Whether in the field or the boat, all sportsmen eventually learn the value of a sharp knife. However, heavy use during a day in the wilderness can dull a previously razor-sharp blade. The first rule of knife safety: dull knives injure more people than sharp knives. Your options are to either carry more than one blade or to find a way to renew the edge of your dulling blade. Stowing an easy-to-use portable knife sharpener in your pack, pocket or tackle box makes a lot of sense. After all, the best pocket knife sharpener should be… pocket sized.
Why should I pack a knife sharpener?
Still, no one wants to pack away a whole sharpening station or kit for their trip into the woods. Pack space is always at a premium, and any added weight makes lugging that pack around that much more difficult. The answer, of course, is a lightweight and small device to hone an edge on a blade, but one that also stows away in the pocket of your favorite pack.
Which pocket knife sharpener is right for me?
The sportsman has at his disposal mountains of stones and gadgets that can get the job done, but they basically fall into two categories (for plain-edge knives). You can carry either a lightweight, guided sharpener or a classic sharpening stone. The guided sharpeners set the angle of the grind for you, while a stone allows you to find the existing edge of your blade and set the angle of the grind to it. Each option has both good and bad qualities , so let’s look at a few examples.
Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener
The Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener has a surface for nearly every blade. It has both coarse and fine diamond plates for honing plain edges on knives, as well as ceramic rods (also coarse and fine). It also includes a leather strop to deburr the edge on a hollow-ground blade.
The Work Sharp has 20- and 25-degree angled guides to assist the user in keeping a steady and repeating angle while honing. Everything is held securely inside a dense plastic body. You can use just one surface to straighten out your cutting edge, or you can use the entire group as a step-by-step progressive knife-sharpening system.
The ceramic rods rotate to expose coarse, fine and grooved surfaces; the latter surface being perfect for putting a finer point on fish hooks. There is also a smaller ceramic rod intended for serrations.
The Work Sharp does a great job of including a surface for every need. You can even remove the diamond plates for sharpening larger blades, like machetes, or hard-to-get-to edges like those on broadheads. At 5.6 ounces, it adds a bit more weight to the pack than do some other portable sharpeners, but it addresses many of the needs of various sportsmen. If you are the type to vary your outdoor activities, it may be the perfect solution for you.
Smith’s PP1 Pocket Pal
The Smith’s Pocket Pal is one of the most popular knife sharpeners in the business. It is compact and simple, which are two attributes most sportsmen appreciate. The Pocket Pal’s system comprises two sets of crossed rods. One set is diamond-coated carbide and the other is ceramic. The Pocket Pal also contains a tapered, flip-out round carbide rod.
The carbide and ceramic rods are 600-grit, while the flip-out tapered rod is 600-grit. You can use the unit as a progressive sharpening system, or you can use just one slot for deburring an edge. The extendable rod is great for items like fish hooks and arrowheads, while its taper makes it useful for sharpening serrations.
The unit measures just 3.5 inches long and 1 inch wide. The body material is tough, ABS thermoplastic polymer. The Smith’s Pocket Pal weighs a scant one ounce, and contributes almost nothing to the overall weight of a pack.
It doesn’t get much more convenient in the knife sharpening game than the Pocket Pal. For the cost, it is a sharpening system that is tough to beat. The body can be disassembled, and the ceramic and carbide rods flipped to expose new surfaces. Were it not for the fact that the angle on the crossed rods is pre-set, the Pocket Pal would be the perfect solution. As it is, the pre-set angle cuts a utility-oriented edge that may work for some sportsmen more than others. A lot depends on the angle you prefer for your knife edge.
The Lansky QuadSharp seems to answer the one-angle-only issue that cripples the Pocket Pal. It contains four sets of diamond-coated carbide rods that are crossed at slightly different angles. So, if you prefer a certain angle on your knife’s edge (or if its design demands it), the QuadSharp likely has the correct angle for you.
The QuadSharp also utilizes a fine-grit ceramic bench stone, inset on its spine, to hone and polish the edges of sharpened blades. Once polished, blade edges to slice smoothly and effectively, with very little snagging.
The QuadSharp preset angles are 17, 20, 25 and 30 degrees. As mentioned, they can be used to put a preferred angle on a blade, but they have the added benefit of working as a progressive sharpening system. Beginning at 30 degrees and working gradually to 17 degrees, you can work your way to finer edge.
The drawback of the QuadSharp is its lack of a flip-out rod like the one on the Pocket Pal. Lansky makes a sharpener similar to the Pocket Pal, but it lacks the varied pre-set rods. The ceramic inset can be used for serrations, though. The QuadSharp is made of metal, so it is a little heavier than the Pocket Pal at 4 ounces. It is 7 inches long and 3 inches wide.
Diamond Machining Technology’s (DMT) Diafold is a lightweight and convenient way to carry the superior cutting ability of diamonds with you into the field. It is a two-sided, diamond-encrusted sharpener that can be used dry or with water. Wet sharpening is always recommended, though, as the lubricant creates a slurry with the filings and carries them away from the sharpening surface. The polka-dot pattern of holes in the Diafold’s surface gives the slurry a place to collect.
As a unit, the Diafold is reminiscent of a balisong (or butterfly knife). The handles, which serve to keep fingers away from the edge during sharpening, fold around and over the Diafold surface to keep it clean and secure in your pack.
The Diafold consists of thin nickel impregnated with machine diamonds. Each side of the Diafold is a different grit, and you can choose between combinations of coarseness. In the closed position, the Diafold is 5 inches long and weighs 2.5 ounces. When open, it is 9 inches long.
The Mini-Sharp uses the same monocrystalline diamond surface as the Diafold. This DMT model is much smaller, measuring just 5.5 inches long when open. When closed, though, it is less than 3 inches long and 1 inch wide.
The Mini-Sharp is retractable, and its keyring is as useful for attaching it to a daypack as it is for holding keys. It may be a bit small for larger hunting knives or machetes, but it is a decent size for putting an edge on the average EDC knife
Each Mini-Sharp contains only one grit. They are so compact and affordable, though, that carrying more than one is practical. Plus, if one is damaged or lost, you still have one.
Arkansas Pocket Stone
Arkansas Stone is novaculite, a type of chert that occurs in Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains. It has unique properties that make it excellent for sharpening, and it’s fine grains of monocrystalline quartz make it a prized a prized abrasive. It is used with oil to form a slurry. As the shavings-and-quartz slurry is carried away, a fresh surface is revealed for the next sharpening.
Unfortunately, the oil must be used when sharpening with an Arkansas stone. While carrying a 4-ounce bottle of honing oil around may seem impractical, an old eye-drop bottle takes up less space and still provides plenty of oil for several uses.
Dan’s Arkansas Pocket Stones measure 3 inches by 1 inch, and weigh 3 ounces. They come with handy leather pouches that tuck away in a pack easily. The great thing about Arkansas Stones is how quickly they work. There are sharpening stones made from many different materials, but few cut an edge quicker.
The EdgeTek is perhaps the simplest sharpening solution on this list. Rather than being an actual stone, the EdgeTek is a 4-inch-long piece of steel plate, impregnated with industrial diamond dust. At just 1.6 ounces, it is the most unobtrusive pocket-sized sharpener on this list.
Buck’s EdgeTek is dual-sided and double-grit. The fine side is 750 grit, while the medium side is 350 grit. You can use it with water or dry, but again, it wise to use it wet.
The one major drawback of the EdgeTek is that it can get bent in a pack. The steel is substantial at 1/16th inch thick, but if it is bent, it’s usefulness will become limited. As one of the cheapest diamond sharpeners available though, it is worth the risk for the weight and space it saves in crowded backpacks.
Conclusion – What is the Best Pocket Knife Sharpener
For a day trip into the woods, most of the pocket knife sharpeners listed will work just fine — if they’re needed at all. When the trek into the wilderness gets deeper, though, you need a portable, lightweight knife sharpener that can restore a damaged edge. For its ability to quickly remove metal on one side, and hone an edge on the other, the DMT Diafold earns its spot in our pack. The folding handles are a welcome addition for keeping the surface clean, and the diamond surface will last for years. If we could only pick one sharpener it would be the Diafold. Unless, we could upgrade to a belt knife sharpener…