There are few things are more frustrating than trying to accomplish a task without the proper tools. And if you’ve tried cutting anything with a dull knife, you know exactly what I’m talking about. Whether you’re a professional in the food industry, a home cook, or avid hunter/outdoors man, having a knife with a sharp edge is essential. There’s a lot of information online about the best way to sharpen knives and there are literally hundreds of products available that claim to be the best at getting it done. So we’ve compiled a list of some of the top rated sharpeners and sharpening systems to help you choose the one that’s best for every application.
In this guide we’ll go into detail about the best knife sharpener for use in the kitchen, garage, and in the field. We’ll cover the pro’s and con’s of each and rank them accordingly. We’ll also cover the different types of sharpeners available and the advantages of each.
As you will see from reading some of our other articles and sharpener reviews, there are many techniques to properly sharpening and honing the blade of a knife. And depending on the intended function of your knife, you need to know what that technique is. Not only does properly maintaining a blades edge keep it sharper, it also ensures that the blade will maintain its sharp edge for longer periods of time. Proper care and maintenance will also extend the life of the blade itself, so you can depend on your knives for years of service.
For the purposes of most consumers, knife sharpeners can be divided into two main categories: electric and manual. While most sharpening experts will tell you that manual sharpening with sharpening stones is the ONLY way to sharpen your knives, it is a skill that takes time, practice and most of all patience to become proficient. That being said, there are a number of tools available to help you learn to quickly and effectively sharpen your knives using stones.
However, because of the amount of time it takes to master sharpening with stones, and since it is possible to damage your knives if it is done incorrectly, the best knife sharpener for most consumers may be either an electric sharpener, or a manual sharpener with a guide. These products that help can help you achieve an extremely sharp edge in a minimal amount of time.
It is often said that an electric sharpener won’t give your knife the same edge as when done by a trained professional. This may be true. But if you own a lot of knives, having them professionally sharpened every six months or so can be pretty expensive. Not to mention the fact that you are without your knives for as long as it takes for them to be sharpened.
For that reason, many consumers choose to go with an electric knife sharpener. Since they are much easier to master than manual sharpening, you are much less likely to cause damage to your blades. Manual sharpening systems often require hours of practice just to master the basics. And because you can sharpen knives in a matter of minutes, an electric sharpener can save you a great deal of time and frustration.
We’ll take a look at both types of systems and you can decide which is best for you.
Since the vast majority of readers are probably not looking to become professional knife sharpeners, we’ll cover electric and guided sharpeners first. If you would prefer to skip straight to the section on sharpening stones, click here.
Choosing The Best Knife Sharpener
Before you can choose the best knife sharpener for your particular needs, you need to know exactly what you’ll be using it for. Many sharpeners can handle kitchen knives, scissors, utility knives and more. Others are designed only for kitchen knives. Generally speaking, you’ll get more bang for your buck by purchasing a sharpener that can handle a variety of blades.
There are some exceptions to this rule. If you own an expensive set of kitchen knives, you’ll want to buy a sharpener that is specifically designed to sharpen knives. The reason for this comes from how these products work.
The process of sharpening a knife involves removing small amount of material from the blade of the knife. This is true of both manual and electric models. Choosing a sharpener that is specifically designed for the type of knife you are sharpening helps to ensure that as small amount of material is removed as possible. This helps to extend the life of your knives for many years.
A sharpener that can handle a variety of tools, such as scissors, will still sharpen knives, but can often remove more material than necessary and therefore shorten the life of the blade.
Japanese Style Knives
Japanese knives have ben around for thousands of years. Traditionally they are made with a single bevel. This means that the edge of the blade is only sharpened on one side. Because of this, the bevel angle on a Japanese-style knife is typically smaller, making it sharper. Some Japanese knives will have a bevel angle as low as 5-6 degrees. When it comes to choosing a sharpener, this is the most important factor. You want to ensure that the product you choose can sharpen only one side of the blade at a time, otherwise it is possible to ruin the edge of the blade.
Japanese knives are also, typically made from a harder steel than their Western counterparts. This allows the sharper edge to hold up longer. This makes Japanese style knives less susceptible to dings and dents on the edge of the blade. But it also makes the steel more brittle. Therefore it is important handle them properly and to use the knives for what they were intended to cut. You wouldn’t want to use an expensive gyutu (chef’s knife) to chop through chicken bones, rather you would use a cleaver. And just as important you don’t wan to toss an expensive knife in the sink as it is possible to shatter hardened steel.
Another important difference between the two types of knives is the shape of the blade itself. This becomes especially important when sharpening. Japanese style knives are typically flat along the blade edge. This the reason they are considered to be so efficient, as more blade can be put in contact with the food being cut at any given time. When sharpening, this translates into a different method of pulling the blade through the sharpener.
Western/European Style Knives
First and foremost a Western style knife is going to have a symmetrical bevel. This means that the blade is sharpened on both sides. The combined angle of the two edges give you the overall angle. Most Western style knives have angles that are in the 18 to 28 degree range. It is not uncommon for them to have factory angles in the high 20′s. This is considerably higher than Japanese style knives.
Blade thickness is another big difference between the two styles. Since Western knives use a softer steel, more material is used to give it strength. This has the advantage of making them very durable. A chef’s knife can be used to cut through chicken bones and other dense materials that could very easily damage a Japanese blade.
The softer steel does make a Western knife more susceptible to damage. It is not uncommon for them to get dings and dents along the edge of the blade from heavy use. But proper sharpening techniques can quickly restore them to their original sharpness and beyond.
Finally, most Western style knives are curved along the blade. This allows the user to apply more pressure to a specific area of the blade. This is crucial when cutting through dense materials such as bone. It also requires that the blade be pulled through a sharpener along this curve so as to properly sharpen it along the entire length of the blade.
While understanding the differences between the two types of knives is important, the single most important piece of information you need to know before you can choose the best knife sharpener for your kitchen is whether your knives are single or double bevel. Meaning are they sharpened on one side or both. Once you know this, you can choose your sharpener accordingly.
Electric Knife Sharpeners
There are a large number of manufacturers of electronic knife sharpening systems. Many of them look the same, and most operate in a very similar manner. The idea behind the electric knife sharpener is to take the guess work and difficulty out of getting a fine edge on the blade without doing any damage to the metal.
Some sharpeners do a better job at this than others. Let’s take a quick look at a few of the things you should look for in any electric knife sharpener.
Number of Stages
Whether you are using an electric knife sharpener or a set of sharpening stones, the same basic steps apply to sharpening any knife. In the first stage you are trying to coarsely grind the edge of the blade. As implied in the description, a more coarse stone is used in this part of the process. This step removes many of the imperfections and damage from the edge of the blade.
The second stage uses a less coarse stone, and begins to create a smooth, sharp surface on the blade. A less coarse stone is used to achieve this step. Often if a blade is not damaged, you can begin your sharpening process with this step.
The third stage is the stropping or polishing stage. Here you are fine tuning the edge and polishing it to a clean finish.
There are a wide variety of materials that are used as sharpening stones for knives. They range from naturally occurring stones, to man-made materials. While naturally occurring compounds make very effective sharpeners, the longest lasting and most effective sharpening materials are man-made.
The majority of electric knife sharpeners use a diamond abrasive on the wheels that sharpen the blade as it is passed through the sharpener. As mentioned in the section on stages, a succession of various degrees of coarseness provide effective repair, sharpening, and polishing of the blade.
Adjustable Bevel Angle
The bevel angle determines the sharpness of your blade. The lower the number, the sharper the knife. However, there is a tradeoff between sharpness and durability. The lower the bevel angle the more prone a blade is to dulling and chipping.
While not as important as the number of stages or abrasive material, an adjustable bevel angle allows you to set the sharpener to the specific angle of your knives. This allow you to achieve varying levels of sharpness for different knives. An example might be sharpening a paring knife to a lower angle than a chef’s knife.
For most kitchen knives, an angle between 18 and 25 degrees is best. This allows for maximum sharpness while not degrading the durability of the edge. Kitchen knives including chef’s knives and boning knives will function perfectly well between these bevel angles. Certain others such as the previously mentioned paring knives might have a slightly lower bevel angle.
Even some of the best knife sharpeners on the market don’t include this feature however, so if flexibility is important to you, make sure to choose a product that includes a bevel angle selector.
The Best Knife Sharpener, Ultimate Guide
There are several categories we used to determine what is the best knife sharpener for the money. First and foremost is user reviews. There’s no better source of information on products than reviews provided by those that own and use the products. Not only do they supply information about the functionality of the product itself, but will often provide great information about how each company handles customer support, repairs, and warranty issues.
Features are another item that affects the overall rankings of the product. Though many products offer similar feature sets, some perform better than others.
Finally, price is the last piece of the equation. We’ve always been a firm believers that price is important, but should never trump quality and service in a decision to buy a particular product.