Why A Sharp Knife is A Safe Knife
You’ve likely heard that a sharp knife is safer than a dull one. Although this may seem a little counterintuitive, there’s a couple good reasons why this is the case. For one, a dull knife can slip on whatever you are cutting, increasing the risk of harming yourself. It also makes you work harder, so you need more force, which when paired with a slip can be very dangerous. A dull blade also requires more cuts than a sharp one, and with less precision. It’s just a case of averages over time: fewer cuts required means fewer chances to actually harm yourself, so in the long run it’s always better to be using a sharp knife.
Why Do it Yourself?
Learning to sharpen your own knives can save you time and money (and maybe even a finger). Professional services are typically upwards from $30, and these companies may not take as good of care that you would like. Usually they use a large and rough grinding stone that removes a large amount of the steel, severely decreasing the lifespan of your knife significantly. Sure, it’s sharp, but you won’t be able to do it very much before you need to buy a replacement! Although it can be a little daunting to learn how to do it, there are beginner options and lots of great resources to help you learn (which we’ve compiled further down).
Honing vs. Sharpening
You’ve probably seen someone use a honing steel before and have one kicking around your house, but did you know that this doesn’t actually sharpen the knife?
When you sharpen a blade, you are actually physically removing steel from the blade, and either reverting (or changing) the edge back to a fine point at a specific angle.
But when you use a knife, not only will it eventually dull while using it, but various points along the edge will be microscopically “knocked” out of line over time. You may still have a sharp edge, but it won’t be nice and straight, which lessens the effectiveness of the blade and will dull quicker over time.
Using a honing steel helps push and realign the edge to its true alignment, and so using a honing steel is recommended every once in a while before you use it.
Types of Sharpeners
There are two main families of knife sharpeners that we will cover in this article: pull-throughs and whetstones, and each have their own set of benefits and drawbacks, as well as different models and versions for each. We’ll quickly outline the differences between the two, then farther below give you the reviews of our favourites for you to check out.
Ask (almost) any chef, hunter, butcher or other similar professional, and they’ll tell you that the ONLY way to sharpen your knives is using whetstones. They come in all shapes,sizes and materials, as well as differinggrit sizes. Some people may be intimidated by using whetstones, and some could argue it’s for good reason. If you don’t know what you’re doing and try to use a whetstone without learning how to properly, you can do some serious damage to your knife.
There are also some more user-friendly options out there available like this one that rather than just using a bare stone, it can help you get a perfect edge without as steep a learning curve. It may take some time to learn, but it’s a valuable and rewarding skill to have in your arsenal, and will get your knives to their absolute sharpest.
Pull-Through sharpeners are popular in many homes due how easy they are to use. You don’t need any skill to operate one of these. You just pull your knife over through the abrasive discs or stones that are pre-set to a specific angle and it will slowly and surely sharpen the knife. While these are great because they’re so easy to use, they have some major downfalls.
These sharpeners are pre-set at a specific angle, which may or may not be a matching angle to your blade’s edge. So, you may notice that even with a good amount of pressure, your blade isn’t getting any sharper using one of these. You need to pull the blade through for a long time, to eventually shave away the steel edge until it matches the sharpener. Because you need to pull the knife through the contraption so long to get the proper angle, you shave away a large amount of steel, decreasing the lifespan of your favourite knife (and the sharpener) faster than if you were to use whetstones. All in all, pull-throughs are great for those that just need a quick fix for their knives and don’t want to bother learning how to “properly” sharpen.
Choosing The Best Whetstone Sharpener:
If you’ve decided to go the route of a whetstone, it’s a great choice. Some of these may have steeper learning curves than others, but all of them can produce a superior edge on your knife.
King Medium and Fine Grit Whetstones
King is a name that you will hear often when talking about whetstones. These stones are made with superior Japanese quality and although some think that only certain knives are meant to be sharpened on these, it’s just not true. You can sharpen everything from your kitchen knives and hunting knife to the wife’s sewing scissors. It’s best to get both the #3000 grit stone (rough) and the #6000 grit stone (fine) or a combination stone, though it won’t last as long since it’s half the thickness. There is also a #800 grit rough stone available if you think your blade really needs it. The rough stones takes larger shavings off the edge, getting you the proper angle, then the fine stone removes any abrasions giving you a clean and razor sharp edge. It does take a little bit to get the technique down so we recommend you: read a guide, watch a video tutorial, go slow at first, and practice on a less valuable knife to start. While some sharpeners require special liquid as lubricant, King stones require only water. You’ll also want to make sure you keep wet while you work, and to use all parts of the stone to avoid degrading the middle of the stone, essentially wasting the edges of it. They should last you a very long time as long as you do so. It may take some time to learn but you’ll be able to shave your face with your blade when you’re finished.
Pros: Complete control over edge angle, don’t need special fluid – just use water, can use with almost all knives and other sharp tools, affordable, looks awesome!
Cons: Need to learn proper technique, may take longer at first than other methods
Be sure to also check out this video of how to use King Stones properly:
The Spyderco Sharpmaker is a unique tool that combines the effectiveness and precision of whetstones with the convenience of a pull-through. The Sharpmaker contains a few different components: the plastic base and some long grinding stones that mount horizontally into the base. Each grit of stone comes in a pair, and are mounted opposite each other. You basically just scrape one side of your knife down the length of one stone, then do the same on the other. It’s that simple. You also don’t need to wet it or lubricate with oil like some other systems. You can use the Sharpmaker for all sorts of things besides knives as well like fish hooks or scissors. The plastic base has a few spots where you can drill it into place, as it can be a bit wobbly since the base is somewhat light. You don’t have as complete control of your edge as you would manually with whetstones, but you can still get your knife super sharp, and with barely any time or effort.The rods mount at either 30 or 40 degrees, so you can’t adjust this. It’s not common you’ll need a different angle anyways, so this is a great way to ensure a perfect 30 or 40 degrees. This is the type of system you just set up and can use without any skill or previous knowledge required.
Pros: Affordable, easy to use, don’t need water or oil, gets knives very sharp
Cons: Only 30 or 40 degrees, plastic base can be wobbly if you don’t weight or screw it down, not as much control over blade as manually using whetstones.
Check out the Sypderco Sharpmaker in action:
If you want more control over your edge than the Sharpmaker, but still like the idea of a guided sharpener, maybe the EdgePro is a better option for you. The EdgePro Apex sits on a table or countertop at an angle, and a mobile arm with the sharpening stone is attached to it. You mount the knife on the base, and use the arm with the mounted stone in somewhat of a sawing motion to work the edge (the video below will make that make more sense). You can adjust the angle in 3 degree increments so you can get a precise angle on your edge. It’s extremely easy to use and can get your knives razor sharp. Because of how the blade faces you while sharpening, if you slip you could seriously cut yourself. So you should always go slow while you are learning, or wear a cut-proof glove. The only downside to this system is that it is a little on the pricey side. If you want to save some bucks, you can get one of the models with fewer stones like Apex 1, or if you want the ultimate package consider the Apex 4. All in all, it is a brilliant invention and works extremely well so it can be considered a worthy environment.
Pros: Easy to use, many stones and grits available, get razor-sharp edges
Cons: Expensive, blade faces your hand while you sharpen
Here’s a great explanation of how to set up and use the EdgePro Apex:
The Lansky can somewhat be considered a “light” version of the Apex. You secure the blade to the mount, then use the long bars with grit stones attached to them to sharpen the edge at a guided angle. You push the arm through the holes at the end of the Lansky to ensure the arm stays at your desired angle. The main difference between the Apex and the Lansky is that the Lansky is designed to be held in your hands, rather than mount to a table. This is better in some ways, since it’s smaller and more compact it’s easier to store and travel with. But, it’s less secure which can be a little worrisome. There is a mount available for the Lansky which we recommend grabbing as well if you choose this one. You have 4 different angles of sharpening available, 17, 20, 25 and 30, as well as 5 different stones ranging from very coarse to ultra fine. There are also a few ceramic honing rods if your blade needs it. If the blade is not very tall like with (narrow, measuring from spine to edge) then it can be difficult to use since the rods can interfere with the clamps. It’s a little weird to use it in your hands without the mount, but otherwise this is an awesome system that works really well. It won’t require much learning, but for sure some patience at the beginning to get the technique down.
Pros: Affordable, 5 grits of stones included, 4 angles available, handheld or mounted
Cons: Doesn’t come with mount, sharpening small knives can be difficult
Here’s what the Lanksy looks like in action (without a mount):
Smith’s Tri-Hone System
Last on our list for whetstone/manual system is the Smith’s Tri-Hone. It has a unique design, with all three stones mounted to the same triangular mount. When you’re ready to move from a rough stone to the finer ones, you just flip the mount to the next stone. The three grits are 220, 400 and 1200. It would be nice to have something around the 800 mark, but if you could only have three, these are good options. It’s definitely the smallest one on our list, with the stones being only around 6 inches long, so it’s more suited to hunting knives and smaller kitchen knives, whereas something like King Stones would be better for larger kitchen knives. You do have to use a special lubricating oil to get the proper performance from this tool, as opposed to just water (or nothing) with some other systems. However, you will need to take some time to learn proper technique, unlike the guided systems we covered above. Although the unit itself and the stones are smaller, this is an awesome affordable choice for household use.
Pros: Cheap, compact, works great
Cons: No grit around 600-800, works better for smaller knives
Have a look at the Tri-Hone in use:
Choosing The Best Pull-Through Sharpener:
If these whetstone sharpeners are a little too much work for you, you may want something easier like a pull-through model. Although pull-throughs may reduce the lifespan of your knives because they remove so much more material, they still do a very good job of honing your blades to a near-perfect edge. Here are our two favourites.
The Priority Chef is a compact and easy to use tool that would make a great addition to most kitchens. There’s not much to say about the operation of this tool – you just put it on the counter and run your knives through it! The large handle keeps your fingers safely out of the way while you run the knife along the stones inside and the base is a cushioned non-slip material. The black plastic and stainless steel are a nice touch on the design side, so much so that it will blend into your counter as any other appliance. It’s also great because it works with larger kitchen knives and also smaller styles like your trusted swiss army. The first stone is diamond coated, and a rougher grit to get those larger nicks out of the edge. The second stone is a ceramic wheel of a finer grit that brings your edge into a sharp point and also hones it slightly. We also love the Priority Chef because it’s very easy to sharpen serrated knives with. You won’t get the same edge angle control as a whetstone sharpener, and it may wear your knives quicker, but it certainly does the job and gets your blades back to where they should be.
Pros: Easy to use, looks great, works well, can use with serrated knives, affordable
Cons: May wear knives quicker, not much control over edge/angle
Here’s what the Priority Chef looks like when in use:
Presto Electric System
Our last product on the list is the Presto Electric Knife Sharpener. It’s unique in comparison to all the others on our list for that simple reason: it’s powered by electricity. If you couldn’t tell by now, we prefer whetstones over pull-throughs in most cases, and this Presto is in that same class. But, we know that they can be hard to learn and to use. If you want something that sits in your cupboard and takes 5 minutes to get your knives back into functioning form with zero effort, this is another great option. There are a few things to consider when using this one however. For one, you don’t need to apply barely any pressure. The motor (which is surprisingly quiet) gets the sapphirite stones absolutely humming, so applying downward pressure will slow down the motor and mess up your edge. You also want to continually pull the edge through and never stop pulling the knife back and through the slot. They are also fairly rough grit stones, so it can leave burr on your edges. You can decide then if you want to remove it with a fine stone by hand, or just leave it. This is another one that you don’t have any control over the angle of your edge, and will take quite a bit off the blade, but if you just want something to get your old, dull knives back into shape this will definitely do the trick.
Pros: Very easy to use, fairly quiet, gets knives very sharp, affordable
Cons: Takes off a lot of material, rough stones can leave burr, no control over edge
See how to use the Presto EverSharp here:
And there you have it! Hopefully this guide has shed some light on what knife sharpeners you should look into. Let us know if you have any questions, and be sure to let us know which one you decided! We love hearing from our readers.