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The Best ways to knife field sharpner

The Best ways to knife field sharpner

The Best ways to knife field sharpner 

Before you ask yourself what is the best way to sharpen a knife in the field, you should think about what exactly you will be doing and for how long. Will it be hunting, fishing, a multi-day camping trip or just a weekend picnic?

For a picnic, this issue is not as critical as for hunting, fishing, or a long hike, which involves a lot of different tasks.  

First of all, we need to identify the type of tasks. If hunting mainly involves skinning animals and birds, fishing is more likely to require a fillet knife. Sharp tourist and hiking knives should have somewhat different characteristics and will differ in size from the previous two. 

In general, if we consider knives suitable for field use, hunting knives should be considered as a separate category. A proper hunting knife is one with a fixed blade.



Many professionals consider the Finnish puukko knife a paragon and a classic among the best sharp hunting knives in the world. From a practical point of view, a classic puukko is not always comfortable and completely safe considering its purpose. For this reason, some manufacturers produce more practical solutions with a finger choil.  


Nessmuck knives can also be considered one of the best hunting knives. The design of such fixed knives has one peculiarity. The tip of the blade is raised and is wider than the handle. Such knives are used for gutting and skinning of prey, as well as for cooking. They are quite popular among hunters and hikers.



Among others, there is another knife - a Canadian belt knife with a leaf-shaped blade angled relative to the handle. It is very similar to the Nessmuk type and is characterized as a general-purpose knife for cutting poultry, fishing, and tourism, in a word for those who prefer small knives. Overall, it is a very well-designed hunting knife, which fits well in the hand and can be used for many different tasks.

The size of the knife varies depending on its purpose, and sometimes it is said that the more experienced a hunter is, the shorter his knife is.

Another type of knives used in nature are tourist knives. What kind of knife to call a tourist knife depends on what one calls tourism. For someone, tourism is an outing with a tent in the countryside associated with a mass of complex preparations. On the other hand, for someone, a long hike is a cakewalk.

Tourist knives can be fixed and folding. In such conditions knives are most often used for cutting groceries, opening cans, cleaning fish, planing soft wood, chopping bushes, and so on. To summarize, any knife that can solve hiking tasks can be called a tourist knife. Bushcraft knives and camping knives can be included in this category to some extent, as they serve similar purposes. 

Today there are many manufacturers in the knife market, which produce a lot of different models of knives under different names in the category of hunting knives and knives in general for use in the wild.

We should highlight characteristics that can be common to all of the above categories and types. At the same time, all characteristics will be equally useful in any outdoor situation:

  • The hardness of the steel must be suitable for non-labor-intensive honing
  • Strong and durable handle with a finger guard to prevent the palm from slipping on the blade and a non-slippery surface for convenient use
  • Sufficient corrosion resistance for easy knife care

There are features that can distinguish knives by the structure of the blade designed for special tasks:

  • Knives can have different tips and perform completely different tasks with different efficiency
  • Different shapes of secondary bevels result in different strengths and cutting qualities
  • Can have different thicknesses and lengths of the blade

Some manufacturers produce models of knives that have many of the described characteristics at the same time and can cover a wide range of tasks. However, even these knives are not universal in the full sense, since cutting groceries, cutting fish, game or large animals are different tasks. Some say that a universal knife is a knife that can do everything badly. Many experienced hunters, fishermen, and tourists prefer to have two knives with them - a big one and a smaller one.

Understanding the specifics of different types of outdoor knives, it is worth thinking about the amount of work that needs to be done with one or the other knife. Considering that the cutting edge of the knife can become blunt under any unforeseen circumstances, it is necessary to have a honing device on hand.

To sharpen such knives in the field with various tools, you need to know the basics of the most common way of sharpening knives - manually. 

Manual sharpening



Manual knife sharpening with a sharpening stone is not an easy process, but it is the most popular and affordable method. Experience in sharpening by hand is in many ways crucial because if the knife owner has this skill, he will be able to hone or finish the blade of the knife by any other more advanced methods.

The secondary bevel of the knife is placed on the stone and can be held with 1 or 2 fingers, as one feels more comfortable. You can touch and feel if there is a change of the edge or not and slowly get used to this technique of sharpening the knife. It is not a question of controlling a certain angle or the principle of keeping an existing angle. 

The main question is that the bigger the belly, the so-called curve near the tip, the more difficult it is to effectively and properly sharpen the secondary bevel of the blade at a given angle because the contact area decreases. For manual sharpening of the knife, one would normally use a bar of size 150 - 200 mm long, and 50 mm wide for the convenience of work.

Manual sharpening in the outdoors does not have a complete cycle and mostly consists of honing and finishing. For this reason, a coarse abrasive is unnecessary. It is better to use a bar with a more uniform grain structure to hone the cutting edge in 2 steps instead of reprofiling it. A suitable grit for the first stage would be about 400/320 grit and for the finishing stage about 800 grit (FEPA-F).

With some experience using this method, you can get a very sharp knife compared to all other methods that will be described below. When choosing a tool for honing and finishing the cutting edge of knives in outdoors, these parameters should be used as a basis. 

Sharpening Systems



A wooden bar with leather and paste, as the most common tool for stropping a knife, can help in a large number of cases. This is a preventive procedure and if the blade is already blunt, this will be ineffective. The cutting ability of some blades may drop off quickly, even after stropping with leather. On the other hand, it will be the right solution, if you use this method together with the others described below. You can hone your knife in outdoors if the sheath of your knife is made of leather with a good shorter side.



Whetstones, which include ceramic, diamond-coated, and natural stones, even short ones, are considerably more effective in honing than a leather board. You can buy a whetstone as a set or as part of a pocket sharpener. 

You should always match the length of your knife's blade to the length of the whetstone, it should be equal to or greater than the length of your knife's blade. This will allow the most efficient honing.  

The most common shape of a whetstone - a round rod is convenient for honing the edge line, and whetstones with a plane give greater accuracy in honing the secondary bevel. The only important parameter is the diameter - the larger it is, the larger the contact area and the more effective the honing of the cutting edge. Depending on the grit of the whetstone itself, the blade can always be finished with clean leather or with leather with a paste.



Pocket sharpeners  (with folding rods, pull-through, combined)

Pocket knife sharpeners are not much different from the usual pull-through knife sharpeners for kitchen knives. This type of sharpener can have 2-4 working surfaces. Often the first working surface consists of tungsten carbide inserts with about 400 grit. The second surface can have a grit size of about 1000 grit. The next option may be a ceramic surface for sharpening serrated blades. Some include diamond rods to hone straight blades. 

Despite the fact that such sharpeners are extremely compact and can be put in a pocket or worn as a keychain, they all have their certain disadvantages. The metal inserts are very hard and can be irregular. Because of the small contact area, this type of abrasive can damage the secondary bevel planes along the cutting edge, just like kitchen abrasives, creating thin grooves. This is where the secondary bevels become weak and create points of additional stress, resulting in the chipping of the cutting edge.

If any of the abrasive surfaces lose their properties, it is impossible to replace them and the effectiveness of such a device drops considerably. However, if you are only going to hone the blade, the sharpener should be enough for a certain period of time.

Some have additional options sometimes useful in the outdoors. For example, some have a built-in compass on the body, a whistle, or even a rod for making a fire. Anyone who doesn't want to go into the details of sharpening and just needs an inexpensive knife with a blade that cuts is a perfectly acceptable solution.


Pocket bars

The use of pocket sharpening stones is one of a number of compact solutions standing between pocket sharpeners, whetstones, and other more effective solutions. The use of various small pocket stones is exactly the same as manual sharpening with a water stone or bench stone. The nature of its use is defined by its size, which sometimes does not exceed 10 centimeters in length.



Such bars are mainly used in a classic way. Besides, if you take an adjustable angle guide (like Hapstone T1), the degree of accuracy of consistency of the sharpening angle increases significantly and the work gets easier and quicker in general.

Similar, but not quite usual, would be the use of apex-type bars designed for professional systems. You can use the apex bars as a regular whetstone or with an adjustable angle guide. 

In both cases, using a guide requires a flat surface to place the bar itself and over which to move the clamp. If a flat surface is not available, you can use a manual guided system with an abrasive holder, which will be described a little further.

For this solution, it is better to choose abrasives that do not require coolants for work. The most common are electroplated diamond abrasives, which are also used in pocket sharpeners. Abrasive manufacturers often produce combined solutions with different grit sizes, so it is always possible to choose the most suitable option.

Vertical rod systems

Vertical rod systems are not much different from whetstones in terms of use. The process requires the user to hold the knife as vertically as possible and guide the blade across the rod with the desired grit by pulling it downwards and towards yourself at the same time.



Vertical rod systems have several significant advantages:

  • These systems have a base in which the rods are installed and they do not need to be held
  • There are several of these rods and they differ in grit size, abrasive material, profile shape, and size; honing angle
  • The rods can be replaced if they are completely worn out
  • A much better way of repeating the sharpening angle



Honing with such systems is much better than with a whetstone, and even better than the most advanced pocket sharpener because of the length of the rods and their variability.

Someone may find their larger size and weight to be a disadvantage.

Portable sharpeners with sharpening angle guides

After considering the method of manual sharpening of knives on a full-size bar and all existing compact technical solutions, we can conclude that each of them alone will not be a sufficiently effective solution. In other words, it is better to use a certain combination of tools to achieve the most correct and effective result. 

Thus, if we highlight the technical aspects that an almost "ideal" tool for sharpening knives in the outdoors should be endowed with, a field sharpener should have:

  • the possibility of solving the problem without special training
  • the technical solution for precise honing and finishing of various blades, i.e. increased functionality
  • possibility of replacing abrasives
  • sufficient abrasive quality and size
  • affordable price
  • relative or increased mobility

There is no need to reinvent the wheel - this technical solution already exists in several slightly different versions.



The sharpener has special protrusions that are made at certain angles to the surface of the abrasive and serve as a kind of angle guide. It is enough to put the knife and while holding the blade in this position run it several times on the surface of the abrasive from both sides to achieve a certain result. These guides will make it much easier to work with the sharpener and it does not require special training and a long getting used to as with a full-size bench stone.

At least 3 abrasive surfaces and a strip of leather for a finer finish are used for finishing blades. This makes it possible to hone a wide range of suitable blades.

Due to their sufficiently high quality, size, and combination, the abrasives effectively handle a number of different steels, which also increases the scope of the sharpener.

If used properly, the abrasives are quite durable, but some abrasives can be replaced, which also increases the life of the sharpener itself.

For all its capabilities, a sharpener of this kind simply cannot be called expensive or large in dimensions, which are no larger than a leather finishing board. Such a device could very well claim to be the best sharpener. 



Another more advanced version has a special pivot response system designed to avoid lifting the hand which holds the knife when sharpening the secondary bevel on the belly. When sharpening the blade at the transition to the tip, the platform, under constant pressure, tilts sideways at a given angle on its own. This technical solution allows to evenly, accurately, and conveniently work through the surface of the secondary bevel both at the straight area and at the tip of the blade.  



The third model has a slightly larger size and has a special turning console with three installed abrasives. To change the abrasive, simply turn the console and you can continue honing with the next abrasive.

It should be understood that the more elements in a device, the more its size and weight will vary. However, if you are not intimidated by the size and weight and have the opportunity, for example, to return to the car with your prey and sharpen your knife, then these sharpeners are quite possible to take with you. 

Sharpening systems with guiding rods and kits with changeable abrasives 


In a separate group for knife sharpening in outdoors, we should distinguish systems that combine compact size, sufficient functionality, and ease of use, which use abrasive holders with guiding rods.

Systems of this kind consist of a special clamp and an abrasive holder with a guide. Some have several fixed positions, and in more advanced systems the sharpening angle can be adjusted. 

The idea is that the knife blade is set in the clamp, and the abrasive holder with the guiding rod is set in the desired position. Sharpening can be done on hands or mounted on a small flat surface for greater convenience.



These systems are sold in kits and provide a good range of abrasives. In a complete set, of course, they are not very convenient to use outside the home or workshop, but the individual parts are quite small and lightweight. So you should not disregard this system.

When it comes to selecting the best field sharpener, there is basically no one-size-fits-all answer. The best field sharpener is the one with which you can hone your knife in one situation or another, depending on its purpose. You can have several of them in your toolbox.

When making a final decision, it is worth highlighting the following points, which will definitely help you with the choice of your best field sharpener:


  • relatively compact size
  • affordable price
  • no abrasive preparation required
  • quick honing and relatively tolerable finishing.
  • requires almost no knowledge or user training


  • not a very high honing quality of the secondary bevels' surface
  • high probability of changing the existing sharpening angle
  • a certain limitation in blade length due to the size of the abrasive surface of the tool

As a general recommendation, it is not a good idea to hone the cutting edge on soft and uneven surfaces. The abrasives themselves should have a certain density. An example of improper use would be sandpaper tape wrapped around an object, as it will sag and may on the contrary dull the cutting edge instead of honing it. It is also worth not going too far with stropping with the leather, as you may end up going over your angle and round over the edge of the blade, and it will need to be re-sharpened.

If you take an extreme life-or-death situation, a blade can be honed on a fairly flat and smooth stone. In many rivers or rocks, one can find layers suitable for such a task. It is possible to split a stone against another stone, as the inside of the stone is often more suitable for sharpening than the outside. But this is for an exceptional extreme case.

The right thing to do in the outdoors is to always have at least some tool to hone your knife than to have none and the best knife will always be the knife that you carry with you.

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