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How to Keep Your Knife Sharp

Every time you use a knife the blade gets a little duller. When a knife is used without occasionally being sharpened, it will become dull over time. A dull knife can become more dangerous than a sharp knife so it's important to know how to keep your knife sharp to maintain its full utility.

Paul Bodnar       Educational       7/20/2021
Paul Bodnar
Educational
7/20/2021
a pocket knife and the angles of a double and single bevel blade

Know your bevel angle

The manufacturer of your knife should state the bevel angle of your knife. If you have difficulty finding the bevel angle of your knife,  a quick online search normally works.

Most knives have an angle on both sides of the blade or a double bevel. Knives with a double bevel need to be sharpened on both sides of the blade. A small number of knives have a single bevel.

20 Degree Bevel Angle

Most western knives have a bevel angle of 20 degrees. This means for most western knives each side of the knife blade should be sharpened to 20 degrees. This creates a total angle of 40 degrees. When talking about the angle on your knife, you are generally referring to the angle you hold the knife to the sharpening stone.

A knife sharpener

Easy to Use Handheld Sharpener

This type of sharpener is easy to use and requires little training. However, it is used to sharpen double bevel knives only. The sharpening device does not require guessing at the angle because it’s preset. It’s very important to make sure the preset angle on the sharpening device matches the bevel angle of your knife.

This type of knife sharpener only uses one type of stone and generally the coarseness is between fine and coarse. If the stone is too fine, it would be difficult to sharpen an extremely dull knife. If the stone is too coarse, the stone would be unable to sharpen the blade to a fine point.

Always follow the directions specified by the manufacturer.

A blade sharpener

Fine and Coarse Preset Knife Sharpener

This type of knife sharpener is easy to use and also requires very little training. It is designed for use with only double bevel blades. The sharpening device has preset sharpening angle typically around 20 degrees. Always verify the preset angle matches your knife blade angle.

This sharpener shown has two coarse settings. A coarse stone is used to sharpen a dull blade. And the fine stone is used to put the final sharp edge on the knife blade. Because this sharpener uses two stones to sharpen the knife, you will get a better result than just using a single stone.

Always follow the directions specified by the manufacturer.

knife polisher

Traditional Sharpening Stones

The best way to sharpen knives is by using sharpening stones. Sharpening stones can sharpen both double bevel and single bevel knives. The angle can also be finely tuned to the exact specification of the knife unlike preset angles set on some sharpening devices. However, the use of a sharpening stone requires a lot more training and practice.

For the novice, it is difficult to maintain the correct bevel angle with the sharpening stone which can actually damage the knife blade. There are sharpening guides that help with maintaining the correct angle.

Always follow the directions specified by the manufacturer.

Summary

It’s important to make sure your knife is sharp before you leave on your next thru-hike or backpacking trip. When using your knife on trail, make sure you clean it before putting it away. A dirty knife will dull much faster than a clean knife. If a knife isn’t abused in the field it can stay sharp for a long time.


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About the Author
A man wearing an Arizona Trail baseball cap stands in a field in front of a mountain.

Paul Bodnar

Paul has always liked hiking and thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1997 after college. After years of working in chemistry, he wanted to create a career involving the outdoors, so he hiked the Pacific Crest Trail again in 2010 to do research for his guide book Pocket PCT. He realized that creating a smartphone app for navigating the outdoors would make it easier to keep the data current and provide a better way to navigate. While hiking with Ryan (aka Guthook) in 2010, they decided to work together to create the first comprehensive smartphone guide for the Pacific Crest Trail. Now with the help of a team of great people they have created over 90 guides for trails around the world.