Types of Knife Sharpeners
Manual Knife Sharpeners
Manual knife sharpeners are the most compact and affordable type. In fact, we found excellent reviews for one small manual sharpener that costs just $10 on average. Fancier manual models offer users more control over the sharpening process but also require more skill to use. Most manual sharpeners have no moving parts at all; you do the work by drawing the blade repeatedly across the sharpener's abrasive surface which may be a stone or a rod, or even a slotted system that you just pull the knife through.
Electric Knife Sharpeners
Although electric knife sharpeners don't provide as much control as manual sharpeners, they're faster and easier to use. In most cases, you pull the knife slowly through specially designed slots in the sharpener; abrasives hidden inside the slots do the sharpening. Electric knife sharpeners tend to be larger than manual models, so keep storage or counter space in mind.
sure a sharpener is actually what you need
kitchen knife is a dangerous knife, because it's more likely to slip and slice
your fingers instead of whatever else you were working on. Even the most
expensive knives can slide into that danger zone as they lose sharpness over
time. You can send your knives out to a professional for re-sharpening, but
with fewer and fewer sharpening services available locally, doing it yourself
is more attractive than ever. That way you don't lose the use of your knives
while they're being shipped back and forth, and you also save the money you
would have paid to the sharpening service.
term "sharpening" is often used to describe both honing (re-straightening the
burr that forms the cutting edge of a knife) and reshaping the blade to create
a new burr. Most in-home knife sharpeners are capable of doing both to some
degree. Sharpening your knives before the blade becomes nicked or significantly
dull makes the sharpening process easier and faster, and also helps preserve
your knives because in order to reshape a dull blade you have to remove a lot
sharpeners use some sort of an abrasive -- either tungsten carbide, ceramic,
steel or diamond, which provides the hardest, most aggressive sharpening
surface -- to reshape the knife blade. Most have at least two sharpening
surfaces to choose from; you start with a coarser grit to remove more steel,
then use a finer grit to polish your knife to a smooth edge.
cutlery makes a difference, too; see our report on kitchen knives for the best knives that will hold an edge longer and
sharpen up more quickly. If you find that you're uncomfortable working with an
exposed blade or need a slicer that quickly makes many uniform cuts, we've also
evaluated the best mandolines to make short
work of any pile of veggies.
blade angle do you need?
angle at which you position the knife during sharpening is key, and it depends
on what sort of knife you have. European/Western knives typically have a blade
angle of 20 degrees, while Asian knives typically have a blade angle of 15
degrees, although many European knife makers have started introducing 15-degree
blades as well. Most electric sharpeners have guides to help you maintain the
blade at the correct angle, and some can accommodate multiple blade angles.
Finding The Best Knife Sharpeners
"The Best Knife-Sharpening Tool"
"I'm Losing My Edge"
select our best-reviewed knife sharpeners, we considered four factors:
performance, ease of use, safety and, for electric sharpeners, the noise level.
To rate knife sharpeners on these criteria, we consulted professional
comparison tests at sites such as Cook's Illustrated, Wirecutter and Wired. We
also looked at more casual tests in newspaper articles and on consumer
we consulted hundreds of reviews at retail sites such as Amazon and Knife Depot
to see how knife sharpeners perform in the hands of typical home users. The
result is our picks for the best knife sharpeners for any budget and level of
For multi-stage manual
sharpening, we highly recommend the (Est. $70), which has held the top spot in this
report for several years now. This sharpener has two sets of triangular rods --
miniature sharpening stones in fine and medium grits -- that fit into its
plastic base at
preset angles. You hold
the knife horizontally, blade edge pointing down, then draw it back across the
sharpening rods on first one side, then the other. An included DVD gives more
detail on how to do this; the process is easy and simple once you see a visual
The base has several slots
set at different angles. Changing slots lets you adjust the Spyderco Sharpmaker
for kitchen knives with a 15- or 20-degree edge, and users say it excels at
sharpening scissors and utility knives too. "There isn't much the Spyderco
can't sharpen," writes Scott Gilbertson for Wired, explaining that the open
design makes it easy to do unusual things like de-burring a Phillips head
screwdriver or sharpening wire cutters. You can also use the Spyderco
Sharpmaker to sharpen serrated blades.
Overall, users say the
Sharpmaker offers reliable, hard-to-beat results with a reasonable learning
curve, and they're happy that, unlike traditional flat stones, you don't have
to wet or oil the sharpening rods before use. They also say the Sharpmaker
makes it easier to maintain a good angle than flat sharpening stones. Users
warn that you do, however, need to scrub the stones periodically with an
abrasive cleanser like Comet or Ajax to remove any lingering particles of
steel. They also warn to be careful about not dragging the point of the knife
across the stones as this will quickly dull it.
As long as you keep your
hand on the base, outside the rods, they do double-duty as safety rails to keep
the knife edge away from your hand. It usually takes about 20 passes on each
side to sharpen a blade, although you may need to repeat the process with both
the medium- and fine-grit sharpening rods. Rods with very fine grit are also
available, and hardcore sharpening enthusiasts like that you can flip the base
over and insert the rods so they lay almost flush to the base, letting you use
them like flat sharpening stones for really beat-up blades. Users also
appreciate the Spyderco Sharpmaker's durability, with most saying their first
model lasted for several decades of use before wearing out.
Our only gripe about this
sharpener is the terminology used in its documentation. When the Spyderco
manual refers to a 40-degree knife edge, it's actually referencing what most
knife-makers and manufacturers or sharpeners would call a 20-degree blade, the
standard for Western kitchen knives. The reason for this disconnect is because
Spyderco is measuring all the way across the blade, while most others measure
just one side of the blade at a time. What Spyderco calls a 30-degree blade
would typically be called a 15-degree blade, the standard for Asian kitchen
knives, although some Western manufacturers are beginning to use this narrower
blade angle as well.
If you want to re-shape
the edge on a knife that isn't set to a 15- or 20-degree angle, or restore a
more damaged edge, the medium-grit rods that come with the Sharpmaker don't
remove enough metal. Users have reported good results, however, with the (Est. $50),
which are diamond rods for the Sharpmaker system. Of course, if a knife edge is
severely damaged, you're usually better off sending it out to be re-shaped, but
the Spyderco Sharpmaker can handle anything short of that, and is small and
light enough to tuck easily in your pocket or a kitchen drawer.
Most users say that the
Spyderco Sharpmaker is easy to use, even if its instruction manual can be a
little confusing at first. But if you're not comfortable with its relatively
open mechanics, consider our best-reviewed knife sharpening kit, the (Est. $55). This
system comes with a clamp that secures the knife blade, four grits of hones
from coarse/grinding to ultra-fine, and a triangle-shaped hone for sharpening
serrated blades. You attach a guide rod to each hone, then slide the guide rod
into a hole on the clamp. Which hole you choose sets the angle for the
sharpening: 17, 20, 25 or 30 degrees. Once the guide rod is in place, you swing
the hone repeatedly across the edge of the blade at the pre-set angle; anywhere
from six to 20 passes with each hone will do the job.
We didn't find much
professional feedback on the Lansky professional sharpening system, but users
at several review sites say it's pretty easy to figure out (an instructional
video helps), and that the coarser hones remove enough metal to work with
high-quality hard steel or re-profile a damaged blade.
That said, the Lansky
professional sharpening system does have some quirks. A few users point out the
lack of a safety guard -- the only thing separating your fingers from the knife
blade is your own good judgment -- and blades longer than about 6 inches must
be sharpened in sections, so this isn't the best choice if the only thing
you're sharpening is long chef's knives. Others say that with some blade
shapes, they used electrical tape to reinforce the clamp's grip on the blade.
Still, this is one of the
most popular all-around sharpening kits because it creates a true razor edge
and offers you a lot of control over the finished product, yet feels less
intimidating than a full-on sharpening stone; and the wider angles it
accommodates come in handy for sharpening utility or survival/outdoors knives.
If you want a manual knife
sharpener that works like most electric sharpeners -- just pull the knife
through the slot -- then our top pick is the (Est. $65) manual knife sharpener. This
knife sharpener has three slots, each armed with diamond-abrasive grinding
wheels, and can sharpen a 15 or 20-degree blade; slot one is for a 15-degree
blade, while slot two is for a 20-degree blade, and slot three can polish
either blade angle.
Users say it usually takes
five to six strokes to get a good edge on a blade that's in decent shape, and
that the Chef's Choice ProntoPro's large handle is easy for everyone to hold
onto, including men with large hands or those with decreased grip strength.
What it won't do, however, is rehabilitate a truly damaged or nicked blade --
for that, you need one of the other manual knife sharpeners that we've already
The ProntoPro 4643 earns a
top nod from Wirecutter after hours of hands-on testing. The author, Tim
Heffernan, writes that this product is "foolproof, durable and
affordable" for most people. Users generally feel this sharpener is a
great value for the money, but several warn that it requires more downward
pressure than you'd apply with most sharpeners, and if you're left-handed, you
might find it a little awkward to use with your off hand.
You can easily sharpen
knives on a budget
If you want to skip the
learning curve entirely and save some money at the same time, one of the best
knife sharpeners we found is also one of the cheapest. The design of the (Est. $10) couldn't be
simpler: It's nothing but a plastic handle with a slot
containing a tiny, replaceable tungsten carbide sharpening surface. You place
the knife to be sharpened on a table, blade up, and position the AccuSharp over
the knife blade. Then you apply light pressure as you pull the AccuSharp along
the length of the blade.
Whether they were
professional testers or home users, reviewers sometimes found it a bit
unnerving to pull the AccuSharp over an exposed knife blade with nothing but
its plastic guard as protection. Once they got past that, though, they found it
produced a sharp edge quickly and easily. Workers in a prominent test kitchen
found it especially handy for quick touch-ups, since it's small and light
enough to fit in a drawer.
Because the AccuSharp
doesn't have multiple sharpening surfaces to choose from, the amount of
pressure you apply is the only way of adjusting its abrasion level. In fact, a
few users warn that if you apply too much pressure, this little sharpener will
take too much metal off and can even nick the knife blade -- so use a
light touch. Overall, users love its compact size, price tag and ease of use,
and say they feel perfectly safe once they get used to it.
There is some discussion
among both experts and owners about whether the AccuSharp really puts a
professional edge on knives, but it's so quick and easy to use that in a way
that doesn't matter, as long as you keep touching up the blade before it
becomes dulled to the point of damage. This little sharpener also lasts a long
time; one user says it took eight years to wear hers out.
Reviews indicate that it
takes about 20 passes to sharpen a dull blade, be it straight or serrated, with
this little device. One note: The AccuSharp is only designed to
work with 20-degree blades (the typical measurement for a Western-style kitchen
knife) that are beveled on both sides. So it's not the right choice for
15-degree (Asian-style) knives or knives with a chisel edge that is only
beveled on one side, which will rule out some serrated blades.