I have used more knife and tool sharpening products that have come through the market than I can remember. Some are awesome, and some are downright debilitating (these are the ones I’ve mostly forgotten). The reality is you need a good knife edge, but you’re working with a material that you can chip, make more dull and/or completely ruin it if you go about it the wrong way with the wrong products.
What follows won’t be about knife sharpening methodology. This article is an in depth look at the few products I have used and swear by in my professional life as an everyday knife user thanks to my extensive time spent outdoors and I bring my unique experience as a knife maker. For guidance in terms of what method to use to sharpen various knives, or even to get a great overview of what knife sharpening is all about check out my What You Need To Know To Sharpen A Knife article.
Lubrication isn’t always necessary in sharpening knives—but in those instances where it’s recommended, a little bit of a mess on your hands from this stuff is only going to benefit your knife blade—and you the user—in the long run. This is especially true if you stick to using sharpening stones. Carefully read the directions for each stone you use as lubrication, or anything more than water even, could ruin them and ruin your knife edge.
Nathan’s Honing Oil by Lansky
If you’ve ever used a Lansky sharpening product, chances are you’ve used Nathan’s Honing Oil—their own in-house lubricant recommended for their sharpening tools and accessories. I’ve used this specialty formulated lubricant to sharpen every knife I have made myself and sold through my knife company. I have also used it when sharpening pocket knives and cutlery for the last five years.
Nathan’s is odorless and cleans up off of your clothes with little to no staining—so, don’t wear your Sunday Best, but no need to don overalls or an apron either. I have found that a couple of drops on each side of the knife blade is good for a complete sharpening session. More Info
Liquid Freakiness by Vulture Equipment Works
When it launched last year, Liquid Freakiness by Vulture Equipment Works was primarily marketed as a gun lubricant with a slew of alternative applications including knife sharpening. An added benefit to “super oil”, aside from the fact that it’s odorless and non-staining, was that it was also non-toxic and 100% food safe. I like to use the knives I’m carrying for a multitude of things, which may include some degree of food prep on the go—I have young children who constantly need a little help here and there when we’re eating out or while camping. Having the peace of mind that this stuff wasn’t going to kill me or my kids if it got in our mouths somehow was an added benefit. Liquid Freakiness is also safe for the environment and won’t hurt any watersheds you may be playing or working in. Seeing that it also acts as a long lasting rust and corrosion inhibitor—you fishing folk might want to invest in this to lube your reels and hone/protect your filleting knives. Just saying.
When using LF, I generally put a drop on my finger and rub it down each side of the blade for a full and clean sharpening of the knife. So, not only is it super effective, and Captain Planet approved, but it’s easy to use and doesn’t require multiple applications to be that effective. This is important when sharpening without an angle guide where you can’t stop your cadence, re-lube the blade, and drop back in at the same angle. It’s nearly impossible.
Liquid Freakiness does come at a cost – of upwards of $20. This is 4x the amount of Nathan’s and 8x the amount of common household vegetable oil (yeah, that works too, but it’s wicked messy and not long lasting). But when you consider the numerous benefits and uses, coupled with the minimal amount you need to use it optimally, everything balances out pretty quickly. Go ahead, pay the $20 and bring this Mil-Spec rated sauce everywhere you need it. More Info
Power Assisted Sharpening
The quickest and easiest way to sharpen a bunch of knives at home is with an electric knife sharpener, which, funnily enough, was made popular in the 1980’s for kitchen knives in middle to upper class homes. I’m not even kidding. Since then, things have changed—and though those specific knife sharpeners are still around, there’s a brand of sharpeners out there that can still sharpen kitchen cutlery, but is aimed at the demanding chore of putting a near perfect edge on a thicker, outdoor knife: Work Sharp.
Combo Knife Sharpener by Work Sharp
For someone looking for a quick, effortless, and effective way to sharpen a multitude of knives in a short amount of time, for years to come, the Combo Knife Sharpener from Work Sharp is the bees’ knees. This bench-top model allows you to sharpen both sides of your knife without having to switch hands or set-ups to do so. It uses a 3M belt that is exposed to the left and right sides in the unit with a built-in 25-degree sharpening guide. You merely drag your knife through while riding against the guide side of the slot, and the belt crafts your blade edge.
The unit comes with two of Work Sharp’s proprietary P120 GRIT 3M Abrasive belts. I’ve sharpened ten different knives on the unit, and am still on the first belt. It is starting to show some slight wear, but that’s going to happen by design—you’re pushing your sharp knife edge against the belt. I don’t see this as a design flaw or drawback in the very least. In fact, I think the design is top notch, seeing I can fully sharpen a dull knife, without lubrication, on this system in under five minutes.
My one caveat, however, would be that the Combo Knife Sharpener isn’t adjustable. It is factory molded and set at 25 degrees. A majority of folding and fixed blade knives for the outdoors and outdoor sports are ground at this angle, but some are ground at 20 degrees, which gives you more of a razor sharp edge. Don’t get me wrong, sharpening at 25 degrees will give you a useable sharpened edge on your blade, but it won’t be a skin-popping-scalpel-sharp like a knife fresh from the factory. More Info
Stationary Hand Sharpening
Sometimes you need to stop and take time to properly sharpen your knives. It requires set-up, preparation, breakdown, and cleaning. But the rewards could be worth your time. There’s a myriad of systems out there that use rods and stones—be they ceramic or diamond—as well as lubricants (for ceramic) that range in level of set up and breakdown time. For me, I need something that I can set up, use the heck out of, and either leave set up in my shop, or break it down partially so I can get back to my other work with little effort. The only folks who seem to have figured out how to do that with a sharpening method like this are Lansky.
Deluxe 5-Stone System by Lansky
The Deluxe 5-Stone System by Lansky is the perfect marriage between levels of hones (Extra Coarse to Ultra Fine), ease of set up, and ease of use. The kit comes complete with case, sharpening hones, guide rods, Nathan’s Honing Oil and the actual guide. What it lacks is the bench mount, or Super “C” Clamp, which you don’t need—but I recommend for repeated ease of use as well as proficiency.
Yes, there is a little time in the initial set up as you need to attach the rods to each stone and make sure they’re tight so the stones don’t rotate, but it’s worth it. Also, this isn’t as time consuming as using standard stones to sharpen a knife. The kit comes with a guide which not only controls the movement of the rod and hone combo, but also lets you choose the angle at which you’re sharpening your knife—which allows it to sharpen a multitude of knife styles and types.
Ultimately, for me, this Lansky System is about as authentic and true grit as I like to get when it comes to sharpening knives and tools. I can use flat stones and the whole bit, but this Deluxe 5-Stone System is a great balance between set up, breakdown, and quality of product. More Info
The last thing you want, when you’re out on an adventure, is to have to work with a dull knife. Unfortunately, you don’t always check the edge of your blade before you head out so you usually don’t find yourself in a jam until you’re in the middle of the woods, trying to prep that high end Summer Sausage you picked up at the Vermont Country Store (Exit 6, off of 91N). This is where a pocket sharpener comes in. And this is also the largest category of knife sharpeners out there—so take the following to heart, as there is a metric ton of them to choose from—plenty of which I have used and cursed, vulgarly, over the years.
Guided Field Sharpener by Work Sharp
For you folks who leave you rain fly at home and cut your toothbrush down to save on weight on the trail, the Guided Field Sharpener from Work Sharp is going to make you think twice about counting these ounces—as it’s got it all. It’s even good for at home use. The flip side to that coin, of course, is that eventually the non-replaceable pieces (ceramic rods) on the unit will wear out. But you have a few years of use to get through before you need to cross that bridge.
The Guided Field Sharpener is comprised of coarse and fine removable diamond plates, a multi-use ceramic rod (which can sharpen fish hooks as well), a serration sharpener, leather strope, and both 20 and 25 degree sharpening guides. If that’s not enough, there’s a lanyard hole and a little stash box under one of the diamond plates (they’re held in place by the frame and magnets).
The other advantage to the GFS, is that it doesn’t require any lubrication—diamond sharpeners don’t need any by nature. However, after a few heavy uses, I will put a drop of Liquid Freakiness on to the finer, 600 grit diamond plate to clean it up—but I wipe it down afterward. Regardless, by design the Guided Field Sharpener is a fantastic, multi-use, on-the-go knife sharpener that easily tucks away into your pack, has multiple replaceable parts, and can both repair and sharpen the edge on your knife. More Info