Favored Techniques for Pocket Knife Sharpening?

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HawkeyeLinus

Lifer
Oct 16, 2020
1,578
8,959
Iowa
For some reason my pocket knives (and I don't have many) get ignored vs. other tools, firearms, even pipes when it comes to maintenance. I keep them clean but don't sharpen them and have some nice smaller folding blades that still have a nice edge, but it's the original edge. Just noticed and almost in not so good way the edge on a little pocket knife that is a favorite is duller than a question read painfully from a notecard at a Supreme Court Judiciary Committee hearing back in the day by an over the hill Strom Thurmond (but I found him entertaining in many ways).

I suppose I could land on some YouTube vids, but that doesn't really interest me, lol, so I'm wondering for those who have a more personal relationship with their smaller knives .... what are your favored methods, techniques, materials when it comes to knife sharpening?

Thanks!
 

Casual

Lifer
Oct 3, 2019
2,564
9,278
NL, CA
All of the jigs and systems have limitations that are annoying to learn once one is a few hundred bucks in (and then you realize you need a new system for small knives, or full flat knives, or whatever).

So I went with benchstones. Once you can sharpen by hand on a stone, you’re covered. You can even keep a pocket stone around while camping or working. The old hands will touch up their knives on the bottom of a ceramic coffee cup.

To start off with something versatile, I’d get a Norton Crystolon, that 8” combination coarse/fine stone. That and maybe some DMT 1 micron diamond paste and a flat piece of wood to use as a strop, to deburr.

Then practice on a bunch of dull kitchen knives until you want to quit and throw it all in the trash. Then watch the videos. Haha. Then a few times after that point, you’ll get it.
 

Hovannes

Starting to Get Obsessed
Dec 28, 2021
241
553
Fresno, CA
Find an old hand crank grinding wheel. That'll get it sharp and can't do much Damage.
When I was a farrier I kept my hoof knives sharp with a 6" mill bastard file, but hoof knives are a legit business expense and would be too wasteful to use on a fine pocket knife.
 
Aug 27, 2016
3,299
12,274
39
Louisville
Getting proficient (even serviceable) on free stones takes a lot of time and practice.

If knives aren't a big hobby for you, I'd go with the Spyderco Sharpmaker rod set. Won't break the bank, easy to use, and good enough results for your sub-$250 pocket knives.

I've been using Shapton stones, horse hide, diamond spray impregnated nano cloth, and all variety of exotic nuttiness for about ten years. I don't recommend it unless you can afford TWO outrageous hobbies at a time.
 
Mar 1, 2014
3,311
3,948
I've been a high end knife enthusiast for a few decades now and sharpening knives has got to be one of the most over analyzed and misunderstood subjects in human history.

The most correct instruction for sharpening a knife is as follows: Find something harder than steel and rub the blade on it.

This instruction will produce a sharp knife 100% of the time, it is an inevitability.
If you think sharpening a knife is time consuming, expensive, or complicated, you've probably been watching advertisements.
Once you get the hang of it you can use any coarse grinding stone to take a knife from dull as a rock to shaving again in under a minute.

To give a hint of direction beyond "rub the blade", the best advice for someone learning to sharpen is:

#1. The Sharpie Trick
Paint the edge of your knife with black marker, this way it's easy to see how much steel has been ground off.
Once you've ground away all the marker all the way to the very edge, your knife should be mostly sharp.

#2. "If you can't sharpen with a coarse stone, you will never sharpen with a polishing stone"
I kid you not, several times in my life I have wasted an entire afternoon polishing a dull knife. Any amount of polishing is absolutely worthless if the knife was not sharp to begin with.
NEVER NEVER NEVER even think about trying to polish an edge that isn't already shaving sharp straight off the coarse stone.
A big fast cutting stone is your best friend, 99% of sharpening is just removing metal behind the edge, polishing the terminating angle of the edge requires very little effort in comparison.

#3. Removing the Burr
This is where knife sharpening does hold similarities with arcane magic.
In my mind the Burr is a Hydra like adversary.
The Burr is a tiny little flap of metal extending from the edge that is too thin to be pressed into the sharpening stone, it just bends out of the way while you're grinding the edge bevel.
So to deal with it, hold the blade at a slightly higher angle than your grinding angle and give both sides of the edge a feather light stroke on the sharpening stone. That should knock off most of the Burr.
Problem is if you use too many strokes or too much pressure you will just create another Burr.
I tend not to worry about it too much because even after all this time with paste loaded strops and super fine ceramics I almost never manage to fully de-burr my knives.



The best sharpening system ever is just the biggest cheapest diamond plate you can find, here's a link to an 8"x8" plate for around $20.
The quality of diamond grit may vary, but in the case of sharpening stones I say quantity is more valuable than quality.


Grinding wheels can be used and many professionals do a great job with them, but professionals probably use a wet grinder, heat treatment is critical for blade steel and it's easy to overheat the edge on a grinder.
Not that it's the end of the world but it's a big shame if you fry the edge of a knife with an electric grinder, thus hand sharpening is usually preferred.

If you want to sharpen a knife and keep it looking as pristine as it was new that's a very different subject, and that's where the expensive jigs come in, but if you just want to maintain cutting tools then the whole process is not expensive or complicated.


Also, for most people this may as well be the best knife ever made: Olfa XH-AL Fiberglass Rubber Grip Auto Lock Utility Knife - https://www.olfaproducts.com/olfa-xh-al-model-1104189-utility-knife.html
Yes you can sharpen a "Disposable" blade the same as any other knife, like a Missouri Meerschaum cob there is no need to treat it as disposable even if most people do consider it to be.
 
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bassbug

Lifer
Dec 29, 2016
1,011
544
I'm with @frozen on this. Pocket knives and most kitchen knives do just fine (shaving sharp) with a simple 1000 grit water stone. It takes just a bit of practice and you really can't do much harm if you just take your time. If you have particularly valuable or sentimental blades, learn on an old one or something cheap. The big trick is to get your blade properly sharp and then do touchups as needed. Don't let your knife go dull.

Now, woodcarving knives are different story. Mine go through the grits to 4000 and then a mirror finish with green compound on a leather strop with religiously regular trips back to the strop. Unless the edge gets somehow damaged, they don't see a sharpening stone again.
 

captpat

Lifer
Dec 16, 2014
1,134
4,693
North Carolina
I use a belt grinder, usually starting at 320 grit, moving up to 600 and finally 1200 finishing with a leather strop. The bench stone method takes too long, or I run out of patience, to do my longer butcher and cooking knives.
 

bassbug

Lifer
Dec 29, 2016
1,011
544
A mill file????

What are you doing to your blades that they require a file?

I can set a brand new bevel on a badly damaged scandi grind blade with 400 grit
 

aspiring_sage

Starting to Get Obsessed
Oct 7, 2021
218
383
Southwest of Mpls., MN
A mill file????

What are you doing to your blades that they require a file?

I can set a brand new bevel on a badly damaged scandi grind blade with 400 grit
The hand file is just faster than the course stone. Plus it is sitting on the bench. (Small file for small metalwork)

Never thought about it, maybe next time I skip it and see if it is an unnecessary step. The fine stone I usually have handy is ~600 grit.


Maybe for something like a lawnmower blade of a well used machete?
Certainly for axes.
 
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