How to Sharpen a Survival Knife

In a survival situation, you won’t want to waste valuable energy sawing through anything you need to cut. It’s important that your survival knife is sharp, so the blade easily cuts through different materials when you are gutting fish, building other survival tools, and cutting rope or paracord for building traps, fishing lines, or shelters. Not only does it make these tasks efficient- it stops you from using extra force and prevents accidents that might happen when sawing through something.

Below, you’ll learn how to sharpen a survival knife using different materials. Sharpening your knife isn’t just about having the right tools at your disposal- you’ll need to know technique, too. After reading this article, you’ll know everything you need to get your knife sharpened.

How to Sharpen a Survival Knife

Step 1: Choosing a Sharpening Tool

To sharpen your survival knife, you likely won’t be using the same bench grinder or block that you have at home. Most knife-sharpening tools for home use are bulky, making them a poor choice for lugging through the woods. Below, we’ll take a look at some of your options and how to choose a material for sharpening your knife. You’ll also learn what to use if you don’t have a knife sharpening kit with you in the wild.


One of the most common ways of sharpening a knife blade is a whetstone. The whetstone gets it’s name from the word “whet”, which means to sharpen or hone. Like sandpaper, whetstones have different grits. The weight feels nice in your hand and makes them easy to use. Coarser grits are ideal for sharpening dull blades and then a fine grit is used to make the edge of the knife razor sharp. It is not uncommon for a whetstone to have part of the rock on each side- the coarser side is for the first part of the sharpening process and the finer side is for the second.

The one downside of whetstone is that it wears down over time, so it may develop a dip in the middle where the blade passes over the stone the most. It may also break if it falls on the ground or you sit down on it. Even though it feels solid and has some weight, it isn’t necessarily durable.

Many survival experts recommend an Arkansas stone as their preferred type of whetstone. The Arkansas stone can be used with a wet or dry surface so it’s easy to use regardless of your method. It also regenerates better, so it’s less likely the stone will develop the dip that whetstones typically do from use over time. This type of sharpening stone also can be used wet or dry, so it might be more convenient in a survival situation.

Ceramic Sharpeners

There are two types of ceramic sharpeners you can use to sharpen a knife. The first is a ceramic stone. Like a whetstone, you can use this by angling your blade the right way and running it across the rock. Ceramic sharpening stones come in different grits for different results.

The other type of ceramic sharpener uses metal rods that have been coated in ceramic. They have the advantage of coming with grooves that you can use as guides to get the right angle for knife sharpening. As you run the knife edge through the groove, the ceramic rods that line the tool peel away fine layers of metal until the blade has a sharp edge.

Diamond Sharpener

If you’ve ever run your knife through a butcher block to sharpen it, chances are you have used a diamond sharpener. Diamond is one of the hardest minerals, so it easily sharpens blades on kitchen knives, hunting knives, pocket knives, and more. Most diamond sharpeners also have a guide to put the knife through, so its easier to get the right angle. Alternatively, some people choose a diamond rod for sharpening.

Another variety of all diamond sharpeners available is a diamond stone. Most diamond stones are made of metal layers that have diamonds attached to the surface for sharpening. The advantage of this type of stone is that they are more durable- especially since most have divots in them to trap metal debris as it falls back onto the stone. This allows diamond stones to regenerate in a way, so they don’t break down as quickly as whetstones.

Can I Sharpen a Survival Knife without a Sharpening Tool? What to Do If You Don’t Have a Stone

If you forgot to put a knife sharpener or whetstone in your survival pack, there are a few things you might be able to find to sharpen your survival knife. If you can find a brick, the rough edges work well for sanding and sharpening a knife. Alternatively, you could use a ceramic mug or plate. For this to be effective, you’ll want to look for a mug that has a rough, bumpy bottom with a surface suitable for sharpening blades.

If you are somewhere there is water, you might also be able to find a smooth or porous river rock for sharpening. Keep in mind that the grit of the rock is going to affect how sharp you can make the knife. You may need more than one to get the most sharpness on your blade.

Some survival professionals also recommend using a car window to sharpen the blade. The top edges of a car window are very strong and have a grit similar to ceramic. Leave a comment below if you can think of any other useful devices that can be used as a knife sharpener in a pinch.

Step 2: Tips on Using Sharpening Stones

When you use a water stone, you’ll need to be sure it stays wet while you are sharpening your knife blade. The water helps reduce the heat and prevents damage to the blade- metal material can warp if it gets too hot while dragging it across the surface area of the rock. You should use cool, clean water when soaking your stone. Keep in mind that even an oil stone that needs to be wet should be soaked in water- lubrication does not replace water on knife sharpeners.

The length of time you need to soak the stone depends on it’s type. For water stones and whetstones, you’ll need to soak for about 10 minutes. Ceramic stones should be soaked 3-5 minutes. If you have a diamond stone or sharpener, you don’t need to soak at all. Be sure to follow the directions for your specific type of sharpener if you have them so you don’t damage your whetstone or other sharpener.

In addition to wetting the stone before use, it’s important to keep most whetstones and ceramic stones lubricated. Knife experts typically recommend using mineral oil from your local hardware store but you can also use sharpening specific oil . Not only does it prevent the stone from overheating, but it also fills any cracks to stop metal and debris from getting in and wearing down the stone as quickly.

Step 3: Finding the Right Angle and Sharpening Your Knife

It’s important as you sharpen your knife that you have it at the right angle against the stone. If you sharpen your knife at the wrong degree angle, it’s likely to damage the blade. It also makes it unlikely that you’ll get a razor sharp edge on your knife. For beginners, you can buy an angle guide that helps you maintain a consistent accurate motion as you sharpen blades. This can be used with any stone to create a knife sharpening system. Of course, while this is a useful tool for beginners, you’ll want to be sure you get some practice without it in case you’re in a survival situation in the wilderness without one, too. Don’t worry, with the right practice you’ll be able to sharpen your knives anywhere.

Before you get started, you’ll need to find the bevel angle of the blade. The bevel of the blade describes the angle of the knife blade- usually, it’s between 25 and 30 degrees. You’ll need to maintain a consistent movement with all of your strokes across the surface of your sharpener.

Even though you can expect an angle of around 25-30 degrees, keep in mind that all knives are created differently. This is the reason it’s so important to sharpen depending on each knives edge of the blade- it ensures longevity and effectiveness of survival knives. If you aren’t sure about the right degree to sharpen your blade, you can usually find this information online. This isn’t always an option in a survival situation, though. If you don’t know beforehand, you can also look at the cutting edge as you sharpen the knife. It should slide smoothly across the knife sharpening you have chosen and cause metal shavings to fall off.

Using a steady surface is incredibly important as you work. The blade may warp, bend, or otherwise be damaged if you drag it across a whetstone that isn’t flat because it’s hard to maintain a consistent angle. You can hold the whetstone in your hand or find somewhere flat at your site like a picnic table or a large stump or flat-topped rock.

It’s important as you sharpen your knife that you use a single, steady motion. If you don’t use a consistent motion, it causes the knife edge to become rounded instead of sharpening it to a point. They do make guides to be used with whetstones or other types of knife sharpener. Angle guides are especially helpful for beginners because they help you maintain a consistent grind angle on your blade. It is a lot of work to consistently hold your knife at the right angle as you draw the knife across the stone.

Once you’re ready, glide the blade of your knife across the knife sharpener or whetstone of your choice. You’ll continue to do this until you have a sharp edge on the blade. Usually, this takes about 8-12 swipes on each side before you get the desired sharpness.

You’ll also want to sharpen the back of the blade. Run the spine of the knife across the sharpening stone or knife sharpener about 8 times. This reduces the risk of the handle breaking and improves the overall sharpness of the knife.

Step 4: Finishing up the Blade

Next, you’re going to hone the blade by removing any metal shavings, imperfections, or other divots in the edge of the knife by using a finer grit than you started with. If you have a quality whetstone, you’ll likely just need to flip it over in your hand and use the other side. However, if you don’t have a whetstone handy and you use something else for sharpening your knives, you can use something else instead. You can use a river rock like sandstone with a finer grit than your stone or a honing rod coated in aluminum oxide. Some people also use a nylon strap or leather belt. You can probably fine one of these by looking around your camp site- backpacks are just one thing that has a nylon strap you may be able to use to hone the edge of your knife.

Basically, to finalize the sharpening process, you’re going to run the honing rod, strap, belt, or finer side of the whetstone over the edge of the knife. This sharpens it just a little more while removing any imperfections. One thing that you can do is hold the edge of your knives up in the light and look for any areas where it is reflecting. The blades of knives should not reflect light if they don’t have any imperfections or areas that need touch ups.

Step 5: Testing Sharpness

Once you’re completely finished sharpening, take your hunting knife and test its sharpness. Hold a piece of paper in the air and run the edge of the knife through the middle. Alternatively, you could fold a piece of paper in half and prop it upside down on a flat surface- it’s basically the same method. Try to cut through the paper with any of your sharpened knives. They should glide through without any resistance if your knife is sharp enough. If not, then start the process of sharpening the blades again.

Final Word

Keeping your survival knife sharp when you’re in the wilderness is critical for making key survival tasks possible. Whether you are building a shelter, skinning fish or game, or making a trap, you want your survival knife ready for anything. Sharpening a knife can seem like a process- but it’s a skill of high importance when it comes to a survival situation. This is especially true because you can’t guarantee you’ll have a sharpener handy in the wild. If you have any additional tips for sharpening a survival knife, leave a comment below.