Knife sharpening is a process. The first step should be testing for sharpness through to the final step of keening your edge.
Lightly place the cutting edge of your knife or axe at a 90 degree angle on your thumbnail.
Do not drag the blade in any cutting direction. (A very sharp knife will cause you injury if you do.)
It is sharp if it wants to bite into the nail when slid in a scraping direction.
If it just slides on top of the nail, your blade needs some attention.
There are many knife sharpening tools on the market that will allow you to get the correct angle set and give you a razor sharp edge. Beginners should use a gauge until they have learned the correct angles. A little practice with any of the tools mentioned on this page will give you the feel of the proper angle for sharpening your knife without a gauge.
Sharpen once, maintain for life.
Did you know that soaking your knives
in hot water or running them through a dishwasher will cause them to dull quicker?
The trick is to maintain your sharpened edge once it is set. This can be done with a stone, steel, a ceramic, or a strop. In a wilderness setting, a flat stone, a leather belt, or even boot leather on your ankle will work for keening a blade.
If the wear marks are small and right on the edge, you are using too much of an angle.
If the wear marks are back from the edge, you are not using enough of an angle.
Putting water or oil on the stone while you are using it will lubricate the stone and float debris away enabling a cleaner edge. (This debris falls away when using a steel or ceramic.)
Work with light pressures to prevent damage to the stone, blade, or yourself.
How To Use A Stone:
Place the stone on a flat surface.
Start at the point of the blade.
Maintain the proper angle
Push the blade edge into the stone traveling from point to haft the length of the blade.
Slide along most of the stones length.
Maintain smooth even strokes the same number of times on each side of the blade.
Repeat as often as necessary until the edge starts to get sharp.
Run your thumb from the flat of the blade to just over the edge. Do this on both sides of the blade. You will feel a burr on one side or the other. This burr is called a wire edge. To remove it, very lightly take a few more strokes alternating sides with each stroke. Feel for the burr. If it is gone, try the thumb nail test for sharpness.
Using a small stone for sharpening your knife
A small sharpening stone, either a small circular one that is roughly the size of your palm or one of those flat 3 inch by 1 inch stones that come in some kits or attached to a sheath are used in a slightly different manner, often handheld.
Whether you keep the blade still and move the stone or move the blade on a stationary stone, the angles and pressures remain the same as with a bench stone. The difference is in the movement.
Small overlapping circles, first down one side of the edge then the other.
No matter what stones you use, work both sides of the blade evenly. That means the same number of strokes on each side of the blade be it knife, axe, or hawk. Keep that edge away from living flesh...Yours!
Use of a steel or ceramic for knife sharpening:
Hold it steady in your off hand with the knife in your predominant hand.
Drag the edge from the heft to the point down the length of the steel. Don't try to do it fast. It is important to maintain your angles.
Don't hit the hand guard with the edge. It will dull or even nick the blade if you do.
This tool is intended for keening more than sharpening.
Using a strop:
Drag the blade along the strop with the sharp edge trailing first one way then the other while flipping the blade each time.
The trick to doing this correctly is to roll the back of the blade into the leather causing the edge to come over the top away from the leather until it is in position to go the other way.
If you roll the edge toward the leather, you may start rounding that edge you worked for, or accidently cut into your strop.
All of these knife sharpening methods work alone or in combination. Practice will make this seemingly complicated procedure simple and relatively fast.