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How to Sharpen Knives for Use in the Field

Proper filed sharpening can make a huge difference in how your knife performs when you need it the most. When you are in the field, you rely on your knife for everything from skinning animals to carving tent stakes. Proper care and maintenance will make sure it is capable of handling these tasks every time.




A sharp blade is easier and safer to use than one that has lost its edge. A dull knife requires a lot more force behind each cut, which is where accidents happen. And if you injure yourself while you’re in the field, you may be in trouble because there might not be any help for miles and miles. Keeping your blades properly sharpened, whether you are in the field or at home, is good for your own safety as well as the upkeep of your knives.

You should sharpen your knives whenever you see or feel a difference in the knife’s ability to cut. The real secret to success, though, is to sharpen it every time it needs sharpening, but only when it needs sharpening. If you overdo it you may grind off too much of the metal.

Testing the Blade

So how do you know it’s time to sharpen your blade? Some people will simply run their thumb along the blade to find out. This is exactly the wrong way to test a knife edge. There are many more effective – and certainly safer – ways to test your knives in the field. These methods could include:


  • ·       Slicing through a piece of paper without rumpling it.
  • ·       Shaving arm hairs (though this can be misleading because if the knife has developed a burr it will be able to shave hairs, but it won’t be reliable for serious use).
  • ·       Lightly pressing the blade into your thumbnail at a 30 degree angle. If it’s sharp it will cut into the nail.
  • ·       Looking closely at the edge under direct light. If it glints or is shiny in areas, it has dull spots.


Getting the Equipment

In order to finely hone the edge of your blade, you need to have the right equipment. Sharpening stones come in many different shapes and sizes, from the portable models that are perfect for trekking through the woods to the larger, heavier stone that you leave at base camp.

You should have at least two grits of sharpening stones. One of them should be course enough for the major grinding, and the other one should have a much finer grit to handle the polishing. There are many different types of sharpening tools, including Washita or Arkansas stones, Japanese water stones, and other sharpening tools made from either ceramic or diamond.

Sharpening the Blade

Whether you are working with fixed blades, folding blades, or automatic knives, the process used for honing the edge of your blade is basically the same. Sharpening is really about three important elements: edge angle, edge thickness, and edge smoothness. These three components will determine what the blade is used for and how well it will do the job.

The steps to make a reliable, durable edge on your knife are really quite simple, but, as with most simple things, every step matters.

1.     Get a feel for the bevel/blade angle. You must follow this through the entire sharpening process.

2.     Lubricate the sharpening stone if necessary. (Water for water stones, honing oils for others.)

3.     Place the blade flat on the sharpening surface and then slowly tip it up until the bevel is flush with the stone.

4.     Slowly drag the blade across the sharpening surface, working from the base of the blade to the tip.

5.     Alternate the sides with each stroke, or make sure you use the same number of strokes on each side to keep the edge even.

6.     Clean and retest the blade.

Your knife may be one of the most important tools you can have while you’re out in the field. If you properly maintain its edge, you will have a strong, reliable tool that will last for years.


Kevin Paulson

Kevin Paulson is the Founder and CEO of His passion for Hunting began at the age of 5 hunting alongside of his father. Kevin has followed his dreams through outfitting, conservation work, videography and hunting trips around the world.

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