Improvised Knife Sharpeners

Improvised Knife Sharpeners

I like knives and probably have too many and I like to keep a good working edge on them.  Now I believe that a sharp knife is safer than a dull one.  It requires less pressure to use and you can use better cutting techniques.  So I have a whole pile of sharpening stones, see the link for information on stones Sharpening Stones, How to Clean Sharpening Stones.  But what happens when you don’t have good stones, can you make improvised knife sharpeners?

Now the secret to sharpening any knife, regardless of the type of steel used in its manufacturer and intended purpose, is to maintain proper angle alignment while sharpening.  If a proper angle is not kept, you risk dulling the edge of the knife.  The degree of angle will vary depending on the knife’s intended use.  This can vary from between 10 to 30 degrees.  For cutting and slicing purposes, a 22-degree angle should be maintained, while razor sharp knives should have a lower sharpening angle and skinning knives should have a higher angle.  The lower the cutting angle the thinner the cutting edge of the blade.  This will make it more susceptible to chipping under hard use.

Improvised Knife Sharpeners
The arrows point to the rim on which you sharpen the knives

When sharpening, I make a sweeping pass across the surface of the sharpener, as though I am attempting to slice a thin layer off the top of the sharpener.

When I don’t have a good stone available, the first thing I will check for improvised knife sharpeners is the kitchen.  Find a ceramic plate or cup.  Turn them over and there is normally a ridge on the bottom that the cup or plate sits on.  This makes a good sharpening surface.  Check, several ceramic or glass dishes and you will find that some are smoother than others are.  Use a combination of these and you can get a good edge on a knife.

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Another easily available item is the top edge of the side window glass in your car.  Take a look at it and you will see that it is slightly rough.  Both of these techniques work well.

There are many other techniques that I have heard of but not tried.  They include sandpaper, limestone, ceramic tile, bricks and even using toothpaste or ash on hard cardboard.  I think that all of these techniques would have some validity, and in an emergency I would try them.

If you have successfully used any of the above improvised knife sharpeners, let us know whether or not they were successful for you.



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14 thoughts on “Improvised Knife Sharpeners”

  1. Flower pots – used the same as dishes, but you can use just about any surface of the old terracotta pots – top, bottom, sides, insides, and broken off bits and pieces. You could even custom shape a “stone” to sharpen a particular blade – a woodworking gouge, for instance.

    Jewelers rouge on leather makes a good hone.

    400 grit wet-or-dry sandpaper on top of a mouse pad will give you a saber grind.

    Use a piece of high-carbon hardened steel (like a sharpening steel, or the tang of a file) to straighten out any microscopic bends in your edge. These don’t remove much material – they merely bend small nicks back into line with the edge.

  2. I used to sharpen my knife in a hollow block wall. LOL. but it really sharpen the knife although it will leave some damages on it.

  3. Left Coast Chuck

    I keep a sheet of 800 grit wet/dry abrasive mounted on a board on my workbench. I use it to refresh the edge on my workbench knives. It doesn’t put quite as sharp an edge on my knives as my diamond or ceramic sharpeners, but it is fine for the work I am doing at the bench. I think finer paper would put a sharper edge on the blades but 800 is okay for what I am doing.

  4. Very interesting tips Howard. Yes of course these techniques should be known by real chefs. I agree, what to do if you don’t have knife sharpeners and you don’t have time to find one quickly. So improvised techniques should be a great solution. Thanks

  5. Hello Howard,
    Very Impressive Way of Sharpening.I am practising high grit sandpaper for honing my knives. I use to fix sandpaper onto bathroom tiles, in order to generate DIY honing stones. It is very easy, and it works. The superlative part is, that you can substitute the sandpaper each time they get old, really effortlessly. Moreover, it is very inexpensive to build this honing system.


  6. my grandfather had a very fine grit sandstone retaining wall of 1″x1″x2″ blocks just out side of the kitchen door. if he needed a better edge, he had a fine stone that put a very sharp edge on the knife. he used this to sharpen the butcher knives that he and gramma used for all the butchering that he did which, was quite a lot. he paid for during the farm in the depression by providing the people in town with meat and produce

  7. This is very helpful! Thanks a lot for sharing this knife sharpening technique with us. Just a question, does this damage the bottom of the mugs/plates?

    1. If incorrectly done, sure it could cause a little damage. Just be careful and test out with an older mug or plate to get your sharpening technique down. I’d be more concerned about hurting the knife blade though by coming in at a weird angle.

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