Knives are extremely useful tools especially in the wilderness and other survival scenarios. A dull knife, however, is practically useless. For this reason, you should hone your skills by practicing the proper way to sharpen knives.
So, can you sharpen a knife with another knife?
Sharpening a knife requires the use of a material that is harder than the knife itself. Using a knife to sharpen another knife will likely damage it or dull it even more. On the other hand, if two knives are all you have, using the back of one knife to improve the sharpness of the other one might serve as a temporary solution but it is by no means ideal nor recommended, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Luckily, there are several other ways to sharpen your knives to make sure they’re always in their best working condition.
Honing, sharpening, and stropping a knife: What’s the difference?
First things first, let’s explain the difference between honing and sharpening a knife. These two terms are often used interchangeably but they shouldn’t be.
To hone a knife is to realign the edge of your knife without stripping away at the metal. Depending on the type of metal and how often or aggressively you use your knives, you can hone them before each use—if necessary.
To sharpen a knife is to remove steel from the knife thereby producing a new edge entirely. You shouldn’t sharpen your knives too often because it will wear them down quickly. If you maintain your knives properly (by frequently honing them), you shouldn’t have to sharpen them more than once or twice per year.
To strop a knife is to polish it. It’s the final part of the sharpening process. When you sharpen a knife, metal accumulates on the edge (otherwise known as a burr). In order to obtain the maximum sharpness of the blade, you have to remove the burr by stropping it- a technique which oftentimes involves the use of a leather belt.
Best methods for sharpening a knife
Sharpening a completely dull knife requires knowledge, skill, and a special tool. While most of the methods I am about to mention will noticeably improve the sharpness of a blade, it does not mean that they will all perform the best in bringing a dull knife back to life.
There are several sharpening methods yet not one is better or worse than the other. The best method will depend on your skill level, steel quality, and current scenario. If you’re in a survival situation, you will have to use whatever makeshift tool you can find, such as a river rock. When you’re at home, using the wrong tools (and using the tools wrongly) can ruin your knives, so practice, practice, practice!
Whetstone is a little rectangular slab of stone that is extremely effective in sharpening knives. Different materials are used to create whetstone- it typically depends on the company that makes them. There seems to be a consensus that Japan makes the best whetstones but if you’ve never used one before, it’s better to learn with a cheap one and upgrade the quality as your skills improve. For beginners, it’s recommended to start with a medium grit stone until you’ve reached the skill level to use a coarse one. Fine grit stone is used for polishing.
In this video, you can see a variety of whetstones that are available on the market. If you’re a beginner, you’ll get some good tips too!
A popular household item that doubles up as a knife sharpener is the base of a ceramic mug or ceramic dish. Make sure to only use the rough edge that is not glazed.
You can also purchase ceramic rods but those will take some practice in order to get the proper technique down.
- Other stones or rocks
If you’re in a place with limited resources, you can sharpen your knives on a smooth river rock or brick. The flatter the surface, the better. In the following video, you can see how a brick is used. You can use a rock in a similar fashion.
A few alternatives to these would be a flat piece of cement or concrete- like the side of a sidewalk- as well as unglazed ceramic tiles. Just remember that in order to get the best results, you should get the sharpening surface thoroughly wet.
Sandpaper is a cheap DIY alternative to a whetstone. For a sharper knife, you’ll want to use fine-grit sandpaper, however, if you’re just practicing you may want to use a coarser grit to get the hang of it and work your way up from there. In this video, you can learn how to make an inexpensive sharpening block using sandpaper. If you don’t have sandpaper, you can use a nail file or emery board instead.
- The edge of a car window
Roll the window part-way down and stroke your knife at an angle along the uncoated edge of the glass. Do this on both sides of the blade an equal amount of times until you’ve reached the desired sharpness.
An alternative to a car window would be any piece of glass with a frosted edge.
- Sharpening tools
There are many lightweight sharpening tools that can be attached to your bug out bag or hiking backpack. Handy Sharp makes a great one that can be attached to your keychain and used on the go. Another popular and reputable brand is Lansky. Their tool is easy to carry and will restore several types of blades.
- Electric sharpeners
There are several knife-sharpening machines you can buy online. They’re a great option for those who don’t know how to sharpen it themselves but they can be pricey. Learning the skill is a much more valuable investment since in dire emergencies it’s possible that you won’t have your machine available to do the work for you.
- Steel honing rod
Steel is used for honing, not for sharpening. Still, this is an important tool for the maintenance of a knife. Learning the proper angle for honing the knife with a rod is vital.
Although you cannot sharpen a dull knife with a paracord, you can improve the sharpness of the blade with it. All you need is a bit of dirt, a tree, and of course, a piece of paracord. This video shows you exactly what you need to do!
- Leather belt or strap
Leather is used in combination with a sharpening tool to strop the cutting edge. A smooth leather strap, such as a belt without any stitching, will realign the edge of the knife by removing and polishing the burr that was created during the initial sharpening process.
An alternative to leather is a piece of cardboard. Make sure to put it on a steady surface and swish the knife at an angle several times.
Of course, these are not the only methods used for sharpening knives, however for amateurs, they are some great options to get you started! Learning how to sharpen your knives in the wilderness, and with limited tools, is a great skill for outdoorsmen and preppers to have.
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Knife sharpening tips and tricks
- Have a professional train you in person. While YouTube videos are extremely helpful, they aren’t good enough to examine your work and technique. Getting one-on-one help from a professional will improve your knowledge and help perfect your skill level. Also, keep in mind that different knives require different sharpening and honing angles. A professional will be able to teach you this whereas a video tutorial might not.
- Practice with your cheaper knives first. Over the course of time, you will become more comfortable and you can start sharpening your more expensive knives.
- Focus on improving your skills. Don’t sharpen your knives in a hurry, especially when you’re learning. Work slowly and with steady strokes, movements, and angles. If you’re precise, you will achieve good results! Learn the technique carefully and be patient during the process.
- Maintain a consistent angle as you sharpen the entire length of the blade.
- Use the sharpie trick to make sure you sharpen the blade evenly. Color the edge of your knife with a black permanent marker and then sharpen your knife using your preferred method. If any part of the edge still has marker on it, it means that that portion didn’t get sharpened. Continue sharpening until the marker is evenly removed.
- Make sure to get a burr along the entire edge of the blade. Without it, you won’t achieve a sharp edge. Once you get the burr, gently drag the blade across a piece of wood (in a 90-degree angle). Do this two times. This technique removes the burr that was created and you’ll be left with a smooth and very sharp edge.
- Check your work frequently while you’re sharpening. Removing too much metal will shorten the lifespan of your knife. Some people use a magnifying lens to inspect their work.
- Always practice safety! Never test the edge of your knife by sliding your fingers through it. Instead, use a piece of paper and try to cut it at a 90-degree angle. A sharp blade will slice through a piece of paper with ease.
- If you use a stone, you will notice that over time it will wear out in the middle, leaving a slight dip in the surface. To sharpen knives properly, you have to make sure that your stone is completely flat, so periodically you will have to resurface it with a diamond flattening plate or stone fixer. For a cheaper option, you can use sandpaper. This video shows you how to flatten your whetstone.
How to keep your knives sharp
- Keep your knives clean and dry. If you improperly store your knives, the surface may corrode and oxidize over time. For instance, if your knives are stored wet, they can get rusty and lose their sharp edge.
- Hone your knives as soon as you feel that they’re becoming dull. All knives will need maintenance at some point or another- there’s no way around it. Hone them often and don’t wait for them to dull out completely, this way you won’t need to sharpen them as often.
Can you over sharpen a knife?
If you sharpen a knife perfectly and continue to sharpen it, then you’re just grinding away at the metal and shortening the life span of your knife for no reason.
On the other hand, some people come across a situation where out of the blue, their knife quits sharpening properly. Perhaps they have sharpened the same knife successfully before, but the more they try, they seem to make the edge worse. The problem here isn’t over-sharpening. The problem could have something to do with the burr- perhaps you haven’t sharpened it long enough to create a burr OR you created a burr but haven’t stropped it off completely. If you leave the burr, the texture will be rough.
Another problem that can arise is that the knife was sharpened at the wrong angle, thereby changing the profile of the blade. To fix this mistake, you will need to resharpen the edge to the correct angle. You can try the sharpie trick, as mentioned earlier, or ask a professional for help so that you’re not needlessly chipping away at your knife.
I hope these tips were helpful for you!
What are your favorite sharpening tools, tips, and tricks? I would love to hear about them in the comments below!
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