Knife Sharpener: Top Choices To Keep Your Edge

Knife Sharpener: Top Choices To Keep Your Edge
The author stabilizes the tower of the Cold Steel Benchtop Sharpener while sharpening a Lone Wolf Knives folder.

More than mere knife sharpeners, these options are complete honing systems that keep your blades razor-sharp.

Many of you probably learned to sharpen knives freestyle on a carbide, ceramic or diamond stone that required setting the proper angle by guesswork. The problem with sharpening a knife freehand is that no matter how good you are, the angle can vary with each stroke.

Fortunately, knife sharpening systems these days are so advanced they can virtually eliminate human error. Among other features, the systems allow the user to preset the blade angle and lock it in so it never varies throughout the sharpening process. Of course, systems that “lock in” sharpening angles are nothing new. However, the ways today’s angle-guide models do it not only are especially creative and user friendly, the best of them offer many other highly useful functions as well.

Before reviewing four of the latest examples, a word of advice when sharpening a knife: stop and gauge your progress as you go. It will help ensure you don’t miss a dull spot and also keep you from over sharpening/abrading, thus preserving the life of your blade.

Smith’s Edge Pro Electric Sharpener

Smith’s Edge Pro Electric Sharpener
The Smith’s Edge Pro Electric Sharpener provides a competent edge in a minimum amount of time. It has angled, electric-powered left- and right-side coarse grinding slots (right), and a vertical manual ceramic rod slot (left) for fine honing. The knife is a Boker paring model.

Smith’s has gotten more into electric sharpeners lately and the Edge Pro Electric Sharpener is one of the company’s latest. It is a countertop unit with a 3-foot-tall main housing rounded at the top for gripping. It is a three-stage pull-through sharpener—right side blade, left side blade and vertical hone. The right and left side pull-through slots access coarse diamond wheels that sharpen each side of the blade via a motor turning the wheels, the end result being an angle of approximately 22 degrees. The non-electric third slot houses two crossed ceramic rods to hone and de-burr the edge. A detachable electrical cord with adapter plug is included and a rocker switch on the base cuts the unit on and off.

Sharpening with the Edge Pro is simple but some tips will make its use more efficient and hazard free. First, this is a pull-through sharpener, so do not try to push the blade through. Second, for the best edge keep the blade as close to level as possible. Last, don’t apply too much downward force—you can bog down the motor. Steady, moderate pressure works best. The hone slot removes any rough burrs and sharpens the edge. I finished the blade with a leather strop and the edge was shaving sharp.

Smith’s Edge Pro Electric Sharpener Specs
Type: Benchtop electric, slotted
Dimensions: 8.5” long, 3” wide, 3.5” tall
Main body material: Plastic
Sharpening slots: Two coarse, one fine
Grit types: Diamond coarse and ceramic fine
Carry: None; tabletop design
Weight: 1 lb., 4 ozs.
Country of origin: U.S.A.
MSRP: $32.99

Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener

Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener
The rod angle of the Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener is adjustable from 15 to 30 degrees and is locked in by a thumbscrew on a sliding mount. To reverse the blade for sharpening the opposite edge, remove a thumbscrew from the base and rotate the tower 180 degrees.

The Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener is an affordable version of the variable fixed-angle sharpeners folks like to demonstrate on Instagram and Facebook. The knife is mounted blade-up* in the jaws of a clamp and the grit block sweeps across the edge horizontally. The blade is mounted at the top of the unit upside down, and the rod that holds the grit block is mounted on one long end of the base. The rod angle is adjustable from 15 to 30 degrees and is locked in by a thumbscrew on a sliding mount. To reverse the blade for sharpening the opposite edge you must remove a thumbscrew from the base and rotate the “tower” 180 degrees. There are two grit blocks, each with different diamond-coated surfaces: 300 and 600 on the coarse block, 800 and 1,000 on the fine one.

There’s a good reason for watching videos on complicated sharpeners such as these. I noticed the tower (my jargon for the sharpener’s tall main component) where it mates to the base had slack in it, allowing it to rock when sharpening. I watched two videos and saw why. When sharpening the edge with a grit block, the loose base allows you to follow the edge of the blade as the block traverses from base to tip. To hold the tower stable, use your free hand to keep the tower from tipping backward while your other hand sweeps the blade edge with the grit block. This is a bit awkward until you get the hang of it. When you finish one side of the blade, undo a thumb screw and rotate the knife 180 degrees to do the other side. Then start over again with the next finest grit until you finish with the 1,000 grit.

It seems time consuming but remember, this is a budget fixed-angle sharpener that costs less than many diamond bench stones. If you want to learn the basics, this compact sharpener is a good one. (Author’s note: The clamp jaws are wider than on the other fixed-angle sharpeners, which means it will not work with as narrow of a blade width as the others reviewed.)

Cold Steel Benchtop Knife Sharpener Specs
Type: Fixed angle, horizontal swing
Dimensions: 8” long, 5” wide, 9.75” tall
Main body material: Steel
Grit types: 300, 600, 800 and 1,000, diamond coated
Carry: Hard-shell thermoplastic case
Weight: 2 lbs.
Country of origin: China
MSRP: $129.99

Work Sharp Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener Elite

Work Sharp Elite with the guide rod and a Tri-Brasive block
The Work Sharp Elite with the guide rod and a Tri-Brasive block is ready for action. According to the author, he snuck the Elite’s instruction pamphlet into the photo because Work Sharp does an outstanding job of providing set-up and use instructions, which is not always the case with some sharpeners.

The Work Sharp Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener Elite is an affordable, sophisticated sharpening system. It is a fixed-angle unit that operates using rods with an array of grit blocks that would make the pickiest sharpening aficionado drool: 220, 320, 400, 600 and 800, a ceramic rod for serrations, and a leather strop. That’s right, you can even strop with it. The tower clamps the blade, sets the angle of the edge you prefer, and holds the rod and grit block. It is the only sideways/horizontal blade mount of the test bunch. The Tri-Brasive grits are held in a special housing with a finger grip, three to a block—two total except for the ceramic rod and strop, which have their own smaller housings. Each housing has its own rod, making it easy to install and use. The clamp holds the knife with the blade edge facing the user. (Author’s note: This is the budget version of the Work Sharp Professional Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener, the BLADE Magazine 2023 Accessory Of The Year [page 16, September BLADE®], which has grit widths of approximately 3/4 inch like the other fixed-angle sharpeners reviewed. The Elite model has 3/8-inch-wide grit slabs that may wear out faster.)

Assembly is shockingly easy—no tools required. Once the blade is mounted in the clamp, the grit housing/rod locks into place with a magnet located under the degree-setting brace on the tower, and that sets your blade angle. The edge faces you horizontally, making it easy to gauge your progress. Simply work your way up the consecutively finer diamond grits until it’s fine ceramic and strop time, which gives the razor-sharp edge a blazing shine. The ceramic rod for serrations is a nice addition. The only thing that might give you trouble is the base can tip forward if you put too much pressure on the blade. Easy does it is the byword here. All in all, the Work Sharp Precision Knife Sharpener Elite is a breeze to set up, easy to use for blisteringly sharp results, and packs up nicely when it comes time to stow. It is a tremendous value.

Work Sharp Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener Elite Specs
Type: Fixed angle, horizontal swing
Dimensions: 5” long, 4.5” wide, 7.25” tall
Main body material: Steel
Grit types: 220, 320, 400, 600, 800 diamond coated, ceramic and leather
Carry: Soft case
Weight: 1 lb., 8 ozs.
Country of origin: Assembled in the U.S.A. using foreign-made parts
MSRP: $139.93

Wicked Edge WE66 Obsidian

Sharpening both edges at the same time
The Wicked Edge WE66 Obsidian is the only test model that sharpened both sides of the blade in one session without flipping the knife. The blade mounts atop the tower and the swing rods and grit blocks are used in alternating right- and left-hand sweeps. Note how the guide rods are held in mounts that also set the angle.

The Wicked Edge WE66 Obsidian is another upscale, state-of-the-art fixed-angle sharpener capable of delivering mind-blowing results. What sets it apart from the others is that you sharpen both blade sides in the same session—no flipping of the knife is required. The Obsidian is the largest of the sharpening systems reviewed and has an 8×11-inch base that weighs more than the system itself.

The Obsidian uses diamond blocks with two different consecutive grits on opposing sides. There are four blocks total, two each identical because you sharpen both sides of the blade at the same time. There are two sanding-block rods with orb-shaped bases that act like ball bearings in the mounts. The bases slide on a rail to set the sharpening angle. Despite sounding complicated, it’s actually quite simple. The angle settings are very easy to read on the side of the base. The blade mounts upside down in the jaws atop the center tower and locks in place via a lever.

To use the Obsidian, mount the knife so the edge points straight up, and operate the rods and blocks with opposing hands. Once you sweep the blade with one hand you switch to the other and repeat until that grit has done its business. Sharpen with the low grit and when done rotate to the higher grit on the other side. When you’re finished with that block, replace it with the other block of a higher grit. You’ll have to provide your own strop.

Wicked Edge WE66 Obsidian Specs
Type: Fixed angle, horizontal swing
Dimensions: 11” long, 3” wide, 4” tall
Main body material: Steel
Grit types: 200, 600, 800 and 1,000, diamond coated
Weight: 2 lbs. 13 ozs.
Country of origin: U.S.A.
MSRP: $799

Due Diligence

Much of what is written here will make a lot more sense when you watch a video of the sharpener that strikes your fancy. It will make assembly easier as well.

There’s something for everyone here. If you don’t care to labor over sharpening but still want a very competent cutter, the Smith’s Edge Pro should suit you just fine. The Cold Steel Benchtop Sharpener offers fixed-angle sharpening at a budget price and is a perfect steppingstone for getting your feet wet in hi-tech sharpening. Finally, the Work Sharp Elite and Wicked Edge Obsidian are both lights-out sharpeners if you want outstanding performance. Both are truly state-of-the-art.

Editor’s note: Always practice extreme caution when working on a knife held in a clamp, vise, jig, etc., with the edge pointing up and/or toward you. When finished sharpening, remove the knife from the fixture immediately so the danger of accidental cutting is eliminated.

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