How To Sharpen A Knife

how to sharpen a knife

Easy Knife Sharpening Instructions

Arguably, the most useful tool in the wild, or a survival situation, is a knife. A knife will not only keep your food prepped, give you the ability to build a shelter, and offer basic defense but a sharp knife will allow you to do all those things safely.

There is nothing more dangerous than a dull knife, except maybe a dull lawyer. A dull blade will catch, force you to work harder for longer, and allow the wood to split rather than splice. In total, a dull knife is worse than no knife.

Not many people, even avid hunters, know the proper way to sharpen their knives. Some settle for a plastic piece to give an edge but is that really the proper way to sharpen a blade? No, it certainly isn’t. While some of the plastic sharpeners may be great tools for emergency situations, they are not an adequate replacement for quality sharpening techniques.

Not only do they give a very basic edge, they remove the possibility of an adjustable edge degree. Sharpening your knife depends on several factors: Edge style, Knife use, and blade material. The latter being the least relevant to a sharp edge and more relevant for maintaining a sharp edge.

While we do think that the use and material are important to consider, when sharpening a knife, we do not think many knife users will try to chop a log with a fillet knife. We also do not believe it is necessary to know the type of material in order to sharpen a knife. Just keep in mind that, stainless steel is very common, rust resistant, and considered a soft metal, while high carbon steel is less common, requires more maintenance, and is a much harder steel.

There are varying degrees and qualities to these types of steel and while stainless may be easier to sharpen, it will go dull faster. High carbon steel is very difficult to sharpen yet will keep its edge for a much longer time. If you sharpen one knife easily and a second is more difficult, you may have a different quality steel.

Edge Style/Grind:

The edge style, or grind, of the blade, usually determines a knife’s intended purpose.

Flat Grind: are knives commonly used in the kitchen. A filet knife is a common style of flat grind that you wouldn’t use as a hunting knife. Flat knives sacrifice strength and durability for a very thin, sharp edge

Convex Grind: are commonly found in axes and are a difficult grind to properly sharpen. This type of grind allows a lot of material to be placed behind the edge and gives the entire blade some needed durability. Think of this style as a pointed arch, common in architecture.

Hollow Grind, or Concave Grind: became very popular for hunting knives. They need constant maintenance as the edge is not very durable but is impressively sharp. Older Buck knives, even Bowie knives, really take advantage of this grind.

Chisel Grind: are exactly that. They are designed to be efficient for woodworking tools and are possibly the easiest grind to sharpen and maintain, when straight. Rounded, hook, and curves chisels are also fairly common and adds a level of complexity to properly sharpening a knife.

Compound Bevel: is the most common grind you will find on the market today. It is similar to a squared off, convex grind. Usually consisting of two bevels, these knives have a lot of material adding to its strength, but a weaker edge. This bevel may not be the sharpest but it does add a lot of material and strength for a lifetime of use.

Asymmetrical Grind: are not at all common but do exist on purpose or by accident. If designed to be asymmetrical on purpose, they generally need to be ground for a specific task that can’t be completed with a regular, or commonplace, grind. If ground this way by accident, it is generally an unfortunate consequence of learning the proper way to sharpen a knife.

For the purpose of this article, we will be sticking with the most common types of grind which are the: flat (occasionally called a Scandi Grind), convex, hollow, and compound grinds. The guidelines in this article will be interchangeable for all of these styles of bevel.


Now that we know our knife or axe, needs to be sharpened we need the proper materials. Never sharpen a knife with a belt or power driven wheel. Sure, it looks cool, but this method can break the blades, causing serious damage to the user. Most knife companies also have a warranty which will be void if used on a power wheel.

The only major tool needed is a sharpening stone. There are many types of stones from diamond, ceramic, water, and oil stones. Each one has an advantage over the other, but ultimately, they all work in the same manner. Water and oil stones are the two that require more of a commitment from the user. There are more materials involved, and while it may be more expensive than their counterparts, they provide some of the best edges.

Serrated blades require a special tool for cutting the serrated edges into the blade. These tools are generally made from steel, ceramic, or diamond stone. They look like small round nail files and will not really be discussed in our sharpening guidelines.


Depending on how dull your knife is, or how inconsistent the edge is, due to chipping or hard use, the time it takes to sharpen your life may be frustrating.

You’re going to want to choose the proper angle for your edge. This is where the use of your knife comes into play. Choppers, cleavers, or chopping knives usually hold a 15-25 degree angle when sharpened. Camping and pocket knives aim to have a 10-degree angle. Fillet and paring knives are the thinnest at a 5-degree angle. There are tools available which will assist with an angle, to ensure an even edge the length of the blade.

Every hunter and survivalist have their own preference for edge angle. Many bushcrafters aim to have a 20-degree angle for an all-purpose knife, used for camp building, cooking, and battoning while others choose a knife angle based on one basic purpose. Really, it comes down to personal preference. The smaller the degree the sharper the knife. That does not mean, however, a large angle means that a knife isn’t sharp. You can still have a larger angle and maintain a razor sharp blade.

Step 1:

Take the knife and in an even, circular motion, starting hilt to tip, move along the blade edge. Be sure not to rush this or push too hard. The stone will work fine, regardless of speed. Be sure to keep the blade pointed away from your body and fingers. It can be easy to slip and safety comes first.

Alternatively, you can make long, sweeping movements the length of the blade. This ensures the entire blade will be in contact with the stone for the same amount of draws. Sharpening the blade this way will guarantee, that not too much material will be removed. Count how many times you move the blade across the stone. If you have a damaged or uneven blade we recommend the circular technique. Be sure to move the blade away from your body.

Step 2:

Wipe the blade with a rag, not your finger. Burns from the sharpening process may be present and can cut deeply. Once wiped down run your finger from spine to edge on both sides, being careful not to follow the edge with your finger. You will feel a little lip. Turn your blade over and continue Step 1 on the other side of the knife. If using the long, sweeping motions to sharpen your knife, do the same amount of motions on the second side.

Step 3:

The goal is to remove the same amount of material from both sides. The small lip and burr are excess material that is bent away or stuck to the blade. The more often you perform Steps 1 and 2 the less material there will be to remove each pass. When you are satisfied that there is no more burr move onto the next step. Until then, continue with the above steps.

If using the circular motion, once you are satisfied that enough material was removed, finish the blade by using the sweeping motions. This makes the edge smooth and even.

Step 4:

With a high carbon blade, when not using oil on your stone, add a liberal amount of oil to the blade to prevent rusting. You may maintain an edge with normal use but will easily rust if not used or oiled.


The process is a relatively simple one. Sharpening your knife may not be an easy task, and is quite tedious, but is one of the most important skills a survivalist and outdoorsman/woman can know. Maintaining a sharp blade will keep the user safe. It also makes it easy to sharpen your knife as soon as it is used, or damaged. Keep it sharp, keep it clean, keep it safe.

A friend of mine once recommended to me, to use the flat part of my palm to carefully wipe my blade (going from spine to blade) after each use. While I was highly skeptical of this technique I decided to try it out, for a few weeks. My hand, acts as a fine leather, similar to what a barber uses on their straight razors. The oils in my hand also help to maintain an oily, yet acidic, presence on the blade. This process has allowed me to cut down on the amount of time I need to sharpen a blade, by maintaining it

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Jonathan Kilburn is a Martial Arts Instructor, Special Needs educator and businessman. He focuses on self-reliance and survival in difficult urban and sub-urban areas. Natural disasters have pushed Jonathan to teach about urban farming, homesteading, and survival. As a Special Needs Educator, Mr. Kilburn has developed a neurological approach to executive function. This means: pushing the boundaries of human needs vs human wants. This mindset and philosophy assists in training himself and others in self-reliance and survival. Mr. Kilburn has also studies martial arts which include but are not limited to: Aikido, Combat Sambo, Judo, TaeKwon-Do, Haidon Gumdo, and various other sword arts.


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