Honing Your Skills: The Best Knife Sharpener
Most of the time, articles for Pro Tool Reviews are planned way in advance. This time, however, a few of the staff got together and wanted to sharpen some of their various knives and tools. As it turns out, four guys with four different knife sharpening systems showed up. That got us thinking: How did four individuals decide on four different systems, and what made each system unique enough to warrant our hard-earned money? Who makes the best knife sharpener and how do you determine what is best for your needs.
If that’s not the basis for an article, we don’t know what is.
Following is the collective one-by-one feedback of our experiences with these kits as they were passed around and as we tried each others’ rigs in a massive “knife-sharpening party” of epic proportions. (By the way, we highly recommend knife-sharpening parties—just make sure everyone present likes each other!)
DMT DuoSharp Plus Bench Stone
The two-sided DMT DuoSharp Plus Bench Stone comes in 8-inch and 10-inch sizes and can be purchased as a kit with a plastic stand to hold the stone. We had the 8-inch model and found it to be an excellent product for larger tactical knives as well as hand planer blades and even chisels. The DuoSharp Plus was our sharpener of choice for a rather imposing-looking Ka-Bar fixed tanto blade knife, and we were able to get it razor sharp on the micronized diamond stone. We loved the “forever” properties of this sharpener. Because of the construction, it really won’t develop a belly like some of the natural stone systems. That means you’re going to be able to use it a good, long time (likely years) before you need to replace it. For larger, flat blades, this type of system is hard to beat. The key is getting a consistent angle, which is a skill you can develop over time. Even with smaller blades like the SOG Twitch II knife it was a great fit.
DMT also makes Diafold Double-sided sharpeners which most of us agreed offered an excellent option for portability in the field. While we recommend sharpening your knives before you go hunting, having one of these in your pocket wouldn’t be a bad idea to touch up your knife after it gets some use over a long weekend. The ease in which a single tool offers you both a coarse and fine grit in one is something we could really appreciate. On top of that, you can select any of four different grit combinations.
Pros: Consistent sharpening ability, Great for larger blades, Dual-sided
Cons: Requires a consistent angle to get a perfect edge
Verdict: This was our favorite sharpener for chisels, hand planer blades and larger fixed-blade knives.
- Model tested: WM8EF-WB
- Size (10-inch): 10″ x 4″ x 0.375 (stone-only)
- Size (8-inch): 8″ x 2.625″ x 0.375 (stone-only)
- Grits: Extra Coarse (X), Coarse (C), Fine (F), Extra Fine (E)
- Price: $125 (10-inch), $75 (8-inch)
Lansky Professional Knife Sharpening System
Next up was the Lansky knife sharpening system, which offers a different take on sharpening. While many sharpeners rely on your ability to manipulate the blade to the stone, Lansky takes away most of the guesswork and provides a clamp and rod system to hold the correct angle for you. You’re actually using a natural stone to glide along the edge of the blade at a predetermined angle (either 17, 20, 25 or 30 degrees). We took it to town on a Kershaw Cryo II knife and it produced a beautiful finished edge. The blade clamp holds the knife in the middle, and the hones allow you to move from coarse to fine until the entire edge of the blade is perfectly sharp.
What makes the Lansky almost fool-proof is the fact that the guide rods are set into a clamp at the exact angle of the blade edge. For many EDC knives, that’s 25 degrees. We also had several knives that had an inconsistent edge due to having been incorrectly sharpened in the past. With the Lansky system, we were able to “train” a new edge with a coarse hone and then move down to a fine hone to finish it off to a perfect sharpness. The Lansky system takes very little training, can be learned quickly and requires very little skill to master.
Pros: Consistent sharpening, Perfect for folding knives, Delivered razor-sharp results
Cons: Natural stones will develop a “belly” over time, Not as convenient for larger blades
Verdict: Lansky provides a fool-proof steady-as-she-goes sharpening system that’s perfect for smaller blades.
- Models: 7 kits and 16 hones to choose from
- Size (10-inch): 10″ x 4″ x 0.375 (stone-only)
- Hone grits: Leather Stropping, Fine Diamond, Super Sapphire, Ultra-Fine, Medium Diamond, Coarse Diamond, Fine Serrated, Medium Serrated, Extra Coarse Diamond, Medium, Fine, Extra Coarse, Coarse, Natural Black Hard Arkansas, Natural Hard Arkansas, Natural Soft Arkansas
- Price (kits): $25 – $69
- Price (hones): $6 – $16
Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker
With some of the easier-to-use sharpening systems out of the way, passing around the Spyderco Sharpmaker was a different thing entirely. It’s not that it was much harder to use, but there was a definite learning curve to develop the proper technique and speed up the job. Spyderco also uses a 15 or 20 degree finished bevel (each side) for its system, rendering a somewhat more durable blade angle that should do a decent job at resisting dulling.
When you see this system used well, it really impresses. Our own Brian March was running several knives through it, and it’s fun to watch someone who knows what they’re doing. The correct blade angle on this system is maintained simply by holding the knife straight to the sharpener, so that the angle of the alumina ceramic stones provide the correct bevel. There are two types of sharpening stones in the kit. One is for getting the knife to have a correct edge or a “utility” edge. That’s pretty sharp, but then there are two fine stones which will bring the blade up to a razor edge—it was particularly awesome on the Benchmade 300SN AXIS knife. Brass rods serve as protective devices to guard your hands in the event the blade slips off the end of the sharpener or it rolls over from excessive force.
Sharpening is gradual and logical, and this is a great system for someone who really enjoys the “craft” of honing a blade. While some of the other tools may render an equally-sharp blade, it was the Spyderco that felt like you were stepping back in time and doing the process by hand.
Pros: A real “craft” system for sharpening, 15 or 20 degree bevel (each side) for long-lasting edges
Cons: Takes some practice to get it right
Verdict: If you want to feel like you’re really practicing the craft of knife sharpening, you can hardly do better than this system.
- Model: 204MF
- Stone grits: Medium, fine (included); diamond, ultra-fine (optional)
- Size (stones): 7″ x 0.5″
- Case: ABS plastic (base and lid)
- Price: $65
Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener Field Kit
Finally, we broke out the Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener Field Kit. This tool got the most attention of all the sharpeners, primarily because it was the only system that plugged into the wall. What we found with the Work Sharp Kit was that it was the fastest sharpening system of all the ones tested. It really did an amazing job of producing a beautiful edge in no time at all. Swapping the abrasive belts was a breeze, and the guides offered a good amount of stability while sharpening. The Work Sharp puts a convex edge on your knives as opposed to the other systems we were using, which produced a flat grind.
While the Field Kit could indeed sharpen knives to an almost razor edge, we quickly realized that, once again, technique was key. For example, you need to become adept at keeping the blade flat against the plastic guide for the duration of the pull. You can also lose a bit of control at the end as the tip leaves the guide, giving it a less-than-precise edge compared to the rest of the blade. With practice, though, both of these issues went away.
Swapping out belts was a simple process, and we loved how quickly the P80 coarse material removed steel and reshaped the blade edge (with impressive sparks to boot). The P220 then delivered a nice utility edge, with the Fine grit belt taking us to a razor sharp conclusion. You can also rotate the body of the Work Sharp in order to use the system to hone the edges of axes and hatchets to a better-than-new sharpness.
This system will make anybody a “professional” knife sharpener in no time, but it can also create a much larger abrasive pattern on the edge of coated knives than you get with a flat-grind stone system. If you need a cleaner, narrower blade edge, this sharpener may not be for you. While the Work Sharp did wonders for our tactical knives and folders, we also found a hidden bonus: It put razor sharp edges on fillet and kitchen knives in no time flat. This may actually be the first knife sharpener your significant other will encourage you to buy!
Pros: Lightning fast sharpening, Produces a nice convex edge
Cons: Requires some practice, Needs power
Verdict: This is the speed-demon of knife sharpeners that produces a nice, strong convex edge.
- Model: WSKTS-KT
- Guides: Outdoor/serrated/scissors (25 degrees), Kitchen (20 degrees)
- Abrasive belts: P80 coarse (3), P220 medium (3), 6000 fine (3)
- Price: $100 (field kit), $70 (regular kit)
No, we’re not going to pick a winner. We couldn’t do it in the room, and believe me, we tried. Everyone is going to disagree about something, and everyone has their own preferences for what makes a good knife sharpener (and a good knife sharpening experience). Suffice it to say, we enjoyed the experience immensely, and each of us learned something about the other systems.
Knife sharpening is part craft, part technique, part efficiency and part passion. There’s no way to pick a winner when you add those up. The bottom line here is that you want to keep your knives sharp, and there are a lot of excellent systems to help you do that. The good news is that most of these sharpeners are quite affordable—and in the end, you may end up wanting to purchase more than one to take care of your personal knife collection.