So you dropped a couple of bills on a really nice pocketknife. At some point, after opening all those UPS boxes and toy packages, you’ll need to sharpen it. We tapped Yong-Soo Chung, founder of Urban EDC Supply, a beautifully curated everyday-carry shop, to give us a few tips on how to sharpen a pocketknife.
“Edge retention and maintenance is vital,” Chung says. “When a knife is dull, we usually find ourselves overcompensating with increased pressure, which can actually be quite dangerous.”
Because we don’t want you to accidentally stab yourself in the leg, here are Chung’s four tips for maintaining and sharpening a pocketknife.
Know your angle. If you’re just sharpening your knife and not reprofiling the blade (which is a different process of its own), it’s important to determine what angle your knife’s blade was originally finished to. Typically, this information can be found in the user’s manual.
Always clean your knife before sharpening. Use water and a mild dish detergent, a sponge, and a toothbrush. If the knife is rusty, scrub it with WD-40 and a nylon pad.
Use a lubricant. This can range from water to mineral oil. Not only does the lubricant get rid of swarf (metal debris) that’s created while grinding and honing the blade, it also reduces the heat that’s created, which can help avoid warping your blade.
Choose the right tool. Not all sharpening tools are created equal. Different knives work best with different tools, and the process of sharpening your knife is different depending on which tool you use.
Below, Chung highlights three popular tools and explains the sharpening process for each.
Sharp Pebble Premium Whetstone ($40)
Hand stones, which are a form of unguided sharpening, are a common, cost-effective way to maintain and sharpen your knives. Using them takes practice to maintain the correct angle while holding the knife, but there’s virtually no setup and no bulky hardware. There are different types of sharpening stones, including water stones, oil stones, ceramic stones, and diamond stones. Personally, I like the traditional water stone, as it just uses some water as a lubricant (oil can be messy). I like the Sharp Pebble Premium whetstone, which is actually two-sided, with 1,000 and 6,000 grit. Start with the 1,000-grit side, then use the 6,000-grit side to help polish it.
How to use the Pebble Sharpening Stone
Find the correct angle to sharpen your knife. You want to run the blade across the stone evenly so it is sharpened consistently. If you are having trouble, color the edge of the blade with a marker, then pay attention to where the marker rubs off and where it doesn’t.
Always start sharpening with the with lower-grit side first. You can use a circular motion, a straight back-and-forth motion, or my personal go-to, the downward slice. For this, place the heel of the knife edge on the stone and run it down the stone to the tip of the cutting edge. Whichever method you choose, be sure to do it an equal amount of times on both sides.
To determine when it’s time to start sharpening the other side of the knife, check for a burr (a thin buildup of metal on the side of the edge). To do this, run your thumbnail gently across the opposite side of the blade. If you feel it pull, it’s time to switch sides.
To sharpen the opposite side, start with the heel of the blade at the bottom of the stone and push upward, finishing with the tip of the blade at the top of the stone.
Once again, feel for the burr. Once you have a burr on both sides, it’s time to flip the stone over to the finer grit and repeat the steps.
The Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker ($105)
A guided sharpening tool like the Spyderco Sharpmaker helps you hold your knife at a consistent angle, ensuring you get an even sharpen. Everything you need fits inside a convenient case, which then transforms into the base of the sharpener itself.
How to use the Spyderdo Tri-Angle Sharpmaker
Again, know your angle. If you have a knife that’s sharpened to a 20-degree angle, set your sticks in the 40-degree holes (which is 20 degrees on either side).
Start with the coarser set of stones, with the point facing out. With the blade facing down, place the heel of the blade on the stone and slide it down, ending with the tip of the knife at the bottom of the stone. Now repeat on the other side of the blade. Do this for 15 to 20 strokes.
Turn the coarse sticks so that the flat side is facing in, and repeat the 15 to 20 strokes.
Now move on to the finer stones, again starting with the point out and then transitioning to the flat.
If you’re having trouble, the Tri-Angle Sharpmaker comes with a DVD that provides very helpful instructions.
The Wicked Edge ($400)
The Wicked Edge is incredibly popular, largely because it takes the guesswork out of sharpening your knife. The system operates around your knife, which is set in a vice, giving you the most precise edges you can get outside of sending your knife to be professionally sharpened.
How to use the Wicked Edge
Place your knife in the vice with the blade side facing up, using the provided depth key and ruler to determine where to line up your blade.
Find your angle. Loosen the collars, place the arms to the desired degree mark, and then tighten.
Begin sharpening in an up-and-down motion. It’s that easy.