Getting the Basics: Sharpening Your Knife 101

Having proper tools in the wilderness is vital for survival. Out of the many tools, a survival knife is one of the most basic and handy tools you can carry. These knives allow you to hack, cut, or slice through numerous objects during your remote expedition.

Understanding the importance of a survival knife in your backpack is necessary. Even though it doesn’t seem of much use in the wild, however, it can be a matter of life and death.

Having a dull knife is definitely better than having none, but a sharp one can definitely help you in many ways. Considering you are out in the wild, here are some ways to sharpen your knife.

Choosing the Right Tools

Before we start sharpening the survival knife, it is important that you have the right tools. With the right tools at hand, sharpening a knife gets much easier and quite reliable. You are not only able to sharpen your knife with ease, but you can also do it properly. The following are some ideal tools for sharpening a survival knife.


Sharpening your knife using a whetstone can be intimidating; however, you can do so easily with proper care. A whetstone is a sharpening stone that is commonly used to sharpen the knife’s blade. It is considered as an effective way to sharpen knives as it is both simple and cheap.

Whetstones usually have two different sides; one is coarse while the other is fine. By rubbing your knife against its surface at a certain angle, the blade tends to become sharper. Now, you can easily cut through most objects, which might pose a challenge earlier on.

You can also create your own whetstones. All you need to do is find some coarse stones found in river beds. These stones can then be crushed into a pulp. Take a living wood and peel off its bark. Wet the wood and rub the pulp across its surface. You have now successfully created a DIY whetstone. Don’t forget to hold the blade perpendicularly while sharpening the knife for optimal results.

Ceramic Sharpeners

One of the most common ways of sharpening your knife is by using a ceramic sharpener. A ceramic sharpener is a tool that is specifically designed to increase the sharpness of knives. It features an ultra-hard ceramic build that has a hardness comparable to that of a diamond. Since it’s quite cheap, it is found in most kitchens.

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Ceramic is comparatively less abrasive than diamond. This is why ceramic sharpeners are ideal for achieving fine edges that are razor-sharp. When rubbed on their surface, the metal on the knife peels off with every pass. As a result, you can achieve a finer and sharper blade. The good news is that ceramic sharpeners never wear out. Unlike whetstones, they tend to last and require minimum maintenance. However, make sure to hold the blade at an angle for the desired results.

Electric Sharpeners

Ideally, electric sharpeners are used to sharpen kitchen knives. However, they can also be used to sharpen pocket as well as survival knives. It features the use of electricity to effectively sharpen the blade.

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The good thing about electric sharpeners is the flexibility they provide. They are not only capable of sharpening straight edge blades but also work perfectly for serrated blades. As a result, they make for a perfect choice for sharpening steak knives.

The biggest advantage of using an electric sharpener is its speed. With a powerful motor, an electric sharpener is able to sharpen your blade in just a few minutes. Unlike other sharpening tools, this is an effective way to sharpen your knife in a minimum amount of time.

knife sharpening tool

Sharpening Guide

A sharpening guide is a conventional and cheap way to sharpen your knife or cutting equipment. These guides are tools that allow you to connect it to the knife handle for stability and swift motion. Without stability or with the incorrect angle, you can damage your knife’s blade.

As you move the knife on its surface with a proper angle, the blade becomes finer. The metal on the blade starts to skin, and you can see the shiny metal beneath with every stroke. With several passes at an angle, the blade tends to get sharp.

The hard surface of the sharpening guide is a perfect platform to sharpen your knife. With improved stability and the right angle, your knife’s cutting power enhances effectively. However, finding the right angle for your knife is key for obtaining the desired sharpness. If you are a beginner and have never sharpened a knife before, a sharpening guide is your best bet.

How to Sharpen Your Survival Knife?

Sharpening your knife the right way is crucial to achieving optimal results. It is important to ensure that your survival knife is sharp enough for different operations. Whether it’s peeling off surfaces or cutting power, it should be sharp enough to offer a swift use. Although you can find a wide range of tools that are designed specifically for sharpening knives, finding the right one that best fits your needs is equally necessary.

knife stone sharpening
In this section, we will discuss the important steps on how to sharpen your knife.

Step 1: Preparation

Before you get started, it is advised that you should be prepared well enough to perform the required task. By preparation, we mean possessing the right kind of tools for the job, and having ample knowledge about the procedure is equally as important.

Now, there are a number of tools that you can choose from. For this part, we have decided to use a sharpening stone to sharpen the knife. Since these stones are relatively cheap and quite easily available, they make for a great choice. Moreover, they seem to be quite effective when it comes to sharpening cutting equipment.

Sharpening stones are also considered as an effortless way to sharpen your knife with the utmost ease. With a simple technique, you can sharpen your survival knife, even if you are doing it the first time. Whetstones are the most commonly used sharpening stones for this purpose. Therefore, we will be using whetstones for this demonstration.

Once you are fully prepared, it’s now time to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Procedure

Brushing the Knife Against the Stone

It’s finally time that you are ready to sharpen your dull survival knife. You might need some space where you can place the stone and your equipment for better stability. When ensured, start gliding the surface of the blade up and down against the whetstone. To make sure you are doing it the right way, proceed with a circular motion.

Continue with the process until you feel that the blade has started to become sharper. With several rotations, you will be able to achieve a considerably sharper blade. A few rotations are advised; however, keep going until and unless you are satisfied with the blade’s sharpness.

If you are doing it the right way, you will notice tiny metal shavings appearing at the blade’s edges. These shavings are a clear indication that the blade is sharpening. With the circular motion, the metal surface of the blade starts to peel off. As a result, a finer and realigned blade can be obtained. The metal shavings usually tend to accumulate near the edges of the blade. They might hinder the process; therefore, it is recommended to wipe them off properly.

If you have a knife whose blade is larger than your stone, don’t worry. With a swipe up-and-across action against the stone, the blade can be sharpened with ease. Keep in mind that the process works perfectly for both straight edge and curved edge blades.

Sharpening the Blade’s Back

After brushing the knife’s blade across the stone, it is now time to sharpen the blade’s back. For this, repeat the technique mentioned above. Most people forget to sharpen the back of their knife’s blade. It is extremely important that you sharpen the back as well. It not only enhances your knife’s cutting power but also decreases the risk of breaking the handle.

With several rotations, you can now expect the back of the blade to become relatively sharper. Although a few rotations would be enough, keep going until you achieve the desired sharpness.

Turning the Stone with the Fine Side Upwards

A whetstone features two different types of surfaces on each side. One side of the stone is coarser. This side is mostly used for extremely blunt edges and blades. Meanwhile, the other side has a finer surface. This surface is most commonly used for sharpening knives. With the finer surface of the stone in the upwards direction, it’s time to continue with the process.

Before you run the blade across the finer surface, make sure that you know your knife’s angle. Different types of knives feature different blade angles that determine their effectiveness. Run the blade across the finer surface at the right bevel angle. If you are curious about whether you are doing it correctly, try using a sharpening guide.

While running the blade across the fine side of the whetstone, you will witness a more aligned and keener edge. When you guide the blade on the fine surface, it removes any bumps that might exist. These bumps are formed during the sharpening stage and must be removed for a fine-looking edge. You can also use a honing rod that is commonly used by professional chefs.

Step 3: Testing

Finally, you can now test your sharpened survival knife. Testing a survival knife is very important before you can put it to use. This is because without doing so, you might not be able to judge its performance in a real-life scenario. Therefore, it is recommended that you test out the sharpened blade to eradicate the chance of any inconveniences.

To test a sharpened blade, take a piece of paper and run the blade perpendicularly through it. If the blade cuts the paper in half, the sharpening process was a success. However, if it doesn’t, then you might have to perform the whole sharpening process again.

Another way of testing the sharpness of the blade is by using a magazine paper. Take a magazine paper and fold it in half such that it can balance itself on the table. Now, run the blade through the paper and see if it cuts properly.

You can also check for imperfections in the blade that might have occurred during the sharpening phase. For this, place the blade in bright light. If the blade reflects light, it means that some edges need to be trimmed.

Knife Sharpening in a Survival Situation

Let’s say you are in a survival situation and out in the wilderness. You have a survival knife that has a dull blade, and its cutting power is below par, and you don’t have any tools to sharpen the knife. What are you going to do? Well, don’t worry. The following are some tips and tricks that can help you sharpen the knife without the ideal tools.

Coffee Mug

A coffee mug is one of the most common things you can find in your kitchen. You can probably have one of these in your backpack during a remote expedition in the wild. If you are lucky enough to have one of those in the wild, consider it a blessing.

A survival knife can be sharpened using a coffee cup made of ceramic. The blade can be sharpened by rubbing it against the surface of the cup. All you need to do is place the cup upside down and grate the blade against the bottom. As a result, the blade of the knife will considerably restore a good amount of its cutting power.

Leather Belt

A leather belt can be of good use if you are considering sharpening your survival knife. However, it doesn’t exactly sharpen the knife as you would expect. Instead, rubbing the blade against its surface at an angle would rearrange its edge and render it keener. The process is commonly known as stropping.

A knife with realigned edges is definitely better than the one with a dull blade. If a leather belt is part of your hunting ensemble, making your knife effective at cutting is possible. Keep in mind that your leather belt shouldn’t have any stitching, or it can ruin your purpose.

Spine of Another Knife

Have you ever heard professionals talking about having more than one knife while in the wild? Well, two or more knives can be a lifesaver. Considering you have two knives with you makes things a little bit easier.

Running the dull blade through the thick spine of the other knife can actually sharpen your blade. If you keep running the dull blade through the spine, it will get sharper and sharper. Continue doing so until the desired sharpness is achieved.

Smooth Stone

You can find a lot of stones along the way in the wilderness. Some can be quite rough, while others can be smooth enough to sharpen your survival knife! Typically, most people use sharpening stones to sharpen the blade of their survival knives. These stones have a smooth surface, which allows you to rub your blade effectively.

With continuous rubbing, the blade of the knife gets sharper and sharper. That is exactly what sharpening stones are all about.

However, you might not always have a sharpening stone with you when you’re out hunting. The good news is that even smooth stones found near river banks can work like a charm for you. If you find a stone with a smooth surface, all you need to do is rub your knife’s blade against it. Keep doing so until the blade’s sharpness is restored.

knife sharpening smooth stone

Sand Paper

Sandpaper is not an everyday item that you happen to come across. However, it can work wonders if used properly. It is even capable of sharpening your survival knife! Considering that sandpaper is quite cheap and versatile, you can always have some for your wild adventures.

Sandpaper can be effectively used to sharpen the blade of your knife. It comprises two different surfaces; a coarser grit and much finer grit. Rubbing the blade against its surface can be beneficial as far as your blade’s sharpness is concerned. We recommend using the coarser grit first and then working your way to the finer grit.

Nail File

A nail file is usually a part of most survival kits. These little tools can be the make-or-break deal if you are short on knife-sharpening tools.

If you are out of sandpaper or any other tool that might happen to sharpen your blade, a nail file can be a pretty handy choice. Surprisingly, the nail file works similar to a sandpaper. With your blade running across the emery board, you can sharpen your knife without any proper tools.

Car Window

The window of a car is a pretty effective way to sharpen a survival knife. It sounds pretty odd, but it definitely works. If you notice closely, the car windows have rough and rounded edges. These edges can work like a charm in a situation like this.

All you need to do is start rubbing your knife’s blade against the rough edges of your car’s window. Keep rubbing it until you see an improvement in the cutting power of your survival knife. You have to follow the same technique for both sides of your blade.

As a result, your blade would become much sharper than before. However, make sure to rub the blades properly without damaging the car windows.


A survival knife is a vital tool that can prove to be quite handy in the wilderness. This is because a survival knife can be used for multiple purposes. Whether it is peeling off surfaces, cutting through objects, or any other, a survival knife is a versatile tool to have.

Your survival knife might not be sharp enough to cut or slice through objects in the wild. But there is no need to worry. With a little effort and the right technique, you can sharpen the blade of any survival knife.

This guide provides a detailed overview as to how to sharpen a knife with or without proper tools. By following any of the above-mentioned techniques, you can effectively sharpen your survival knife with ease.

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