Skill Series – Sharpening Without a Sharpener

We’ve all done it; set up camp in a remote place only to realize that we forgot to sharpen our knife. DOH! It’s frustrating spending all weekend doing camp activities with a knife-shaped bowling ball. What to do?

THE RIVER ROCK

Have no fear; there are many ways to sharpen and hone your knife in the field without a proper sharpener. Granted, you should never leave the house for a camping trip without something like a trusty Work Sharp Field Sharpener. But alas, it happens. Take these steps to bring your edge back in the field.

Sharpening a knife with a natural stone.
IMAGE BY RICK STOWE – 2022

Begin by determining how dull is “dull.” If it wouldn’t cut warm butter, you need to scour the area for a rock with a relatively smooth surface. Look in creekbeds for one that has been smoothed by water. Chances are, you will be able to find a rough-grained rock that has enough of a flat spot where you can draw your blade over from tip to tang. If your stroke is “into” the edge, just make sure the apex isn’t catching too hard on an uneven surface. If it is, draw the knife away from the edge (backwards). Do this until the edge reaches an apex. Then move to something finer.

THE CERAMIC MUG

A favorite “fine-grit” solution is a ceramic coffee cup. The underside of the cup will have a ring where there was no glaze when the cup was fired. This exposed raw ceramic is fine-grained and will produce a keen edge. If the ceramic seems to get clogged, add some water and let it create a little slurry. This will make it sharpen even better.

Sharpening a knife with the underside of a coffee mug.
IMAGE BY RICK STOWE – 2022

THE CAR WINDOW

Another go-to is the edge of a car window. The edge is sanded and has a frosted appearance. This extra fine abrasive is just enough to hone and knife and bring it back to “sharp.” Granted, this method only works if you are car-camping.

Sharpening a knife with the edge of a car window.
IMAGE BY RICK STOWE – 2022

THE LEATHER BELT

Finally, your belt is a good substrate too. Find some fine sand or clay soil and wet a slurry onto the belt. Draw the knife backward, making sure not to roll the knife. Laying the belt on a flat table will help. Don’t press too hard, and be sure to make the same stroke over and over until you reach the apex.

Stay Tuned for the next Knife Skill: Understanding Angles

Knife Skills is a collection of important techniques that all people should know. These valuable life skills will significantly improve your experience with knives and produce better results with all knife tasks.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lee Tigner is a lifelong knife nut and the owner of the largest knife store in Georgia, Olde Towne Cutlery. Lee has been teaching knife making and sharpening classes for Georgia Bushcraft for several years.

If you have a suggestion that you would like us to write about, please email us at info@otcutlery.com.

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