Sharpening Improv: Does a Coffee Mug Really Work?

When it comes to sharpening, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there. Some recommend specialized equipment, while others say you can get a good edge using things you probably already own. Some of the most hyped advice involve using the bottom of a coffee mug or the edge of a car window, but how well does that really work? To get some answers we reached out to abrasives expert Mark Adkinson, Smith’s Vice President of Global Sales.

He acknowledges that in certain circumstances, improvised sharpeners can be effective. But according to Adkinson not all surfaces are created equal. “Ceramic as a sharpening material is great, it’s very hard,” he says. “But some housewares companies do things to the bottom of their cups and bowls to keep them from scratching up your table, which keeps them from being an abrasive surface.” The edge of a car window is even more limited in its usefulness. Glass is very hard but also very smooth. “You can use it to align the edge but if you truly have a dull knife it won’t be very effective,” he explains.

Another variable is the skill and experience of the person holding the knife. “Sharpening anything freehand requires consistency and repeatable technique,” says Adkinson. “There are some people who can get a great edge on just about anything, absolutely.” With practice and a careful hand, even a cinder-block or a brick can be sufficient for someone who knows what they’re doing. “Arkansas stone is mined out of the ground. We flatten it to make it a better sharpener, but it’s still just a rock,” he says.

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Adkinson maintains that the biggest benefit of using dedicated sharpeners are the guides that can achieve consistent, repeatable results and help prevent costly mistakes. He also points out that impromptu sharpeners just aren’t practical in some situations: “If you’re in the woods, you’re not going to find ceramics.”

Knife featured in image: Cold Steel Swift