There are a number of ways to sharpen your kitchen knives, but the one that's right for you will depend on which knives you own, and even more so, on your degree of skill or how willing you are to learn.
For beginners, electric and pull-through sharpeners are the easiest choice, but they aren't right for every knife (or every person).
If you're new to the world of knife sharpeners, we take a look at all the different knife sharpening systems and walk you through a decision process so you can find the right sharpener for your knives.
Who this article is for: beginners and people looking for basic information about knife sharpeners.
Pull-through sharpeners (manual or electric) are good for people with mid-range knives, those looking for an easy system to use, and those who don't mind a fixed bevel (usually 15 degree) and a sharp-but-not-razor-sharp result.
Whetstones or guided rod systems are good for people with high-end knives, those who want the ability to sharpen to different angles, those who want razor sharpness, and those who don't mind a learning curve.
Our Favorite Knife Sharpeners at a Glance
This table lists the most popular sharpening options, and our favorite example of each. We discuss why in the detailed reviews below and offer some other options.
Type of Sharpener/ Recommendation
Honing Steel: Mercer Culinary 12" Ceramic Honing Rod
-Also available in steel and diamond
-Also called honing rod, steeling rod, steel, and hone
-Used to align the blade in-between sharpening and should be used frequently
-A must-have for your kitchen knives.
-All knives with a steel blade.
-Steel and diamond are also a good choice; ceramic or diamond is a must for harder Japanese steel.
Electric Sharpener: Chef'sChoice Trizor 15XV
-3 stage sharpening
-Fixed 15 degree double bevel
-Uses diamond abrasives
-Tall slots hold knife steady
-Made in USA
-3 year warranty.
-Inexperienced sharpeners and moderately expensive blades
-Knives with a factory 15 degree double bevel (14-16 if you you're not fussy)
-Knives you want to have a 15 degree double bevel
-Not a great choice for knives with very different bevels.*
-Must fill with water before using
-3 stage sharpening
-Fixed 15 degree double bevel
-Made for Global knives but will work for any 15 degree double bevel
-Made in China.
-Inexperienced sharpeners and moderately expensive blades
-Knives with a 14-16 degree double bevel
-Knives you want to have a 15 degree double bevel
-Not a great choice for knives with a very different bevel.*
Whetstone: Norton Waterstone Whetstone Sharpening Kit
-200/1000 grit stone for sharpening
-4000/8000 grit stone for polishing
-Aluminum oxide grit material
-Flattening stone to maintain whetstones
-Rubber feet on case to stabilize
-Great for all knives and other blades
-Free instructional videos.
-Experienced users and those willing to learn (and don't mind a learning curve)
-High end knives
-All angles of knives
-People who want an exceptionally sharp edge.
Guided Rod Sharpener: TSPROF Blitz Complete
-5 diamond plates (extra coarse, coarse, medium, fine, extra fine)
-8-27 degree sharpening
-Blade length: 1.9-7.9" (30-200mm)
-Produces razor sharp edge (85g of pressure)
-Free instruction videos
-Made in Russia.
-High end knives
-Wide variety of edge angles
-People who want razor sharp blades without the learning curve of a whetstone.
*E.g., Wusthof santoku or nakiri (10 degrees), Global SAI (12.5 degree), some high-end sushi knives.
How We Tested
A lot of knife sharpener advisors use sophisticated testing equipment and provide before-and-after measurements of blade sharpness. This is a great way to quantify the actual sharpening ability of a knife sharpener.
Testers measure sharpness in "grams of pressure." The less pressure required to cut a wire, the sharper the blade.
- 0-200 grams of pressure: razor sharp
- 200-300 grams of pressure: nicely sharp kitchen cutlery
- Above 400 grams of pressure: a blade is dull and needs sharpening.
We include this information because we used some of these numbers--taken from other sources--to help us determine which sharpener brought a blade to the sharpest edge. But we didn't use these tools ourselves.
Instead, we treated our knives as any cook would: when the knife was too dull to cut through a tomato, we sharpened it. The before-and-after ability to cut a tomato seemed like the best possible test of how well a sharpener worked, at least if we're looking at how this translates to actual usage in the kitchen.
The truth is, most sharpening systems will get your knives sharp enough for satisfactory use (e.g. 200-300g of pressure) and a simple pull-through sharpener or wheel electric sharpener is good enough for most cooks and most knives.
However, the range is wide: a whetstone or guided rod system can bring a blade as low as 85 grams of pressure (literally razor sharp), while most manual and electric sharpeners can bring a blade to a range of 220-290 grams of pressure.
Only a few of the cheapest sharpeners we looked at couldn't get a blade below 300g of pressure.
It's up to you to decide how sharp you want your knives. A lower number doesn't necessarily translate to a blade staying sharp any longer than something in the 200-250 grams of pressure range, but if you want to cut the hairs on your arm, shoot for below 200. This means using a whetstone or guided rod system.
Bevels, or sharpening angle, are another consideration. Even if you don't care about razor sharpness, you may have other reasons to go with a more sophisticated system. The main one is if you have knives with several different bevels that you want to keep (pull through sharpeners can typically sharpen to one angle, usually 15 degrees double bevel, sometimes two angles, 15 and 20 degrees, but very few kitchen knives have a 20 degree double bevel anymore).
We talk more about bevels below.
Why Kitchen Knives Need to Be Sharp
Do kitchen knives really need to be sharp? Yes--absolutely. Three good reasons why are safety, ease of use, and presentation.
You may have heard the adage "a sharp knife is a safe knife." This may seem counterintuitive, but let us explain why it makes sense.
If your knives are dull, you have to use more pressure to cut. More pressure means more possibility of slipping, which means more possibility of cutting yourself and other injuries--and even a dull knife will easily cut through skin.
A sharp knife requires less pressure, so you can guide the knife lightly and skillfully. This means less potential for accidents.
Note: A sharp knife is also dangerous, for different but obvious reasons. Always use care with your kitchen knives.
Ease of Use
You can get your prep work done faster and more easily with a sharp knife than a dull one, and with less potential of hurting yourself.
If you are a serious cook, then presentation is important, and the best way to achieve a desired presentation is with the right tools. This means a sharp blade (as well as one that's designed for what you're using it for).
For more information on knife safety and skills, see our article Knife Safety, Knife Care, and Knife Skills: The Basics for Beginners.
What Does a Knife Sharpener Do?
In a nutshell, a knife sharpener actually removes metal from a blade to create a new edge.
Every time you use a knife, it creates small chips, dents, and flat areas along the edge (or sometimes not so small). Even though you can't see them, they're there, and you can tell they're there because the knife no longer cuts the way you want it to.
Steeling a blade frequently--at least every other time you use it--re-aligns the chips and dents to make the blade smooth and sharp again. When steeling no longer restores the blade to sharpness, it's time to sharpen. (The difference between steeling and sharpening is that steeling just smooths the blade out, while sharpening actually removes material and creates a new edge.)
Proper sharpening requires at least two different grits: a coarse and a fine; depending on your level of expertise and what you're trying to achieve, there are several grits to choose from.
Coarse grit grinds the bevels to a new edge. Fine grit smooths and polishes the bevels, which makes the edge even sharper. The better shape the knives are in, the finer grit you can start with.
We talk more about grit in the Whetstone section below.
There's more to it, but this is the basic job of a knife sharpener (and why you need more than one grit).
Finally, because sharpeners actually remove steel, you have to be careful with them. Too much pressure can shorten a knife's life span. This is especially true for electric sharpeners (both pull-through and belt sharpeners) and for whetstones, if you're inexperienced with them.
So if you're new to sharpening, practice with inexpensive knives until you get a feel for how to do it.
How Often Do You Need to Sharpen Your Knives?
Frequency of sharpening your kitchen knives depends on many factors: how often you use them, what you use them for, the type of steel the blade is made from, and how often you steel the blade between sharpening.
You can tell when your knives need sharpening when the honing steel no longer brings the knife back to satisfactory sharpness: if you can't cut a tomato skin after steeling the knife, it's time to sharpen.
In general, most cooks sharpen their knives 2-5 times a year.
Be sure to steel your knives at least every other use to maximize the time between sharpening.
What You Need to Know About Angles
A lot of sites say that Western blades have a 20 degree double bevel (40 degree inclusive) and Asian blades have a 15 degree bevel (30 degree inclusive)--leading you to think that a 15- or 20-degree sharpener is adequate for all your knives.
This may have been the case at one time, but there are so many exceptions to this rule today that it isn't really even a rule anymore.
Here's a table of popular brands and their bevel angles. Note that even knives of the same brand don't always have the same bevel:
Wusthof Western blades
14 degree double bevel
Wusthof, Zwilling, Henckels santoku/nakiri
10 degree double bevel
Zwilling/Henckels Western blades
15 degree double bevel
Chicago Cutlery (most are carbon steel)
13 degree double bevel
15-20 degree double bevel
Global Classic and UKON
15 degree double bevel
12.5 degree double bevel
Shun (sold in Western market)
16 degree double bevel
9-12 degree double bevel
Can be 8-12, 10-13, 12-14, 13-15, or 16-18 double bevel, depending on the series.
Many, maybe even most, kitchen knives sold in the US have a double bevel of 14-17 degrees. So a 15-degree double bevel sharpener will be the right choice for many of your kitchen knives (maybe all of them).
There are notable exceptions, however. The most notable are Asian knives made by Western manufacturers: Wusthof, Zwilling, and Henckels all make Asian knives (e.g., santokus and nakiris) with a 10 degree double bevel. That is a very thin bevel. And if you invested in these knives, you probably want to keep that bevel. After all, they made it that way for a reason.
This means a standard pull-through sharpener won't work.
If you have any of these knives, you should consider a sharpener that has the ability to do more than one or two blade angles, or more than one pull-through sharpener. (If you have other brands than those in the table below, verify the angle with the manufacturer before deciding which sharpener you need.)
Wusthof makes two pull-through sharpeners: a 14 degree for their Western blades and a 10 degree for their Asian blades. Each one costs well under $30 and is an economical solution if you own both Western and Asian blades made by German knife makers and don't want to invest in learning how to use a whetstone or guided rod system.
However, for the most accuracy and the sharpest blades, whetstones and guided rods are the better choice.
How Important Is the Angle?
So, how important is it to keep the angle? That depends on your preferences. Some people don't care, and just run all their knives through a 15- or 20-degree sharpener. If you have inexpensive knives (and there's nothing wrong with having inexpensive knives!), this is probably just fine.
Thin angles--like the 10 degree Wusthof santokus--typically perform beautifully, but the thinness of the bevel makes the knife less durable and more prone to chipping and breaking, making these knives best for vegetable prepping and softer foods in general. Though softer German steel is a good candidate for a thinner blade (because it's more durable), some people don't want this.
However, if you're sharpening all your blades to 15 degrees because you didn't know your knife had a different bevel, then you should decide if this is the angle you want.
We included this section for the people who didn't know about these different angles, so you can decide how you want to sharpen your knives. And, we think if you invested a lot in a high quality knife, you'll get the best performance out of it if you sharpen it to the angle at which it was meant to be used.
What About Ceramic and Serrated Blades?
Ceramic blades have become popular in recent years, but they're hard to sharpen yourself. You can do it if you have a sharpener with diamond grit--because diamond is harder than ceramic--but it's easy to chip the blade or take off too much material.
Most makers will sharpen ceramic blades for you for the cost of shipping.
For these reasons, we do not recommend sharpening ceramic knives yourself, and we did not include information about sharpening ceramic knives.
Serrated blades are also tricky to sharpen at home, so be wary of sharpeners that claim they can. You can smooth them out with a standard knife sharpener, which gets them somewhat sharper, but can't get into all the crevices. The best way to actually sharpen a serrated knife is with a file designed for serrated knives (but it's time consuming).
Probably the easiest way to sharpen a serrated knife is to send it out to a professional. For this reason, we aren't going to talk any more about sharpening serrated knives in this article.
What to Look For in a Kitchen Knife Sharpener (Features to Consider)
Here, we look at the features to consider before buying a knife sharpener to help walk you through a decision process.
You can see more details and our recommendations for each sharpener type in the sections below.
As with any purchase, set a budget and stick to it. But before you do that, be sure you're buying the right sharpener for the kind of knives you have. You can spend anywhere from $10-$1000 on a knife sharpener. Just because a sharpener is expensive (or inexpensive) doesn't mean it's the right choice for you.
If you have inexpensive or mid-quality knives--Victorinox, Chicago Cutlery, some Henckels--then you can get away with an inexpensive sharpener or one that has just one or two sharpening angles. These pull through sharpeners (manual or electric) can't get a knife as sharp as a whetstone or guided rod system, but they can get them sharp enough for satisfactory use in the kitchen.
If you have high end cutlery brands, or a variety of German and Japanese knives, or if you want your knives to be as sharp as you can possibly get them, you should invest in a more sophisticated system that can sharpen several angles, and achieve razor sharpness. The best value for this is a whetstone, but a more expensive guided rod system can give you a foolproof perfect edge every time.
There's no right or wrong cost as long as you get a sharpener that matches the knives you have and the sharpness you want.
We talk more about angles below in the section How Many Angles Can It Sharpen To? (and above in How Important Is the Angle?). We talk about how sharp your knives need to be in How Sharp Is Sharp Enough?
Ease of Use
Knife sharpeners have a wide range of usability, from a simple pull-through slot up to a complex guided rod system. There are pros and cons to each method.
In general, the easier a knife sharpener is to use, the less sharp it can get your knives; the more complex the system is, the sharper it can get them. Complex systems are also better for a wide range of bevels, at least if you want your knives to keep the bevels they came with; if you don't care, then any 15-degree double bevel sharpener is good enough.
A whetstone may seem like a simple tool, but it is the hardest of all sharpeners to use correctly. So even though simple, it probably has the steepest learning curve of all the knife sharpening systems.
See the How Sharp Can It Get a Blade? section below for a discussion of the sharpness the different sharpeners can actually achieve: you may be surprised at the range.
How Sharp Can It Get a Blade?
We have already discussed the range of sharpness you get from different sharpening systems (and will again in the reviews below). Here's a table that summarizes these numbers.
Remember, the smaller the number, the sharper the blade: 0-200 is razor sharp; 200-300 is adequately sharp for kitchen knives; 400 and above means the knife is dull.
Type of Sharpener
Approximate Sharpness (in grams of pressure)
Electric Pull-Through Sharpener
Manual Pull-Through Sharpener
100 and below
Guided Rod System
How sharp is sharp enough? As long as a knife is usable--i.e., it can slice through a tomato satisfactorily--it's really up to you. If you're happy with a standard sharpness of 200-300g of pressure, then a pull-through model may be a good choice (either electric or manual).
If you want razor sharpness or have a variety of bevels, then a whetstone or guided rod system are better options.
How Many Angles Can It Sharpen To?
As we already discussed, a 15-degree double bevel may be just fine for your knives, or you may want something that can do more angles than this. It all depends on the knives you own (or aspire to own) and how much you care about keeping their original angles.
How Long Does it Take to Use?
If you want a sharpener that's fast and easy to use, then go with a pull-through model, either manual or electric. The downsides are that these can't get a blade as sharp as a whetstone or guided rod system and only sharpen to one or two angles.
If you care more about sharpness and accuracy of angle, then a whetstone or guided rod system is the way to go. Either of these systems take are going to take some time sharpening, but your patience will be rewarded with razor sharp edges.
As with any purchase, we recommend buying the best quality you can afford. For kitchen knife sharpeners, "quality" prices vary with the type you decide to go with. Even many inexpensive pull-through sharpeners are decent quality and will last for a long time. Whetstones are also fairly inexpensive, but you need more than one stone, plus other items for maintenance, so a whole whetstone system can cost up to a couple hundred dollars (the one we recommend is about $170, but is a complete system).
If you go with a guided rod system, be prepared for a larger investment. You don't need to spend $1000 dollars to get a good one (our choice is about $450), but they are typically more expensive than other systems. You can find cheaper guided rod systems, but they generally can't get the razor sharp edge of the more expensive ones.
You also need to consider the type of edge you want to put on your knives. If you're happy with "kitchen sharp, but not razor sharp," then a pull-through is probably the right choice for you.
If you want razor sharpness, then go with a whetstone or guided rod system.
All of our recommendations are good quality. As long as you stay away from gimmicky, as-seen-on-TV products that sound too good to be true, you should be alright.
If you have limited storage space, you also need to consider the size of a knife sharpener. Manual pull-throughs and whetstones take up less space than an electric sharpener and most guided rod systems (although some of these fit in a small carrying case, which is nice).
See our pick on Amazon (about $40)
Best for: Everyone who owns kitchen knives.
How It Works
A honing steel keeps blades sharp between sharpening and is an essential tool for every kitchen knife owner.
A honing steel--also called a honing rod, sharpening steel, or just a steel--doesn't actually sharpen a blade because it doesn't remove any steel from it (or in the case of a ceramic steel, it removes very little steel from the blade).
Rather, a honing steel aligns the edge by smoothing out nicks. This keeps the blade sharper between sharpening and can reduce your frequency of sharpening.
You should steel your blades frequently: we recommend doing it at least every other use. If you wait until the blade feels dull, you've gone too long.
Honing steels come in three materials: steel, diamond, and ceramic. We like the ceramic rods because they actually sharpen the blade slightly rather than just smoothing it out (that is, they actually remove a small amount of steel from the blade edge).
Also, some Japanese knives are too hard for a steel honing rod and require a ceramic steel.
With proper steeling, a knife can go longer between sharpening. But when the steel no longer brings a blade back to sharpness, it's time for sharpening.
Features (What to Look For)
To use: Hold the honing rod upright with the handle at the top and glide the blade from heel to tip along the rod several times, then repeat on the other side. Try to keep the blade at roughly the same angle as its bevel; if you don't know what that is, 15 degrees is a safe bet.
Pros and Cons
Pros: Easy to use, inexpensive, available in a variety of materials, lengths, and handle designs, can use on any steel blade.
Cons: Not usable for ceramic or serrated blades.
Recommendation: Mercer Culinary Ceramic Honing Rod
It doesn't matter all that much which honing rod you buy, as long as you have one. The only caveat to that is if you have Japanese knives, you should definitely go with ceramic or diamond because these are hard enough for Japanese steel.
We like the Mercer Culinary 12-inch because it's ceramic--so good for all knives; it has a safe, comfortable handle; and it's affordable.
There are many other options available, and if a honing steel came with your kitchen knife set, then you don't need to buy one at all. But if you do need one, it does not have to be the same brand as your knives (which is good, because a lot of cooks own more than one brand of knife).
buy mercer culinary honing rod (about $40):
See our pick on Amazon (about $160)
Best for: People with limited sharpening skills, medium quality knives, knives with a 15 degree double bevel (or those you want to have a 15 degree double bevel). Can be good for high quality knives as well if they have a 14-16 degree double bevel (and you don't mind a small lack of precision).
How It Works
There are a few different types of electric knife sharpeners, but most people think of a pull-through guided blade sharpener like the Chef's Choice Trizor 15XV, which is our recommendation. It is also a favorite of America's Test Kitchen, Wirecutter, and a few other kitchen sites.
Electric pull-through sharpeners are easy to use. You just pull the blade through in a steady, even motion with a minimum amount of pressure (too much pressure will remove more metal from the blade than is necessary). Rotating plates of abrasive material (synthetic diamond in the case of the Trizor 15XV) rub against the blade to grind away nicks and smooth the rough edges.
They are typically set at a fixed angle, usually 15 degrees double bevel. Some pull-through electric sharpeners are adjustable so you can change the angle. These tend to get poor reviews, so we don't recommend any of them.
Electric wheel sharpeners typically have 2 or 3 slots that go from coarse to progressively finer. The Chef'sChoice Trizor has 3 slots for grinding (sharpening), honing, and polishing--all for 15 degree double bevel knives.
The Chef's Choice is able to bring a dull blade back to a respectable sharpness of around 225--plenty sharp to slice through a tomato.
Some wheel sharpeners have slots for different angles, usually 20 degree double bevel and 15 degree double bevel. You'll find very few knives with a double 20 degree bevel (despite Chef'sChoice claims), so this isn't all that useful.
Other electric sharpeners: You can also buy electric belt sharpeners which run a rotating belt and which will sharpen to any angle. These are fairly easy to use, but they do have a learning curve: if you don't know what you're doing you can take too much metal off a blade, which results in shortening the knife's life span (this is true for all electric sharpeners).
Features (What to Look For)
It depends on what types of knives you have, but in general, you want an electric sharpener that's:
Pros and Cons
Pros: Easy to use.
Cons: Expensive, can remove a lot of metal, which shortens the lives of your knives; pull-through models typically have just one angle (usually a 15 degree double bevel), heavy.
Recommendation: Chef'sChoice Trizor 15XV Electric Sharpener
If you want something simple and easy to use, the Chef'sChoice Trizor 15XV is the way to go. It produced the sharpest knives of all the electric pull-through sharpeners we looked at.
However, if you have knives with different bevels, be sure you don't mind them all being sharpened to the same 15 degree double bevel--if you have high-end Japanese knives or a Wusthof santoku, the Trizor 15XV is not a good choice.
buy chef'schoice trizor 15xv electric sharpener (about $160):
See our pick on Amazon (about $45)
Best for: People with limited sharpening skills, people on a budget, knives with a 15 degree double bevel (or those you want to have a 15 degree double bevel). Can be good for high quality knives as well if they have a 14-16 degree double bevel (and you don't mind giving them a 15 degree bevel).
How It Works
There are a few different types of manual knife sharpeners, but here we're looking at the most popular and most effective type, the pull-through sharpener. These work much like the electric pull-through sharpeners above, but there are no rotating plates, the sharpening process takes longer.
Many cooks prefer manual models over electric because they remove less steel from the blade, and are also less expensive. But you do have to exercise care because manual pull-throughs can remove a lot of metal too.
With most brands, you can't get quite the same edge sharpness as you can with an electric sharpener--about 270-290, compared to the 225 for the Chef'sChoice Trizor above--but still within the range to slice through a tomato easily (remember, anything below 300 is considered acceptable for kitchen cutlery).
Most adjustable angle pull-through sharpeners don't work as well as fixed angle sharpeners because they don't lock into place very well, and they have limited angle options--so even though they sound like an inexpensive way to deal with different angles, we found them to be mostly disappointing.
Other manual sharpeners have "arms" which you pass a blade through, such as this Bavarian Edge:
Many of these claim to do everything, from different angles to serrated blades. But the truth is that these are really little more than a honing steel, and do a mediocre job putting a good edge on a blade.
While they can smooth a blade out in a pinch, they aren't a great choice for regular sharpening.
Features (What to Look For)
If you go with a manual pull-through sharpener, you want one that:
Pros and Cons
Pros: Affordable, easy to use.
Cons: Can't sharpen as well as a whetstone or guided rod system, can only sharpen to one angle (usually 15 degree double bevel). We do not recommend any adjustable angle pull-thru sharpeners.
Recommendation: Minosharp 3 Knife Sharpener
The Minosharp 3 is designed for Global knives (see our Global knife review). It has a 15 degree double angle and hard ceramic plates with a coarse, fine, and finishing grind. Global knives use hard Japanese steel, which means that this sharpener should work well for any blade with a 15 degree bevel on each side (or anywhere from 14-16 degrees if you're not too fussy about your knives).
The Minosharp 3 has a reservoir you add water to before sharpening, which helps to keep the plates lubricated. It has a stable base that also serves as a handle, so it's safe and easy to use.
Another option is the Chef'sChoice 463 Pronto manual sharpener, which gets high ratings and is recommended by America's Test Kitchen:
This one is also designed for 15-degree double bevel blades and claims to do serrated blades, too (though probably not very well). It uses diamond abrasives and has just two sharpening modes (coarse and fine) for about $40.
We like both of these, but the Minosharp 3 is a more sophisticated system for only about $5 more.
If you have 10-degree double bevels like those found on Wusthof and Zwilling-Henckels santoku and nakiris, the Wusthof Asian pull-through sharpener is a good investment (about $18).
There are dozens of others on the market as well, but these models provided the best sharpening of the brands we looked at.
Buy the Minosharp 3 knife sharpener (about $45):
See our pick on Amazon (about $170)
Best for: Experienced sharpeners (or those willing to learn), people who want exceptionally sharp knives, people who want to be able to sharpen to an infinite number of angles.
How a Whetstone Works
A whetstone is simply an abrasive surface you grind the edge of a knife on to sharpen the blade. "Whet" is an old English word meaning "to sharpen;" it does not refer to wetting the stone. However, a whetstone does need to be lubricated before use: depending on the type of stone, you use either water or oil. A stone that uses water is called a waterstone; a stone that uses oil is called an oilstone.
The lubricant helps to lift metal shavings--called swarf--away from the stone so as to keep the stone surface from getting clogged with them (the dirty gray color you see as you grind the blade is the swarf being removed from the blade).
The lubricant is so effective that it's usually not necessary to rinse the stone off until you're finished sharpening.
We like water stones because they're easier to use and produce an excellent edge. Most makers recommend that you soak the stone in water for 15-45 minutes before using.
For oil stones, you just squirt the oil on the stone surface and grind away.
Since you hold the blade by hand against the stone, you control the sharpening completely, meaning that you can sharpen a knife to any angle you desire. If you want help getting that angle correct, you can use these inexpensive angle guides (we highly recommend them if you're new to using a whetstone).
The freehand nature of whetstones also means you can sharpen any kind of blade (scissors, razors, etc.).
If you like extremely sharp knives, you may want to learn how to use a whetstone (or a guided rod system, below). You can get razor sharp edges--anything under 200 is considered razor sharp--to a sharpness as low as 100 grams of pressure (compare to pull through sharpeners that can get a blade between 225-290).
If you're just learning about whetstones, note that this is a pretty broad overview. We recommend more research, and definitely find some videos on YouTube to watch. Or better yet, a teacher.
When you start using a whetstone, we recommend practicing with inexpensive knives because of the fairly steep learning curve: you can take way too much steel off a blade or get the wrong edge angle when you're inexperienced.
Our pick for the best whetstone, Norton, also provides instructional videos to learn how to use their stones (as do most whetstone brands).
Here are a few more basics you need to know about whetstones.
Types of Whetstone
The first thing to know is the type of whetstones available:
We like synthetic whetstones because the abrasive particles are distributed more evenly than in natural stones and they use water as a lubricant, which is not as messy as oil stones. They also tend to be more affordable.
The second thing you need to know about is the grit, or coarseness of the stone. Like the coarse, medium, and fine stones on a pull-through sharpener, you need different whetstone grits to achieve the sharpness you want.
Grit size on whetstones ranges from about 200 up to about 6000--you can go lower or higher, but you don't need to to get an excellent edge unless you're working with a really damaged blade or want an exceptionally razor sharp, polished edge.
The lower the number, the coarser the grit. So, to sharpen a dull or damaged knife, you'd start with 200-400, then switch to a medium grit of about 1000-4000 to smooth out the blade, then finish by polishing the edge with a fine grit of 4000-8000.
To fully sharpen a blade, you need at least two different grits, and preferably three (just as with pull-through models). People who are really into sharp, polished edges can use several stones (and a lot of time and effort), but you don't need to do this to get an excellent razor-sharp edge.
Features (What to Look For)
Features vary depending on which type of stone you buy and what you want to do with it. We like our pick, the Norton Waterstone Whetstone Sharpening Kit, because:
There are other criteria, but these are the features we think are most important. If you're considering a natural stone, you should probably do some more research before buying (though we do have a recommendation below)--and remember that they require oil and not water for a lubricant.
The only natural stones that use water are Japanese water stones, which tend to be extremely high quality and pricey. They're beautiful, and if you have Japanese knives you may want Japanese whetstones, but you don't need them (note that it would cost almost $300 to get all the grits that come with our pick, the Norton Sharpening Kit).
Pros and Cons
Pros: Fairly inexpensive, can get a razor sharp edge, can sharpen to any angle, can sharpen any type of edge (including scissors).
Cons: Steep learning curve, fairly time consuming sharpening process.
Recommendation: Norton Waterstone Whetstone Sharpening Kit
The price, about $170, may seem high, but you get everything you need to sharpen your knives, including:
- 200/1000 stone for sharpening
- 4000/8000 stone for finishing/polishing
- Flattening stone (made of coarse grit silicon carbide), which you use to square off the grinding stones (they get depressions where you run blades over them repeatedly).
- Storage cases (not shown) with rubber feet that double to keep the stone stationary during use
- Instructional video (which you can also see on YouTube).
If you bought all of these stones separately, you would spend much more, so it's actually a good deal.
The sharpening abrasive is aluminum oxide, and the stones are 8" x 3", which is large enough for any kitchen-sized knife.
If you're new to whetstones, this is a complete set, so an excellent place to start. With the four different grits, you can bring any dull or even damaged blade back to razor sharpness.
There are hundreds of other whetstone options available, many at much lower prices. However, if you buy all these stones separately--4 grits plus the flattening stone--you'll end up spending more than you would on this complete kit.
Norton has an excellent reputation for quality and is one of the oldest names in the business.
If you want natural stone, we like Dan's Tri-8 system, which comes with coarse, medium, and fine stones, enough to do the whole job. The coarse stone is synthetic, but the other two are Arkansas novaculite, which is considered by many to be the finest natural whetstone material.
buy the norton water stone whetstone sharpening kit (About $170):
Guided Rod Sharpener
See our pick on Amazon (about $450)
Best for: People with high-end knives, people who want to be able to sharpen to several angles, people who want razor sharp blades without the learning curve of a whetstone.
How It Works
A guided rod system holds a knife in place--usually in a horizontal position--while you run sharpening stones over the blade. You set the sharpening stones (which are on rods) at the angle you want so you always get the precise angle (in fact, this is the genius of a guided rod system: once you know how to use it, you never have to practice or worry about getting the wrong edge as you do with a whetstone). You swap out the stones so it's easy to start with a coarse stone and move to progressively finer grit so you can achieve the exact edge and level of sharpness you want.
Guided rod systems are easy to use and will always produce the right angle. You have to learn how to assemble the system and set the angle, but these are simple tasks compared to learning how to use a whetstone.
Once you understand how to use a guided rod system, you will never have to guess at the right angle again.
There are some guided rod sharpeners that are easier to use, but the TSPROF has the widest angle range of all the models we looked at. So, for example, if you own a Shun gyuto (16 degree double bevel) and a Wusthof santoku (10 degree double bevel), you can sharpen them both with the TSPROF. There aren't a lot of systems that can do this--see more details in the Recommendation section below.
Features (What to Look For)
Though features will very depending on your knives and how much variety you want, these are the basic features to look for:
Pros and Cons
Pros: Foolproof sharpening to many angles, can achieve the sharpest blades of all the systems we looked at; can do knives, shears, and just about anything with an edge.
Cons: Can be fussy to set up, expensive.
Recommendation: TSPROF Blitz Complete
See it on Amazon (about $450)
TSPROF sells three models of guided rod systems: the K03, the Kadet, and the Blitz. We chose the Blitz because it is easiest to set up, is compact, and has an angle range wider than the Kadet. The K03 is by far the largest TSPROF model, so although it has a slightly wider angle range than the Blitz (K03: 8-39 degrees), the Blitz is a better choice for most home knife sharpeners.
If you have large knives or are considering professional knife sharpening, then consider the K03.
Here are the K03 and the Blitz side by side:
The Kadet is about the same size as the Blitz, but not as capable.
Each model of TSPROF has several buying options. For example, if you already own guided rod stones from another system, then you can probably buy a TSPROF without stones (most stones on guided rod systems are interchangeable, but check to make sure before you buy).
SEE ALL TSPROF BUYING OPTIONS ON AMAZON
There are many high quality guided rod systems on the market. We picked the TSPROF because it has the widest angle range of all the guided rod systems we looked at. The TSPROF Blitz can sharpen knives from 8-27 degrees per side. This is much more capability than other systems we looked at, including:
- Lansky: 4 angles (17, 20, 25, 30 degrees per side)
- KME: 15-30 degrees per side
- Wicked Edge: 15-30 degrees per side
- Edge Pro Apex 4: 10-27 degrees per side.
Remember: our main criteria is that you can sharpen a Wusthof santoku (10 degree double bevel), a standard German chef's knife (14-16 degree double bevel), a standard Shun blade (16 degree double bevel), and all models of Global knives (12.5-15 degree double bevel). If you are a collector and have a variety of kitchen knives, being able to sharpen a blade to different angles is important.
The Edge Pro Apex 4 comes close to the capability of the Blitz--meaning that you could use it for a Wusthof santoku, unlike all the other TSPROF competitors listed here. But it can't get a knife razor sharp like the TSPROF: 85 grams of pressure for the TSPROF compared to 220 grams of pressure for the Edge Pro Apex 4--sharp, yes, but not the same ballpark as the TSPROF.
The Wicked Edge (made in USA) tied for sharpening with the TSPROF at 85 grams of pressure, so if the Wicked Edge could do more than 15-30 degrees per side, it would have been our pick. Unfortunately, you can't sharpen a Wusthof santoku with it (10 degree double bevel). At about $1100 for the Wicked Edge system, this is a big disappointment.
The TSPROF Blitz Complete includes 5 diamond plates, from extra coarse to extra fine; polishing paste; a leather strop (for final finishing); a permanent marker (helps you see the edge); several spare parts (bumpers, screws, and allen wrenches); an instructional video, and more. It weighs about 3 pounds with a body of anodized aluminum (extremely durable!). The stand and clamps are stainless steel.
The Blitz can sharpen a blade from 30-200mm long and a spine width of up to 25mm (yes, almost an inch thick, which means you can do scissors, pruning shears, and other heavy blades). And again: any knife with an angle of 8-27 degrees per side.
If you want a guided rod system with the most capability and yet is compact and easy to set up and use, TSPROF is the way to go.
buy the TSProf blitz complete guided rod sharpener (about $450):
Knife Sharpener FAQs
Here are some common questions about kitchen knife sharpeners, answered.
Is a Sharp Knife Really Safer?
You've probably heard the adage that a sharp knife is safer than a dull knife. This is true, but it is also not true.
Here's why. A sharp knife requires less pressure, so you are less likely to have to force it through any foods, which makes it a safer choice than a dull knife, which will require pressure.
However, a sharp blade is something you need to be very, very careful around. You can cut yourself with a sharp blade more easily than with a dull blade. So while sharp knives are a better tool in every way, they are also dangerous. Use caution whenever you're dealing with kitchen knives--especially sharp ones!
Do Kitchen Knife Sharpeners Work?
Yes, absolutely. Even the most inexpensive pull-through sharpener will smooth out a blade and talk enough steel off of it to increase its sharpness. However, different sharpeners produce different levels of sharpness. If you have inexpensive or mediocre quality kitchen knives (Victorinox or Chicago Cutlery, for example), then you can use any pull-through or manual sharpener without worrying about the blade. If you have high-end kitchen knives (Wusthof, Global, Shun, etc.) then you should invest in a whetstone or guided rod system to keep your knives at peak sharpness--but these systems require some skill, so practice on inexpensive knives before you attempt to sharpen your high-end blades.
If you have high-end knives and don't want to learn how to use a whetstone or guided rod system, we recommend finding a professional in your area and sending them out for sharpening a few times a year--and using a honing steel regularly to keep the blades as sharp as possible between sharpenings.
Are Kitchen Knife Sharpeners Safe to Use?
Kitchen knife sharpeners aren't unsafe, but the knives themselves can be because they're sharp. Whichever knife sharpening system you decide to go with, always exercise caution when using it.
What Is the Best Kind of Kitchen Knife Sharpener?
The answer to this depends on the types of knives you have. If you have inexpensive brands (Victorinox, Chicago Cutlery), you can use any type of sharpener on them and it doesn't matter all that much if you change the bevel angle or don't get them razor sharp--pretty much all sharpeners can put a satisfactory edge on any knife. In this situation, you'll be fine with a manual or electric pull-through model like the Chef'sChoice or Minosharp models we review above.
However, if you have high-end knives, or knives with different bevels, then you may want a more sophisticated sharpener. After all, if you invest in expensive knives, you should strive to keep them in top condition and give them the right bevel angles. In this situation, we recommend a whetstone or a guided rod system.
Is Chef'sChoice a Good Brand?
Chef'sChoice is a good brand for average quality knives. It can sharpen knives to about 225 grams of pressure, which is not razor sharp, but plenty sharp enough for most kitchen knives.
Chef'sChoice models also can only sharpen to one or two angels, typically 15 or 20 degree double bevels. If you have knives outside these angles that you want to keep their original bevels, a Chef'sChoise isn't a good option.
If you want razor sharpness, or you want the ability to sharpen to more than one or two angles, we recommend a whetstone or a guided rod system.
Can a Kitchen Knife Be Too Sharp?
No; a kitchen knife cannot be too sharp. You just need to be very careful around sharp knives, and teach other members of your family to be careful with them.
What Is a Strop, and Do You Need One for Your Kitchen Knives?
A strop is a piece of leather or canvas (usually leather) used as a final sharpening step that polishes and aligns a blade. Stropping is most often done to razor blades and is not necessary for kitchen knives.
If you are a sharpness fanatic and want your kitchen blades to have the most extreme level of sharpness you can possibly achieve, then you can use a strop in conjunction with a whetstone or a guided rod system--but it is not a necessary step in sharpening kitchen knives.
Where Can You Get Kitchen Knives Professionally Sharpened?
If you decide you want someone else to sharpen your knives, look for a professional in your area. You can google for local knife sharpening, or if you have a full-service grocery store, the butcher counter will often do it for free for their customers.
Some brands, like Shun, also offer free yearly sharpening. All you pay is shipping, and the knives are usually back in less than three weeks. But if you want the knives sharpened more than once a year, you're better off with a local pro.
Final Thoughts on Kitchen Knife Sharpeners
Which knife sharpening system you choose for your kitchen knives is an important decision, even if it's to send the knives out a few times a year. The best system for you depends on which knives you own (or aspire to own), how sharp you want to get them, and how much time and money you want to invest in sharpening your knives.
Be sure to have a honing steel that you use frequently between sharpening--at least a few times a week, or every other time you use a knife. This will keep your blades sharp for longer and cut down on the sharpening sessions.
Thanks for reading!
If you found this article helpful, please share:
When did European knife makers switch from 20° to 15°?
Most of my kitchen knives date from the early 1980s, and are mid quality Wusthof and Henckels. I don't need them to be razor sharp, but I also don't want to sharpen to an angle they weren't designed for.
A guide rod system would work, but my knives are not worthy of a $450 sharpener.
I don’t know when they switched, and would love to do more research on that. I believe some brands, like Victorinox, have always been 20 degrees and the electric sharpeners were made for these brands, which makes sense because people who buy inexpensive knives are more likely to use an electric sharpener with them. (Note, I don’t mean poor quality here. Victorinox makes great knives.)
I think putting a 15 or 20 degree angle on standard Wusthof and Henckels knives (not Japanese style) is just fine. The Trizor XV electric sharpener (XV for 15) touts its ability to turn 20 degree knives into 15 degree knives as if that’s a great plus. Is it an improvement? I guess that’s for each owner to say, but it’s probably fine. And if you’re putting a 20 degree angle on your 15 degree knives, that’s probably fine, too. You get used to what you use.
On the other hand, I agree that knives probably perform best at the cutting angle they were designed with, especially if they were somewhat expensive knives, as your Wusthof and Henckels probably were. But a guided rod system is a big investment in time and effort. They’re great (we have the TS Prof) but if you don’t need your knives to be razor sharp and haven’t had any issue with them thus far, the system you’re using is probably fine.
Both of these companies make pull-through sharpeners that are inexpensive and work pretty well. You might want to take a look at one of those: https://amzn.to/3Lc22JS
Thanks for the comment.