Your multitool is like your handheld lifeline.
You can use it for so much, and while there’s excellent utility to that, it also means that a dull multitool can be a serious impairment when you’re trying to survive in a worst-case scenario.
This is all about how to sharpen a shovel, but it also works on knives, hatchets, and more.
There are three main methods that we’re going to go over.
If you’re digging a shelter out of the ground or you’re trying to remain on your toes at all times, it pays to have a sharpened multitool.
Is Sharpening A Shovel Any Different From Sharpening Knives?
Yes and no.
It depends on what your shovel is made of, because most shovels don’t share the same grade of stainless steel that survival knives do.
If you happen to have a 430# grade stainless steel shovel head, and your tactical knife is the same grade, you can apply the same sharpening techniques for sure.
For shovels, they’re usually made out of a dense steel or iron, so you might have to use full whetstones or more durable grinding stones.
At the end of the day, it’s still the same process, but the bigger the metal you’re working with and the wider the edge, the harder it’s going to be to sharpen it properly.
What Types Of Sharpening Methods Can You Use?
There are basically three main methods of sharpening a shovel, axe, knife, or any other multitool that you’re bringing with you out in the wilderness during a SHTF situation.
There are a few ways that we can look at whetstones. Most commonly, we think of those big stones on pedals that spin around.
We lean our blades against it, sparks fly like an old blacksmiths shop, and you end up with a sharp sword after some fine tuning.
Those are actually still an option, and if you’re homesteading, they’re a great choice.
You can use this on all types of farming equipment, hatchets, knives, and even kukri knives for self-defense if you really wanted to.
But these aren’t exactly common purchases, so we’re going to talk about grinding stones, which are what most chefs know as a whetstone in the modern world.
You have three different lineups of grinding stones, separated by their ideal use.
You can find stones in differences of 500# grits, but as long as they’re in these ranges, they’ll serve their basic functions.
- 1,000 Grit or Lower: These are super rough, and require a lot of pressure to sharpen anything against them. You would use these when you’re fixing a chipped hatchet head or knife. You’ll use this quickly and grind down a lot of metal in the process, but these can absolutely help you restore broken or chipped knives.
- 1,000 Grit to 3,000 Grit: Now you’re getting into a more refined edge. You don’t want anything too angled for the edge of a survival shovel or a hatchet, because these are going to get blunt force action when you chop wood or dig in harsh terrain. They need to be sharp, just not too sharp to the point that they bend and chip. If you’re refining an old broken hatchet head, you would go from the 1K grit to a 3K to get a finer edge without going too crazy.
- 4,000 Grit to 8,000+ Grit: Yes, I know we lost 3K to 4K in there, but that’s because it’s such an awkward classification that doesn’t really serve either purpose in the medium or high grit range. Over 4K grit is going to be used for angled knives down to about 23°, and the higher you go, the thinner your edge gets. An 8K or 10K grit can usually get a bevel down to 13° to 17°, which is ridiculously sharp and almost exclusively used in Japanese cutlery knives.
Grinding stones are manual brick-like stones that you drag your blades across to get that ideal finish. They can last for a long time, and be used across multiple tools.
Files are pretty straightforward. It’s a big, long metal piece with different striking patterns in a grid to help you grind down metal.
The thing about files is, while they’re basic and easy to use, they actually require a bit of TLC to use them properly.
If you just aimlessly file away, it’s like running in place: you’re not going to get anywhere.
You want to make sure you’re sharpening in the most effective way when you’re creating that razor’s edge on the end of your multi tool.
Files are inexpensive, easy to store in your bug out bag, and don’t add much to your overall carry weight.
You’ll be able to stuff them just about anywhere in a bug out bag or EDC kit, making them super versatile.
There are multiple tools that just fit in the vague grinding tools section here. They’re still useful, but just not quite as prominent for sharpening as whetstones or files.
- Grinding Puck: This is a like a file/grinding stone hybrid that you can carry with you. Picture a metal hockey puck that’s designed to help you sharpen items on the go.
- Knife Sharpeners: These can be manual, although they’re often electric. Most commonly used in cutlery sharpening for cheap knives, these can provide an ultra fine bevel, but they aren’t generally good for multi tools.
- Dremel: There are so many attachments for a dremel that you can absolutely use one to grind down the edge of a knife, axe, or multitool if you really need to. It might shred more metal than you intend, though, so be careful here.
These are all well and good, but there are two types of refining tools that you can also use.
Edge Refining Tools
These don’t actually grind anything down, but they’re useful to realign bevels on multitools after you’ve grinded them through the other methods I’ve mentioned so far.
- Leather Strap: These are used for straight razors more than anything else. You drag the edge of your blade across the leather and flip it over periodically to get the other side, and the way the leather interacts with the sharp edge helps realign everything. It would be wise to look up a tutorial for this.
- Honing Rod: I would use this for a hatchet or a survival knife, but probably not for anything else. Honing rods belong in the kitchen, and are often used to realign the bevels on Japanese cutlery knives and butchers cleavers more than anything else. You drag the honing rod gently against the edge of your multitool, and it helps to realign the bevel.
How To Keep A Shovel Sharper For Longer?
There are a few things you can do, ranging from rather simple to extremely difficult, but if you really want to keep your shovel nice and sharp, this is how to do it.
Store in a Sheath
C’mon, who can’t do this effectively?
If you have a shovel, you should have a sheath for the head.
The number one cause of dulling your shovel is caused by letting it knock around and send the edge out of alignment, which can also result in chipping later on down the line.
Use a leather, nylon, or carbide sheath to store your shovel nice and sharp.
While dust isn’t going to dull your blades, it’s still good to keep them dust-free so you can just pull them out of the sheath, and put them to work.
When metal has a very tight bevel, it warps ever so slightly every time you use it.
If you made your axe super sharp to the touch, it means the bevel is on a tight angle of 17° or below (most likely).
The same applies for your shovel. This is great for powerful, dangerous strikes, but the thinner the bevel is, the faster it dulls.
Sometimes you don’t need to sharpen your tool and use it multiple times, the edge of the metal bows and weaves and then doesn’t hit properly, resulting in chips.
A sharpening strap, or leather strap, can be used to realign the bevel of your tool.
This is commonly used in straight razors for shaving your face, but it works for multi-tools as well.
You can provide this yourself, but it’s definitely tricky. You’re essentially dipping your blade in carbon, and not everyone is up to the task here (it’s especially tricky with shovels).
Carbon coatings are used to not only retain a sharp edge, but protect the edge itself against corrosion over time.
Keeping Your Tools Sharp as Your Wit
You’ve got the mechanical know-how to use your tools, but they’re going to be mostly useless if they don’t have a sharp edge to them.
There’s no reason to exert yourself any further than you already are in a survival situation.
Keep your tools sharp, from your multitool to your knife, hatchet, and more, and you’ll never be caught off guard.