Sharpening a Khukuri        Back to Main FAQ Page

a few good sharpening links:
  * Sharpening and Reprofiling Traditional Convex Blades (by OldJimbo)
  * Convex Profiling and Sharpening by Hand HOW-TO (by Singularity)
  * Sharpening Experiences (or, how to get this blade to cut) (by Singularity)

Cliff Stamp on:
How to sharpen a khukuri?

First off, as soon as your khukuri starts to get a little blunt you need to
align the edge. This is called steeling or burnishing.

Burnishing :

Basically to burnish the edge is to reform it. You do this with the chakma
by wiping it along the edge of the khukuri. This does not remove significant
amounts of metal but it will align and thus restore the edge.

If burnishing fails to produce a sharp edge you need to remove some metal.
Now you have to make a decision. Do you want to leave the convex bevel? If
you do this is how you proceed :

Light sharpening on a convex bevel :

Use a strop loaded with a abrasive that cuts decently fast and leaves a nice
finish. I now use a 0.5 micron CrO buffing compound. It will
cut much faster and leave a smoother finish than other compounds I have
tried. A strop is simply a piece of leather, the ones
you buy are just more uniform and thus will provide a smoother surface than
an old belt. All you do is just stroke the khukuri along the stop keeping
the edge low on the leather. The leather will indent under the weight of the
blade and the convex edge will get ground evenly.

Heavy sharpening on a convex bevel :

If you strop for awhile and the khukuri fails to show significant
improvement then what you need to do is enhance the cutting ability of your
strop. What you do is simply upgrade to some sandpaper placed on some
styrofoam. The coarser the sandpaper the faster it will cut. Once the
khukuri has a fine edge take it to the strop to finish and polish and
strengthen the edge.

If you don't want to keep the convex bevel and instead want to use
traditional flat hones and such, basically what you are going to do is add a
small additional bevel to the khukuri. This is how you proceed :

Light sharpening on a flat bevel :

Rod sharpeners are the first thing you try as these remove really small
amounts of metal. You can but them in many different styles, ceramics,
diamonds or even a simple butchers steel. You can even make one quite
quickly by gluing some sandpaper on a wooden dowel.  You use them all the
same way,  stroke along the edge of the khukuri.

Heavy sharpening on a flat bevel :

If the rod sharpeners fail to make a difference in a couple of minutes you
need to move to a more aggressive hone. You have two basic choices, the
first if to get a large bench stone and sharpen by stroking the khukuri along
the hone with the hone firmly fixed in place.  You other choice is to get a
small stone and work it along the edge of the khukuri, keeping the blade
fixed and sharpening in sections.

The most important aspect of the sharpening is that you want to maintain a
constant motion from stroke to stroke. This makes sure you are grinding
along the same bevel with each stroke. The better you can do this the faster
your work will be done and the sharper your khukuri will get. Note that it
is also important to keep the edge of the khukuri perpendicular to the hone.
With the smaller hones like the rods you simply keep the khukuri fixed and
angle the rod correctly. With a larger fixed hone or strop, you need to
rotate the khukuri blade as you hone.

If you don't want to freehand the last part there are many devices that can
be used such as the Spyderco Sharpmaker, the Edge Pro Apex, Lansky and
others. These devices primarily held you to keep the angle constant from
stroke to stroke. The only real difficulty with using them is the weight and
thickness of the larger khukuris.

Also of interest is Joe Talmadge's Sharpening FAQ [no longer active], and Steve's knife sharpening site.
Cliff Stamp

If the khukuri already has a good edge profile, a setup like the Spyderco Sharpmaker, with ceramic sticks held at an angle, works well. With these systems a fairly constant angle is easy to maintain. I've found that the inexpensive systems of this type work as well as the more expensive ones.

To get dings out of the blade, I use the chakma first to straighten the ding as much as possible, then a file to smooth it up.

If you need to reprofile the edge you'll probably want to use stones, diamond rods, or a similar hard abrasive. - Howard Wallace

I just got done using the Scotch Brite on my 18".  I was being careful, but I managed to get the edge again and it dulled it.  I tried to work it out with the chakma, but it wouldn't pull the edge back to where it should be.  Before using anything else I thought since the stuff took the edge off I wonder if it would help put it back. I laid the blade down over the sink and proceeded to push it along the whole blade and towards the edge at the bevel.  It brought it back to where the chakma took care of it. - Yvsa

The Bucksharp with it's carbide inserts does nicely if you use it lightly. It doesn't bring it to razor sharp for me, but for a touch up in the field, a nice useable edge, I love it now that I know to go very easy on it. - Rusty

I had a 1" dowel left over from some project and I had some old very rough back split leather.  I cut a piece of the leather to fit around the dowel and a good foot long. I glued it around the dowel and then rubbed it down with some buffing compound.  I can now say ALL my Khukuris are "Full body shiver" sharp.  - Yvsa

Yvsa's ruminations on sharpening a khukuri

On reflection about all the sharpening methods and such I tend to forget the khukuri is
not just a knife style that is odd to the world  outside  of it's borders of use, but is also  odd  in it's manner of hardening.

We are used to knives that even though they may be differentially hardened have a hard edge the full length of the blade and point.
The khukuri with it's blade starting out dead soft from the bolster to a progressively harder edge gradually becoming very hard at about 58 to 62 Rockwell C long the "sweet spot" and back to a bit softer about 52 Rc at the point.
This makes for a unique blade that is incredibly tough and hard that can maintain an exceptional edge all along the length of it's blade under very  hard  use under conditions from the field to hardwood forest!!

The people that use the khukuri tend to be very poor and need a knife that is going to do just what the khukuri does so well. They are not going to be filing and stoning their blades away!
I know that most, if not all of us has read Cliff Stamps Reviews on different blades and the torture he puts the knives through. Most of us wouldn't even consider doing our pretty knives that way.
I imagine that the use the people who are so familiar with the khukuri, being raised up with one in their hands is even beyond what Cliff puts the knives through sometimes.

With all that said think about it for a moment and realize what you would have to do under the conditions the Nepali people live under or in some of the survival threads we have here.  Yes you need to keep your khukuri very sharp in order for it to do it's work, but you also have to make it last.  I think I can safely bet that under those conditions that we are going to learn to use the khukuri in such a way as to maintain that edge with the Least Amount Of Steel Removal!!

Long ago and in places not so far away our ancestors used all sorts of iron implements with steel edges forged onto them.  Good Steel was precious and sometimes hard to come by!  Take a scythe for instance.  The edge was maintained much the same way the khukuri is. One difference is that the steel along the edge was not filed or honed off if it became dinged or nicked up badly. The scythe was laid on an anvil or rock if need be and the steel was carefully pounded back into shape. Sometimes a scythe was even sharpened in this manner.  By laying it's edge on an anvil anyone that had experience with using the blade could take a hammer and tap tap an edge onto it. This edge could shave you!  I imagine that at one time the original edge may have been put on this way to save the precious steel.

One of the reasons I got to thinking about all this is what Uncle Bill has stated at different times.
Quote, paraphrase: "It isn't usually to far back to the house where a file and stone for sharpening are kept and if a khukuri becomes dull enough that it can't be sharpened in the field, it is taken back to the house and fixed." Unquote.

Using the scythe as an example shows that steel doesn't have to be that hard to perform exceptionally well. However it has to be tough.  Cutting harder and harder materials means that the steel must be harder in order not to deform.
Another good modern day example is the Ontario version of the Bagwell Bowie Knives.
It is stated in the information about these knives that they are unusually soft for a knife of it's size. The reason being is that they are very nice "Fighting" knives and they are designed to cut clothing and flesh.
Hitting a bone hard with one would probably ding it pretty good. The important thing is that the knife Is Not Going to Break!!
The article or other information I read about them states that they are Not good knives for people who are wanting a "combat" knife as they are too soft to stand up to that kind of abuse.

I have learned to use steels, the chakma, hones And sandpaper in different ways to keep my knives as sharp as I need or want them without filing or honing their lives away.
I have learned a lot of it right here in this forum, some of it over the last 50 some years of having a very profound Love of knives and other edged tools.

I know that it would take some time to use up a khukuri's good edge, but remember those 150 year old khukuris still in use have had their edges reshaped as needed and rehardened over that time span.
The knives are "Used" up Not "Honed" up.

It does take some time and a lot of practice to get where you can "steel" an edge on the khukuri due in part to the hard "sweet spot." Once you have that part sharp with a hone or whatever then it becomes a matter of maintaining that edge.
Sometimes using the steel or chakma it makes the edge "feel rough" in difference to the smooth, slick feel a hone brings.
That "rough" edge can slice paper like it wasn't there.
Watch a butcher sometime and you will see them "steeling" a blade fairly often.
They can go quite some time between sharpening on a hone just by keeping the edge aligned properly.
I used too hone for the pure joy of running something along that already sharp edge. I have quit that now and use a steel or chakma instead.
Sometimes a chakma may not be as hard as it needs to be and in that case the smooth spine of a hard knife can be used in it's place. I can see a Huge difference when I do this sometimes!
Use different pressures and techniques until you figure out what's best and what works for you.

All your knives will thank you by lasting a lot longer.

It doesn't take much in obtaining the tools I use in sharpening all of my knives.
These items are what I use in varying stages and depending upon the condition of the edge that's needing sharpened. And I can cheat by using my Grizzly belt sander, but that is seldom needed after a good edge is established unless you badly impact it on a hard surface. And even then the tools described below will do the job needing done.

You already have a steel in the form of the chakma or the hard back of a good knife. I am fortunate to have a solid piece of smooth round carbide that was used to make metal cutting tools from and mounted it in a brass handle. A good smooth steel is optional since you can make do with the items above.

Get yourself two or three good files like the Nicholson Black Diamond brand in lengths of 6"-8" and 10 inches.  If you only get two then get the 6" and 8" as they are the handiest to use. Get yourself a good file card to maintain your files properly.  The best ones have a brush on the opposite side of the wire cleaner which looks something like a wool or other textile carder. A file with a piece of metal embedded in it will cause gouging and eventually ruin your file by picking up even more pieces of metal. Take care of your files as you would any other fine cutting instrument by keeping them free of rust and insure that their cutting edges are protected when put up. A good file is invaluable in maintaining the softer areas of a khukuri's edge.

I like the DMT duofold diamond hones as recommended by Cliff Stamp. They come in several combinations, but one only needs two, the Black and Blue and the Red and Green. The Black is the coarsest and the Green the finest.

Now for the strops.....
You can get some nice leather and make these yourself or you can buy them from sources on the www.
I have found for khukuris that the best size is about 1" to 1/18" wide as this will let the strop get into the recurves nicely.  I like mine glued onto a piece of wood as I think it makes them easier to use.

Now to the sharpening technique.....
First work out all the dings and impacted areas you can by using the steel or other hard surface like the chakma or the hard back edge on a knife. You will be surprised at what a good steeling will do to bring back an impacted edge. I brought back the edge on the HI AK Bowie after cutting a soft 3/8" carriage bolt in two with a vise to scary sharp with no other work needed.

If you still have areas that you couldn't steel out then take your file to the edge trying to maintain the original convex edge. Anyone can do this with a bit of practice.
Use the file the same way you do a hone and produce a burr on one side and then the other to insure that you indeed have a true edge to work with while removing all the dings.
You may not get all of them out in the "sweet spot" with the file so that will be accomplished with the hones. The final burr is to be honed off. With the khukuri restored to its original shape and edge and with all the dings and other mishaps worked out you are now ready to proceed with the hones. Depending upon the edge you have managed to produce with the file will determine the correct hone to use.

The Black DMT hone is  very  aggressive and a light touch is all that's needed to reform and produce an edge that's ready to be properly sharpened with the finer hones. The same technique that's recommended in all the FAQ's is used to produce a finer and finer burr from one side to the other. I find the Green hone to not be needed for most work on a khukuri, however I do use it to produce very fine edges on thinner blades.

After you have proceeded this far and have established a proper sharp edge you are now ready to strop off any remaining wire edge. I have for a long time now used two strops, one charged with Tripoli and the other charged with Jewelers Rouge.   These are adequate and will produce a very sharp edge, however I have discovered like many others before me that a Green Chrome strop will produce the finest edge that I am able to make on any knife.  Starting with the Tripoli strop drag your khukuri with the edge trailing, so as to not cut the strop, back and forth several times until you strop off the wire edge. This is done with the khukuri held low as Cliff states above.

When you have removed the wire edge proceed with the Jewelers Rouge further polishing the edge of the khukuri. When you are satisfied with that polish proceed to the last and final strop charged with the Green Chrome and put the most incredible edge you have ever made on you favorite khukuri or other knife.

With practice anyone can maintain a proper convex edge with the tools described here. And with even more practice you can maintain a flat beveled secondary edge on any knife.

In Ed Fowler's book he has a picture of a smooth Wyoming river rock that he picked up to sharpen one of his knives on in the field and that shows that nothing spectacular is needed to maintain the edge on any knife. Ed likes the convex or "Moran" edge as do I. All of my using knives have been converted to this style edge as I personally feel it is the best edge that can be put on any knife and it will serve you well for a longer period of time than any other method.

If you are unsure of yourself and your abilities the trick is to practice, practice, practice!!!! Get yourself some cheap knives at a flea market or other source and use them to practice on before moving on to more expensive blades.

You will get better and better as time progresses and if I can learn to do it by hand anyone can.

Copyright (c) 1999-2001  by Howard Wallace / 2002-2003 by Himalayan Imports,  all rights reserved. maintained by Benjamin Slade.
This FAQ may not be included in commercial collections or compilations, or distributed for financial gain, without express written permission from the author.  This FAQ may be printed and distributed for personal non-commercial, non-profit usage, or as class material, as long as there is no charge, except to cover materials, and as long as this copyright notice is included.