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I went camping near a river the other day, and realized that my trusty pocketknife was pretty dull. It made my camping experience not too fun. Is there any way to get a knife reasonably sharp without real tools (e.g. dedicated stone, or sharpening steel)? I'm in the wilderness, and don't have these tools with me, nor access to a store where I could buy them.

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I saw a Youtube video on this a while back*....can't find it now, but I'll post whatever I remember.

Basically, the way knife-sharpening works is that you shave off little bits of metal, in order to make the edge of your knife V-shaped. Ideally, you'd use a steel or a specialized stone for this, but if you don't have any, here are some things you could use instead:

  • Top of a car window
  • Bottom of a ceramic mug (see also this article by Lifehacker)
  • You might use cement, but only for about two seconds, and only in place of a really coarse stone (=for beginning stage sharpening)
  • If you're camping, you might use a straight metal tent-peg in place of a steel (my suggestion, not from the video)
  • If you're near a river, flat river stones might help you (but try to find a big one, for ease-of-use)
  • Also suggested by Crazy Russian Hacker, if I remember correctly, is to use a leather belt as a strop, basically running the knife backwards over the leather belt, to give it a nicer finish. This may not help you if your knife is severely out of shape, but it could work to make an almost-good knife perfect. I've done this myself when I wanted to show my knife (pictured in my gravatar) to a professional shochet, and although I had my stones with me, I didn't have time to soak them and sharpen my knife properly. I just took off my belt, ran the knife over it several times, and the knife really improved a lot. Kudos to Jon for reminding me of this hack :)

I would suggest that you do NOT

  • Use another knife, because you have a good chance of ruining at least one of your knives, if not both of them.

*IIRC, it's by a guy who calls himself "Crazy Russian Hacker," but I can't find that video now

  • Polishing a blade also sharpens it. Barbers use a leather strap to keep a straight edge sharp. If you are wearing a leather belt it can be used to polish the edge. – Jon Dec 17 '14 at 5:57
  • @Jon, that sounds interesting, was there a reason you didn't make that an answer? I'd like to hear a bit more about how to do that. – Nelson Wright Dec 17 '14 at 14:33
  • @Jon I've actually done that :) ....I wanted to show my knife to someone, and didn't have my stones with me. IIRC that was also mentioned in the video. I think I'll add that to my answer. – Shokhet Dec 17 '14 at 17:43
  • @NelsonWright Yes there was a definite reason, I was being lazy. Thought it would be OK as a supplement to the best accepted answer that stood on its on merits. – Jon Dec 17 '14 at 17:48
  • @NelsonWright (and Jon) what do you think of the answer now? – Shokhet Dec 17 '14 at 17:48
6

You mentioned that you're near a river and have a pocket knife.

  • Go to the river and find a flat smooth stone.

  • Pour cooking oil or water on the stone for a lubricant. Oil is preferable but water works in a pinch.

  • Put the knife blade flat on the stone then raise it to a 10 to 15 degree angle.

  • Sharpen the first side of the blade by pushing the blade away from you along the stone with moderate pressure about 6-12 times.

  • Sharpen the other side of the blade.

  • Now sharpen both sides, one side each pass.

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