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How to Sharpen a Knife

by Staff Writer


Things You Need:

  • Knife
  • Water
  • Double-sided sharpening stone
  • Emery paper (grades 600 to 1200)
  • Abrasive paste
  • Leather strop

Knowing how to sharpen a knife is skill that is invaluable in preserving the quality and value of all of the knives you own, from hunting knives and pocket knives to fishing knives and complete cutlery sets. Read all of the steps before carrying them out. This ensures you know what to expect and can anticipate any hazards.

Sharpening Knives:

  1. Get under a bright light such as the sun. Hold up the edge. Look to see if there are any irregularities, nicks or flat pieces in the blade. You are looking for any major flaw that might be dangerous in the later steps. Never learn this process with a badly damaged blade.

  2. Test the edge with a thumbnail. Touch the edge of blade to your thumbnail gently. Move the blade to see if it slides or catches. Sliding indicates sharpness. Catching indicated dullness.

  3. Obtain a flat stone to work with. Place the blade side against the smooth side of the stone. If the stone is not flat, there will be a gap between the blade and the surface.

  4. If the stone is not flat, grind it down on a fine-grained pavement or stone kitchen step. Use plenty of water to keep the stone wet. This can take some time, but do not rush. Keep the stone wet while you're grinding it.

  5. Turn the sharpening stone rough side up and rub the knife blade around on both sides. The purpose of this step is to get the blade thinned at the edge. This ensures less labor is required in the later steps. Hold the blade at about a 15-degree angle.

  6. Experience will show that different blades require different angles. Fifteen degrees is a reasonable compromise for learning the technique. Fifteen degrees is roughly the angle half way between twelve and one on an old-fashioned clock face.

  7. Turn the stone over to the flattened, smooth side. Hold the blade at around a 17.5-degree angle. Firmly grasping the handle, stroke the blade across the flat area. There is no rush. The more accurately you stroke, the finer the resulting finish. Turn the blade over and stroke the other side in the opposite direction.

  8. Repeat the previous step until the thumbnail test results in the edge of the blade sliding over the nail smoothly and positively. The knife will leave a mark. At this point, the only further sharpening is achieved by placing the blade against a piece of emery paper and repeating the process.

  9. Begin with a piece of 600-grade emery paper. Place the emery paper on a piece of glass and stroke the blade over it once or twice at a 17.5-degree angle. The intention is to take off a tiny amount of metal. This step can be repeated for a number of finer grades of emery paper.

  10. At this point, you have a sharp blade. Finishing the process requires some fine abrasive paste to be spread onto a leather strop. The knife can then be stroked over the leather once or twice. This removes fine metal filings to ensure a clean finish.


  1. Even dull knives are dangerous and can cause puncture wounds. Sharp knives can cause both puncture and slash wounds. For these reasons, take sensible steps to avoid hazards. When working through anything that is dangerous, understand what you are doing first. Work through the process slowly and methodically.

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