The CCKS 2-Step Knife Sharpener from Smith’s offers coarse tungsten carbide rods on top and extra-fine (1,000 grit) ceramic rods on bottom—both at pre-set angles for easy pull-through use—for sharpening and edge touch-ups/refinement, respectively. MSRP: $3.99. (Smith’s photo)
If sharpening stumps you, try one or more of these simple yet effective sharpeners
By Dave Rhea
A good working edge on a blade is one of the knife owner’s most important considerations, but sharpening is not always as easy as it seems. How do you hold the knife to the sharpener/which angle should you use? Do you use ceramic, stone or diamonds? How much sharpening is too much? How much is too little?
Here is a better question: Since even thinking about sharpening can get complicated, why not idiot proof the subject?
Quick and Easy
Chris Fire is a sharpening expert. As the marketing manager for Lansky Sharpeners, Fire lives and breathes by the sharpening industry. His suggestion for the quickest and easiest sharpener is Lansky’s Quick Fix Pocket Sharpener.
The Quick Fix has all the elements of an easy sharpener: Low price (MSRP: $5.99), small—about the size of a money clip—and fast results. A half-dozen or less strokes through one of the two slots clears up a problem blade edge in a hurry. One side holds a slight segment of tungsten carbide rod to return the edge to a proper geometry, and the other side holds a like-sized span of ceramic rod to deburr it.
Fire drew a distinction between the quick-and-easy and something less expedient but perhaps wiser.
“Tungsten-carbide sharpeners sharpen by tearing steel off the blade rather than slowly honing,” he warned. “They remove a lot of metal. Use them in a pinch, but for everyday edge maintenance you probably want to use something less aggressive like Lansky’s Turn Box Ceramic Sharpener.”
The 4 Rod Ceramic Turn Box (MSRP: $21.99) offers a higher-grade sharpening experience but is also uncomplicated. It uses two pair of 5-inch alumina ceramic rods that are set at pre-determined angles: 20 and 25 degrees. Holding the knife upright vertically, you draw the blade down along the rods of the V-shaped sharpener. With internal rod storage, it also breaks down into a compact kit for stowing in a drawer or tool/tackle box.
Fire added that perhaps as important as having a good sharpener is the knowledge that different tasks call for different knives. In other words, a chopping knife is not going to make a great slicing knife no matter what kind of edge it has.
“Chopping knives have a more durable edge, but they’re not as sharp,” he professed. “Chopping potatoes with such knives is great. Achieving paper-thin tomatoes slices? Not so much. So keep a knife for slicing, a knife for chopping, a multi-purpose knife and maybe a fillet knife, and use each to its strengths.”
Marketing manager for Smith’s, Russ Cowen adds that a seemingly insurmountable task is convincing the consumer on-going edge maintenance is the key to keeping a perpetually useful edged tool.
“The best way to keep a knife sharp is to never let it get dull,” he explained. “If the consumer would just take a few minutes either before or after using a knife, and especially during use if doing lots of cuts for a longer time period, to touch up or freshen the cutting edge, he or she would see that not only would the knife cut better, but it would also take them half the time to accomplish the task.”
For such hassle-free edge maintenance, he recommends Smith’s 2-Step Knife Sharpener, a small plastic-framed sharpener with an insanely low MSRP of $3.99. The two sharpening slots—in carbide and ceramic—offer two stages of edge work: 1) coarse “for re-setting the edge on very dull or damaged blades,” and 2) fine for finishing work that will bring a blade closer to the hair-popping sharpness so many knife users crave.
“The 2-Step Knife Sharpener will sharpen any blade style with a flat grind on both sides of the blade as long as the blade will fit inside the sharpening slots. It works well on Euro/American style kitchen knives, everyday pocketknives, folding or fixed-blade hunting knives, fillet knives, outdoor sport knives, custom knives, and tactical/LE knives with little to no maintenance,” he said. “At most, the user may have to rinse it off or clean the ceramic rods after extended use.”
For knives that suffer from the usual treatment—letting them go pretty much dull—Cowen offers this advice: “The best way to put a new, sharp cutting edge on a very dull or damaged knife blade is to use an abrasive surface that is aggressive enough to remove large amounts of metal from the blade quickly.”
He suggests a sharpener with carbide blades or a low-grit diamond-coated surface. Such abrasive components are quite aggressive and remove metal from the blade very quickly—sometimes so fast you can see the metal shavings falling off the blade, he added.
Simplest Is Best
Pre-set angles and guides are all designed to make the obligatory task of sharpening a knife easier. However, according to Mark Brandon, president of Diamond Machining Technology (DMT), it does not get any simpler than the old-fashioned bench stone.
“There’s a myth out there that sharpening is difficult,” Brandon began. “I don’t think the sharpening industry has done itself any favors—we’ve done our part to help convince people that it’s difficult by coming out with all these ‘we’ll-hold-your-edge-for-you’ kind of products.”
He said the reality is that via its training videos available at www.dmtsharp.com, DMT has taught scores of folks to sharpen on a stone in less than five minutes.
“We think it’s kind of idiot proof to begin with,” he stated. “Sometimes the simplest approach can be the best, and there is really nothing simpler than a 6-inch-by-2-inch stone.”
Brandon’s two bench-stone suggestions start with the DMT Diamond Whetstone, which comes in 6- and 8-inch models. They have MSRPs of between $47.16 and $95.26, depending on the length and choice of either plastic or hardwood case. A diamond abrasive is the best and simplest material to put a great edge on a blade, he said.
His other suggestion is the DuoSharp 8-inch model, another diamond stone that is double sided in fine and extra-fine grits to address both sharpening and refining the edge. The 8-inch DuoSharp has an MSRP of $105.03 for the stone alone and $114.58 with the stabilizing base accessory.
“It’s all a matter of how much time are you willing to spend on it,” Brandon said. “If you have a fine stone, depending on how much time you want to take, you can get a dull knife sharp. But if you don’t have that much time, you may want to have a coarse stone available to get it to a certain level and a fine stone to get a good working edge, and if you really want to make it hair-popping sharp, go to an extra fine.”
Rule Of Thumb
No matter your preference, there are plenty of choices available. The key is to find your comfort zone and touch up the edge at least once for every three or four times you use a knife. The basic rule of thumb is do not let your knife go dull and it will be easier to keep a crisp, high-performing edge.
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