Before I start I'll just tell you that I only recommend items which I have used and have found to be of excellent quality and what I consider to be good value for money. I have provided Amazon affiliate links throughout this article to enable you to purchase any of my recommendations if you so wish.

I have also included links to YouTube videos to demonstrate some of the sharpening tools and techniques.

THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING YOUR KNIVES SHARP

Your knife is arguably your most important tool and keeping its edge in tip-top condition is paramount to its performance. A less than sharp knife needs more pressure to cut. You will expend more energy and you will lose some control as you have to force the blade ... and that's when accidents happen! I found that out the hard way when I was a youngster ... many years ago. Keep your knife sharp at all times and it will give you excellent service.

FROM EXPERIENCE

After a couple of accidental self-inflicted knife wounds as a kid (one of which was so deep and bled so much that I was convinced, at that age, I would leak out all of my blood!) I wised up and began to put some kind of an edge on my sheath knife using my Dad's finest metal file. It did the trick - of sorts. Over five decades later I've been through the whole gamut of knife sharpeners, from cheap crude pull-throughs, whetstones, diamond stones, leather strops, steels, ceramics to all-singing all-dancing machines. There are now two brands which I swear by, depending on where I am:
 

In my dim and distant past I have bought and tried cheap (and not-so-cheap) electric kitchen knife sharpeners (do NOT waste your money!) and bench grinders (far too easy to ruin the edge and shape of your knife).

Now, in the comfort of my home, I do use a machine. Not just any machine, but  the "Ken Onion WORK SHARP". This is a truly remarkable piece of kit: an electrically driven, variable speed grinding belt, with belts going from a coarse P80 grit for poor old knives that have practically no edge to an extremely fine 6000 grit for that final polish - don't worry, I'll get into the importance of grit types shortly. The belts are easy and quick to change out and the icing on the cake is that, by a very simple adjustment, you can vary the angle of grind from 15º to 30º to suit your particular knife.

If you ask any expert knife user what the best value for money machine they'd recommend is, it's more than a good bet that the answer would be "Ken Onion".

Instructional Video: How to Use the Ken Onion Work Sharp

LINK: Sets of replacement belts are available for the Ken Onion HERE.

I have included a couple of cheaper alternatives towards the bottom of this page for those whose budget won't run to this fantastic little machine.

 

In the field I use a pocket pull-through made by knife sharpening experts Lansky, the "Lansky Quadsharp" (sometimes mis-labelled as the "Lansky PS-MED01 Blademedic"). Another brilliant bit of kit. Four carbide V grooves of different precise grind angles (17º, 20º, 25º and 30º) to suit any blade, with a built-in ceramic polishing benchstone for that final finish. I've used a lot of different pull-throughs over the years, but this one has surpassed all of them and is now a constant pocket companion.

Lansky have been around for 35 years and their expertise in producing hand knife sharpening systems is second to none in my opinion. Before I bought my Ken Onion I used Lansky's "Deluxe Knife Sharpening System", which stood me in good stead for years. Although a little time-consuming, it far outweighed using a whetstone and did an excellent job.

Instructional Video: Lansky Knife Sharpening System
 

There is one last thing that I carry as a backup really, and that is a double sided Diamond stone. This little gizmo is a folding diamond sharpener (much like a butterfly knife) with 400 grit on one side and 600 grit on the reverse. They are  very inexpensive and seem to last a long time. My last one was still going strong after two years before it went AWOL.

Iin the field I always place a few drops of water on the surface of the sharpener to float away the metal shavings. I've even used spit on occasions. Always give a few strokes to both sides of your blade edge with the 400 grit before changing over to the 600 grit. Of course, it takes a little practice to achieve the correct grind angle, but you'll get there.

Of course, being cheap this sharpener isn't going to last forever, so swap it for a new one as soon as you find its efficiency beginning to drop - but that's not going to break the bank.

GRITS

Apart from cheap whetstones, sharpeners come in a variety of grits. Basically, the lower the grit number the coarser the surface of the sharpener and the faster it will remove metal. Different people have different thoughts on which grit size to use for what task, but here are my own recommendations:

  • 120 - 600 (coarse grits) are for quickly repairing dull or chipped blade or re-shaping the blade bevel-angle. As I said: the coarser the stone, the quicker the process and this range will eliminate chips in your edge quickly.

  • 800 - 2000 grits are ideal for resharpening a blade which has started to become a little dull

  • 3000 and higher are for final polishing of your bevel.



 

TYPES OF KNIFE SHARPENERS

There are four basic types of blade sharpeners:

SHARPENING STONES - (often referred to as "Whetstones",  whet meaning “to sharpen”) These stones come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but are all basically flat, rectangular blocks, with each type having its own characteristics. Stones are made using both natural and synthetic materials. There are three types of knife sharpening stones:

  • Oil stones - so-called because you need to oil them with a "honing oil" before beginning to sharpen. The oil acts to float away the removed metal particles, so they don't clog up the surface of the stone. These are the slowest sharpeners of the three.

  • Water stones - similar to oil stones, but these need to be soaked in water for a few minutes before commencing sharpening.

  • Diamond stones - have a metal plate, the surface of which is covered in bonded fine synthetic diamonds. These are by far the fastest sharpening stones of the three.

Instructional Video: How to Use a Whetstone Sharpener

SHARPENING/HONING RODS - (popularly know as "Steels") These are not sharpeners, but rather used for honing an already reasonable sharp edge. Traditional steels have longitudinal serrations down the length of their hardened steel shaft and you hone your bevel by drawing your blade over the length of that shaft. You may have seen butchers using these and there's quite a knack to using one properly and ideal for putting a fine edge on a large carving knife before attacking your roast chicken. Other variations are made using ceramic instead of steel, which is a much finer honing material.

If you would like to know how to use a steel properly here's an excellent short video from YouTube.

PULL THROUGHS - These are generally hand-held devices which have two pieces of tungsten carbide steel arranged in a "V" shape, through which you draw your blade. As you pull your knife through, the tungsten cutting edged remove metal from your bevel. The angle of the V is fixed, so that you always achieve the same bevel angle. Sounds good so far, but if it's a cheaper variety or you place too much downward force on the blade you will find the edge of you blade has uneven micro serrations along its edge.

The better ones include an additional V made of two ceramic rods, which will produce a final polished edge. The one on the right is the "Lansky Blademedic", which is a little cheaper than the "Lansky Quad" I mentioned earlier. It has one tungsten and one ceramic V, plus a diamond tapered rod for fast reconditioning and maintenance and a ceramic edge for sharpening serrated blades. If money is a little tight, then this is an excellent replacement for the "Quad".

ELECTRIC - Most of the electric sharpeners on the market are similar to the one on the right. They consist of an electric motor which spins circular grinding stones and have angled slots for the blade to make contact with the spinning stones. They are sold as kitchen knife sharpeners and vary enormously in price but are, at best, pretty inferior beasts. For starters, their motors are generally significantly underpowered so that, as soon as you introduce the blade into the slot and make contact with the revolving stone inside, the machine slows right down. They often come with different slots for coarse and fine grinding and one for scissors, but I have never found one that does anything like a reasonable job and they usually leave you with a rough and uneven edge.

The best electric sharpeners (from my own experience) are belt types, as in the "Ken Onion WORK SHARP" already mentioned. There is a significantly cheaper version, called the "Ken Onion Work Sharp WSKTS-1". This is also an excellent machine but does not allow you to change the grind angle (set at 25°) - but it does have a 65° angle for scissors and shears. That said, it is entirely possible to make angled shims to fit over the guides to achieve your desired bevel angle (and save yourself a few quid).

Instructional Video: How to Sharpen Your Knife Using the WSKTS01.

Instructional Video: How to Sharpen Scissors Using the WSKTS01.

Cheaper still is the "Ken Onion Combo Knife Sharpener". This little champ will give you a solid grind angle of 25° every time with the minimum of fuss and includes a Tapered Ceramic Rod will hone every knife you own to a razor-sharp edge. The Combo Sharpener uses a ½” x 10″ premium 3M™ abrasive belt – engineered for cool sharpening and long life. The abrasive is designed and intended for metal grinding applications and will sharpen any type of blade steel without over-heating your blade.

Instructional Video: How to Use the Combo Knif Sharpener

 

 

Choosing a Survival Knife  |  Knife Sharpening  |  Knife Steel Properties  |  Knives and UK Law  |  Knife Terminology

 

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