There are a variety of tools and methods that can be used to maintain a sharp edge on your blade, and some methods are more popular than others. You may have tried an electric sharpener without much success, or achieved great results using a whetstone. In this article, we’re going to discuss the many different aspects of knife sharpening so that you can learn how to find the best tool for the job.
Things You Should Know About Knife Sharpeners
Just because an electric sharpener is marketed as a quick-fix solution to knife sharpening, it doesn’t necessarily make it the best tool for the job. By using the right technique, anybody can put a perfect edge on a standard Chef’s knife using only a clay brick to sharpen.
Ways to Sharpen Your Knives
There are several tools available for sharpening a knife: electric sharpener, sharpening stone, handheld sharpener, and sharpening steel (the term ‘sharpening steel’ is a misnomer because sharpening steels are only used to hone knife blades). With all the different sharpeners available today, buyers may have a hard time finding the right tool for the situation – and experience level. Let’s examine these tools more closely:
i) Electric Sharpener
The majority of electric sharpeners utilize a 2 or 3-step process for creating, sharpening, and then honing of the knife’s edge. The first step requires a coarse grit to deform and realign the blade into its original shape, and the last step uses a rather fine grit to hone sharp blades.
An electric sharpener spins a sharpening stone at very high speeds, and a knife is drawn through the slots, sharpening the blade in the process. Essentially, these devices simplify the process of dragging a knife though stone and they do it at higher speeds.
ii) Handheld Sharpeners
They are similar to electric sharpeners although handheld sharpeners have fewer slots to sharpen the blade. The main difference between a handheld sharpener and the conventional electric sharpener is its portability. Their small, compact size makes them ideal for cooking professionals who travel constantly and need to sharpen their blades regularly.
Although the actual design varies, the user typically draws the knife through the slots while the device is placed on a flat surface, or the sharpener is carefully drawn along the length of the blade while the cutting edge is facing upward. This can be done on a table or countertop. The results are identical for both types of handheld sharpeners.
iii) Sharpening Stones
Sharpening stones are made up of three main components: aluminum oxide, Novaculite, and silicon carbide (otherwise known as India, Arkansas, and Crystolon, respectively). Novaculites are natural stones, while silicon carbide and aluminum oxide are manmade. Novaculite stones vary from coarse to grit-type, aluminum oxide are perfect for fine sharpening, and silicon carbide are generally used for initial coarse sharpening.
To get the optimal cutting edge, some stones are made with a combination of these three materials and diamond abrasives.
iv) Sharpening Steel
Sharpening steels are not actually used to sharpen knives. Instead, it is used to hone a knife blade, though some styles or cuts are able to do minor sharpening – however steel should not be used in place of stone. They come in four main cuts: regular, diamond, ceramic, or a combination. The differences between these cuts are fairly minimal, and the decision to use one cut over another depends on whether you want to have the option of sharpening, and the range of your budget.
It is highly recommended that you pick a sharpening steel to go with a matching knife brand since many manufacturers design their steels to hone their own knives.
· Regular cut: these are the most common and well known, as they are made strictly of steel.
· Diamond: these cuts include diamond coating abrasive, a lot like what is found on some sharpening stones.
· Ceramic: as the name implies, these are made of ceramic and are used for minor sharpening with the goal of aligning the blade.
· Combination cut: this combines a rough surface for minor sharpening and a smooth surface for honing.
When sharpening a blade, it is important to be familiar with the following terms:
· Bevel/grind: this refers to the shape of the blade.
· Grit: how coarse the abrasive material on a sharpening stone.
· Edge: the sharp side of the blade.
· To hone: the process of maintaining the sharpness of an already sharp blade.
· Spine: the top side of the blade.
Different Bevel Types
Bevels can vary based on what the knife is used for, or how sharp you want it to be. These are only a few of the many bevel types available today, and some of these can be combined to make new bevels.
i) Chisel bevel
A chisel bevel means that only one side of the blade is ground down, leaving the other side flat. This makes for a very sharp edge and is popular with Asian culinary knives. Left and right-handed varieties can be found, depending on what you prefer.
ii) Convex bevel
A convex bevel has an outwardly-facing taper that sticks out of thick metal, which gives the blade significant weight while still remaining relatively sharp. It is commonly found on cleavers and requires skill to sharpen on stone.
iii) Double bevel/ compound bevel
A second back bevel is added onto blades in order to improve cutting ability and also to keep the blade thinner for longer. This is a common blade in Western kitchens, and though not as sharp as the other blades, it has great resilience.
iv) Flat bevel
It features a taper that starts all the way up at the spine of the blade and runs down to the edge, and this makes the blade very sharp. Because of the large amount of metal that is removed to create a flat bevel, this type of blade is not produced in large quantities, so availability is limited.
v) Sabre bevel
This is also known as a V bevel, and is similar to a flat bevel but this taper begins around the middle of the blade. It is used on commercial kitchens and is known for having a lasting edge – but the location of the taper minimizes cutting ability.
vi) Hollow bevel
A hollow bevel has a taper that curves inward to create an extremely sharp but weak edge. It is mainly used to make straight razors.
Blade angle measurements are the angles to which each side of the blade is sharpened. For instance, some blades are sharpened at a 20 degree angle, which gives them a total angle of 40 degrees: although some blades come with a 15 degree angle straight from the manufacturer. Generally, the bigger the blade angle, the stronger and more durable your blade will be; but with a bigger angle you also lose sharpness.
· 12 – 18 degree angles: these are normally found on extremely sharp knives like fillet or paring knives (any angle lower than this is found on razors).
· 18 – 25 degree angles: the majority of kitchen knives are manufactured around this range of angles, and they offer a good balance of sharpness and rigidity.
· 25 – 30 degree angles: these blades are reserved for hunting knives, pocket knives, and other outdoor utility knives that experience tough conditions not usually found in kitchens.
· 30 – 35 degree angles: chopping blades need bigger sharpening angles due to their weight and strength. Cleavers normally carry larger angles as their job requires strength and durability.
Manual Sharpener vs. Electric Sharpener
Electric sharpeners have had a lot of praise over the years and while they all promise to give your blade the real Chef’s edge, much of what they do can be accomplished using a simple whetstone (at a far less cost). The selling point for these electric devices is that they help make your life easier, and in theory they can: however, not all products are as effective as claimed.
A typical electric knife sharpener is essentially the electric version of the Spyderco Sharpmaker, which is entirely manual. The standard electric knife sharpener is similar to Spyderco Sharpmaker in that it uses the same preset slots with stone abrasives for you to drag the knife though and correct the edges of the blade.
The only difference between electric sharpeners and the Spyderco is the fact that the stones rotate faster so that the user doesn’t have to move their hand back and forth to manually sharpen the edge. Admittedly, this takes the pressure off having to move your hand back and forth to sharpen the blade, but there’s still an issue of adjusting the guiding angle.
Without the ability to change the guiding angle, you cannot effectively select the sharpness of your blade. Most electric sharpeners do work, but they consistently impose a basic sharpening angle for your knives, never quite allowing the user to select the best edge for their uses.
Aside from that, some products actually damage your knives. The cheaper versions of electric sharpeners promise superior sharpening in just minutes but not all of them deliver good results. A manual sharpener involves simple mechanics and allows the user to sharpen the blade at their angle of choice, and results are often times better than the average electric sharpener.
Here’s why electric sharpeners may not be the best idea:
· They’re not that cheap. When you consider the fact that a clay brick will give you results on par with the most expensive (over $100) electric knife sharpener, you understand how much of a rip off these gadgets are.
· Most electric sharpeners are designed for cheap knives. The majority of electric knife sharpeners are designed around the mainstream, and most people don’t use super steel knives or knives with above-average hardness.
· You don’t know how much steel is coming off. These devices are designed to eat away at the edge of the knife to reveal a new bevel but the user has no idea how much steel is removed. This can easily cause damage to the blade, cosmetic or otherwise.
However, you should consider electric ones if you can live with the cons listed above.
Top 5 Best Knife Sharpeners Review
a) Smith’s PP1 Pocket Pal Multifunction Sharpener
Smith’s pocket Pal Multifunctional knife sharpener is a compact, lightweight and durable manual sharpener that includes ceramic stones and pre-set crossed carbides which give the user a perfect blade every time. The combination of carbides and ceramic stone leave your knife a razor-sharp on both serrated and standard edges. It also has a diamond-coated rod that is made for sharpening serrations and small gut hooks.
b) Tri-Angle Sharpmaker
The Tri-Angle Sharpmaker is made with medium-grit triangle stones, 2 sets of high alumina ceramic stones, which sharpen plain and flat edges, darts, fishhooks, awls, and punches. The base is drilled onto tables or countertops for easy sharpening. It can be drilled onto a permanent tabletop in your kitchen for use with different knives.
c) Lansky PS-MED01 BladeMedic
The BladeMedic knife tackles regular or serrated edges, hunting knives, fishing knives, gut hooks, and just about every other knife in your house. It includes a diamond-tapered rod for maintenance and fast reconditioning, ceramic sharpening rods, and serrated knife sharpening. It’s perfect for when you’re taking fishing trips or travelling as a chef and need to sharpen your tools for better performance.
d) PriorityChef Knife Sharpener for Straight and Serrated Knives
The PriorityChef Knife Sharpener comes in a stylish, ergonomic design and long-lasting construction, which includes a 2-stage sharpening system that polishes your blades to razor-sharpness. It has a non-slip cushion that allows easy handling and a stable base that gives the user a strong grip. It works for all types of blades including premium-quality steel or “hard” steel blades. It is a versatile knife sharpener and relatively easy to use. Just position the dull blade on the sharpening slot and work it gently to turn it into razor-sharpness within seconds.
e) Winware Stainless Steel Sharpening Steel, 12-Inch
This sharpening steel rod has a handle that measures 5” with a hanging loop, and 12 inches sharpening blade. The smooth grooves make it easy to sharpen different blades with great results, and it has a long sharpening blade which allows the user to sharpen different sizes of blades, from a kitchen knife to a Samurai sword. Users will appreciate longer steel for sharpening larger knives. After use, wipe with a soft damp cloth for cleaning.