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Updated May 3, 2023 6:21 AM
Choosing the best knife sharpener can be difficult, given the myriad of choices on the market today. However, being able to properly maintain the edge on your cutting tools is of vital importance. A dull knife is a dangerous knife, as you’ll need to focus more effort to move the knife through the material. That means you’re at greater risk of having something slip. This can lead to an injury or to damage to the material being cut.
A finely tuned knife is a dream in the kitchen and in the field, as opposed to something that’s not been maintained well. You’ll get the work done quicker and more efficiently with a sharp edge. If you take care of your blades, they’ll take care of you. It doesn’t take much time to keep them hair-popping sharp either, as long as you have one of the best knife sharpeners at hand.
How We Picked the Best Knife Sharpeners
I’ll be honest in that I own far more knives than any human being would ever truly need. I’ve been collecting, using, and sharpening them for well over 40 years. While some of them don’t see a whole lot of use (I mean, how often do you really need to break out a machete?), there are several that are in constant rotation for my daily carry knife. They’re used for everything from opening mail and packages to slicing up fruit and vegetables for lunch or dinner. Whether folding or fixed blade, I keep them all sharp and ready to go.
Having the equipment needed to bring a dulled edge back to being razor-sharp is important for any knife user, whether you own a single blade or a couple hundred of them. Every time you use a knife, the edge is impacted in some way. Some materials are worse than others, of course. For example, corrugated cardboard is horrible for a knife. The glue used to make it dries very hard and there’s often sand and grit mixed in with the paper, making it incredibly abrasive. Given that we receive a lot of packages at home, we end up using knives quite often to break those boxes down. That means we’re sharpening our blades regularly and the tools listed here are ones I’ve used myself.
Why It Made the Cut
This is the Cadillac of knife sharpeners, with all the bells and whistles you could ever need.
- Uses flexible belts to do the work, just like the pros
- Two-speed motor for better control
- Sharpening guide for precision and repeatability
- Electric motor does the work for you
- High-quality construction and materials
- Will handle knives, axes, lawnmower blades, and more
- Requires practice to perfect the technique
Work Sharp has a well-deserved reputation for excellence and the Knife & Tool Sharpener Mk.2 is truly the cream of the crop. If you don’t want to invest in a full-size belt grinder and sharpen your knives and tools the way the professionals do, this is the next best thing. It is sort of a tabletop version of that same grinder, scaled down to a compact size.
It comes with six belts, two each of three different grits. These are easy to swap on the machine as you move along in the sharpening process. The angle guides can switch from 20° to 25°. They can also be flipped out of the way entirely if they will inhibit the movement of the blade through the sharpener. You can put it on low speed for heavy-duty tasks like mower blades, then switch to high-speed for knives and such.
While this system isn’t difficult to operate, you should practice on a few inexpensive blades until you get the hang of it. If you’re not careful, you can damage the knife’s edge and end up creating more work for yourself in the long run. Just take your time and let the machine do the work. Once you’ve gotten the technique down, you’ll be hunting the house for knives, scissors, and anything else that will take an edge. When you’re done, it all packs up easily to keep it on the shelf until you need it. As this is an electric knife sharpener, it isn’t suited for use out in the field. This is strictly something you’d keep in the house or workshop.
Why It Made the Cut
- Ambidextrous, use it right- or left-handed
- Has built-in angle guides for easy use
- Compact and easy to carry in the field
- Has diamond plates, a ceramic rod, and a leather strop, all in one unit
- Will sharpen straight blades, serrated edges, even fishhooks
- Provides five complete steps to sharpen a dull blade
- Can be awkward to use for large knives
With the built-in sharpening guides of the Work Sharp Guided Field Sharpener, you’ll be able to replicate the proper sharpening angle again and again. All you need to do is rest the knife blade against the guide, then maintain that same angle as you move the knife down the sharpener. This takes a small amount of practice, but it isn’t too difficult.
Sharpening is typically done is steps. This model has five separate stages, working from 200 grit and 600 grit diamond plates to the rough and smooth sides of the ceramic rod, then finally to the leather strop. Owing to the quality of the components, you don’t need to exert a ton of force. Just the weight of the knife itself will suffice. Just take it step by step and you’ll get there.
In addition to knives, this model can be used to sharpen fishhooks, too. The ceramic rod has a groove just for this purpose. This really is the complete solution for the active outdoorsman or outdoorswoman, giving you plenty of sharpening power in a compact and easy to pack size. In addition, it works great in the workshop or kitchen. As a bonus, it is relatively inexpensive, so you could have one in the knife drawer for touching up your meat carving blades and another with your hunting gear.
Why It Made the Cut
This controlled angle sharpening system was specifically designed to assist people who had little or no experience sharpening knives.
- Four stones of varying coarseness
- Four guide rods for different angles
- Has been a very popular sharpening system for over 40 years
- Easy to assemble and use in the kitchen or shop
- Kit comes with everything you need
- Clamp to hold the knife steady
- Heavy or wide knives can be troublesome
While it does take a little practice and patience to get the hang of it, the Lansky 4 Stone Diamond Deluxe Sharpening System works amazingly well. As it should, given how long it has been around. Products generally don’t last on the market for several decades unless they work well. It was designed primarily for people who weren’t well-versed in knife sharpening and setting it up is incredibly easy. You just put your knife into the clamp and secure it. Then, choose the angle rod and the stone of your choice, put them together, and run the stone across the blade several times. Flip the knife and repeat the process. Then, move on to the next stone until the edge is sharp.
There are four stones included in this kit, running from 600 down to 70 grit. Depending on the condition of your knife, you might not need all four stages, making it an even quicker process.
The angle rods included are:
- 17°: a severe angle that’s typically used for razor blades or similar tools
- 20°: common for high-quality knives, including kitchen cutlery
- 25°: recommended for most standard knives, such as those for the outdoors
- 30°: typically used for heavy-duty chores, like cutting carpet or slicing cardboard
They are color-coded, so you can quickly find the one you want. Everything stores in a handy case, keeping everything organized as well as easy to transport. While I wouldn’t toss it into a backpack for a weeklong trek in the wild, if you’ll have a vehicle with you, it will fit quite nicely in the trunk or backseat.
Why It Made the Cut
A simple stone should be part of every home sharpening setup and this one provides three in the space of one.
- Three stones on a triangle axis
- Molded base with nonskid rubber feet
- Kit includes sharpening lubricant and instructions
- Very safe to use, won’t slide on the table or counter
- Comes with a sharpening angle guide
- Easy and instinctive to use
- The stones can get gunked up quickly
A stone is a very traditional type of sharpener, and Arkansas stones are known the world over for their quality when it comes to putting an edge on a knife. The Tri-6 Arkansas Tri-Hone Sharpening Stones System comes with three stones of varying grits, allowing you to work your way from 400 to 600 and then to 1000 grit to get the knife razor sharp. Each stone is about six inches long and they are color-coded for easy identification.
The rubber feet on the base keep it from sliding around as you work. You start by selecting the grit stone you want and dabbing a little lubricant on it. Then, use the angle guide to make sure you’re holding the knife in the proper position and slide it across the stone, as though you’re trying to slice a bit off the top of it. Make sure you get the entire edge into contact with the stone as you move. Repeat for a few passes, then reverse the knife and pull it toward you. The base is built at a height that prevents you from dragging your knuckles on the table, which is a nice touch.
To move to the next grit, all you need to do is lift the stone and rotate it, then replace it in the base. The triangle shape of the cradle keeps it locked in place as you work. The stones will need to be cleaned after each use. This is just a matter of scrubbing them with soap and water, then setting them out to dry before storage.
What to Consider When Choosing a Knife Sharpener
With all of the choices out there, it can help to narrow the search by concentrating on a few key points. Keeping these in mind will serve to cut down the list of choices to those products that are truly worth considering.
Few of us have an infinite supply of money, and thus we need to plan our purchases carefully. It is important to understand that while price is not always indicative of quality, more often than not you do get what you pay for. A dollar store wrench will perform like a dollar store wrench, for example, and may just turn into a pretzel the first time you use it. As a practical matter, it is usually a good idea to pay a little more for a higher quality item than to buy something you’ll probably need to replace in a short period of time due to shoddy materials or construction. As the saying goes, “Buy once, cry once.” Meaning, moan about the higher price and then move on instead of complaining every time a shoddy tool breaks down.
Ease of Operation
The more you have to struggle with a piece of equipment, the more often you’ll find reasons not to use it. While sharpening knives isn’t always all that exciting, it shouldn’t feel like a slog as you move from one step to the next, causing you to dread the chore altogether. The best knife sharpeners are ones that have a fairly simple operation. The last thing you want is something that’s overly complicated. With every tool there’s going to be a learning curve, but the quicker you can achieve competency with it, the happier you’ll be.
At the end of the day, this matters more than anything else. If it doesn’t work, if it doesn’t put a keen edge on your best knives then there’s little point in having it around. It isn’t just a matter of removing metal from the blade, as any grinder can do that. It needs to do so in a controlled manner, with an angle that can be repeated continuously until the edge has achieved the desired level of sharpness. It is that repeatability that’s critical to success, too. If the sharpener is sloppy, or if your technique is off by too much, you’re going to end up doing more harm than good, causing frustration as well as wasting your time. The best knife sharpeners are ones that will guide you with the proper angles.
Q: At what angle should you hold a knife to sharpen it?
The answer here depends on the type of knife it is and what the intended use of it is. For a general, do-it-all knife, an angle of 25° is pretty standard. However, a kitchen knife, which is a much thinner tool, is usually sharpened at 20° or so. The shallower the angle, the thinner the edge will be. While that means it’ll be sharp, it’ll also be more delicate and prone to damage under heavy use. You wouldn’t use a kitchen knife to carve wood, right?
Q: Should you sharpen knives every time you use them?
Not necessarily, at least not in the way you might think. Quite often, after a little use the blade’s edge will curl. It will still cut, but it isn’t quite as sharp as it was when you started. All that’s needed at this point is to run it on a strop a few times to straighten that microscopic edge. It is only if that isn’t enough that you’ll want to turn to truly sharpening the knife. Keep in mind that any sharpener works by removing steel from the knife. Thus, the more often you run it across a sharpener, the more steel you’ll lose over time. Strop it first and maintain that edge as best you can before turning to one of these products.
Q: Do you wash a sharpener?
Well, it depends on the sharpener. A stone, for example, needs to be washed after each use. What happens is that the lubricant mixes with the steel dust and sticks in the tiny crevasses in the stone. That serves to smooth out the coarseness and make the stone less effective. By washing it with soap, water, and a nylon brush, you dislodge all that gunk and get the stone back to where it needs to be. Other types of sharpeners, such as those that use belts, do not need to be washed, though the belts will wear down over time and will need to be replaced.
Q: How much does a good knife sharpener cost?
The old adage of “you get what you pay for” certainly applies to knife sharpeners as well. However, there is a wide variety of tolls that fall under that heading, and the prices vary as much as the items. A good sharpening stone can be had for as little as $20, but you can pay thousands for a professional sharpening system. But for most home use, expect to spend anywhere from $25 to $100 for a quality sharpener.
Final Thoughts on the Best Knife Sharpeners
Of all the products listed here, I prefer the Knife & Tool Sharpener Mk.2. It works quickly and accurately, though there isn’t a whole lot of room for error. While there’s an almost meditative state that can come with knife sharpening, I’m a busy guy and can’t spend as much time as I might like on this task. Plus, I own a lot of knives and I could easily spend an entire afternoon tuning some of them up. The Mk.2 gets the job done properly and in record time.
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