.

1) Determine the tasks you'll be performing with the blade. If you are sharpening a survival knife, which has many purposes, you'll benefit most from a wider, more durable edge angle. The type of knife and its intended uses should be the main factor governing how sharp you want to make it.

2) Most folks use a lubricant on their sharpening stone, but there is always debate over using oil or water as the lubricant. Some sharpening experts even argue that you shouldn't use any lubricant at all. Whether you are a water guy or an oil guy, it's important that you clean your stone very well after using it, especially after using an oil lubricant, which could clog your stone. Scrubbing it with a brush under cold water for a minute or two will usually do the trick.

3) Select the right angle for the particular knife you would like to sharpen, and maintain that angle while sharpening. It doesn't have to be exact, but it should be. Most knifes have a bevel angle of roughly 20 to 23 degrees.

4) Start sharpening with a coarse stone only if your knife is seriously dull or has been chipped, dinged, or otherwise abused.

5) Move to your medium stone for the majority of your sharpening work, or start there if the knife wasn't too dull to begin with.

6) Count your strokes and use the same number on both sides of the blade.

7) If you are using a real rock that you found in a stream, make sure it has a smooth section to sharpen your knife. I have gotten blades razor sharp by using natural stones, but these results are not typical.

8) Sharpen often. Don't give you blade a chance to become irreparably ruined.

9) While sharpening rinse your stone often to keep the pores open.

10) Test for sharpness on inanimate objects. Slicing paper from edge to edge is a great test. Stay away from shaving arm hair and carving into your thumbnail.

So here's your homework assignment ... Get a knife so sharp that you could slice pieces of paper with no resistance. Good luck, and let us know how you do in the comments.