How and Why to Sharpen a Sword

3 minute read

If you’ve received your sword and it’s not as sharp as you’d like, or through endless use it’s lost its edge, then knowing how to correctly sharpen your sword is a must-have skill for any sword collector or enthusiast.

There are three main methods for sharpening a sword which we’re going to look at in this article:

But first,

Should You Sharpen Your Sword?

It is incredibly important to consider and reflect on why you’re sharpening your sword. Does it really need it? If you have a sword for practice or goofing around with, then I strongly urge you to not sharpen your sword, I have seen first-hand how easily a small mistake can lead to long-term serious tissue damage. A buddy of mine dropped a brand new sword and subconsciously reached out to grab it. Before he even realized what had happened the sword had landed hilt-first on the floor, and his attempt to grab the sword ended with his arm impaled on the point. Years later, he still has a scar, and it still hurts to the touch. This could have been far more serious. What if he had bent over to grab it?

I don’t want to be patronizing - you’re an adult responsible for everything you do - but please do think about the dangers before sharpening a sword.

It’s also worth knowing that it is possible to create a sword that is too sharp for practical use. A katana or any other cutting sword does not need to be razor sharp. An overly-sharpened sword will often do less damage to an opponent during battle, tending to glance off bone and chip. While a sword which is sharpened correctly will remove a limb in the same circumstances.

In a scenario where you think the sword is not sharp enough, the best way to test it is to cut with the sword using the correct techniques.

If you’re looking to toughen up the edge of your newly purchased sword, then it’s a good idea to use a small piece of steel-grade abrasive paper and some water. Very carefully run the piece of paper at a 30-degree angle along the length of the blade, then repeat the process on the other side. This acts to remove very small burs and notches and is often sufficient to restore the blade to the required sharpness.

How to Sharpen a Sword using Traditional Methods

Although the file and whetstone method of sharpening a sword is as old as swords themselves, it is still one of the best methods available. It is time-consuming, but it is safe, can be quite therapeutic, and, once perfected, can produce outstanding results.
The method is entirely done by hand with some elbow grease, but it is an acquired skill, so it’s worthwhile practicing on something other than your precious sword until perfected. I personally recommend using something like a cheap kitchen knife to begin with.
The full details on the file and whetstone method can be found in this video:

How to Sharpen a Sword using Power Tools

Generally speaking, using power tools to sharpen a sword is a bad idea. Power tools tend to cause friction which rapidly manifests as heat. This heat can quickly ruin the sword's temper if you’re not careful. There are, however, some methods and tools than can minimize the chance of ruining your sword and can result in incredibly sharp swords.

The first method involves a belt sander and is explained in the first video below.
The second method involves the use of a block of wood and some abrasive paper, explained in the second video below.

How to Sharpen a Sword using Specialised Tools

The last method we’re going to cover here is simple, easy to do, and fast, and will create a secondary bevel using a tool called the ‘accusharp’. Some people may call this method cheating or inferior, but truth be told, if you have good quality steel and you don’t want to spend to long faffing around then this method will work for you.
The ‘accusharp’ method is detailed in the video below.

There are, of course, literally hundreds of ways to sharpen a sword, and many are specific to the type of sword you have or the edge you’re trying to create. It’s important to do your research and understand what you’re trying to accomplish before starting any sharpening work.

For the inexperienced, I would recommend practicing using cheaper blades (or better yet, something made of steel that's nearly worthless) before you start on anything of value.