By Larry Teague
Millions of outdoorsmen collect knives, and most are used rather than displayed.
In the quest to keep them shaving sharp, we also collect knife sharpeners, with each new model promising faster or better results.
Most people find it difficult to sharpen a knife freehand, holding the blade at a precise angle as it's dragged or pushed across a stone. This has led to a variety of systems that keep blades at the desired angle - usually 25 degrees for hunting knives.
My personal collection of sharpeners includes pocket Arkansas stones to crossed sticks and triangles to an electric tabletop model I couldn't sell for $5 in a yard sale.
I've tried most types of sharpeners, but my favorite is a simple bench stone and an angle guide that clamps onto the blade. I like the relaxing ritual of sharpening by hand on a flat stone.
Top-of the-line sharpeners like the Wicked Edge Pro System and Apex Edge Pro use specialty stones held at various angles to hone everything from tactical blades to straight razors. Wicked Edge grits run from coarse 50 (diamond) to 10,000 (Japanese water stone). The Apex uses water stones and some ceramics. These systems aren't cheap. Wicked Edge kits start at $390; Apex Pro systems sell for $375 or more.
Sharpening knifes on 1-inch belt sanders has become very popular in recent years. An Internet search will turn up dozens of how-to videos on the subject. The learning curve is steep because belt sanders don't come with angle guides.
The Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition is like a belt sander, only smaller and designed for honing. An adjustable guide allows you to put a 15- to 30-degree bevel on any knife you own. The variable-speed motor lets you sharpen at slower speeds to prevent overheating the steel and ruining its temper.
The sharpener also has a built-in guide to hones scissors to a 60-degree angle.
In a month of testing, I gave the Work Sharp system (MSRP: $149.95) a thorough workout. Seeing is believing. It honed even the poorest quality blade in my kitchen knife drawer tomato-slicing sharp. With good steel, it works magic.
Many sharpening systems will not hone fillet knives. This one does. I used the 15-degree setting to sharpen mine. The æ x 12-inch abrasive belts work on curved knives, tanto blades, fillet knives, serrated knives and virtually any other type of knife blade.
Included with the sharpener are five abrasive belts from extra coarse to extra fine. Changing belts was difficult at first, but became easier with practice. One of the belt rollers is spring-loaded and swings inward for belt removal or installation.
Belts are not sold individually. Break one, and you'll have to buy a complete set to replace the broken one. I got careless when lifting a blade from the extra fine belt, the thinnest one, and severed it. Unable to find a replacement belts locally, I ordered a set from Bass Pro Shops for $14.99, plus shipping. Work Sharp should consider offering belts individually.
The machine is very well made and feels like the high-quality electric hand tool it is.
Extensive testing convinced me it is better than all but one of the sharpeners I own: the low-tech flat stone.
The whir of the motor is not calming like the steady whisk of steel on stone. But when I need a blade honed in a hurry - or every knife in the drawer sharpened - this is one I'll get out of the closet, hopefully without it falling on my head.