Out in the mountains, on the trail, in the bush or in an apocalyptic scenario, the last thing you want is a dull knife. A dull knife can make any job twice as difficult and increases the likelihood you’ll injure yourself. Although compact knife sharpeners are available —and a great addition to any survival kit — sometimes you’ll need to be creative with the way you sharpen your knife.
That’s why you should know how to sharpen your knife in any situation. Learn a few sharpening tricks, and you can always have a sharp blade to keep you a cut ahead when it counts. Here are some of the best and most creative ways to keep your survival knife sharp in any situation:
1. The Rock Method
This is one of the most useful methods for sharpening your knife out in the wild since rocks are everywhere. Ideally, you want to go down to the nearest stream or river and pick out some round, fine-grained pebbles. If its texture looks and feels like your normal sharpening whetstone, grab it and make sure it’s nice and wet. Sandstone works well because it typically has a uniform grain that helps to sharpen your knife easily.
Now begin to use small, circular strokes to sharpen the knife gradually. Keep the number of strokes even on either side. This might take a little longer than it usually does with your knife sharpening tool, but it can save you cutting time and effort once you’re done.
Continue to rinse the rock regularly as you sharpen your blade and brush away any shavings — called “swarf” — from your knife. The wet stone should carry away additional swarf from the blade, helping to prevent nicks and imperfections.
Another great way of using rocks is to take two stones, just like those described above, that are about even in size and hardness. Run your blade back and forth between the stones to sharpen the blade. This is an excellent method for sharpening your survival knife quickly so that you can focus on other critical tasks.
2. The Belt Method
Always wear a belt when you go out on the trail because it doubles as a multi-purpose tool.
While your belt won’t actually sharpen the blade, it does work well as a strop, which hones the blade by pushing the microscopic cutting edge back into alignment. This makes it a great complement to the previous method, which might leave a less-than-perfect blade edge, to keep your tactical knife in top shape.
Using a belt made of top-grain or full-grain leather, drag your knife along the inside of the belt moving away from the cutting edge. Do this a few times on either side, alternating between sides with each stroke.Keep in mind that using your belt as a strop can damage it over time, so don’t do it every day. In a survival situation, however, the condition of your blade takes top priority, since there are other materials you could use to make a belt in a pinch.
3. The Other Knife Method
Holding one knife in each hand, stroke them away from each other applying equal pressure along the entire length of the blade. Do one side, then the other, and repeat until the blades are sharp. Try to keep the blades at a 30-degree angle to achieve an ideal sharp edge.
The knife with the softer steel will sharpen faster and develop the sharpest edge, but provided there isn’t too much difference, both blades should sharpen evenly. You may not always be carrying two knives on you in a survival situation, but if you are, this technique should help keep them both in a usable condition.
4. The Coffee Mug Method
Although you might not take a ceramic coffee mug with you out on the trail for practical reasons, it could be one of the most common items you find in an urban survival situation. In an urban environment, where rocks might be scarce, this is a great alternative method.
To sharpen a knife with a mug, first find the rough, unglazed edge of the ceramic around the base of the mug— this is where you’re going to sharpen your blade. Use that edge just like you would a whetstone. Apply even pressure along the full edge of the blade and use an even number of strokes on each side to keep the blade uniform.
This works much better than you might expect, although it could damage the mug over time. This method is great method if you’re barricaded in a house and stuck without a sharpening tool.
As an alternative to a coffee mug, you can also use the rough edge of a panel of glass in the same way. Car windows are particularly well suited for the task, but as with coffee mugs, they can get damaged or lose abrasion.
5. The DIY Whetstone Method
This is one of the more creative methods for sharpening your knife when out in the wild. It can also involve more work, so its value needs to be balanced against your short-term energy conservation needs. However, it offers an excellent method for keeping knives in good shape, and it can increase the lifespan of a survival knife when compared to using rocks.
The issue with rocks is they lack the even grain of a whetstone. This method simulates a whetstone using sand and a live tree branch.
First, look for some sand by a river or beach. If there is none, you can gather small stones and crush them to a pulp with a larger one. Crush them until they turn to mush, and that becomes the material you use for your whetstone.
Next, snap off a live tree branch. Shave off the bark and rub your sand into the wood. Do this as effectively as you can without shredding up your fingers in the process. Try to spread the sand evenly to make an effective whetstone.
Now sharpen your survival knife just as you would with a whetstone at home. Change sides regularly and keep your knife at a 30-degree angle. Apply more sand as needed. This method beats out the rest if you have energy to spare and can’t find other suitable materials. It might not be ideal for every scenario, but it’s a great one to keep in your bag of tricks.
Never Go with a Dull Knife Again
Survival situations require you to think outside of the box to create solutions to common problems. Using the five tips here, you can keep your knife sharp and ready to go when times get rough, allowing you to cut, slice and chop effectively and efficiently so you can get tasks completed quicker and easier.