Improvised Knife Sharpening: On the Cheap

cold steel trailmaster

I’m going to give you a free bushcraft-improvised sharpening lesson. I normally use Japanese waterstones to get hair-popping edges, but this will get you a very good edge for a mere $12 dollars or so one time expense.  This can even give you a real hair-pooping edge if you already have good sharpening technique, though it will be harder on your blades than proper stones, ultimately reducing the life expectancy of your knives if you use it much.  But in a pinch, it’ll do.

Equipment needed:

  • 1 large firebrick for a woodstove, about 3x6x2 inches $5
  • 1 small firebrick for a woodstove, about 3x6x1 inches $5
  • 1 coffee mug $2
  • 2 pieces of 2×4 scrap about a foot long
  • Piece of old leather belt
  • Piece of newspaper
  • Toothpaste

Use only smooth firebricks.  Feel the firebricks. Large bricks usually have a semi-course grain. Small bricks usually have a finer grit.

Stroke knife edge backward on the large brick to establish edge (unnecessary if the knife is not very dull). Move to the small brick to refine the edge. Begin with moderate pressure and reduce rapidly to light pressure as edge forms.  Rinse bricks frequently with water so they don’t load up with metal dust.

Lay knife across a corner of the 2×4, apply no pressure save the weight of the blade, and draw twice to debur.

Stroke knife across the ceramic mug to refine the edge (about 20 strokes).

Take 2×4 piece, wet, and lay newspaper scrap over it. Strop knife on newspaper, 20 strokes to the side to remove micro-fine teeth created in sharpening.

Lay (or better, glue) the belt piece to the second 2×4, smooth side up. Strop knife lightly on belt, about 20 strokes to each side to hone edge.

Put toothpaste on the newspaper and spread thin and then strop 20 more times on each side. The micro-fine abrasive in toothpaste will render an even better edge.

As with all sharpening, technique is more important than the tool. You must learn to hold a consistent angle with light but firm pressure.  If you have good technique, you can get a razor sharp edge this way.  But I emphasize it is hard on a knife and will reduce its useful life.

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