Whether hunting, cooking, camping, or in combat, it is important to have the proper tools for these activities, and a sharp knife is essential. A dull knife can result in frustration at not being able to effectively complete a task; and, even more important, a dull knife can be dangerous. Why? Because it takes extra effort to cut with a knife that is not sharp. Putting more pressure on the knife may cause it to slip, and may result in a severe cut. A sharp knife is safer and much more effective. Fortunately, there are many tools available nowadays to sharpen dull knives and keep them sharp for years. We have put together this guide to help you choose the best knife sharpener for your needs and budget, so that you can make sure that you always have sharp knives at hand.
Today’s market is inundated with knife sharpening systems and tools. With so much advanced technology you will have to decide whether you want to use a manual method or an automatic (electrical) system. Let’s look at both.
Automatic knife sharpeners offer convenience and speed and they are very easy to use. With automatic knife sharpening systems you can rest assured that you will be able to sharpen your knives quickly and without much effort. They are more expensive than manual knife sharpeners, but they will save you a lot of time and energy down the road, so it is a good investment overall.
Best Automatic Knife Sharpeners:
Listed below are some of the best electric knife sharpeners on the market.
#1 Chef’sChoice 15 Trizor XV EdgeSelect Electric Knife Sharpener
This three-stage knife sharpener uses flexible abrasive stropping disks and diamond abrasives. Designed for European, Asian and American knives, it can convert a 20 degree factory edge into a high performing
Trizor 15 degree edge. You get the perfect angle every time because of the flexible spring guides that automatically adjust the angle. This sharpener can be used with serrated or straight edges.
#2 Chef’sChoice 1520 AngleSelect Diamond Hone Electric Knife Sharpener
This is a three-stage knife sharpener which can be used on serrated and straight knives. It uses knife guides and diamond abrasives which result in a razor sharp edge. This sharpener is designed for American, European and Asian cutlery and some of the advanced features include flexible polishing/stropping discs that create a 20 or 15 degree edge on single and double bevel knives.
#3 Wusthof 3 Stage Electric Knife Sharpener
This sharpener is slightly more expensive. The sharpener is manufactured in the United States by Chef’s Choice and comes with 3 year warranty, so you know that the product’s quality is good. It has three sharpening stages for all types of knives, including serrated knives (slot #3) and it sharpens knives equally on both sides using Wusthof’s famous PETec standard.
#4 Presto 08800 Eversharp Electric Knife Sharpener
This is a two-stage sharpening system that sharpens most non-serrated blades. It uses precision blade guides to position the knife at an angle that will result in the best results each time you use it. In a matter of seconds you can have a razor sharp edge as a result of the Sapphirite sharpening wheels.
#5 National Presto Ind 08810 Eversharp Electric Knife Sharpener
This is a three-stage system designed for sports, kitchen and hunting knives. It comes with interchangeable blade guides which hold the knife at the best sharpening angle. The angle adjusts to three positions: one for thin blades like a filet knife, and the highest angle for things like cleavers.
Manual sharpeners cost less than automatic knife sharpeners because you do most of the work and it takes more effort. Many people like the manual sharpening tools because they are more compact and enable the individual to have more control during the sharpening process. Manual sharpeners do not take up as much space as the automatic systems and you can easily take them with you on a camping or hunting trip.
Best Manual Knife Sharpeners
Listed below are what many customers voted for as the best manual knife sharpeners on the market today:
#1 Work Sharp WSGFS221 Guided Field Sharpener
Designed for sportsmen, this kit is the first angle guided five-stage knife sharpening solution. Each stage has a built-in angle guide to enable a consistent bevel across the blade. Also included with this kit are two diamond plates (includes one coarse grit and one fine grit), two ceramic rods (includes a 3-position ceramic rod with a coarse grit, fine grit, and fish hook honing sides), and one leather strop (conditioned with a micro-abrasive). Compact and affordable.
#2 Messermeister 12-Inch Ceramic Rod Knife Sharpener
This is a preventative tool that is good for honing, alignment and sharpening. The handle is ergonomically designed to be easy on your hands. The ceramic has a small amount of abrasive to help sharpen your knife as well as align it. This tool is perfect for Japanese and European cutlery.
This is a manual handheld knife sharpener that is easy to use and compact. It works on sports and serrated knives and produces a sharp edge. This sharpener has a slot for aligning the blade. You put the knife on a hard surface with the blade up, and run the Accusharp down the length of the blade.
#4 Chef’s Choice Pronto Santoku/Asian Manual Knife Sharpener
Uses diamond abrasive wheels that result in sharp blades in seconds. It has a soft-touch handle so that
your hands don’t get tired from holding the sharpener. There are non-slip pads that keep the sharpene
r secure so that it does not slip while you are sharpening. Lightweight and compact and can easily fit into a drawer.
#5 Lansky PS-MED01 BladeMedic
This system has ceramic rods and uses tungsten-carbide that will restore your blade and give you a finished edge in three or four strokes. It is designed to get into very small serrations and has a diamond tapered rod for fast reconditioning and maintenance.
Main Types of Manual Knife Sharpeners:
There are two main types of manual knife sharpeners:
Stones have been used as sharpening tools since the ancient days. When selecting a stone, be sure you always choose one that is harder than the knife you are sharpening. That might sound strange, but many people think that all stones are naturally very hard. They are not. Sometimes stones need to be lubricated with oil or water before being used for sharpening. Stones come in fine, medium and rough coarse. A diamond abrasive stone is made of the hardest material. Ceramic is a step under diamond abrasive, and a hard stone is the one most commonly used. The hard stone often takes a lot of effort because it is not much harder than steel. If your knife is really dull, you might have to use a combination of stones. Remember, the tool you use should always be much harder than the knife you are sharpening.
2) Rod and Slotted Systems
Most of the other manual knife sharpeners fall into the category of rod or slotted. A rod system is a manual sharpener which has ceramic rods that are set at angles and fit into the base. It is designed so that the knife can be pulled through against the rods. It works with straight and serrated blades, and works best on shorter knives. A slotted system is a manual system that uses metal strips laced together that act as wheels or fingers. They form a V through which the knife is drawn. The slotted system can only be used for straight blades.
With so many knife sharpeners on the market it may be difficult for you to decide which one is the best kitchen knife sharpener or best hunting knife sharpener for you. First take into consideration what type of knife you need to sharpen. Then decide if you want a manual or an electric system. If you do not want to use your arms a lot, then an electric system might be better for you.
If you have short knives, a rod system will work better. If you have straight blades look for a slotted sharpening system.
A water stone sharpener is good for thin-bladed knives. With a diamond sharpener you will get an extremely sharp edge because the stone is so hard; ceramic stones are very hard and will sharpen blades quickly; oil stones use oil to lubricate instead of water; they stay flat for a long time and are durable; water stones need to be soaked in water before you use them, and they wear out quicker than the other stcones. Many of the systems incorporate one or several of these materials.
How to Determine if Your Knife Needs Sharpening
People often use knives for purposes other than what they are meant for, and this can cause damage to the blade. Knives are sometimes used to pry things open or to scrape. Both of these things can bend your blade. In addition, blades can become damaged from normal wear and tear. For example, kitchen knives used to slice acidic foods such as lemons can become corroded by the acid. The same is true if you put knives in a dishwasher. The hot temperature or chemicals that may be in the cleaner will have the same effect.
Blade buckling is the most common blade damage and this comes from heavy cutting or bending. An example of this is when you use cutting boards or break apart ice. To minimize damage to your knife try cleaning right after use, using softer surfaces, and making sure you are using the right blade for what you are doing.
There are several ways to check the sharpness of your knife:
- Touch – Run your thumb across the blade. Be sure you do not cut yourself by running your thumb along the blade. It should be perpendicular to the edge. If the blade is sharp you will notice a distinct edge similar to a corner. The blade may even sing from vibration. If the blade is dull, the edge will be round and your thumb will slip over it.
- Visual – You cannot see a very sharp knife with the eye because it is too small – you may not even be able to see it under a microscope. Focus on the shape near the edge of the blade. If you turn the knife you will see a change in the reflection if it needs sharpening. Rolled edges create a reflective surface enabling you to also see nicks. An edge that has been properly straightened cannot be seen by the eye if you are looking at it head-on.
- Biting – You can check the sharpness of a blade by seeing if it “bites.” That means the knife cuts with no pressure as soon as you draw it across an item. There are tools that are made specifically to check for biting, but you can use paper or a thumbnail (be careful of cutting your finger). If you are checking a kitchen knife you can try it out on fruits and vegetables.
Knife Sharpening Techniques
Knife sharpening is a process that has three primary stages:
- Sharpening – Sharpening is when you remove metal from the blade to restore the edge. To accomplish sharpening, apply the blade to a surface that is harder than the metal in the blade. Drawing the blade across that surface breaks apart and removes small pieces of metal. This process largely depends on drawing the blade across at a certain angle. Angle depends on the type of knife that you have; however, 20 degrees is the norm for many knives. A shallow angle will produce a sharper knife, but the edge will not last long; a steeper angle will produce a more durable edge, but it will not be as sharp. This process is also called “grinding.”
- Straightening – This process involves straightening the metal that is already in the blade without removing a large amount of metal. Another term for straightening is “honing.” People often confuse honing with sharpening. Just remember, with sharpening, metal is removed; with straightening or honing, metal is not removed.
- Polishing – This is the final touch after you have honed or sharpened your knife. It is also called stropping and gives the blade a shiny, mirrorlike finish. That finish is often achieved by buffing with a circular cloth wheel. It is similar to buffing a shoe.
How to Sharpen Your Knife
Start by cleaning any residue that might be on the blade. Take a whetstone that has been soaked in water for about 10 minutes. The face side of the blade should be about 1/8 inch over the stone. Make sure you do not cut into the whetstone with the sharp cutting edge of the blade. At a 15-20 degree angle, slide the blade back and forth over the stone evenly and quickly until the blade is sharpened. Turn the knife over and repeat these steps. You can sharpen most knives using this technique. If you are using stones, you may have to experiment with the grit depending on how dull your knife is. You may need a harder abrasive on some blades. If you are not using stone and using a system to sharpen your knife, the system follows this same technique except you don’t put in as much effort, because the system is designed to assist you with sharpening.
How to Hone Your Knife
There is a tool called a honing steel that looks almost like a screwdriver and is commonly used for honing. You should use this tool after each knife use. If used correctly, a honing steel will straighten or realign your blade. With one hand stand the steel up on a hard surface and hold the handle at the top. With your other hand put the heel of the knife against the top of the steel at about a 20 degree angle. Using light pressure, draw the knife down the full length of the steel and pull across the full length of the knife. At the same time maintain the 20 degree angle. Go to the other side and repeat the process. Do this several times on each side. Honing is good for maintaining your knife between sharpening.
How to Polish Your Knife
Leather strops or felt wheels are often used to polish knives, but good old fashioned hand polishing will also do the job. It’s a good idea to remove the blade from the handle so that you do not damage the handle with cleaning product. Use a 200 – 600 grit emery cloth and sand the blade until it is smooth. Use a polishing compound along with a soft polishing cloth to hand polish the blade. Then use penetrating oil to clean the blade and wipe with a clean rag. Reattach the blade to the handle.
Main Parts of a Knife
Knives come in a variety of styles, sizes and shapes, but they have two basic parts – the handle and the blade. Listed below are additional parts that are common to most knives. Becoming familiar with these parts will help make instructions easier when it comes to knife sharpening, and help you choose the right tool for sharpening.
- Heel – the back part of the edge – opposite the point
- Tip – the front part of the knife (knife point)
- Edge – part of the blade that cuts
- Spine – opposite the edge, at the top of the blade
- Point – where the edge and spine come together
- Butt – end of the handle
- Bolster – band that joins the knife to the handle
- Scales – part of the knife that creates the handle; they are often made of wood
- Tang – part of the blade that goes into the handle
- Rivets – metal pins