Types of 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.
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.
Make sure a sharpener is
actually what you need
A dull 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.
The 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 of steel.
Home 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.
Good 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.
Which blade angle do you need?
The 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.
best knife sharpeners
For multi-stage manual sharpening, we highly recommend the Spyderco 204MF Tri-Angle Sharpmaker System (Est. $60). 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 example.
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.com, 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. 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.
Users also love 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 Spyderco's Diamond Triangle Pair (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 love the easy mechanics of the Spyderco Sharpmaker but, if
you're not comfortable with its relatively open mechanics, consider our
best-reviewed knife sharpening kit, Lansky Professional Sharpening System (Est. $44).
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.
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
New to this
report, the Chef's Choice ProntoPro 4643 (Est. $65) manual
knife sharpener shows a lot of promise. It has three sharpening stages, each
armed with diamond-abrasive grinding wheels, and can sharpen a 15 or 20-degree
blade. 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 large handle is easy for everyone to
hold onto, including men with large hands or those with decreased grip
4643 earns a top nod from TheSweetHome.com 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.
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 AccuSharp 001 Knife and Tool Sharpener (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
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.
Finding The Best Knife Sharpeners
Editors of Cook's Illustrated, July 2015
Scott Gilbertson, March 7, 2013
Contributors to Knife Depot, As of December 2016
To 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 and Wired.com. We also looked at more casual tests in newspaper
articles and on consumer websites. Finally, we consulted hundreds of reviews at
retail sites such as Amazon.com 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 experience.