Home Survival 101 9 Ways to Sharpen Your Blades

9 Ways to Sharpen Your Blades

by Ryan Dotson

hands sharpening a knife blade on a grinding drum

There really is no tool quite as valuable in a survival scenario as a good blade. It’s almost impossible to replicate the function of a blade using natural materials. Even if you can get a sharp edge on a stone tool, it’s rarely as strong as steel.

If you’ve used a blade on a regular basis, you know that some will dull very quickly. A dull blade can be quite frustrating as it can take three to four times more cuts to accomplish the same task versus what a sharp blade would do.

In addition, a dull blade can be very dangerous. You find yourself forcing the blade to attempt to complete the cut. It’s very common for a dull blade to slip and leave a gash on your other hand or arm.

Without knowledge of how to sharpen a blade, you can easily end up with a shoe box full of dull knives. I’ve known people to use a knife until it’s useless, then they throw it away and buy another. However, with a few basic tools and some knowledge you’ll find that one knife can last a lifetime. There are some relatively easy techniques for sharpening blades in your home and a few different ways to sharpen a blade in survival scenarios. In this article, we’ll cover several ways to keep your blade razor sharp.

Grinding (1)

You’ll find that most blacksmiths or knife manufacturers use a grinder to at least put a rough edge on a blade. A grinder is typically a rotary power tool mounted to a table or stand.

Person sharpening a knife blade on a grinder

As the grinding surface spins, you press the blade against it at the proper angle to sharpen one or both edges. Many people will stop after they have a rough edge and use other tools to finish. However, you can adjust your grinding surface to get a finished sharp edge just from the grinder.

Files (2)

Files work virtually the same as a grinder except that you’re using muscle instead of electrical power. Most people will place their blade in a vice to hold it still. They then run the file against the blade at the proper angle for an edge.

Human hand using a file to sharpen a knife blade

Again, most people use a file for a rough edge and then move on to other tools for a fine edge. However, you can move to a finer grit on your file to get a finished edge.

Sharpening Stones (3)

The most conventional way to get a finished edge on a blade is using stones. These stones are typically flat or slightly rounded. Some are designed to be used when wet while others can be used dry. Typically, a person will hold the stone in their left hand and hold the blade in their right.

Hand using wetstone to sharpen a knife blade

The stone is held stationary while the blade is slid along the stone from the handle to the tip. This is done at a slight angle to get the desired edge. Some people rub their blade on a wet or dry stone in small circles, but I’ve never gotten good results with this technique.

Sharpeners (4)

There is a wide array of handheld sharpeners that you can use to keep your blade very sharp. Normally they have a plastic frame along with two different sharpening grits. These sharpening slots have two different stone columns arranged in a ‘V’ shape to give you an ideal angle.

Wüsthof sharpener

One slot is designed to give a rough sharpening while the other is for fine sharpening. The rough side allows you to knock out larger imperfections while the fine side gives a finished edge. The one I use most is only about 3” by 1”, so it can be kept in my pocket or on a keyring.

Stropping (5)

To get the sharpest edge possible, stropping is a good bet. This is the process of running your blade across a strap of leather to get a very fine edge. It’s intended to be done after every use, and sometimes even during the use of the blade. You may have seen old time barbers in movies strop their razors before they shaved a cowboy.

Person sharpening a knife on a leather strop

You can strop with a loose strap of leather but it’s best to attach the leather to a board. It’s also suggested that you add a grit compound to the leather to more effectively strop your blade.

Survival Sharpening

When stuck in the wilderness without a sharpener, it’s vital that you have ways to sharpen your blades. Thankfully, you can often find materials in the wild to help get a razor sharp edge. Here are some ideas to consider:

Use your belt  (6) – Most people wear a leather belt with their pants. You can strop the blade with your belt if needed. You may want to add a little wet sand to get additional grit. Step on one end of the belt and hold the other end steady with your left hand. Then run the blade up the leather with the edge facing down. Flip it over and run it down the belt with the edge facing up. Keep repeating until the blade is sharp.

Knife leaning against a rock

Find a stone (7) – If you’re near a creek bed, find some sandstone to help sharpen your blade. Sandstone has a rough grit, so the blade won’t be razor sharp. However, there are times any improvement is appreciated. Try wetting the stone for a bit of lubrication.

Use cement or concrete (8) – If you find an old sidewalk or foundation, use the concrete for sharpening. You can also use a cinder block or brick for sharpening if needed. The smoother the surface, the better. Try wetting it first.

Human hand using a car window to sharpen a knife

You can use a car window as a last resort sharpener

Use glass (9) – A piece of glass can be used to sharpen a blade. Often, I find that the edge of the glass will give you the best grit to deliver a sharp edge. Just mind your angle as you run it across the glass and be sure not to cut yourself.

Final Thoughts

There is absolutely no substitute for a good, sharp blade. I suggest that you check your blade after each use to see if it needs to be sharpened. Try placing the blade on your thumbnail and then scraping it lightly against the nail moving the blade laterally. If it grips and leaves a scratch, you’re in good shape.

I like to keep all the blades in my home razor sharp. In addition, I try to always carry at least one sharpener with me in the wild when camping, hiking, or out completing a survival challenge. The sharper your blades, the more you’ll appreciate how functional they can be.

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