I just might be the world’s worst knife sharpener.
I know, I know — shocking, yet true. This is precisely why I am so frequently drawn to the best bushcraft knives. Generally, bushcraft knives have an innate ability to be re-honed and field sharpened because of their grind geometry. Couple that with high carbon steel that typically needs less frequency on the sharpening stone, and I’m instantly attracted.
I hate sharpening knives so much that I have bought all sorts of “best” sharpening systems out there. Some work well, but what I’ve found is that it takes patience, some knowledge, and a bit of skill to really achieve a good working edge on your knives. I will not claim to be the world’s expert on knife sharpening, and there are a giant pile of knife sharpening videos on the web (some of the better videos are included here), but here are 3 good sharpening options for everybody who hates knife sharpening.
Edge Pro Apex 3 Knife Sharpener Kit
I bought this particular model several years ago, and paid well over $200, but can’t remember the exact price (maybe I don’t want to remember!). That said, this is a serious knife sharpening system that excels at getting a consistent, precise angle on your edge. The clamping mechanism allows you to service any size blade, but it does help tremendously if you research the exact angle of the grind for your knife. Custom knives may not conform too well to this level of precision, but if you don’t get it right, you’re basically wasting a lot of time.
PROS: The stones are excellent, and the finished product is ridiculously sharp. The wide variety of stones and sand paper add-ons (replacements are sold separately) can get you from zero to hero quickly. The precise clamping allows the stone to be slid at a consistent angle every time — there is no worrying about holding the knife precisely right because the rest is going to take care of you.
CONS: The clamping system may add to the no fuss, but there’s a bit of a learning curve and adjustment to how you’re used to sharpening a knife when you switch sides. The way it works is that there is an adjustable rest for the spine of the knife that can accommodate nearly any type of knife, but good luck with kukris. I gave one kukri blade a shot, and never did get a consistent edge. Also, I would forget about hollow grinds with this, but given that hollow grinds are exceedingly rare among bushcrafters I don’t think it’s a major flaw. Although it has a suction cup to help anchor the whole sharpener, I never really got it to work well, but probably mostly out of impatience. This is overcome by putting the whole thing on a towel so that it doesn’t move around as much. This may be obvious for seasoned sharpeners, but this is not going to work on serrated blades.
CONCLUSION: I like it. I paid more for it a few years ago because I thought it was the last knife sharpener I’d ever buy. However, please make sure you do some research on your knife’s edge geometry or I think you’re going to lose some learning curve time especially if you’re a newbie. Seasoned sharpeners will likely love this because it’s going to reduce your time commitment greatly. This is not a fingertip approach, but rather a more mechanized system that attempts to idiot-proof knife sharpening. It does take some setup, so plan to run through several knives at a time when you do take it out. The system also comes with a ceramic rod to knock the burr off the edge, and the whole thing has a very handy carrying case so you don’t lose all the stones.
AGPtek® Professional Kitchen Knife Sharpener System Fix-angle with 4 Stones
Okay, here’s the Edge Pro knock off. I have not used it personally, but have watched the videos, and am fairly convinced you can get a nice edge without spending $230+. The concept is identical, but you may have to do a bit of upgrading and modifying to sturdy up the rig before deploying it into action. It can take Edge Pro stones, so if you’re tight on money then this might be a good option.
PROS: In a single word — PRICE.
CONS: You’ll have to figure out if you’re cool with using a “knock off,” but I’m pretty sure your knives don’t care. I mean, it’s not like we’re talking about an extra $20 or something… the price difference is huge. From what I understand, the base may need some rubber banding in order to keep it steadier. Cheaper products generally means cheaper materials, but it looks like this sharpener is capable of doing a similar quality job for a lot less dinero.
CONCLUSION: I’m not sure you can go wrong for the price. In my opinion, an economy Edge Pro is better than no Edge Pro, and I would have started with this if was available a few years ago. It seems like the stones are probably not as high of quality, but that can be overcome a few ways by doing a manual finish or by purchasing the stones from Edge Pro to use on this machine. It is very likely that “you get what you pay for” but so long as it doesn’t fall apart in your hands and you are willing to do a bit of innovations, this may be a good option for you.
Smith’s PP1 Pocket Pal Multifunction Sharpener
This is one of the best selling knife sharpener of all time, and for a good reason. Honestly, at $8 a pop I have to wonder why you wouldn’t have it. But, that being said, it is intended for field use and getting your leading, cutting edge dressed for immediate use. Since it’s small, it is a fantastic addition to your kit because it gives you the multi-function capacity that bushcrafters demand in their gear without being overly burdensome.
PROS: This is going to get you the 80% solution with 20% effort. As an add-on to your kit, I feel like I’m looking at a no-brainer, but if you only roll with white gloves and dust free environments with your bushcraft knives, then take a pass. This is the modern field strop.
CONS: Yeah. I got nothing.
CONCLUSION: Buy it. At $8, this will get your cutting edge honed quickly especially if you’re in the field. Sure, it might not make your cut for getting the paper-slicing edge that you demand. For me personally, I’ve used this exact sharpener even in the kitchen.
Smith’s TRI-6 Arkansas TRI-HONE Sharpening Stones System
This is an inexpensive all-in-one sharpening system, and I’ve used it with good success. If you’re looking for simplicity without messing with setting up some crazy jig system, this might be your stone. The three stones go from course to fine (medium Arkansas stone, fine Arkansas stone, and coarse synthetic stone) for a full edge treatment.
PROS: Three stones in one is incredibly convenient. Believe it or not, the plastic angle guides provided with the kit are very helpful. Normally this seems like something I’d throw away with the box, but I do use them and they do help me – especially with blades that have a secondary bevel. For scandi or flat ground blades, usually the angle guide isn’t needed because there’s enough grind edge to feel the face on the stone.
CONS: The stones themselves are relatively small for a bench sharpening system. This makes sharpening larger knives a bit of a trick because it doesn’t afford the same length and width that many other bench stones give. That said, most of the best bushcraft knives are 5″ blades on down, so you can still get a shave-sharp edge with this stone without too much trouble.
CONCLUSION: Smiths makes great products for the price. I like having this particular sharpening stone system just for the sake of simplicity. However, most times the course stone is unnecessary unless the blade edge is damaged or extremely dull. Using sharpening stones is basically the same method used for several thousand years, so conventional wisdom very frequently means it just plain ol’ works. It stores easy, and gives a range of options easily. But, if you’ve got to do bigger knives, you may want to graduate to a full size stone. This will get most of the knives in your inventory sharp, but larger knives — while not impossible — will be more challenging on this size stone.