Having a pocket knife on you is an essential and basic supply for any outdoor adventure. There are plenty of different tasks you can do with a pocketknife from opening a bottle to helping someone out of a dangerous situation. Even a standard kitchen knife is important for preparing food both on a campsite and at home.
However, just like you clean your pocket knife, you need to make sure to keep any type of knife you own sharp as well. Not only does this make sure your knives complete the tasks that you need them to, but dull knives are more dangerous to use than sharp ones. There are a lot of options out there though, and it can seem a little overwhelming to find the best knife sharpener for you. That’s why we’ve created a guide for what you need to know to make a choice and given you a detailed knife sharpener review for each of our favorite products.
How To Choose A Knife Sharpener – Buying Guide
When you’re looking at knife sharpeners, the first thing you’ll notice is that you have a lot of options. This includes several different types of knife sharpeners to choose from.
If you want something easy to use, some of your best choices include a countertop electric sharpener or a pull-through sharpener.
An electric sharpener does most of the work for you and it works quickly. All you need to do is slide the knife through the slot at approximately a 15 to 20-degree angle. Since the system is electric, you only need to pass the knife around twice on each side for it to sharpen it effectively.
Pull-through knife sharpeners are a type of manual sharpener. These work in much the same way as an electric sharpener but you’re going to need to run the blade through more times than you would with an electric sharpener. There are different forms of pull-through sharpeners and they’re usually either handheld or built into a knife block. Handheld versions are often more versatile and they’re perfect if you want to carry a pocket sharpener with you on your next camping trip.
Pull-through sharpeners can be further categorized into subsets as well. The two most common designs are triangulated rod pull-throughs and slotted pull-throughs. Triangulated rod pull-throughs create a V-shaped rod connection out of two rods with an abrasive coating. These don’t require a lot of pressure to use and some even adjust to accommodate different edge angles. Slotted pull-throughs are the smaller option and usually come at a low cost. While these are easy to carry and won’t cost you an arm and a leg, they aren’t going to work well for extremely dull knives.
Another type of kitchen sharpener you might have is sharpening steel. This is a long, rounded length of steel with a handle. When you use one of these, you should hold the steel vertically and run your knife down the steel at an approximate 20-degree angle. You’ll need to do this for around 10 to 20 strokes.
Whetstones are a traditional choice that uses an abrasive flat stone. These are lubricated with either water or oil and the knife is alternatively ground on the stone. While incredibly effective, this method takes a lot of technique and practice to be done properly.
There are more advanced systems such as belt sanders and water wheels. While these yield results, they’re not the best if you’re just looking for an option for kitchen knives or pocket knives. They’re more often used at workbenches, but they are an effective knife sharpening system if you have the technique to use them effectively.
If you want to step out of the realm of a home sharpener, you can always turn to a professional sharpener service. This involves you getting someone else to sharpen your knives for you who are skilled or even use industrial-level machinery for the best results. This process can take a while and, of course, comes at a fee. If you have an expensive knife set this can be well worth it. If you just want a sharp pocket knife though, this can be overkill compared to a home sharpener.
The bevel angle of your knife refers to the factory sharpened angle of your knife. To keep your knives in the same condition as the day you bought them, you’re going to need to use a sharpener that accommodates that bevel angle. For this purpose, you’ll want to choose a sharpener that fits the bevel angle of the majority of your knives.
That being said, you also don’t have to stick to the factory bevel of your knives. You can adjust the bevel to fit your needs. For instance, delicate foods will do better with a 15-degree bevel while a 20-degree bevel would work better for harder to cut foods like bone-in meat.
So, how do you know the level of your knives? If you’re lucky, it’ll be disclosed in the product information about your knives. Sometimes, you’ll have to dig around a little or even call the manufacturer to find out the level of the knives.
There are some generally standard bevel angles you can expect but it’s important to remember that some knives fall out of this standard. Kitchen knives, for instance, usually have a 15 or 20-degree bevel. If your knife is described as “inclusionary” this number is doubled to 30 to 40 degrees.
When it comes to western-style blades, the historical standard is a 20-degree bevel angle. This angle stands up well to harder chopping on your cutting board, but because of the softer metal, they’re going to need to be sharpened more often. Asian-style blades, on the other hand, usually have a 15-degree bevel angle that stays sharper longer but won’t last long if you’re too harsh with them. American and European blades switched to this lower bevel angle in around 2010.
Number of Stages
While there are many single-stage knife sharpeners, the most efficient knife sharpeners will have a multi-stage sharpening system. These usually have three stages and manufacturers often refer to these as “sharpening, honing, and polishing” models.
The first step to these sharpeners grinds the blade for coarse reprofiling. The following step uses a medium grind to refine that bevel angle. Finally, the third step polishes the knife to clean up the edges.
You won’t need to use every stage every time you sharpen a knife. The second and third stages are perfect for standard, regular sharpening. If you notice chips in your knife or they’re showing heavy wear, the course first stage can be called into play.
Type of Abrasives
The abrasives of a sharpener are what help sharpen the blade back into prime use. There are different types of abrasives that a top-rated sharpener for knives may use. The most common abrasives, in order of popularity, are diamond, alumina ceramic, and tungsten carbide. These abrasives are embedded in the belts or metal disks the sharpener uses.
It’s important to understand that these abrasives don’t last forever. The general estimate for these materials is a five-year lifespan. This estimate can increase or decrease depending on how frequently you use the sharpener. Many of the more expensive models of sharpeners will allow you to replace these abrasives once they wear out.
Not every sharpener will accommodate the type of blades that you need sharpened. As such, you’ll need to carefully consider what your needs are and pay attention to what the model you’re looking at offers to find the best tactical knife sharpener for you. As an example, a lot of knife sharpeners can handle serrated knives but not as many will let you sharpen scissors. It’s also crucial to note that ceramic knives need a specialized device to sharpen them rather than a standard sharpener.
Ease of Use
No one wants a product that makes their life harder. So, you’ll want to look at how simple the process of using the sharpener you’re looking at is. The difficulty of a knife sharpener is usually dependent on the level of technique that’s needed to operate it. An electric sharpener, for instance, is going to be much easier to use than a whetstone.
Q: How does a knife sharpener work?
The operation of a sharpener, in any form, is a pretty basic one. The abrasive material in the sharpener grinds the blade’s shape back into a sharp edge.
Q: Can I sharpen scissors with a knife sharpener?
For most sharpeners, the answer is no. Sharpening a pair of scissors on a standard sharpener will end up causing rough edges and burrs. If you want to sharpen your scissors, make sure to purchase a sharpener that specifically states that it can be used for scissors.
Q: Can sharpening damage the knife?
A big concern for many is that using a sharpener will damage their knives. If you purchase one of the most efficient knife sharpeners, you aren’t going to have this problem. The only time you’ll run into this problem is if you get a poorly made sharpener.
You can also damage your knives if you don’t properly use the sharpener. Specifically, you don’t want to roughly and quickly use a sharpener. This is especially important for manual sharpeners. Doing this can cause chipped edges on your knife.
A standard sharpener will damage ceramic knives. These types of knives require special tools to sharpen them properly.
Q: How often should I use a knife sharpener?
The frequency for sharpening a knife greatly depends on how often you use them. If you don’t use them very often, you can get away with only sharpening them three or four times a year. If you use your knives very frequently, it can be a good idea to sharpen them before every use. Stainless steel and carbon steel knives work best when sharpened before every use as well.
A good rule of thumb is, at the very least, to sharpen your knife as soon as you notice that it’s getting dull.
Keeping your knives sharp is essential to keeping them safe and useful. So, you’re going to need the best knife sharpener on the market to fulfill your needs. Luckily, with the information we’ve gathered for you, it will be really easy to pick the best knife sharpener for your needs.