How To Sharpen A Knife

Like a rugged individualist without this book, a knife without a sharp edge is a sad sight to behold. The old adage that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one is borne out of the reality that a dull blade requires you to work twice as hard to cut half as well, and that extra force often leads to injury when the knife skips a tricky knot on a stick or refuses to glide through a chicken leg. Here’s how to hone your blade back to shape, even if you don’t have all the proper equipment on hand.


Your first order of business is determining whether your knife actually needs sharpening. Take your blade and carefully run it flat along the outside of your arm toward your hand. If it cuts off arm hair, it should be sharp enough for any other (more useful) task you have in mind for it. If it cuts off your arm, you had the angle wrong—but at least you know it’s sharp!


If you have a whetstone, a stone made specifically for sharpening knives, get to using it. Grab the knife by the handle with one hand, and gently grab the top of the blade with the other (being mindful not to cut yourself on the edge). Place the knife edge-first at about a 20-degree angle at the top of the stone. Slide the blade down the whetstone, keeping contact between the edge and stone, until you reach the bottom of the stone. Then flip the knife and slide it back up the stone in the same manner. Continue doing this until the knife is sharp enough for your liking. What if you forgot to pack your whetstone? Look around for a rock with a smooth, flat surface that also has a little bit of grit to it similar to a whetstone and use it the same way you would use the real McCoy.


While not anywhere near as effective as sharpening with a rock, you can strop the blade with a leather belt if needed. Take off your belt and hook the buckle to something solid so you can keep it taut when you tug on it. With your other hand, hold the knife to the belt’s surface at a similar angle you would use for a whetstone. Again, make the same motions you would with a whetstone, and you’ll at least have gotten rid of deformities on the blade’s edge, helping it cut a little cleaner.

This post was derived from “The Official Handybook for Men” by James Ellis. For more handy tips, you can purchase the book from our online store.