How to Sharpen a Hook Knife – The Easy Way

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Hook knife sharpening

Have you ever felt the excitement of getting a new tool, only to realize you have no idea what to do with it? Or how to even set it up to use? If you happened to check out my spoon carving adventure, you know that I recently had that very experience with a Morakniv hook knife. And I’m certainly not the only one to ever scratch their noggin over how to sharpen one of these bizarrely bent blades. We covered its usage in the spoon carving post. But if you have one of these wacky looking tools (or are thinking about getting one) and wonder how the heck to put an edge on it, you’ve come to the right place. We’ll show you how to give yours a razor edge, with ease.

Hook, Rod And Carver – Sharpening Your Hook Knife

Sharpening abrasives
You can use sharpening stones – flat and rod shaped – to hone your knives. But I used high quality, fine grit wet/dry sandpaper. From left to right, the abrasives I use are: 400 grit (black); 600 grit (gray), and 1,000 grit (maroon).

First thing’s first: I’m a realist! No matter how expertly honed a carving tool comes, you’d better know how to sharpen it yourself, or you won’t be using it for very long. Even if yours came with nice edge, it could likely use a little more oomph. If not, it certainly will once you start cutting with it. As counter-intuitive as it may seem, a dull knife is a dangerous knife.

Sharpening rods
To sharpen the hook knife, I spray glued 6” long strips of sandpaper to 1/2” dowels. I “charged” the finest grit (1,000) with white buffing compound.

It’s good blade hygiene to start razor sharp. Then keep it that way by frequently stropping and/or honing. Quality, fine-grit wet/dry sandpaper works wonders on woodworking tools. And that’s exactly what I used (along with 1/2” dowels) to make incredibly inexpensive – yet highly effective – sharpening rods.

Preparing A Hook Knife For Action – Bent On Perfection

Markering your territory
This old trick helps you see where you’ve sharpened, and what areas still need attention.

Stepping up the Mora knives from factory sharp to a literal razor edge – and maintaining that edge – was easily accomplished with minimal time and effort, using sandpaper and a leather strop. Sandpaper sharpening isn’t as crazy as you might think (you may have heard of the “scary sharp” method). Start with 10-20 passes (more, if needed) of 400 grit and work your way up through 600 and 1,000.

Honing a hook knife
The blade is resting on the wood with the cutting edge facing away from me. Start with the far end of the sharpening rod flat against the inside of the blade.

If sharpening a hook knife seems daunting, you’re not alone. I let dread deter me for over 25 years. As it turns out, however, it’s remarkably easy to do! Really, don’t let it scare you off. Imagine how many more cool things I could have whittled during that quarter century of needlessly avoiding what turned out to be a piece of cake. Mmm… cake!

My own epiphany was in learning that you can sharpen it from the flat side, inside the curve, which makes it really easy to obtain a smooth, consistent edge. Such a consistent edge takes a lot more practice to achieve from the outside.

Playing Hooky – It’s An Inside Job

Following the curve
Push the rod away from yourself while keeping it flat against the blade. At the same time, swing the knife around so that you cover the entire length, from heel to tip.

On rare occasion, you may have to refine the outside bevel with sandpaper or a sharpening stone. But the vast majority of the time – as with any wood carving tool – maintenance is a simple matter of honing and polishing the edge that’s already there.

Strop every 5-15 minutes of carving time, depending on the wood you’re working with (it takes only seconds each time and makes a noticeable difference). A 1,000 grit sharpening rod and leather strop just sent you a friend request; accept it.

Honing the hook
10-20 passes should be enough to bring a relatively sharp knife to a razor sharp edge. Next, repeat the process with 600 grit. Then polish it off with the compound loaded 1,000 grit rod.

Strop, Drop And Roll (That Burr)

Indicator marks
See how the marker is wearing off as I sharpen the blade? When it’s gone, I’ll know I’ve covered and flattened the entire edge.

As you achieve a finer and finer edge, a burr (a microscopic rolled-over wire of metal) begins to form. Whenever I sharpen a knife, the last thing I do is strop both sides several times – alternately – with a piece of leather (preferably, the suede side) that’s charged with buffing compound. Stropping breaks off the burr and gives that perfect edge you’re looking for. This applies to both flat blades and hook knives.

Strop in the name of love
Always strop from the spine (back of the blade) towards the cutting edge. This is opposite the cutting direction. Here, the sharp edge is facing me and I’m moving the knife away from me.

To maintain the edge, strop both sides of a flat blade at the first sign of becoming dull. With a hook knife, use the 1,000 grit rod (which acts as a strop) on the inside and hit the outside with a leather strop. When the edge becomes too dull for stropping alone, run a few passes of the 400 and 600-grit papers again.

Are We There Yet? On The Edge Of Greatness

Besides, you know, actually cutting wood, there are various other quick sharpness tests you can do. Look along the edge of the blade to see if light catches any spots that aren’t quite up to snuff. Gently feel the edge with a finger or thumb (in the “cutting” direction, not along the length of the blade). Sometimes, to impress mostly only myself, I’ll shave a spot on my forearm. You can always tell a knife carver by the bald patch above their wrist. Or you can try the classic “thumbnail test”.

Sharp as a tack!
A sharp blade will effortlessly bite into a thumbnail without skating around.

The Paths To Success Are Many

Hook knife
It’s easy to sharpen your hook knife once you know the trick.

With sharpening, carving and most other things in life, there are many ways to reach your goal. Every craftsman has his or her preferred method or combination of techniques. This is the video I found most helpful for hook knife sharpening, but you’ll find that some other people go about it a little differently. I prefer this method because it’s so easy to get great results and you don’t have to buy any specialty sharpening stones:

By sheer coincidence, MoraKniv also just uploaded a video on sharpening the hook knife. Theirs includes some advice on touching up the outside bevel (which I glossed over here). If you search YouTube for “hook knife”, you’ll find lots of demonstrations covering a myriad of different sharpening and carving techniques.

It Was Knife Meeting You

If you’ve ever thought sandpaper sharpening to be taboo or sloppy, give it a try and your mind will change. Especially if you’re dealing with a hook knife. With a few strokes of the rod and slaps of a leather belt, a kinked knife gladly submits to your will. And now that you know how to sharpen one, your wood will do the same.

Photo of author

About Steve

Steve made his first woodworking project at age 9 (in 1982) and whittled his first wooden chain at 18. He was also a consumer electronics repair tech and shop owner for a little over 20 years, until his impending obsolescence became impossible to ignore. Since then, Steve has focused passionately on manipulating his wood... in his workshop. Don't judge him.

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6 thoughts on “How to Sharpen a Hook Knife – The Easy Way”

  1. I’ve been using sandpaper for years, my father taught me! I’ve got stones but very rarely use them for sharpening as the sandpaper works better with better results and control. Oh yes the strop is very important.

    • Nothing wrong with that. A lot of people are afraid to modify their knives, but if you can customize them to better suit your needs, do it! Make it your own and it will serve you well. I’ve reshaped several of my carving knives. Happy carving!


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