Survival knife sharpener?

Jan 19, 1999
You can read for hours the debate here and on dejanews about survival knives. I have a question regarding what sharpening system would you include for your ultimate survival knife? (my knife will be a Busse battle Mistress by the way!) It would have to be tough, easy to uses and small so as not to take up a lot of room in the pack...

Any ideas?

Chris Canis
EZE-Lap Model M Diamond rod sharpener. About the size of a Sharpie marker. Brass housing, leather sheath. Fifteen bucks. I can get any of my pieces to a scraping hair sharp with it and it can sharpen any length knife using a filing motion. Great for weird blade shapes that don't work well on a stone (recurve, guthook, etc)
Gerber markets one for about $12. The diamond rod is housed in a knurled aluminum housing that has a removable pocket clip attached. The rod itself has a portion that is flat, the rest round and a grooved down its entire length for fish hooks or darts! A good value.


"To earn a million is easy, a real friend is not."
I don't think that the ideal pocket sharpener yet exists. I've worn out several of those cheap Gerber diamond rods, and in fact once mailed one to Matthew Rappaport just so he could see what one looks like after a few months of daily usage on the job. It was so smooth as to be of use only as a fine touch-up steel after relatively little, but constant use. Ditto for EZ Lap and DMT. Although to be honest I think the Gerber wore out the quickest of the lot.

I've also tried the EZ Lap diamond dust on a plate jobbie that looks like a credit card. It's got more surface area, and doesn't lose it's dust as quickly as the rods, but it's also more limited in terms of what it can do with various blade shapes.

The Spyderco Doublestuff pocket hone is about the right idea but the ceramics are far too smooth to expediently remove dings and burrs gotten from heavy usage. The various pocket steels such as those by Schrade suffer from the same problem. They're great if all you want to do is touch up an edge in hunting camp, but if you really need to restore an edge to heavily used, dinged and gouged blades, they simply aren't up to the task.

There's a lot to be said for carrying a small mill bastard file, but unfortunately they are heavy, bulky and clumsy, and not particularly effective on some of the newer harder alloys. Another too bulky, but quite effective hone is the round two grit ax hones that look like a hockey puck. They're too heavy and bulky for most BP type adventures, but having one with you in the vehicle can be a godsend for heavily used blades.

Unfortunately, that rundown leaves little but the lowly Norton Crystolon medium or coarse grit pocket hone. The plus side to that option is that they are cheap and readily available , and can very easily be accomodated by sewing a small pouch on the exterior of the knife sheath. Their downside is that they can be somewhat brittle. Have they ever made a combo pocket hone? Medium on one side and coarse on the other like on some of their bigger bench hones?

All in all I think the answer lies in better, coaser, smaller ceramics, but the mfrs have not yet produced anything that really addresses this need. (hint, hint)

Has anyone here tried the small Sterling sharpener reviewed at It looks like it might fit the bill. (That site reviews compact sharpeners in general, btw.)
My choice would be an old style Gerber folding steel. Unfortunately out of production, these consisted of a 4-5" flat sided steel -- Chicago screw & leather handle on one end, chisel edge on the other. The "edges" of the steel are rounded & coarser than the "flats", which can be used for final finishing.

The chisel edge can be used to split bone and for other such tasks that might damage your knife edge while the steel itself is sturdy enough to be used as a small pry bar. I don't know how effective these would be with knives made of current generation tool steels (D-2, 440V, etc.), but mine works great 440C & similar hardness blades.

One warning to keep in mind about diamond sharpeners is they are not hand 'power' tools like a file. If used with force, the diamond particles pull loose from the bedding metal holding them. One company was using nickle as the bonding agent to hold the diamonds so under a lot of hand pressure, the diamonds would work out of their bedding material.

I've recently purchased DMT's double side folding sharpeners in both X-Course/Course, and Fine/X-Fine. Light, and with those grits, I think I'm covered. I don't need to sharpen any recurved edges, and since the only serrations I take to the feild is my CS L Voyager. That one I sharpen on my Smiths V stick deal. In a few more years it will be a straight blade, (which is what I prefer), until then usually its just the points of a serration that get dull, so it works fine.
- Brian
You need to make sure you have you needs covered. It greatly depends on the knife steel properties and the geometry.

For the Busse I would simply take a small ceramic rod. Its not like you are likely to do enough damage to that edge to require any major profiling.

In fact, unless you are doing something like extended cutting on metals or diggin holes in dirt, a simple smooth steel will go a long way.

Well, it turns out that I spoke too soon. Lansky markets a keychain sized triangle shaped ceramic hone that retails for $8US and can probably be had for about $6US that just might fit the bill. I've not tried one, yet but will include 2 on my next order and will report back about how they do on a variety of alloys and blades.

It's funny about Lansky. Everybody associates them with the justly famous Lansky Systems, but they also market 3 of my favorite sharpeners that have nothing to do with clamp fixtures. They are; the dual grit hockey puck shaped ax sharpener that I mentioned earlier, the super coarse "adz hone" or "ax file" that is like a wood rasp for metal made of coarse sharpening stone, and the coarse alumina oxide ceramic sharpening rod called a 'Sharp Stick' that is like a coarse "steel".

As far as I know, Lansky is the only marketer of ceramic rod sharpeners that gives the customer a full choice of fine, med. or coarse in alumina ceramics. (Could well be wrong on that exclusiveness, but I've not found it listed by other mfrs.)

Anyway, that keychain triangle ceramic deelybooper looks like it just might be the trick. We'll see. ;-)

BTW, for those that are wondering, I _do_ plead guilty to using a heavy hand on diamond dust hones, but even the ones I've tried to 'baby' have not really lived up to the claims. Frankly, I think that the weakness of the whole diamond dust concept lies in whatever matrix is used to attempt to adhere the dust to the underlying metal support.

The only sharpener I've carried for over 10 years has been a small Solingen pocket steel, with a handle that hides and protects the stell when closed. It's not up to reprofiling, or even removing metal, but great for touching up a blade that's starting to drag a little on a deer, for instance. (I figure I get 10 touch-ups before I have to remove metal.)

bcaffrey, I've been looking for one of those old Gerber steels for years. As I recall, they came out about the time Gerber was making the flexible blades (like the Pixie) that needed a little more strength for splitting chores.

mps, do you know if Schrade still makes those pocket steels? I've just looked for them on their web site, but no joy.
As Canis has mentioned, it needs to be tough so as not to break or chip easily, especially if roughing it out. So as far as ceramics...


"To earn a million is easy, a real friend is not."
Walker -- You're right about the age of the Gerber steels. If I'm not mistaken, I got mine in the mid-70s.

You might want to check eBay from time to time. I'm pretty sure I saw one there sometime last year.

The Schrade S-HS1 Old Timer Honesteel is still listed in the wholesale catalog that I have, so in theory, any dealer that carries Schrade _should_ be able to get one for you. Let me know if you have trouble getting one. However, I should caution you that the MSR on the things is a whopping $36.95. Yikes! Don't ask me why a simple hardened, grooved steel and leather sheath would be so much. You ought to be able to find it under $30US but that's still a lot for something as simple as it is.

Nakano 2, I used to equate ceramics with brittleness, too. Then I got a Spyderco Doublestuff pocket hone. I won't say it's unbreakable, but I have dropped it onto the tiled kitchen floor before, and it's still intact. Too bad it's not coarse enough for my needs. It's definitely tougher, and stands up to abuse better than more traditional Norton India and Crystolon pocket hones.

Old fashioned Arkansas stone? that came with my Randall survival..But only in a pinch..Survial,gets the job done in the field and it stays with the knife. Certainly not the optimal choice.

You folks have given me enough food for thought that I now will have to head out to the local knife/gun/camping shops and see what I can find. I would have thought initially that the diamond coated sharpeners would have been the most durable, however, it seems that they do indeed wear out due to weakness in whatever matrix they are imbedded in. I may have to try one of the keychain ceramic stcks...though I have one called a "dogbone" that is pretty ineffective after only a year of light use.Maybe one of us out there will be able to find the ultimate survival knife sharpener to accomodate our super knives with us into the wildernes! Have any of you tried the hunter hone (I think that is what it is called) that I've seen advertied in KI and other magazines? It's a litlle plastic thingamabob with two very hard carbide (??) sticks that kind of work like some ofthe elcheapo "V" pocket sharpeneres where you just run the blade down the center of the "V"...

Chris Canis