Sharpen A Dull Knife – Knife Maker Reveals Secret
The following are some tips and advice on how to sharpen a dull knife and how to make a knife that’s already pretty sharp – even sharper.
Just about everyone has at least one knife. More than likely you have several knives or more, each of them them serving a range of uses and purposes.
The invariable issue that you will encounter is sharpening a dulled knife back to a very sharp edge. Until you have actually sharpened a knife the right way, you won’t know what you’re missing…
Here’s the simple secret how to sharpen a dull knife:
High Carbon Steel Blade Easier To Sharpen
Carbon Steel Knife
First, I recommend to always choose a knife of high carbon steel.
1. It’s easy to sharpen anywhere (which means in the field and not some fancy shop like mine or a souped-up workshop).
2. Carbon Steel holds an edge better than stainless.
Take Care of your Knife
To keep your sharp knife sharp, take good care of it.
Keep it clean and oil it regularly. Olive oil is my preference because it’s cheap, very light weight and not gummy. You can put it in your mouth (which is key and can’t be done with most expensive gun/knife oils which always blows my mind).
To keep your sharp knife sharp, don’t bang it on anything harder than knife’s edge. Your main culprits in nature are bones and rocks.
How To Sharpen An Already Sharp Knife
First, lets talk about sharpening a knife that’s already fairly sharp.
Strop it every evening on a good old piece of leather after you have used it. This is the main reason I wear an old leather belt (keeps an already good edge razor sharp with very little effort).
Nothing keeps your knife edge sharper than a regular stropping and is a must have for anyone who uses and keeps their knife or straight razor sharp!
Heavy Duty – Double-sided Leather Strop
(view on amzn)
Stropping is a motion which pulls the cutting edge away from a substrate.
The direction of stropping strokes: drag the edge backwards over the strop. In other words, it’s a “trailing stroke” by pulling the knife edge rather than “leading strokes” (as you would with a stone or rod).
Use a light touch and maintain the angle of the knife edge.
Alternate sides with each stroke.
Optionally use Stropping Compound to further enhance results:
Extra Fine Buffing Compound
Important: Maintain the bevel angle while stropping (or any sharpening technique).
How To Sharpen A Dull Knife
Okay if you don’t have a sharp knife or if you have incurred some damage from hitting bones, rocks, or other, and need to reproduce a microscopic edge, then my only choice for knives is to use diamond and ceramic sharpening rods.
Diamond & Ceramic Rods
A rod works better in my opinion due to the fact that every blade has a different degree of bevel or angle. The rod allows you to let the edge guide you while keeping the rest of the knife away from the sharpening device.
The diamond rod is for a knife blade with serious damage or very dulled blade.
The ceramic rod is for “freshening up” a dull-ish blade. I keep one on my bench as well as in the kitchen and field pack.
I keep these two rods in my pant pocket at all times when in the field. Primarily the tactical rod. The ceramic is actually just a rod.
Here are some recommendations for knife sharpening rods:
Lansky Diamond Carbide Tactical Sharpening Rod
(view on amzn)
Ceramic Sharpening Rod with handle
Diamond Rod Tip
From a reader here on the blog:
“One word of caution you might want to add regarding diamond hones and grease — NO!. Yep, that’s the word. Make sure you don’t have a coating of grease, oil, or fat on the knife before you attempt to use a diamond surface for honing or sharpening. Those materials will stick to the diamond surface and seriously reduce its effectiveness.”
600 grit retractable diamond rod
[Ken adds: ] I measured the angle of the built-in tungsten-carbide blades (24-degrees /side). Although James didn’t mention it, the use of these blades should be reserved for a severely damaged knife edge.
So, what’s the secret to sharpen a dull knife?
1. Diamond Rod
2. Ceramic Rod
3. Then strop on the leather for a razors edge.
[ Read: Best Knife For Batoning Wood ]
[ Read: If You Could Only Buy One Best Survival Knife, What Would It Be? ]
Have always preferred carbon steel knives over stainless. Much easier to get and maintain a super sharp edge.
I carry two sharpening tools. One is a pocket diamond rod I’ve had for years, the other is a small (almost miniature, about 4 inches long) butcher’s steel. I consider that little “steel” indispensable in the field. It is not the diamond coated or ceramic “steel” popular today, rather it is identical to the older steel butcher’s friend of days gone by. If you have taken the time and required effort to put a good edge on your knife, you can restore that edge quickly and easily with this tool.
I use a strop also. I prefer full grain leather belts with a little oil worked into it.
I prefer true hollow ground blades (not those that just appear to be hollow ground, but are just a more pronounced bevel. I carry a stainless knife for everyday utility, but my serious working knives are high carbon, non-stainless, steel.
I use a strop more than anything, use all sorts of knives in my leather shop, all have high carbon steel blades, i use the strop a lot, i have a power strop on a king arthurs tools guenivere, basicly a two sided grinder with drill chucks mounted on it, have the power strop on one side and a fairly hard polishing disk on the other, i use the polisher most of the time, with white or green compound, white on the power strop. The polisher keeps stuff razor sharp, amazing really.
In the field i use a diamond hone, if the knife is razor sharp to begin with its easy to keep it cutting well.
I have the original “Lansky sharpener” that I bought back in the mid-1980’s. It still works great, adjustable from 17 to 30 deg angle.
About a year ago I bought a Lansky Quad-sharp pocket sharpener. I carry it on me all the time. It works very quickly and also goes fro 17 to 30 deg angle, it’s also made of metal, not plastic. I bought it at Bass Pro Shop (7-miles away from me) for $19.00
Both excellent tools
to mr findlay, just ordered one from amazon uk for £16.99 looks great and will fit my bush-craft knifes with there slightly different angle of edge :)
Lansky QuadSharp Carbide/Ceramic Multi Angle Knife Sharpener
I have used ceramic plates to sharpen in a pinch. If you flip it over, you will see the rim it sits on is un-glazed, raw ceramic…just draw you knife across that un-glazed surface…
I’vw never done the belt thing . I worked in a beef packing house for years. We used the chicago black stee carbonateel knives. I had a job trimming lung fat. To get an edge they had a grinder. . a gray stone was used to finish off the edge. We used smooth steels which we worked with 80 grit emery . I stoned my knife very lightly and did the same with the steell. to test sharpness i ran a leanght of paper towel , grabbed the handle at the back end of the handle. if it caught in the towel i stoned it some more and steeled it again When the blade cut smoothly it cut the fat like nothing. I don’t do that anymore .
Anymore all blades are stainless which are harer to ge an edge. I still sharpen the same way. I have a stanless steak knife wit a 4″ blade. Filleting fish is like cutting warm butter. Gutting deer skinning and deboning them are nothing. A lot of people figh their knife when doing thisi. Most people never learn hot to sharpen knivesand will never learn the fine art of it.
Response to me:
Some of us that DO get it and have sharp knives in our kitchen also have previous experience working in the kitchens of others be it a church kitchen, fine dining establishment or catering service. My primary job at paid gigs was as a prep cook and baker so I had to cut and wash a lot of vegetables and fruit, mix marinades and pre-spice the meat. Highest pressure job: Cooking for 26 hungry firefighters.
When traveling to another kitchen I have never been to, I generally bring my own knives and diamond hone stick which has some 10 inches of diamond impregnated honing surface and a hard plastic handle. I will bring an inexpensive 8 inch Chefs knife, a small paring knife and a medium ( 5 inches of cutting surface) sized santoku blade. I bring Chicago Cutlery with me because it is common, easy to find, inexpensive and easily replaced if stolen. In commercial kitchens, I have had more problems with theft than actually wearing out blades.
At home, my wife has expensive blades and I also have several diamond blocks in medium and course grit used on occasion to reshape cutting edge or resharpen after a big job.). ( i.e.: cooking and feeding for 200+ people or processing a whole pig or deer/elk/bear.)
I almost forgot to address the issue of stropping the blade periodically: I use my old Carhart leather belt because I grew too fat and had to get a new one.
I am an outdoorsman, to say the least. However, I could never get the same edge on a knife using a stone, steel or anything else! lol My wife bought me a Buck knife, years ago, for Christmas but it was a high carbon blade that made my “lack of sharpening talents” even worse. Then, a friend of mine gave me a suggestion. “Buy yourself a Lansky knife sharpening kit and you’ll be able to sharpen ANYTHING!” Desperate and skeptical, I bought that Lansky unit. Not being able to sharpen knives became a thing of the past. I sharpened EVERYTHING that needed an edge! That was 32 years ago and I still use the same unit! So, if you are “challenged” keeping the same angle using a stone or a steel, this is the direction I would suggest you might want to go. Watch out sharpening your wife’s kitchen knives, though. Yeah, she got a few stitches from my “handy work” trying to help her out…
PS… To strop the blades I like to keep sharp, I use an old weight belt I had from my younger days. The one I kinda sorta “outgrew”. lol Repurposing! lol
When I was a kid, I remember watching the town barber stropping his razor every time before he used it, before doing fine razor work.