The Spyderco 204MF Tri-Angle Sharpmaker System gets mostly high marks for performance, but it gets mixed feedback on ease of use, and some owners surface quality-control complaints.
Most say the sharpening results are great. Pete Thibodeau, who tests a variety of knife sharpeners for the LA Times, says the Sharpmaker "provided an excellent edge for all of the knives we sharpened with it and was gentle on the blades." Chad Ward, an avid home cook who literally wrote the book on kitchen knives, describes this as the best sharpener of its type at eGullet.org. It also tests well at a foodie magazine, although the editors have some trouble using it, as discussed below.
Most users at Amazon.com rave about this sharpener's performance. Typical comments include, "Every knife in my block, and in my utility drawer is now razor sharp" and "I've been able to get shave sharp edges on every blade I've passed on this sharpener and have had no similar results from any other sharpening device." A few, however, baffled by all the positive commentary, saying the Tri-Angle Sharpmaker left their knives no sharper -- or even duller -- than they were to start with. One user complains, "I'd swear I'm doing just what the instructions/video calls for. But the knife tears paper instead of cutting it."
These discrepancies in performance may be explained by quality control problems with the manufacturing of this sharpener, discussed in more detail below.
Mixed feedback, based on product quality. This system has two sets of triangular sharpening rods, one rough and one fine, made of high-alumina ceramic (essentially a synthetic form of sapphire or ruby, which is second only to diamond in hardness). These rods snap into slots in the base that hold them at the proper angle, so all the user has to do is keep the knife vertical while pulling it down the stone. Ward says this is "about the easiest system to use," though he warns that it's possible to round off the tip of your knife if you sharpen too hastily. Thibodeau also says it's "easy to control and use."
Testers at a foodie magazine, however, found this sharpener slow, overly complicated and difficult to control. Most owners posting at Amazon.com have no complaints, but a few report design flaws that make the Sharpmaker all but impossible to use. One owner complains, "The rods, not even cut to a uniform length, are completely loose in the case, and for sharpening, they fit so poorly in the 'keyed slots' that they wobble a good inch in every direction." Another user, who bought a new Sharpmaker to replace a much-loved old one, couldn't get the rods to fit into the slots; after forcing them into place, the user still had "a terrible time" sharpening the knife and found that the stones wore down at an alarming rate.
It's pretty hard to cut yourself while using the Spyderco system. In addition to the slots for the sharpening stones, the base includes slots for a pair of brass safety rods, which prevent the knife from making contact with the user's hands. In a demonstration video that the manufacturer posted on YouTube, an expert shows how the knife can be pulled carelessly off the stone in several different ways and the brass rods will catch it before it hits the user. The main hazard of the Spyderco system is that the sharpening stones themselves are vulnerable to damage. Thibodeau recommends against using this sharpening system "on a marble or tile surface," as the fine-grained white stones are brittle and may shatter if dropped.
No motor, so no intrusive noise. The only sound you'll hear as you use it will be the scraping of the knife blade against the sharpening rods. One user review at Amazon.com says that this noise is actually useful feedback, since "there is less frictional noise and resistance" as you continue sharpening. Aside from that one comment, we found no reference to this sharpener's noise level, either pro or con.
1. Cook's Illustrated Magazine
Review Credibility: Very Good Editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine test and compare 12 manual knife sharpeners, including the Spyderco 204MF Tri-Angle Sharpmaker System. Each sharpener is rated on performance, notch removal and ease of use. While the best manual knife sharpeners do a decent job of restoring a knife's edge for a fraction of the cost of an electric knife sharpener, none of them can repair a nicked or damaged knife.
Review: Manual Knife Sharpeners, Editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine, Nov. 1, 2006
Review Credibility: Very Good We found more than 300 reviews for the Spyderco 204MF Tri-Angle Sharpmaker System at Amazon.com, with an overall rating of 4.6 stars. Most owners say this sharpener is easy to use and produces a great edge. It's not all good news, though, as we also found negative reviews from owners who are baffled by the positive feedback. Some say their Sharpmakers did not fit together properly, leaving the rods wiggling around in their slots; others claim the sharpener was completely ineffective or, in a few cases, even made their knives duller.
Review: Tri-Angle Sharpmaker, Contributors to Amazon.com, As of October 2012
Review Credibility: Very Good This long article discusses knife sharpening in incredible detail. Writer and cook Chad Ward describes eight sharpening systems, many of which will be unfamiliar to even the most ardent foodies. In the section on "V-systems and crock sticks," he says, "Rather than review all of the crock stick setups out there, let me save you some time. Spend the $40 and get the Spyderco Sharpmaker 204." This system, he says, is "pretty much foolproof" and can sharpen both straight and serrated knives. Its only downside: It's possible to "round the tip" of a knife if you aren't careful.
Review: Knife Maintenance and Sharpening, Chad Ward, Aug. 13, 2003
4. Los Angeles Times
Review Credibility: Good In this article, Pete Thibodeau tests a variety of sharpening systems designed for home use. The author considers dozens of different types of sharpeners and tests each one on three different knife types. Thibodeau gives top marks to the Spyderco 204MF Tri-Angle Sharpmaker System, which he says is easy to use, effective and inexpensive. However, he adds that it "needed a bit of practice to get the feel of" and that the brittle stones could break if dropped onto a hard surface.
Review: Sharpeners Prove Their Point, Pete Thibodeau, Dec. 8, 2004