We all have a common problem – dull (unsafe) knives.
That's right, our knives get dull, and we don't know how to sharpen them. We've also heard that a sharp knife is a safe knife – even though that sounds a bit counter-intuitive. Effectively when cutting items, a sharp knife requires much less pressure to cut and has a reduced tendency to slip, this provides greater control over the blade, and (you got it) makes it safer.
So let's turn to the Internet, where some of the people recommending how to sharpen knives should themselves, probably never be around any sharp object. 🙂
Crazy Internet knife sharpening recommendations
The Coffee Cup
How about using the bottom of a ceramic coffee cup. Just turn the cup upside down and start sharpening on the rough edges. Who knew. Simple, available and inexpensive. I think I'd be a little concerned about the variations in the roughness of the rough edge, but it works. So 5 stars for creativity and maybe 3 stars for practicality. If you have an expensive knife, I'd probably pass on this though.
The Coffee Cup on Steroids
The next recommendation actually automates the coffee cup method. Really! You take a food processor, and with rubber inner tube straps, secure the coffee cup upside down on the blade of the food processor. Now, turn on the engine and sharpen away. Another 5 stars for creativity, and 5 stars for dangerous. By far the most interesting, and strange sharpening technique.
The Honing Steel
Number one on the YouTube answers to knife sharpening is not crazy but interesting. It is none other than the famous chef, Gordon Ramsay, showing how to use a honing steel and recommending that you sharpen before and after every use. Gordon is great on explanations and the safe use of the steel. Actually, there are three types of honing steels – stainless steel, ceramic and grit diamond steels. Also, these don't actually sharpen a knife, they really just realign the edge of the knife. Finally, they are best used with longer knives vs. pocket or folding knives.
The Window of your Car or Truck
Yes, you heard that correctly, one Aussie suggested using the top edge of an open truck window to sharpen your knife. I would submit that this is also more like honing your knife and if done correctly will probably work reasonably well. And whereas your knife sharpener might not be with you, you also have your transportation. Still, although creative, it does seem a bit over the top.
The Bench Grinder
Here's another unique method. You shape a piece of plywood into a circular disc, attach the center to a bench grinder and use grinding paste applied to the edge of the disc. Of course, you want to make sure that the wooden disc is spinning away from you as otherwise, you could have a knife projectile super powered and aimed right at you. Again, a super creative, super involved, and super dangerous, way to sharpen a knife.
As you would imagine, the options for sharpening knives range from creative to dangerous to destructive to the bizarre. And the options don't end here but goes on from wet stones to sanding belts, to abrasive infused paper wheels. It doesn't end. All in search of the perfect knife sharpener.
But, so “how do you sharpen a knife?” One thing is for sure, hundreds of thousands to even millions of people are searching “how to sharpen a knife.” So let's begin.
Here are the basic principles of knife sharpening
Here are some of the basic concepts you need to understand to effectively and efficiently sharpen your EDC knife.
- Knife steel varies in quality which results in different abilities to sharpen, and different edge retention. Higher quality steel retains an edge longer but is more difficult to sharpen.
- EDC knives have an edge angle, usually around 20-degrees on each side, which needs to be maintained throughout the sharpening process. One of the best ways to maintain this angle is through sharpening kits that are locked into an angle which, when the knife is kept at 90 degrees, will automatically result in a 20-degree edge. You'll see more about this a little later.
- Always sharpen the knife slowly and evenly from the back to the front of the blade. Sharpen one side, then the other, repeating and rotating between sides as you complete the process of sharpening your knife.
- Progress from coarse to fine sharpening materials. The concept is a progression – coarse to fine, understanding that the sharpening stones are effectively harder than the steel.
- You don't want to use water on your knife and with many of the sharpening kits, no water or oil is required. You should, however, occasionally apply some food grade oil to your blade and then wipe it clean.
- Finally, strop or hone the blade. Sharpening produces a fine edge which sometimes is so fine that even touching will bend the metal. The act of stropping or honing the blade actually takes off this rough edge and can be done with a leather strop or even a piece of wood to which the blade is gently drawn.
So, what works to sharpen your EDC knife
Smith's PP1 Pocket Pal Sharpener
The Smith Sharpener, shown here on Amazon, is typical of the many portable knife sharpeners. It is comprised of two sharpening blades, set at the correct angle with a coarse and fine progression. It also includes a miniature diamond honing steel which may be too small to be effective but is at least an available option. The sharpening procedure is to present the knife blade straight down and into the groves and then go from coarse to fine.
Personally, although it may do in a pinch, I'm not a fan of these type of sharpeners as I feel there's too much downward pressure to truly get a good edge. In other words, the bottom edge of the blade effectively rubs against the angled blades to the degree that it flattens the edge of the blade. Again, portable, affordable, and maybe decent when nothing else is available, but I wouldn't rely on these type sharpeners to really care for my EDC knives.
DMT Duo Sided Diamond Sharpening Stone
The second type of sharpeners is the DMT duo sided diamond sharpening stone (or portable model show here.) Here we have a two-sided flat sharpening stone, again in a coarse/fine configuration which is set up as a flat sharpener to which the user moves the knife to sharpen the edge. The user is required to keep the 20-degree angle and conforms with the basic principles discussed above.
Actually, this is a really good system if you can maintain that constant 20-degree angle. This is easier said than done, but certainly, it is better than using some of the portable sharpeners discussed above. There are, however, better solutions.
Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker
The Spyderco Sharpener is probably the easiest sharpener to use for EDC knives, although setting up is certainly not as easy as, for example, using the Smith's Pocket Sharpener. Like all the other sharpeners, the Spyderco consists of coarse and fine sharpening stones, but they are set in such a configuration that simply keeping the knife straight up and down will produce the desired 20-degree angle. The Spyderco also includes two metal poles that act as a protection mechanism from accidentally cutting one's self.
The sharpening stones are triangular in shape and the sequence is the edge, then the flat part of the corse or grey stone and then the edge and the flat part of the fine or white stone. That's it – a four-part sequence to achieve the sharpest knife possible.
It is critical to keep the knife perfectly perpendicular or straight up and down and follow the sequence outlined above – rear to front, slowly, one side than another.
So there you have it. Internet solutions that range from crazy to dangerous to legitimate, the principles of sharpening a knife and three options, that you can review to decide what option might work best for you.
Here's my YouTube video on Sharpening knives with three different tools.
Also, check out my top recommendations on my Recommendations Gear page.
Always be prepared. Be well.