A knife is one of the most important tools that you can carry out on a hunt. This article is going to provide you some critical information to help you keep your knives sharp.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a hunter that didn’t have a knife with them, and have a favorite, #1 knife. (That goes for camping, fishing, and hunting knives, too.)
I am not just talking about knives that are used as the hunting implement, like in a wild boar hunt, but any folding, fixed blade, or multi-tool that you might carry on a hunt.
You have a couple things to consider when choosing a sharpener…
- Ways to sharpen out in the field
- Ways to sharpen when you are back home and your blade needs to have a thorough overhaul
Here is a typical hunting knife – Fixed Blade. This is a Buck brand, and is made from 420HC steel. See this knife at Amazon.
Before we get into the details, I want to give you a couple quick choices if you are in a hurry…
The Basics to think about…
The field models will be smaller and have less features…They will also be cheaper.
The non-field models are bigger, may have varying angles, may be full of features…And, they will be corresponding more expensive.
You should be thinking about a several main things…
- How long will a sharpening session take?
- What angle is the sharpener?
- Is the sharpening angle adjustable?
- What grit is the sharpener? (i.e. Coarse, medium, fine, extra-fine, and so on…)
- Are there varying grits available?
- Can I use the sharpener on pocket knives or even your fine cutlery (i.e. kitchen knives)?
The Sharpening Session
How long is this going to take…? Perhaps one of the most important aspects to consider.
The electric models are very fast, and you can fully sharpen a dull blade in 2 minutes
If you have a field sharpener, it will only be a touch up to your blade so it will be faster – probably under 2 minutes.
The home sharpeners will vary. The electric models are very fast, and you can fully sharpen a dull blade in 2 minutes also. That’s thanks to the electric motor spinning fast.
The manual sharpening systems or whetstones will take a while. It’s not a bad thing if you have the time…I like knives if you could tell so I don’t mind bonding with my blades! It may take 5 – 20 minutes for a session, or if you are re-profiling a blade then it may take some time, up to an hour or more.
The upside with the manual systems is that you can create a compound angle (that’s two angles that adds sharpness and durability). You get flexibility at the cost of more time. Sometimes that’s a good trade.
Expert knife makers craft their hunting-type knives at about 20º to 25º
Most of the time, a hunting knife will be at a 20º to 25º out of the factory. That’s a perfect angle range to provide great cutting ability while providing field durability.
What does that mean? The knife could be super sharp at a 10º angle, like screaming-razor-blade-sharp, but the blade would be delicate. You’d make one cut on a hide or cut a bit of rope or paracord, and the blade would be dull!
That’s not very useful so the expert knife makers craft their hunting-type knives at about 20º to 25º
The Grit or Coarseness
I like my hunting knife to be about a medium coarseness – it is a tad “rough” and that provides some “bite” when the blade hits the cutting surface.
The sharpening systems have a “Stage 2” or a specific stone labeled as “medium”. In sandpaper terms, thats about a 600 grit sandpaper.
If you need a finer edge that doesn’t have the “bite” – the micro-serrations – then you can go to the finer grit stones or stages. Then we are talking about 1,000 grit, 1,500 grit or more. At that point, you are polishing and shining the blade.
Top Sharpener Choices
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s look at some specifics so you can make an educated choice.
We will review field sharpeners and home sharpeners…
Sharpening out in the Field
These are the models that are smaller in size so you can actually carry them out in the field with you. Most of the time you can fit them in a coat pocket or a lanyard that will attach to just about anything.
You should not try to use one of these field sharpeners as your primary sharpener
The downside in they’re basically only able to touch up a knife while you’re away from your main sharpener. They do the intended job well and if you use them for what they were meant for then you will be happy with the results.
These models have a modest sharpening angle of 20º to 30º – perfect for the intended use.
You can see what I am getting at…you should not try to use one of these sharpeners as your primary sharpener.
Before you sharpen your blade, make sure your hunting knife is clean. Learn How to Clean a Hunting Knife.
Work Sharp WSGFS221 Guided Field Sharpener
This is is a little bulkier than the other 2 models below that you can carrying in the field but you do get some added features:
- A 20º and 25º angle guide. That way you can sharpen at a consistent angle, and you will be able to repeat it easily.
- Diamond plates to sharpen fast when you need to do more than a touch up.
- A leather strop to provide that finishing touch and smooth out all the micro-serrations.
- A sharpen rod that allows you to sharpen serrated blades.
This video shows all the features of the WSGFS221. In fact, you can see how to use the Work Sharp WSGFS221 Guided Field Sharpener step-by-step.
Smith’s PP1 Pocket Pal Multifunction Sharpener
The Smith’s PP1 is a tiny, slick package that is perfect of tossing into your back pack to leave for whenever you need it. It has plenty of features for such a small package. It is great for touching up a dull blade but you need more if you want to really have a sharpening session.
- There is a carbide set of stones that provide the coarse sharpening…the set the blade angle and sharpen more aggressively than the ceramic set.
- The ceramic set finish the edge, providing a smoothing, polishing interaction with the blade. It is like honing the blade where the blade edge is realigned.
- Both the carbide and ceramic sets are replaceable. They are also reversible which is a great feature to get a new surface to use.
- The ceramic set can be used for serrated knives.
- The carbide set should only be used on straight blades – NOT on serrated blades.
- You can sharpen your serrated knives though…by using the Tapered Round Rod. Smith’s advises to use a 23º angle on your serrated edges.
- It is 3.5 by 1 inches for maximum portability.
Sharpening for Maintenance
After a hunt or a long camping trip, your knives may need a more thorough sharpening session where you have to spend a little more time restoring the sharpness.
The idea is that you will be at home or in your workshop so you will have more space for a sharpener, and portability really won’t matter too much.
These are bigger, more expensive, and can provide a better-than-the-factory sharpness in most all cases.
Work Sharp WSKTS-KO Knife and Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition
Ken Onion is a world renowned knife maker, and Work Sharp teamed up with Ken to create this fantastic system.
- You can use it to sharpen all of your knives – hunting knives to kitchen knives.
- It is capable of sharpening at a 15º to 30º angle which pretty much covers everything.
- The system uses flexible belts (like the ones that PRO knife makers like Ken Onion use) with varying grits.
- The system comes with an assortment of belts (0.75 by 12 inches)
- P120 Extra Coarse
- X65 Coarse
- X22 Medium
- X4 Fine
- 6000 Extra Fine
- The motor is variable speed so you can literally sharpen anything, even scissors, chisels, pruners, shovels, and really anything that is sharp.
- The speeds range from 1200 SFM to 2800 SFM.
The Work Sharp WSKTS-KO Knife and Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition at Amazon with help from Ken Onion can handle all the sharpening needs you have, and it is my #1 choice for hunters.
Chef’s Choice Model 1520 AngleSelect Diamond Hone Knife Sharpener
This is my favorite choice if you need to sharpen hunting (and utility and camping knives) and kitchen knives, too. The great feature of this sharpener is the multiple angles…
You can sharpen at a 15º or 20º – now, 15º is a little too sharp of an angle for most knives unless you have some premium steel that can handle it. However, in the kitchen, you can really take advantage of the sharp angle without worry.
Well, the truth is you can sharpen your outdoor knives that sharp too as long as you are willing to sharpen them a little more often. And, using the M1520 AngleSelect is a fast, quick, and simple proposition.
If you don’t want to sharpen your hunting knife to 15º and want to use 20º – then you can just use two stages.
That’s Stage 2 and Stage 3 for 20º.
If you want to go down to 15º, then start at Stage 1. Once complete, you can move on to Stages 2 and 3.
- You can use this in the kitchen, too, and make everyone in your family happy.
- The M1520 can sharpen your hunting knife to a wicked sharpness.
- This model is very fast to use, even on very dull blades.
- The sharpening stages have diamond abrasives for quick sharpening time.
Learn more about the Chef’s Choice Model 1520 AngleSelect at Amazon, including user reviews and the latest pricing.
Gatco Sharpeners Edgemate Professional Knife Sharpening System 10005
I have this sharpener system, and it is fully manual. That means you have the greatest flexibility at the lowest cost.
That means that the Gatco has the greatest value per dollar spent…However, that comes at a cost…
It will take you a while longer to sharpen your blades. If you have plenty of time, then this is a great option. Or, if your funds are low like mine…
- The system comes with many different sharpening hones:
- Fine sharpening hone
- Serrated knife sharpening hone
- You can use the serrated hone for your serrated hunting knife and for kitchen knives (i.e. bread knives)
- The kit comes with plenty of honing oil for use with the stones.
- It comes in a durable plastic case that holds everything.
I can definitely recommend a system like the Gatco since it helps you learn about the craft of sharpening. Later, when you know the basics, then you can get an electric system.
Hunting for the best hunting gear?
Keep your tools sharp and ready for action! Don’t forget to check out this post on the Spyderco triangle sharpmaker, the Smith’s PP1 Pocket Pal Knife Sharpener, Smith’s Adjustable Sharpener, the Lansky System, or the very popular KME Knife Sharpening System.
And, for my reviews of gear and perfect for outdoor activities, see my review of the best electric knife for cleaning fish. I’ve also reviewed the best electric sharpener for fillet knives.