Sharpening vs. honing

Being a good Alton Brown fan, I know the difference between sharpening a blade (grinding a finer edge) and honing a blade (uncurling that very fine edge so it cuts nicely). My boyfriend wants a knife sharpener for Christmas. Amazon sells any number of $20 “knife sharpeners”. It also calls a honing steel–a sharpening steel. So whoever is naming these products isn’t very nice about the distinction between the two processes.

So, are these $20 “sharpeners” actually sharpeners or do they just hone blades? Is sharpening really something you have to have done professionally?

Well, in 2006 Cook’s Illustrated (I trust them, and they’ve never steered me wrong), selected something called the “AccuSharp Knife and Tool Sharpener” at only $9! Okay, 2006 prices, and despite the consumer griping, inflation’s been pretty reasonable, so definitely under $20 I’d say. It’s a bona fide, manual sharpener.

I use the accusharp (based on the CI recommendation). Easy to use and works well.

If he’s a real knife geek drop some coin and get him a whetstone sharpener/honer.

I prefer oilstones, but YMMV.

The Accusharp will put a good edge on a knife, but this style of sharpener tends to wear away the blade at an accelerated rate.
They are a bit more work, but I prefer a Gatco sharpener. These will put a scary sharp edge on your knives.

The Gatco looks a lot like the Lansky I’ve had for years. The one I have uses diamond surfaces to do the work. The non-diamond work just as well but may need replacement depending on how often it’s used.

As Rick said; scary sharp results.:smiley:

Thanks, everybody. Yeah, he’s definitely a knife geek in the making. We were discussing in what order he’d move his belongings to my house, and he said, “I’ll start with my knives and my underwear”.

I wouldn’t use a “sharpening device” on any good knives. If you’re just using crappy kitchen knives then an AccuSharp might be acceptable. AccuSharp and similar devices are basically hones with a more aggressive grinding material than regular steel. They don’t get a really fine edge due to the coarseness, and the set angle may or may not fit your application.

Stones and a sharpening guide or jig are what are used for regular sharpening most places. I use three different grits to get down to what I consider an acceptable edge, and I have a very coarse stone on hand for damaged tools. I get those from relatives, none of my stuff gets beaten up like that.

Another method, using different grits of sandpaper on a glass backing, produces very good results and has gone around in woodworking circles: scary sharp; video demonstrating it here. The finer the polish, the sharper the edge. Once you get a tool or knife properly sharp the first time, you often only need touch ups on the two or three finer grits to get it back to top shape, but if you nicked the edge or need to re-profile the blade you start from the coarse grits again. This method’s advantage is that you don’t need to worry about flattening a stone to true after using it for a while, and you can almost always find some sandpaper of the proper grit for sale somewhere.

That video (and the other posting about a similar method) looks pretty cool. Any idea where you coudl get a jig/honing guide more suited to kitchen knives, which are much wider than the woodworking honing guides there?

Sleel, where do you draw the line between “good knives” and “crappy kitchen knives”? He’s got some Wusthof knives that he’s been honing–one of their more expensive sets, I think. I have some el-cheapo Wusthof knives that he wants to sharpen.

ou can do it on the cheap with a couple of scraps of wood and some twine, which is not too far off from what I jerry-rigged together as a teen. Later, I bought a Razor Edge sharpening guide. You can also find them from lots of other manufacturers like Buck and Gerber. They have a pre-set angle, but you can vary the angle at the edge through how far up on the blade you place it. Gatco makes adjustable ones for knives, but then you have to buy their system to get it to work. You can get really elaborate with jigs. I’ve seen some that look like something out of a manufacturing plant and cost hundreds of dollars.

By crappy, I meant your lower-end stuff, that may or may not be carbon steel instead of stainless (which won’t sharpen worth a damn anyway) and if you ruined it wouldn’t bother you a bit. Name brands that are mid- to high-end consumer, but do offer lower-end lines are Henckels and Wusthof, several others that I can’t think of off the top of my head.

Generally, if the knife cost you more than about $75, I wouldn’t want to stick it in a sharpening device because you’ll probably ruin the profile, and you won’t be getting a really nice polished edge. It’ll get worse the longer you use it too, because you’ll eventually start wearing off enough metal to get back into the body of the blade where the taper toward the edge isn’t as strong, and you’re not doing any primary angle work to get it back to a proper profile. It’ll work great…until you find that your knife is really damn dull and can’t be sharpened and kept sharp for more than a few days.

I don’t know what they were smoking at Cook’s Illustrated but if I wanted to ruin a knife that’s the first thing I’d use. I’ve tried the Lansky stone system and could never get the kind of edge as a 2 angle ceramic rod system from Lansky. The finer ceramic rod seems to polish the blade better than the stones. It doesn’t take much to make an edge that will shave hair.

I regularly steel my workhorse Wusthof chef’s knife, and at a year and half-old, it still hasn’t needed sharpening (still passes the paper test, and it recently scared the Cutco kid, because he was fully expecting that I’d have the crappy, mediocre knives that most people have [I did buy an over-priced boning knife and a paring knife from him, though].) The rest of my knives are crap, and I was thinking of taking the whole batch in for sharpening once my chef’s knife needed it, but it looks like it won’t be any time soon.

What I see as a problem with all of these systems (Laskey, Gatco, Edge Pro) is that they’re only for tiny, little knives! They all look ingenious, and work on a similar basis, but it means that you can only sharpen a small section of the blade at a time. It’ll be a pain to keep moving the blade, but also inconsistent, wouldn’t it? What’s really missing is for the guide rod to have the ability to travel along a rail parallel to the knife. (This issue, of course, is that the angle changes the further you diverge from the pivoting post.)

Anyone know any similar solutions that will accommodate a 10" blade (my chef’s knife)? Because, really, I want! I was all set to go until I thought about the blade length problem.

I have a Spyderco Sharpmaker that works well with my 8" chef’s knife.

Unlike the Lansky system (if I’m understanding it correctly,) the Spyderco allows you to set the sharpening rod at an angle, and then you draw the knife along the rod while keeping the blade vertical. I like it because it allows me to be confident that I’m sharpening at a known & consistent angle, which is what I was always anxious about when using a stone, but you don’t have as many choices of angle as the Lansky. I think the sharpening rods are long enough to comfortably accommodate drawing a 10" blade, but I’ve not used it with anything longer than 8".

I’ve seen a few devices that look like that since becoming interested in sharpening due to this thread, but I’m not visualizing how they work. I mean, one thing that always worries with my my steel is that I feel it’s not long enough for my 10" blade, and I may not be angling it properly (less of a concern when steeling, though).

What holds the blade in the correct position on these? I get the idea that they work like steeling rods.

Stone sharpening is the way to go in my opinion. However I am someone who finds it kind of relaxing and tharaputic to slowly and carefully sharpen a knife while I am watching TV or something. It takes some time if you find a knife is dull when you need it, but if you stay ahead of dullness then they are great.

I wouldn’t count out the AccuSharp product. It’s cheap and works quite well for most ordinary uses. As Rick said, though, it can wear your blades down a little faster.


There’s nothing that holds the blade in position, other than you. Instead, the sharpening surface is held at a constant angle. This allows you to sharpen the blade by keeping it vertical, making it easy to consistently maintain the proper angle. That was always my worry with a stone – I can pretty comfortably tell when the blade is vertical, but to eyeball twenty degrees? Not so easy, at least not for me.

The sharpening rods are triangular. Either the vertices or the flats can be used for sharpening – the instructions call for a number of strokes on the vertices, followed by a number of strokes on the flats. On the vertices, it does have a kind of steeling rod feel, but on the flats, it’s more like using a narrow stone. The rods are actually made of a ceramic material.

There are a number of YouTube videos that should give you an understanding of how it works, and of the length of the rods. None of the videos I saw really stood out, so that’s just a link to the search results.