How To Sharpen a Pocket Knife [The Complete Guide]

The great German illustrator Simon Schwarz once said that if you wanted to know what is in the heart of a pumpkin, ask a knife. But a dull one won’t have an answer for you, literally. What does a dull knife know anyway?

A pocketknife’s portability makes it a handy tool for opening packages, cutting cordage, preparing food, and countless more. But when dull, the force required to pull through the simplest of cutting tasks overrides the usefulness. Nonetheless, sometimes we endure a dull blade senselessly because we lack sharpening know-how.

Many pocketknives take a while before requiring some sharpening. The time your knife holds its edge depends on the beatings and how frequent. Lucky for you, there are tons of methods and tools to give your dull knife a new lease of usefulness. While there is no right or wrong sharpening method, below, we share carefully chosen easy and cheap ways of sharpening a pocketknife.


The size of a pocketknife limits the options you have to hold it while sharpening. There is always that temptation to press it on a thigh, resist, or you end up with a stab. Take the precautions below:

  • Know your knife’s edge angle: unless you are curving an initial edge on a pocketknife, it’s always important to know your knife’s edge angle before embarking on sharpening. The edge angle determines how you hold your knife or your sharpener. Edge information is contained in your knife’s manual.
  • Clean your knife before sharpening: You won’t have an easy time sharpening an oily knife. Holding it at an angle is a challenge. Hence, before sharpening, use some detergent and a sponge to clean your knife thoroughly. Scrub off the rusty parts with a WD-40 and a nylon pad.
  • Lubricate: the friction between your knife and the sharpener makes your blade hot, and carbon steel hates high temperatures. Use a lubricant such as water or mineral oils to cool your blade and eliminate metal debris created by the grinding and honing.
  • The right tool for sharpening: sharpening tools have their sharpening process, and the sharpening ease depends on the size and shape of your blade. Choose the right sharpening tool for your knife.
  • If your blade has a semi-serrated edge, then you will need to combine more than one sharpening tool and method.

Sharpening a Plain-Edged Pocketknife

Dozens of ways to sharpen a plain-edged pocketknife exist. You have to find the best for your needs. Furthermore, professional sharpeners gladly offer help if none gives your desired outcome.

The best sharpening method boils down to what you want to do with the knife. For instance, unless you are after world-class cuts, you do not need the same sharpening method as a chef’s knife.

To start the sharpening process, you only need a sharpening tool, a lubricant such as water and mineral oils, and a way to hold your knife into position (a vice). And of course, you should clean your knife well to get rid of rust and food stains before getting to sharpen it.

Read also: How To Sharpen Serrated Knives

1. Sharpening Using a Whetstone

A whetstone is an easy-to-use sharpening tool and very beginner-friendly. They are readily available in your local store at very cheap prices. You require a whetstone and water for lubrication. Sharpening procedure:

  • Prepare your whetstone by soaking it in clean water for several minutes. 
  • Decide the edge angle of your knife: knowing the edge angle of your blade ensures you slant the knife the right way while sharpening. Check the edge angle on the knife’s user manual or enquire from a local shop.
  • With the edge angle in mind, hold your knife in the required slanting angle to the whetstone. If you find maintaining this angle difficult, consider acquiring a sharpening guide. A sharpening guide helps you keep the knife steady and sharpen at a consistent angle.
  • Start stroking the blade on the whetstone’s coarse side, maintain the sharpening angle, and change sides when you achieve your desired sharpness. The strokes should be long enough to cover the entire blade. Aim to use the entire surface of the whetstone evenly to ensure no gorges form on some parts.
  •  Apply moderate pressure while stroking. The stroking should feel easy as if you are slicing thin layers off the whetstone. The stroking should be either away or towards you.
  • After an edge is achieved using the coarse grit side, you need to flip your whetstone to the fine grit side. Lubricate well with water, and run your knife at the same angle as you used before. Stroke, both sides until the blade’s sharpness gets well fine-tuned
  • Your knife should now be sharp, clean, and usable.

Other sharpening stone types you can use on your knife with the same procedure include:

  • Natural sharpening stone: This sharpening stone is the easiest to use and readily available along the riverbeds. You only need to water-wet it, and you are good to go.
  • Ceramic stone: Ceramic stone is harder than a whetstone but more challenging to use. The hard ceramic material’s advantages are it sharpens your knife faster and lasts longer than a whetstone.  For best results, the lubricant of choice should be mineral oils.
  • Diamond stone: as the name suggests, this stone has diamond particles embedded, making it the best sharpening stone. The grit varies from hard, fine, and superfine. It’s durable and sharpens faster than any other stone but it’s the most expensive.

2. Sharpening Using a Sharpening Steel

Sharpening steel is another reliable and effective blade sharpener. When done correctly, sharpening steel and whetstone produce the same results.

The sharpening rods contain either ceramic or diamond, thus sharpening fast. The sharpening process’s main difference is that rods work vertically while stones are laid flat on a working bench.

Sharpening process:

  • Hold your rod by the handle firmly, with the tip facing up.
  • Identify the sharpening angle of your blade, and hold your knife at that angle to the sharpening rod. Typically, an angle between 25 to 30 degrees gives a good edge to most knives.
  • Run one side of your blade’s edge along with the sharpening steel, checking not to apply too much pressure. Maintain a slow and gentle swipe while covering the whole length of your blade, starting from the handle to tip.
  • Switch sides of the blade to get an even edge. Depending on the dullness of your blade, you may need a few to several minutes of swiping.
  • When you achieve your preferred sharpness, clean your knife and use it.
  • The benefits of sharpening steel are easy maintenance, extends your blade’s life span, and that sharpens faster than a stone.
  • Please take care while sharpening a thin blade. The rod can easily damage it.

3. Knife Hone

Unlike steel sharpeners, knife hones give your blade an edge without removing the burr; they reshape the metal on the edges. The steel in hones gives them toughness to force the edges into a sharp point. Knife hones are ideal for fine-tuning a blade after sharpening with other tools.

4. Electric Sharpeners

Electric sharpeners are pricey and very unfavorable for beginners. They use a system of grinding wheels and belts that quickly sharpen blade edges.

Electric sharpeners are highly convenient, moving quickly from a severely damaged edge to sharpness. And that speed is what makes it beginner unfriendly, a slightly lost concentration, and you get your blade damaged.

Sharpening Serrated Pocketknives

Unlike plain-edged pocketknives, you need some more patience and concentration to sharpen a serrated pocketknife. The reason being, the serrations are sharpened one after the other. The process of sharpening a serrated knife is similar to any tool you choose.

For manual sharpening, the three major sharpening tools are a ceramic honing rod, a DMT Serrated Knife Sharpener, and a triangle-shaped sharpening rod. Follow the steps below:

  • Identify the bevel edges: Your blade has two sides. The bevels are on the front side, characterized by little angle-downs. The sharpening tool should run on the bevels only.
  • Place your sharpening tool on the serrated grove (gullet), starting on the side closer to the handle. Place your tool at an angle equal to the slope. Gently slide your tool under medium pressure to sharpen the gullet. Rotate the rod while grinding to achieve an even sharpness.
  • Continue grinding until burr forms, and move to the next serration.
  • Once you are done with all the serrations, use a whetstone to remove the burr on the backside of your blade gently.
  • Run a finger gently on the backside to feel any left burrs. If none is left, wash your knife for the next cutting job.

Pocketknife Sharpener Selection Guide

Pocket sharpeners cost money, and as such, you need to get the right sharpener for your needs. Before adding that whetstone into your shopping cart, consider the following important factors:

  • Size and weight: A sharpener is as good as its ease of handling, and it all gets down to its size and weight. The best sharpener should have a size and weight that is easy to carry around and comfortable to handle while sharpening.
  • Adjustable angle: The first step of any effective sharpening is determining the blade edge angle. To avoid damaging your blade, you should maintain this angle when sharpening. The sharpening tool determines how easy you maintain this angle. Also, your sharpening should allow you to adjust this angle if needed.
  • Sharpening stages: There are several sharpening stages to a fine-tuned edge. Normally, you start with an aggressive grit and progress to a finer grit. Your sharpener of choice should offer several stages of sharpening.
  • Abrasive surface: This one is self-explanatory. The abrasive surface of the sharpener determines the speed of sharpening and how fine the edge can get. A diamond-embedded surface offers better sharpening than a whetstone.
  • Versatility: The sharpener should handle different types and styles of blades. You don’t have to buy two different sharpeners, one for your pocketknife and the other for a kitchen knife.
  • Safety: Consider added safety measures like built-in finger guards or accompanying cut-resistant gloves; remember sharpening exposes you to the risk of hurting your fingers.


A chef worth their salt will tell you a sharp knife is a safe knife. You want to hurt yourself, keep your pocketknife dull. As you compensate dullness with pressure, the blade can easily give in, leading to an accident.

To keep that pocketknife effective, learn the skill of sharpening. Lucky for you, there are many sharpening tools available and very easy to use. Just a little practice, and you become a pro at sharpening.

Irrespective of the method you see fit for you, exercise caution while sharpening. Consider our sharpener selection guide to get a safe and cost-effective sharpener.

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