While you can get by with a sub-par sharpener, the best knife sharpeners make life easy on avid home cutlery enthusiasts. This article is geared towards kitchen knives, but the units discussed here can be used to sharpen other types of blades as well.
There are two basic types of knife sharpeners: electric and manual. The manual ones are harder to use, but can provide you with a very sharp edge. The electric ones are easier, but can end up costing a good chunk more than the manual ones. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each.
Manual Knife Sharpeners
A manual sharpener is used to hone a blade the old fashioned way, by hand. They don’t require any power other than what is provided by the person honing the blade. They are a favorite amongst cutlery enthusiasts because they allow a high level of control over the sharpening of the blade. Let’s explore the various types of manual sharpeners available on the market today.
Water sharpening stones are the hardest to use, but allow the most control and are arguably the means through which a talented bladesmith is able to make knives the sharpest. They aren’t recommended for amateurs, as holding the knife at a constant level of pressure at the same angle through each stroke across the stone is required. A good stone for the beginning enthusiast is the Chef’s Choice Edgecraft, pictured below:
Honing a blade with a waterstone is an art, and an artist is only as good as his tools. Once you’ve decided to get serious, the Norton Waterstone is the way to go. A good starter kit will cost over a hundred dollars, but you’ll find the edge you get is unparalleled.
Another popular manual sharpener would be the knife-sharpening rod:
This is a simple, yet efficient tool. Pictured is a Diamond Sharpening Rod, available for around 30 bucks from Amazon.com. Also known as a butcher’s steel, variations of this tool have been in use for hundreds of years. They are simple to use, while allowing the person using them to control the angle at which the blade is sharpened. The blade is held at an angle and slid across the rod repeatedly until sharp. Diamond rods get the job done, but if you want to get fancy, there are ceramic rod systems with multiple rods available as well.
Next up on the list of best knife sharpeners would be the slot knife sharpener:
The slot sharpener scores points for ease of use. All you have to do is line the knife up in the slot and run it through a couple times. Check it after each time through the slot and stop once you reach the desired sharpness. It literally takes less than ten seconds to sharpen a single knife and you can hone an entire set in a matter of minutes. One of the more popular slot sharpeners is the Edgeware 10-second Sharpener. It won’t break the bank either. It’s available for less than 20 bucks at most retailers of kitchen cutlery.
Another good one is the Chef’s Choice M4623 Chef’s Choice Diamond Hone 3-Stage Manual Sharpener. It’ll run you about ten bucks more, but features a three-stage sharpening system that will have your knives sharper than they were right out the box. An added bonus is that this is one of the few manual systems that works well on serrated knives.
Electric Knife Sharpeners
Now that we’ve discussed the best knife sharpeners on the manual side, let’s look at the electric sharpener. They typically cost a little more than the manual ones, but they get the job done fast and they do it well with minimal effort. The good electric knife sharpeners feature multiple slots that gradually and gently remove metal. They also bevel the edge of the blade, making it last longer.
Bar none, the best electric sharpeners are made by Chef’s Choice. A personal favorite is the Chef’s Choice Angle Select Diamond Hone Sharpener from Chef’s Choice. It allows you to choose between the 20-degree edge preferred by American and Euro knife enthusiasts or the 15-degree razor sharp edge the Japanese knife makers tend to use. It is able to sharpen straight-edge and serrated blade and can do a single or double bevel.
Most knife sets have a sharpening steel that comes with them. Don’t mistake this for a knife sharpener. The steel will work well for minor maintenance on the blades, but all knives eventually need a good sharpening. The best knife sharpeners will do this by removing the least amount of material required to give a knife a razor-sharp edge.