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Whether you're in the kitchen, the workshop, the office, or the desolate wilderness, a sharp knife is a valuable tool. Notice we say a sharp knife — it's an important distinction. If your blade is dull, you'll end up exerting more energy and might even slip up and cut yourself as it glances off its target, hence the saying a sharp knife is a safe knife. Keeping the edge in good condition is key.
As survivalists, we're often especially hard on our blades, sometimes hammering them through hard wood in wet conditions and trusting that they'll stay strong. As a result, we need to be extra diligent about maintaining the edge. Fortunately, there are many ways to do so:
Sharpening at Home
This method relies on keeping your knives sharp between expeditions. You might use a workshop belt sander, electronic grinder, large whetstones, or a fancy bench-top system like the Wicked Edge. Regardless, you're not lugging these tools into the backcountry.
These round or rectangular abrasive stones are common from manufacturers like DMT, Lansky, Smith's, and Spyderco. Unlike home sharpeners, these stones are small enough to carry into the field. Many have a front side with higher diamond-impregnated grit, and a back side with lower grit for two-stage sharpening. Some require oil or water, others can be used dry.
Ceramics are usually less aggressive than diamond stones, and some may simply hone and even out imperfections on the edge rather than removing substantial amounts of metal. Rougher ceramics can serve as effective sharpeners, and these small rods are even more compact than stones. Some sets come with wood stands that position the rods for a precise-angle grind.
Gadgets such as the Lansky Blademedic and Smith's Pocket Pal have multiple sharpening tools built in, so you can set your edge with a carbide bit, refine it with the abrasive diamond rod, and finish it with smooth ceramic. Some of these tools can even touch up serrations.
Miscellaneous Hand Tools
A carbide metal file, rough-grit sandpaper, or the small file on your Leatherman can be used to clean up your knife edge. If you're in an urban environment, these items shouldn't be hard to find.
Concrete, bricks, river stones, car window glass, or even the bottom of a ceramic coffee cup — there are plenty of ways to sharpen your knife in the field, even if you don't have specialized tools. These methods are obviously far less precise than a purpose-built fine-grit sharpener, or even a hardware store tool, but they'll suffice.
Which of the above is your preferred sharpening method? We recognize that most survivalists use a combination of these tools, so select the option you use most frequently on your survival knives in the poll below.
To learn more from an expert on knife-sharpening, check out our comprehensive Guide to Knife Sharpeners and Sharpening.