Knife Sharpener Buying Guide

I’m not sure about you, but I grew up in a household where sharpening our own knives wasn’t something anyone considered. In fact, I’m pretty sure that my parents only ever bothered to have one knife sharpened – we called it ‘the scary knife.’ It was a long, extremely sharp serrated bread-knife-meets-slicing-knife that my parents kept wrapped in a dishtowel in the bottom drawer in our kitchen. I think this particular knife received special attention because it was an expensive gift. Other than that, however, all of our knives were thrown out before they ever became dull enough to need sharpening.

Honestly, I think my parents found it easier to work with cheap knives and replace them every once in a while than to commit themselves to sharpening any. My parents came from an era when knife sharpening was a special skill practiced only by those few men who came around once a week ringing the bell on their mobile sharpening truck. I don’t think they realized that times had changed from when they were children. These days, one can easily wander into any department store or make a quick search online to find easy-to-use, do-it-yourself knife sharpeners.

If you are looking to get with the times and are in search of a knife sharpener for your home or restaurant needs but aren’t quite sure how to select one from the many different types and brands available on today’s market, you have come to the right place. This article will explore the basics of knife sharpeners and knife sharpening. It will help you figure out which type of sharpener you are looking for and which qualities it should have.

Different Types of Knife Sharpeners

There are three main types of knife sharpeners: manual sharpeners, electric sharpeners, and honing rods. This section will focus on manual and electric sharpeners. We will discuss honing rods momentarily.

Manual Sharpener

Electrical Sharpener

Honing Rod

Manual sharpeners are sometimes handheld, but are most often made to sit atop your counter. To use this type of sharpener you simply slide the blade of your knife through in a sweeping motion, from the edge closest to the handle straight through to the tip. It usually takes anywhere from three to six passes to completely sharpen a blade in this fashion.

Whereas a manual sharpener features blades or rods which you run the knife’s blade across, electric sharpeners usually contain sharpening discs or sharpening belts. In practice, an electric sharpener works much like an electric sander. The discs or belt of the sharpener move on their own. You simply pull your knife through in one or two sweeps and the sharpener does the rest.

There is a lot of debate about which type of sharpener is better. Some people prefer the speed of an electric sharpener, while others prefer the precision of a manual sharpener. Personally, I prefer a manual sharpener, because it allows me to take my time and stop the process at exactly the right point in the sharpening process. I worry that I may over-sharpen my blade using an electric sharpener.

Honing Rods

People commonly mistake honing rods for knife sharpeners. The truth of the matter is this – if your knife is dull or pitted a honing rod will not help you at all. You can swipe your blade across it until the end of time, but it will not do the trick.

Honing rods are smooth. Unlike sharpeners, which are abrasive, there is nothing about a honing rod which will grind a knife’s edge into a sharp point. So, what is the purpose of a honing rod? Honing rods work to keep your blade sharper for longer by cleaning them and keeping them straight. They must, however, be used often to actually work. Every couple of times I use my knife I will spend a quick twenty to thirty seconds honing my blade.

Sharpening Rods

Some rods are meant for sharpening as well as honing. I know this can be confusing, but I will quickly teach you how to identify the difference in a moment. Sharpening rods, though made to actually remove bits of metal from your blade, are not going to sharpen your blade to the same degree as a manual or electric sharpener. They are most useful for barely-beginning-to-dull blades. If you wanted to use this type of sharpener with a dull blade you would find yourself sweeping the blade across the rod for hours.

Honing robs feature long grooves which run the length of the rod. Those grooves are help pull the blade into alignment. Sharpening rods feature abrasions (little bumps) along the surface of the rod, instead. These bumps shave or sand away bits of the blade, making it sharper. Since the sweeping motion used with a rod is a major part of what hones the blade, these sharpeners perform a sort of double duty – they sharpen as well as hone, all in one step.

Why Quality is Important

There are many things in this world which are grossly overpriced on the basis of their brand name or the store in which they are being sold. There are discount versions of many of those products which are just as good as the expensive name brands. That isn’t exactly the case with knife sharpeners.

Though you may find quality sharpeners sold by companies you have never heard of, you will almost always be able to match price to quality where sharpeners are concerned. Don’t go thinking you can get away with paying a minimal price and still receive a high-quality sharpener. You may be one of the lucky few who manages to do just that, but isn’t likely.

Price means quality where knife sharpeners are concerned. To a point, the more you pay for your sharpener the more attention the manufacturer pays to each step in the process of creating the sharpener. More often than not, discount sharpeners haven’t been crafted properly and have inconsistent abrasive particles which will damage your blades.

Purchasing a low-quality knife sharpener will not only mean that you will need to replace the knife sharpener – it will also mean that you will need to replace the knife it chews up.

Sharpener Materials

Four different kinds of materials are popular in the world of knife sharpening – carbides, diamond flecks, steel, and ceramic. Let’s begin by discussing carbides and diamond flecks. Both carbides and diamond flecks are used as abrasives on knife sharpeners. Obviously, those knife sharpeners featuring diamond flecks are usually more expensive than those which use carbides. Diamonds are much more expensive in general, thus making diamond sharpeners more expensive. What many people want to know is, are diamond sharpeners really any better?

The truth is that it is currently up for debate. The argument for diamond flecks is that is that they create less friction than the carbide flecks, which leads to a softer, gentler sharpening process which is less likely to cause damage to your knife’s blade. The jury is still out on this one. Some consumers have reported that diamond sharpeners are, in fact, better; other consumers have reported the opposite.

Steel and ceramic are mostly used for honing, not sharpening. Honing, as I’ve mentioned once already, is the process of cleaning up a blade’s cutting edge. If you consistently hone your knife you will not need to sharpen it as often. Though we have only discussed honing rods up until this point, it is important for you to now that some sharpeners include a small honing slot as well. These sharpeners, usually called two or three-stage sharpeners, allow you to choose to hone or sharpen or both. It can be very helpful to hone after sharpening to clean up the blade after running it through a coarse sharpener.

In regard to materials, you will find that, whether you are working with a rod or a stationary sharpener, steel and ceramic are actually quite similar in terms of performance. If anything, a ceramic honing rod may give a slightly more polished effect to your blade. However, it is very important that you are extremely careful with a ceramic honing rod, should you choose to purchase one. Ceramic is very delicate and will shatter if dropped.

Two-Stage and Multi-Stage Sharpeners

Though we’ve already touched briefly on two-stage sharpeners, I wanted to take a moment to clarify something which is often confusing about them. Sometimes, two-stage sharpeners include an abrasive sharpener and a honing section. Other times, however, they will include a coarse sharpener and a fine sharpener with no honing section. Be sure you know what you have before assuming that your two-stage sharpener will actually hone your blade.

Multi-stage sharpeners are rarer than two-stage or single-stage sharpeners. They usually incorporate a coarse abrasive sharpener, a fine abrasive sharpener, and a honing section.

An Even Job

It is important that you find a sharpener which will sharpen your knives evenly. The last thing you want is to try to sharpen your blade and find that your knife comes out all wonky with an uneven edge.

Small, handheld sharpeners are notorious for this type of uneven sharpening. I would also like to add that small, handheld sharpeners are dangerous. I am talking about those little sharpeners which sometimes come with knives as a special bonus. These are ones which you pinch between your fingers as you run the blade through. As you can imagine, they are difficult to keep still, which may lead to an uneven edge. They also require you to cut toward your palm or fingers, which can be very dangerous.

The best way to ensure that you will get a smooth, even edge is to purchase a sharpener which is stationary. Your sharpener should sit against something sturdy. It does not need to have a permanent home on your countertop and does not need to be secured with bolts. It simply needs some sort of suction or non-slip material to keep it in place.

Another way to ensure that your blade’s edge will be even is to select a sharpener with some sort of cutting slot. With this type of sharpener, instead of just running the knife through the exposed sharpening blades and rods, you will be able to run it through a slot which holds it in place and keeps it from wobbling with your unsteady hand.

Some sharpeners even feature spring-loaded sides which keep pressure against your blade to keep it steady as it moves through. This snugness also reduces the blade’s ability to wobble.

The Big Decision

Now that you have taken some time to learn a little bit more about knife sharpeners, I hope you will be able to find the one which suits your needs. Chances are that you will find it on our main Knife Sharpener’s page. I spent hours scouring the internet for the most popular, best-selling knife sharpeners to include on that page and am nearly certain that one of them is bound to impress you. Head over and take a look now to see if something catches your eye.