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Published Feb. 16, 2022

A pocket knife sharpener is a great tool for putting a razor edge on your knives when you’re out in the field. It sounds almost counter-intuitive, but a sharp knife is safer than a dull one. If you have to exert a lot of force to make a cut, you’re more likely to slip and end up causing an injury.

Not to mention that nobody likes to struggle with a dull knife, whether in the kitchen or out on the trail. Fortunately, that need not be the case as taking just a few minutes with a sharpener will put a fine edge on any of your bladed tools. The best pocket knife sharpeners allow you to continue on with the more important work—whether that’s carving a Figure 4 trap to catch dinner, or carving the Sunday roast.

Things to Consider Before Buying a Pocket Knife Sharpener

There are dozens of different models on the market, some with unique features and others that sort of blend into the woodwork because they look so much alike. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you shop around for the best pocket knife sharpeners available.

Effectiveness

If the sharpener doesn’t work well, what’s the point? If it damages your blade rather than putting a keen edge on it, you’ve made a bad situation much worse. It is critical that the knife sharpener you carry does an effective job, and preferably, with a minimal amount of effort. Ideally, it will have multiple levels of grit, so that you can just touch up the blade as you go along, rather than taking off a substantial amount of steel every time you use it. Keep in mind, once that metal has been shaved away, you’re not going to be able to put it back on.

Cost

As important as this piece of kit is, there’s no reason to take out a second mortgage to afford one. As you’ll see from my recommendations here, even the very best options on the market are relatively inexpensive, especially considering they will last a very long time with minimal care and maintenance. Given how much a good quality knife can cost, it makes sense to invest in something that will keep that knife in proper working order, especially when it won’t break the bank.

Additional Features

While at the core all you need is something that will sharpen the knife, some models have added features that can increase their usefulness. These can include things like fire starters or a small flashlight. However, it is worth noting that the primary consideration should always be the effectiveness of the sharpener itself. Anything beyond that is simply a bonus.

Best Overall: Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener

Work Sharp

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Why It Made the Cut

Unlike the other options on our list, this is a full-service sharpener, perfect for those who want to put a keen edge on all their knives.

Key Features

  • Measures 6.75 inches long
  • Weighs 2.5 ounces
  • Will sharpen almost anything, even fishhooks

Pros

  • Five abrasive steps, providing a perfect edge
  • Works on almost all bladed implements
  • Built-in guides for easy use

Cons

  • Takes a bit more practice than other options

To bring a dull knife to razor keenness properly, it should be done in stages. This sharpener has five varying degrees, allowing you to go step-by-step. Start with the two diamond plates, one at 220 grit and the other at 600 grit. Then, move on to the rotating ceramic rod, one side rough and the other smooth, and finish with the leather strop. Don’t press hard, just a light touch and let the sharpener do the work.

There are built-in sharpening guides to help you be consistent with every pass, making the job much easier. The guides are set at 20° for maximum versatility, allowing you to properly sharpen a hunting knife or something from the kitchen knife block. The ceramic rods can be used to sharpen serrated blades as well as straight edges.

The ceramic rod also has a groove that can be used for sharpening fishhooks. A sharp hook will set quickly, before the fish can get away. With its compact design but full features, this is the ideal sharpener for a bug out bag, tackle box, or other field kit.

Best on a Budget: AccuSharp Knife & Tool Sharpener

ACCUSHARP

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Why It Made the Cut

Perhaps the simplest type of handheld sharpener to use, this will put an edge on your knives with minimal effort, and comes at a very low price.

Key Features

  • Measures five inches by five inches
  • Weighs just two ounces
  • Suitable for right- or left-handed use

Pros

  • An inexpensive but effective option
  • Works in about ten seconds
  • Works on serrated or non-serrated blades

Cons

  • Is very aggressive and isn’t the best for high-end knives

This pocket knife sharpener cannot be any simpler. You just hold it by the handle, fit the V over the blade’s edge, and pull the sharpener down the knife. The dual diamond-honed tungsten carbide blades quickly carve off steel, leaving behind a sharp edge. The ergonomic handle is comfortable for both right- and left-handed users, while a full-length finger guard keeps your hand protected—a very important feature.

The AccuSharp Knife & Tool Sharpener will not rust and is easy to clean. You can even toss it in your dishwasher. While this product works great on utility or kitchen knives, be careful using it on any high-end blades you own. Owing to the way it is designed, it will shave off a fair amount of steel, especially if your knife’s edge doesn’t precisely match the angles of the sharpening blades.

If you’re looking for something fast and easy that will put a sharp edge on the dullest knives, this is a good option. It works just as well on serrated knives as it does straight knives, making it particularly handy for use in the kitchen.

Best Compact: Lansky C-Sharp

Lansky

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Why It Made the Cut

A very affordable product, this pocket knife sharpener is set up with four different angles, giving you plenty of options for your various knives.

Key Features

  • Measures 1 x 1 x 1 in
  • Weighs 5 grams
  • Has multiple sharpening angles
  • Will handle serrated blades as well as straight blades

Pros

  • Simple pull-through design
  • Orange color is easy to spot
  • Two different grits available

Cons

  • Could be awkward for long blades

One of the difficulties with using knife sharpeners is getting your edge to the proper angle. For example, many kitchen knives, particularly in the West, are sharpened with to a 17° to 20° angle. Knives intended for outdoor use are a bit thicker at the edge, with an angle of around 20° to 25°. This product gives you the options you need to sharpen everything.

To use, just hold the sharpener steady on a table and pull the knife’s edge through the appropriate V slot. For most knives that are in decent condition, it shouldn’t take more than a few passes to touch up the edge. I do recommend using a glove on the hand holding the sharpener, just as a safety precaution.

In addition to the four pull-through angle options, there is a bench stone on the side you can use for freehand sharpening as well as for serrated blades. For the latter, it might be slow going as you’ll need to sharpen each serration individually, but it can certainly be done. A durable metal housing ensures this sharpener will hold up to real world use and abuse, especially out in the field where you need it the most.

Best Multi-Use: Smith’s Pocket Pal

Smith’s

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Why It Made the Cut

A true multi-tool, this pocket sharpener will also light your fire, signal for help, and even keep you moving in the right direction.

Key Features

  • Measures 5 x 5 x 5 inches
  • Weighs 0.02 pounds
  • Includes a fire starter, whistle, LED light, and compass
  • Tapered diamond rod for serrated blades

Pros

  • Bright yellow color prevents losing it
  • Small and lightweight, easy to carry
  • Carbide blades work quickly

Cons

  • Only sharpens to one angle

This product will do far more than just maintain the edge of your knife. The integrated ferrocerium rod will shower sparks down on your tinder, lighting the campfire. There’s a built-in whistle you can use to call for help if you’re lost, though the button compass attached to the lanyard will hopefully keep you on the right path. There’s also a small LED light that can help light your way in the dark.

There are two V slots for doing the actual sharpening. One has carbide blades that will put an edge on a dull knife quickly. The other has ceramic rods that will hone that edge to a razor. Just pull the knife through the carbide slot a few times, then repeat with the ceramic side.

While this product shouldn’t take the place of a full survival kit, the components work well enough to be workable backups if you’re separated from your other gear. As a sharpener, it works very well, so consider the other features to be nice bonuses.

How I Made My Picks

I’ve owned hundreds of knives, from small pocket knives to machetes. I wouldn’t hesitate to use a pocket knife sharpener if I needed to get a hair-popping edge on a knife in a hurry. I might later need to rework the edge, once I’m back home and have access to the proper setup. But out in the field, if time is of the essence, any of these products will do the job.

Given that these sharpeners are small enough to easily carry in a pocket or a pack, it just makes sense to keep one with you. I based my selections on the following criteria.

  • Size: How big is the sharpener? Is it small and light enough to fit in a pack?
  • Versatility: Can the sharpener handle a wide array of knives?
  • Usability: How difficult is it to use? Can I get a sharp edge quickly?
  • Accessories: Does the sharpener come with any accessories?
  • Performance: Is the product satisfactory overall? Can I trust it to sharpen my knife out in the field?

FAQs

Q: Is honing better than sharpening?

It is important to understand the difference between sharpening and honing. Sharpening involves removing steel from the knife to create a new edge. Honing, on the other hand, is simply moving that edge back into proper alignment. While it might vary based on the frequency of use, type of steel, and other factors, as a rule of thumb you should only sharpen your knives two or three times a year. The remainder of the time, honing should be enough to keep a sharp edge, and many people will hone the knife before or after each use.

Q: Are electric sharpeners safe for my knives?

With a couple of exceptions, electric sharpeners are not recommended. They tend to be too high-powered and end up taking off a lot more steel than is truly necessary. Plus, the friction can heat the steel to the point that it can affect the metal. That said, if you’re determined to use an electric powered sharpener, look at picking up the Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener Mk.2. It is a powerful tool that is used by professionals all over the world. There is a bit of a learning curve, but the flexible belts combined with two-stage power will help you bring back even the dullest edge.

Q: What is the best degree to sharpen a pocket knife?

The degree, or angle, of the edge varies based on the intended use of the knife. For example, kitchen knives tend to have thin edges, around 15° to 20°, which makes sense because you’ll be using those knives for slicing and light duty chopping. However, for knives you’ll be using outdoors, you run the risk of chipping a thin edge. As a rule of thumb, the edge angle for a field knife should be around 20° to 25°.

Final Thoughts

A sharp knife is a safe knife. It’s easy to use and perhaps the most important tool to have with you in a survival situation. Investing in the proper equipment to keep that knife ready to use is critical. For my money, the best pocket knife sharpener is the Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener. It will handle every tool you have, from knives to axes, hatchets to fishhooks, and more. The rest of my suggestions round out the best pocket knife sharpeners on the market and they are all reliable options.

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