All About Knife Sharpening

Learn about the types of knife and blade sharpeners.

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Knife Sharpening: Table of Contents
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    About Knife Sharpening

    Keeping your knife blades sharp is very important. You know how true this fact is if you have ever tried to use a knife when you really needed one and found the blade dull and unable to cut anything. At that point, the knife is more of a blunt impact tool than a precision cutting instrument. All of this can be avoided by simply keeping your knife blades sharp and ready for cutting.

    Knife sharpening comes down to just a few elements. The blade edge, and the blade angle. It all comes down to maintaining the blade's edge by making sure there are no nicks, chips, or burrs along the edge. The sharp cutting angle allows the blade edge to cut cleanly through materials.

    All About Knife Sharpening and Blade Maintenance

    Types of Knife Sharpeners

    There are several major different types of knife sharpeners and cutlery maintenance tools. They include pull through sharpeners, sharpening stones, and grinder type sharpeners. Other cutlery tools, like sharpening steels and honing rods, are not sharpeners but "edge maintainers" and keep the edge of the knife aligned. Each type of knife sharpener and tool has different traits and can be easier or harder to use depending on the experience level of the person sharpening the blade. Some of these sharpening systems are more automatic while others are more manually operated. When you are considering which type of knife sharpener is best for you, consider the following:

    • Your experience sharpening and maintaining knife blades
    • Knife sharpening budget - Automatic sharpeners tend to be much more expensive than manual steels and stones.
    • Frequency of knife sharpening - How often will knives need sharpening? Are the knives "high use" so they will become dull faster?
    • Space to store sharpening gear - Do you have a dedicated workshop or sharpening area or a multi-use area like a table?
    • Your time - How much time do you want to dedicate to learning how to sharpen knives? If you have less time, automatic sharpeners are faster.

    Pull Through Knife Sharpeners

    Pull through knife sharpeners are sharpening systems where the knife blades are "pulled through" a set of angled sharpening rods which are usually made out of a carbide or ceramic material. These rods are angled to create a wedge which sharpens the knife blade on both sides as it slides through the opening by removing small amounts of metal from the blade to sharpen the cutting edge. These types of pull through knife sharpeners are very easy to use and relatively inexpensive (for the manual versions) while automatic versions of pull through sharpeners can be more expensive.

    The knife sharpener pictured here is the Warthog V-Sharp Classic which features 325 grit diamond rods and finishing steels. It usually costs about $85 USD and is a heavy duty knife sharpening set for small and large blades.

    Price Check The Warthog V-Sharp Classic II Pull Through Sharpener
    • Ease of Use: Yes

    • Cost Effective: Yes

    • Price: Mid to Higher - $$$

    • Requires Specialized Skills: No

    • Sharpening Time Required: Low

    • Works With Various Knife Blades: Straight Blades Mainly

    Sharpening Stones and Whetstones

    Sharpening stones, water stones, and whetstones are some of the oldest and most proven ways to sharpen a knife blade. This sharpening technique involves using a gritty sharpening stone which is abrasive to move the edge of the knife against to sharpen the blade. The abrasive material actually removes metal from the knife to sharpen the edge. The stone is traditionally soaked with water or oil to allow the knife blade to move smoothly across the stone's surface while sharpening. Only one side of the knife can be sharpened at a time using the sharpening stone method.

    The whetstone setup pictured here is the Sharp Pebble whetstone which uses 1000 and 600 grit sides. It usually costs about $60 USD and includes a silicon mount, bamboo base, and knife angle adjuster.

    Price Check The Sharp Pebble Premium Whetstone Knife Sharpening Stone
    • Ease of Use: Yes

    • Cost Effective: Yes

    • Price: Mid - $$

    • Requires Specialized Skills: Somewhat

    • Sharpening Time Required: Low to Medium

    • Works With Various Knife Blades: Straight, Fillet, and Other Edged Tools

    Grinders and Sharpening Belts

    Grinders and sharpening belts use motors and powered devices to sharpen the blades of knives with moving abrasive belts. These blade sharpening systems are more automated than the other manual cutlery sharpening systems mentioned here. Their speed and efficiency make them a great tool for maintaining edged cutting instruments, knifes, and similar tools. If you do not have experience with sharpening belt systems, it is best to try them out on cheaper knife sets while you are learning. This helps you understand the belt speeds, blade angles, and how to sharpen knives properly.

    The belt sharpener system pictured here is the Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener. It usually costs about $130 USD and includes the sharpening system, a variable speed motor, belt attachment, and other components.

    Price Check The Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener
    • Ease of Use: Yes

    • Cost Effective: Yes

    • Price: Higher - $$$$

    • Requires Specialized Skills: Somewhat

    • Sharpening Time Required: Low

    • Works With Various Knife Blades: Straight, Serrated, Gut Hook, Fillet, and Other Edged Tools

    Pocket and Multi-Purpose Knife Sharpeners

    Pocket knife sharpeners are much smaller than their larger blade sharpening counterparts, but they still have a place on this list because they are very useful and effective. They are more geared toward sharpening knives in a pinch when you don't have access to time to break out the bigger blade sharpening systems. These tools usually feature several elements of the larger systems like a small honing rod, pull through blade sharpeners, and a small stone area. They are also useful for sharpening most types of blades including straight edged, serrated, fillet, and gut hook blades.

    The small pocket sharpener pictured here is the Lansky PS-MED01 BladeMedic which works great for field sharpening most bladed tools and cutlery. It usually costs about $16 USD and features tungsten carbide rods.

    Price Check The Lansky PS-MED01 BladeMedic Pocket Sharpener
    • Ease of Use: Yes

    • Cost Effective: Yes

    • Price: Low - $

    • Requires Specialized Skills: Somewhat

    • Sharpening Time Required: Low

    • Works With Various Knife Blades: Most Small Blades Including Straight, Serrated, Gut Hook, and Fillet

    Knife Sharpening Steels and Honing Rods

    Knife sharpening steels come in various forms shapes and sizes and are usually made out of steel or ceramic material. These types of sharpeners are also called "honing rods" because the actual instrument is a single rod. They also don't really sharpen the knife blade but are a maintenance tool which helps to keep the knife edge aligned. The blade of the knife is "run down" the rod to hone the edge of the blade. These types of tools work on many types of knife blades including standard blades, serrated blades, gut hook blades, and thin fillet blades because the steel can be maneuvered to contact any part of the knife blade. The honing rod pictured here is the 10" ceramic honing rod from ERTDDE. It costs about $33 USD and will keep knife edges ready for cutting, slicing, and dicing with practice.

    Price Check The ERTDDE Ceramic Knife Edge Honing Rod
    • Ease of Use: Somewhat

    • Cost Effective: Yes

    • Price: Low to Mid - $$

    • Requires Specialized Skills: Learning The Correct Steel Angle

    • Honing Time Required: Low to Medium

    • Works With Various Knife Blades: Most Types - Straight, Serrated, Gut Hook, and Fillet

    Once You Have Best The Sharpening System For You Figured Out, It's Time To Learn How To Sharpen Your Dull Knife Blade


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