Every knife becomes dull at some point and needs to be sharpened. But what do you use to sharpen a knife if you don’t have to sharpen steel or whetstone at hand? In this article, I list suitable methods for sharpening chef’s knives, outdoor knives, pocket knives, or other types of knives without tools.
There are many situations in which you need a sharp knife, but just do not have a whetstone or knife sharpener at hand. When moving, camping, in the wilderness, or because you have not yet had the opportunity to get a whetstone, sharpening rod, or a knife sharpener. But the following home remedies and household items can restore a knife’s sharpness without a whetstone.
- Note beforehand
- Sharpening / grinding guide
- How to sharpen a knife without a sharpener & with home items
- Cups & plates bottoms
- Nail files
- Sandpaper/abrasive paper
- Metal files
- Sharpening knives on the road and in nature
- Flat natural stones
- Car glass windows
- Second knife
- After sharpening
- How does the peeling work?
- Nylon belt
All of the above methods do sharpen the knives, but should only be considered as a temporary solution. This is because the aforementioned alternative abrasives are often partially coarse and in the long run wear away too much and too uncontrolled material. In addition, the achieved sharpness is often not as good as with regular sharpeners. For regular sharpening and grinding, it is, therefore, best to invest a few euros in sharpening steel and a whetstone or a ceramic sharpening rod.
Sharpening / grinding guide
The principle is always the same when sharpening, whether you use a whetstone or one of the items listed below. You pull the knife forward, blade first, at a 10-20 degree angle across the sharpening surface. Depending on the type of knife, the angle varies a bit. Chef’s knives usually have a lower cutting angle, i.e., for chef’s knives, use a 10-15 degree angle. Outdoor knives, survival knives, and pocket knives usually have a larger cutting angle. Here one uses an angle of approx. 15-20 degrees when sharpening.
How to sharpen a knife without a sharpener & with home items
In this section, I list the best home remedies for sharpening to achieve a solid basic sharpness.
Cups & plates bottoms
Probably the best-known home remedy for sharpening knives without a whetstone is the undersides of ceramic cups or plates. Ceramic undersides are very popular as a grindstone substitute since coffee cups and porcelain plates are present in almost every household. Also, ceramic is very good for sharpening because it is very hard and the rough underside has a grindstone grit of about 1000, which is equivalent to a medium-fine grindstone.
You can either sharpen the knives completely dry or moisten the underside of the plate/cup with a little water. Moistening the underside has the advantage that a grinding paste is formed during grinding, which promotes the grinding process and improves the grinding result.
Nail files are not only suitable for caring for fingernails and toenails, you can also use them to sharpen knives. However, only nail files with sandpaper are suitable. Metal nail files are not suitable for sharpening knives, because the metal of the files is too soft.
Nail files with several different grits are particularly well suited, as the finer grits achieve a better sharpening result.
If they want to grind their knives with a nail file, then they should use a separate file for knives, because the metal of the knives is deposited in the sandpaper.
This brings us to the next household item. Whether nail files coated with sandpaper or conventional sandpaper from the hardware store. Both work perfectly to get the blade sharp again on knives.
However, the grit should not be too rough, otherwise, too much metal will be removed. If the knife is very dull, a coarser grit, between 100-300 should be used. If you just want to maintain sharpness, you should use a grit between 600-1000.
If you have a metal file, you can also use it to sharpen knives. The fine side of the file should be used for sharpening. Just as with sandpaper, however, the surface should not be too coarse. Everything from cut 2 is suitable for sharpening knives. Coarser strokes are not recommended, as they are too coarse and remove too much and too uncontrolled from knives
When sharpening, the sandpaper should be fixed flat and tightly on a smooth surface, such as a block of wood. This will prevent sandpaper from sticking out and them cutting into and damaging the sandpaper while sharpening.
Sharpening knives on the road and in nature
Those who use outdoor knives such as hunting knives or pocket knives often cannot rely on the above home remedies & household items. Therefore, in the second part, I have created a separate list of sharpening items that are often found outside or in nature.
For emergencies or when there is just no other way, the items listed below are ok. In the long run, you should go for sharpening stones on the go. One of the best is the DMT DiaFold (@Amazon), preferably the hardcore variety. They last forever.
Bricks are most similar to whetstones in terms of shape, but also in terms of application. You moisten the brick a little and grind both sides of the blade, depending on the type of knife, alternately on the brick at an angle of 10-20 degrees. If the brick is very uneven, the surface can be smoothed with a second brick.
But even with an uneven surface, good sharpening results can be achieved.
Flat natural stones
Often near streams and rivers can be found smooth stones. Very flat and wide natural stones are the most suitable. You may have to search for them a bit, but they can be found near any body of water.
You pick the flattest and smoothest stone, wet it a bit, and sharpen the knife just as you would a whetstone.
Car glass windows
The edges of car windows are not polished at the top and are therefore somewhat rougher. Therefore, the edges of car windows are very suitable, for sharpening the knives.
However, this method is not suitable for very blunt knives, as the glass pane hardly removes any material. The edge of the glass pane takes over more or less the function of sharpening steel, which rebuilds the cutting edge. If a knife is too dull, straightening the edge will not help either and the knife will have to be sharpened.
Simply roll down the car window and drag both sides of the knife across the edge of the glass several times. Also with this method, the angle of the knife to the edge should always be about 10-20 degrees.
In some cases, a second knife is also suitable for sharpening a knife. However, it is important that the second knife is made of harder steel than the knife to be sharpened. This is important, otherwise, this method will not work. The object used to sharpen a knife must always be harder than the knife steel.
You simply take the back of the harder knife and pull each side of the knife to be sharpened over it several times. Again, a very dull knife cannot be sharpened because no material is removed.
Partly the above sharpening products are rough and leave and rough grinding result. However, for a knife to cut well, the blade must be as smooth as possible. The following agents are suitable for polishing the blade of the knives and smoothing them. This removes irregularities and gives them an additional improvement in sharpness.
How does the peeling work?
Honing is very simple and takes only a few seconds. Take one of the following honing surfaces and pull the knife blade backward, back of the knife first across the surface. If the knife is pulled forward, the blade first, the surface would be damaged because the blade cuts into the material.
The leather belt has been used for centuries to pull knives. Any piece of leather is suitable for this purpose, such as the inside of the belt.
It is best to stretch the belt so that the surface is taut and pull it across the belt, blade back first, as described above.
Newsprint is excellent for removing and smoothing microscopic imperfections on the blade. The surface of newsprint is very fine on the one hand, but at the same time very porous. When knife blades are dragged over the newspaper, the blades are polished and the metal and abrasive residues are absorbed by the porous newspaper
It is best to fix the newsprint paper on a straight and hard surface (wooden block, brick, etc.) and draw each side of the knife blade several times backward, angled, and with some pressure over the newsprint paper.
Cardboard does not give as good results as newsprint, but it is also suitable for honing knives. However, unlike newsprint, cardboard has the advantage of being harder and does not require an extra-base for honing.
Place a piece of cardboard on any straight surface and pull both sides of the knife blade backward over the cardboard several times as described above.
If you’re on the go and don’t have a leather belt or other leather surface handy, you can also use a nylon strap to pull it off. Nylon straps can be found on backpacks or travel bags, for example.
Tighten the nylon strap just as with leather and pull both sides of the blades with the back of the knife first, backwards over the nylon strap.
With the necessary knowledge, you can sharpen or sharpen knives anywhere, whether cooking knives in your own home or outdoor knives on the road or in the wilderness. Of course, the sharpening results depend heavily on one’s own skill and method, but with a little skill, anyone should be able to sharpen dull knives. However, the aforementioned methods often do not provide as good results as whetstones or sharpening rods and should only be considered a temporary stopgap measure. They can also scratch high-quality knives, which is why I don’t recommend sharpening expensive knives this way.
Hey. I’m the author of this blog. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve seen my dad slickly stabbing. Later he taught me how to throw knives and axes at a target. Then I fell in love with knives, especially about them. This blog is in honour of my dad.