Gear Guy


What's the best way to sharpen a knife?

I've used knives for various outdoor activities for years but realized I don't know how to effectively sharpen a knife (aside from tossing it and buying a new one). Can you recommend a sharpener or good resources to learn to sharpen a knife?
Minneapolis, MN


That's a new one! And a good one. Sharp tools are important, whether you're wielding a Pulaski, a garden shovel, or a camping knife. Sharp tools work better, of course. But more importantly, they are safer. They don't "bounce off" the target, require less force, and offer greater control.

And sharpening them is quite the art. I thought I knew a fair piece about kitchen knives, but the other day I was in a kitchen supply store looking for a new sharpening steel and learned more from the guy behind the counter in five minutes than I have in five years.

But camping knives are a little bit different. I think the best solution is to invest in a good sharpening stone and start there. For instance, Rockler sells a good 250/1000 combination grit stone for $28. The 250-grit side preps the blade edge, while the 1000-grit side puts a sharp edge on it. And it's a water stone, so no need for oil; water lubricates the stone and carries away the tiny metal bits.

I've also had good success with manual two-stage sharpeners, such as the Wüsthof 2-Stage Sharpener ($22). It has two slots you run the knife through, one with carbide steel for coarse sharpening, the other with ceramic to refine the edge.

A good hand-held steel also is useful—only don't get a steel one. Get a ceramic steel (hah!) such as the Messermeister 12" Ceramic Knife Sharpener ($25). It will do a better job of straightening the edge. Because that's often what accounts for "dullness"—the edge of the knife has been bent or curled. A steel straightens it out. A ceramic steel also adds just a little bit of actual sharpening to the process.

Subscribe to Outside

Outside Magazine Latest Issue

Save 72% and Get the Special Women's Issue!