The most popular Work Sharp sharpeners are their belt grinders, though they also make pull-through sharpeners, guided rod sharpeners, whetstones, and more. In this review, we're looking at the Work Sharp belt grinders: in particular, the best ones for kitchen knives.
We'll discuss belt grinder basics, Work Sharp belt grinder features, plus pros and cons, who these sharpeners are best for, and more. Plus, we include a buyer's guide for belt grinder knife sharpeners for the kitchen.
This article is for people who want information about Work Sharp belt grinder knife sharpeners for the kitchen.
For power and versatility, the Ken Onion sharpener--with the upgrade kit--is the right choice.
For easy, quiet kitchen sharpening that works for most kitchen knives, the E5 is less powerful, but quick and convenient.
Work Sharp sharpeners are good quality, made in the USA, and they offer excellent customer service and tons of instructional videos to get started. There's a learning curve to using belt grinders, but they're one of the fastest ways to get a sharp edge.
Work Sharp Belt Grinders at a Glance
Work Sharp makes several types of sharpeners, but here we're reviewing their belt grinder sharpeners. We briefly discuss other Work Sharp sharpeners in our section on Types of Knife Sharpeners.
All Work Sharp products are made in the USA and have a three year warranty.
For details on the abrasives and other features, see the reviews below.
Work Sharp Sharpener
E5 Knife Sharpener
-All kitchen knives, serrated knives, and scissors
-One touch sharpening/90s
-Fixed 17 degree angle
-3 settings (shape, sharpen, hone)
-Built-in vacuum for debris
-Upgrade kit for 15/20 degree blades
-5.75"L x 4.25"W x 4.25"H; 1.5 lb
-Inexperienced users who want an easy way to sharpen kitchen knives and scissors
-Knives with 17 degree cutting angle (34 inclusive).
Combo Knife Sharpener
-All knives, incl. serrated
-Abrasive sharpening belt and ceramic hone
-Fixed 25 degree angle
-7"L x 5"W x 4.5"H; 1.2 lb
-Inexperienced users who want an easy way to sharpen kitchen knives
-Knives with 25 degree cutting angle (50 inclusive; most kitchen knives are narrower than this)
-Users who want a small portable sharpener.
Ken Onion Knife Sharpener
-All knives and tools
-15-30 degree angles (10-35 deg w/upgrade kit)
-5 belts, coarse to extra fine
-10"L x 5.5"W x 6"H; 3 lb
-About $140 (upgrade kit about $80).
-Users with a variety of knives and tools
-Users who have blades of 15-30 degrees (30-60 inclusive)
-With upgrade kit, users who have blades of 10-35 degrees (20-70 inclusive).
-All knives, tools, scissors
-20 or 25 degree angles
-2 sharpening speeds
-3 belts, coarse/medium/ex fine
-65 degree scissors guide incl.
-6.5"L x 9.95"W x 5.5"H; 2.6 lb
-Users with a variety of knives and tools, including scissors
-Users with blades of 20 or 25 degrees (40-50 inclusive)
How We Tested
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 seems like the best possible test of how well a sharpener works if we're looking at how this translates to actual kitchen use.
We also looked at edge retention: how long a blade kept its edge after sharpening.
And, we looked at ease of use, build quality, how many angles a sharpener could handle, how hard it is to change out parts, price of changing belts, expected life span, and cost of upgrade kits (if available) and whether they're worth it.
We also used some testing numbers from other sites to quantify how sharp a Work Sharp sharpener actually gets a knife. This helps us see how it compares to other brands and types of sharpeners.
Overall we found the Work Sharp belt grinders easy to use and found that they did a better-than-satisfactory job sharpening blades.
About Work Sharp (The Company)
Work Sharp is a privately owned company with headquarters in Ashland, Oregon. They were founded in 1973 as a sharpening tool company by the Bernard family, who still owns it today.
Work Sharp is best known for their belt grinder knife sharpeners, but they also make pull-through sharpeners, guided rod systems, whetstones, and more.
All Work Sharp products are designed and manufactured in the USA. Work Sharp is considered one of the best companies to work for in the Ashland, OR area.
You can read more about Work Sharp, including their core values, on the Work Sharp About page on their web site.
Types of Knife Sharpeners
There are several types of knife sharpeners on the market, and we looked at most of them in our article A Beginner's Guide to Knife Sharpeners. Here's a brief summary of all the sharpeners you can choose from, as well as example products and who they're best for.
Example: Work Sharp Ceramic Honing Rod (about $30)
Best for: All kitchen knife owners need a honing rod.
A honing rod--also called a sharpening steel or just a steel--doesn't technically sharpen a blade because it doesn't remove any steel. Even so, it's an essential tool for keeping your kitchen knives sharp.
A honing rod smooths the edges by flattening out nicks, which keeps a blade sharper between sharpenings.
Regular honing, or steeling, will also reduce how often you need to sharpen a knife (which is what makes it such an important part of kitchen knife care and maintenance).
You should steel your blades frequently: at least every other use at a minimum. If you wait until a blade feels dull or stops cutting how you like it to, you've waited too long.
Honing steels come in three materials: steel, diamond, and ceramic. We like the ceramic rods because they actually sharpen blades slightly rather than just smoothing them out (that is, they actually remove a small amount of steel from the blade edge). This makes a ceramic honing rod the most effective type, and they are also best for the very hard steels you'll find on some Japanese kitchen knives.
Example: Work Sharp E2 (about $50)
Best for: People who prefer ease of use to maximum sharpness. Since pull-thru sharpeners have a fixed angle (or possibly two angles), be sure it's the right angle for the knives you want to sharpen.
Electric pull-through sharpeners have abrasive discs--they can be ceramic, synthetic diamond, or very hard steel--that turn at high speed as you pull the blade through them at a steady rate. They can have one, two, or three slots for shaping, sharpening, and honing.
These are some of the easiest sharpeners to use and are a good choice for people who don't want to invest the time in learning how to use a whetstone. The drawbacks are that they can't get a blade as sharp as a stone (or belt) can, and they can remove way too much blade material if you push too hard.
Example: Work Sharp Pull-Through Kitchen Knife Sharpener
Best for: People who value ease of use and affordability over other features of knife sharpeners.
These work much like the electric pull-through sharpeners above, but there are no rotating plates, so the sharpening process is longer and doesn't remove as much blade material.
Many cooks prefer manual models over electric because they remove less steel from the blade, are less expensive, and are smaller and easier to store.
In general you can't get the same edge sharpness as you can with an electric sharpener, much less a whetstone or guided rod system. The tradeoff is that they're small, affordable, and easy to use.
Example: Work Sharp Whetstone with Angle Guides (about $40)
Best for: Experienced sharpeners (or people who want to learn), people who want exceptionally sharp knives, people who want to be able to sharpen to an infinite number of angles.
A whetstone is an abrasive surface you grind the blade of a knife on to sharpen it. "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).
Water stones are easiest 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 blade to any angle you desire. If you want help getting that angle correct, you can use these inexpensive angle guides.
The freehand nature of whetstones also means you can sharpen any kind of blade (scissors, razors, etc.).
A whetstone will also provide the sharpest blades of any type of sharpener, along with a guided rod system.
If you're just learning about whetstones, this is a broad overview. We recommend more research and finding some videos to watch (there are a lot of them on YouTube and Work Sharp has several, too).
Here are a few more basics about whetstones.
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 or 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.
The Work Sharp whetstone linked to above has some nice features: it has two grit sizes and it has two angle guides (15- and 17-degrees) included, as well as a "water control" base that controls the mess and provides a stable surface. This is everything you need to get started.
Guided Rod System
Example: Work Sharp Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener (about $60)
Best for: People with expensive 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.
A guided rod system holds a knife in place--usually horizontally--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 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.
Prices vary from about $50 up to several hundred. More expensive systems tend to be more durable, come with more (and higher quality) stones, and can sharpen to more angles than the less expensive systems. The Work Sharp Precision Adjust Knife Sharpener can sharpen from 15-30 degrees and comes with three grits ("tri-brasive).
How Do Belt Grinders Compare to Other Knife Sharpeners?
Belt grinders are a type of electric sharpener because they use electricity, but they work on the same principle as a whetstone, grinding away metal to produce a sharpened edge. They just do it a lot faster.
The speed is both the best part and the worst part of a belt grinder. The best is that you can sharpen knives much faster than you can on a whetstone yet achieve similar levels of sharpness, which is not really an option with other types of sharpeners (except for a guided rod system, which also takes longer than a belt grinder).
The worst part of the speed is that belt grinders are quite powerful and can grind away way too much metal if you don't know how to use one.
High speed can also heat the blade, causing it to lose its tempering. This is not likely to happen if you're using the belt grinder correctly, but it is something to be aware of. (It's why some grinders, like the Tormek, use water to keep the blade cool while grinding.)
Overall, belt grinders can do a superb job, but they have a learning curve. Always start with old, cheap knives before trying to use one on your higher-end knives--and some skilled sharpeners will tell you that if you have expensive knives, you should avoid belt grinders completely because of their potential to remove too much metal and scratch up blades while doing it.
While both of these things can certainly happen, if you know what you're doing, you should have very few issues.
Pros and Cons of a Belt Grinder
Belt grinders have a number of both pros and cons. Here's a summary of their good and bad qualities.
*Work Sharp says their belts last for about 75-100 sharpenings.
About Sharpening Angles
This can be a confusing topic and because of this, a lot of people are sharpening their kitchen knives to the wrong angle.
Before about 2010, most Western blades had a 20 degree double bevel (40 inclusive) and Asian blades sold in the USA had a 15 degree double bevel (30 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 even a rule anymore. Today, most Western blades have a 15 degree double bevel, and Japanese blades can range from 9-16 degree double bevels.
Today, 20 degree (or greater) sharpeners are used more for hunting and pocket knives than for kitchen knives. The only kitchen knives that have a blade angle of 20 degrees or more are cleavers and other heavy knives meant for cutting through bone and other hard foods (squash, frozen foods, etc).
Not all knife sharpeners have caught up with the new blade angles, so you have to be careful about the sharpeners you buy.
If you have a lot of different brands of kitchen knives, you will probably need a sharpener that sharpens to several angles. But if you have mostly Western style and mid-range knives, a 15 degree sharpener (or something close to that) will probably work for you.
How important is it to sharpen knives to their original angle? That's up to you. A lot of people like all their knives to be 15 degrees, and that's fine. However, if you invested in expensive knives, we recommend that you keep their angles. Thinner angles are designed that way for a reason: they feel sharper and move more quickly through food. Thicker angles are more durable, and are great for hard foods and bone. A lot of cooks have both types in their kitchen, as they excel at different tasks.
But the main point here is that almost no kitchen knives have a 20 degree double bevel anymore. Most of them are somewhere around 15 degrees, and a 15 degree sharpener can work for blades that range from 13-17 degrees. But if you have thinner cutting angles, you should try to keep them that way.
Here's a table of popular kitchen knife brands and their bevels (i.e., cutting angles). You can see here that even knives of the same brand don't always have the same bevel:
Wusthof Western blades
14 degree double bevel
Zwilling/Henckels Western blades
15 degree double bevel
Wusthof, Zwilling, Henckels santoku/nakiri
10 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
Miyabi (all blades)
9-12 degree double bevel
Can be 8-12, 10-13, 12-14, 13-15, or 16-18 double bevel, depending on the line.
Using a Work Sharp Belt Grinder Sharpener (Hints to Get Started)
If you're new to belt grinders, you can get up to speed with a few simple precautions:
- Belt grinders can throw a lot of metal dust. Wear eye protection and a dust mask when using. (The Work Sharp E5 is an exception to this rule.)
- Practice with old, inexpensive knives to get the feel of using your belt grinder before attempting to sharpen more expensive blades.
- Use a slow speed at first, as this will remove less blade material and create less heat. When you have a better feel of how the belt grinder works you can try faster speeds.
- Grind on one side with a coarse grit until a burr develops along the entire length of the blade. When you have a burr, change to the other side and grind until the burr is gone. Then, swap to a finer grit and repeat the process until you achieve the sharpness you want (you may need a few different grits to do this).
- Make sure the belt is only moving when the blade is in contact with it. To do this, follow this sequence: 1) Place blade, 2) Pull trigger, 3) Release trigger, 4) Remove blade. Following this process will protect the belts and prevent you from rounding the tips of the blades, which is a common problem when using belt grinders.
- Some users recommend doing just the coarse grinding on a belt grinder and finishing on a stone. This gives you both speed and accuracy, and protects your blades (from both heat and over-grinding). This is not essential, but it's something to think about.
Who Should Buy a Work Sharp Belt Grinder Sharpener?
A belt grinder isn't the right choice for everyone, even though Work Sharp makes belt grinder sharpening a fairly easy task.
Here are the traits of people we think a Work Sharp belt grinder is best for:
- Are fairly handy with power tools, or want to be
- Have a garage or work area to use the sharpener (most are noisy and throw a lot of metal dust)
- Want a fast way to put a sharp edge on a knife
- Dislike whetstones and guided rod systems, but still want a sharp edge
- Want the ability to sharpen different types of tools and blades (e.g., hunting knives, axes, and scissors in addition to kitchen knives).
The Work Sharp E5 is an exception: it's a great sharpener designed for kitchen knives that can live in your kitchen, and you don't need an affinity for power tools. It has a vacuum to catch all the metal dust, it's fairly quiet, and it's small enough to sit on your counter. It isn't as powerful as the Ken Onion, but will put a decent edge on a blade nevertheless. It's a good choice for cooks who have 17 degree blade angles, and you can get an upgrade kit that sharpens 15- and 20-degree angles as well.
What to Look For in a Belt Grinder Knife Sharpener (A Buying Guide)
Here are some important features to look for when you're buying a belt grinder knife sharpener.
Ease of Use
If you've ever been in a woodworker's or metal fabricator's shop, then you know that belt grinders can be huge, heavy, and very powerful pieces of equipment. This pretty much makes them not easy to use, because there's a learning curve involved and you can ruin a lot of knives along the way.
The Work Sharp belt grinders are different, though. They're fairly small--most are about the size of a power drill--and not so powerful that you'll destroy a lot of blades as you figure out how to use it.
Yes, there will be a learning curve, and you should practice with old knives that you don't care too much about. But once you get the hang of it, you'll find that the Work Sharp grinders are pretty easy to use.
You also want to think about where you'll use it. Most belt grinders throw a lot of metal dust during use, so you'll probably want to use them in a garage or shop area (and with protective gear, too). If you don't have a space like this, then your only real option is the Work Sharp E5, which is designed for kitchen use, but not as powerful as the other Work Sharp belt grinders.
Another thing to think about is the belts. They should be easy to swap out, especially since you'll probably use 2-3 of them during sharpening.
Speed and Sharpness
Belt grinders are not the easiest method of sharpening knives, but they are definitely one of the fastest, and they can produce very sharp edges.
Work Sharp belt grinders aren't as powerful as the larger ones you'll find in a work shop, but they are still quite fast--much faster than a whetstone or guided rod system, and they can produce similar levels of sharpness if you know what you're doing.
Number of Angles
We talked about angles above, but it's important to get a sharpener that can handle all the different blade angles in your kitchen. Today, that can be a lot, with a range from about 9-17 degrees.
Take an inventory of your kitchen knives (as well as knives you want in the future) before buying a knife sharpener. Otherwise, you may end up with a sharpener that can only put one or two different angles on your blades.
Conversely, you may be happy with all your blades being just 15 or just 17 degrees. If this is the case, then a sharpener with just one angle might be the right choice. We recommend trying to keep the original edge on a blade, especially if it's an expensive or high-end knife, but it's also fine to sharpen blades to whatever angle you prefer.
Belt Availability and Cost
Be sure you can get all the different grits that you want for your belt grinder. In general, you want coarse, medium, fine, and possibly extra fine belts to cover all your sharpening needs.
Work Sharp makes belts with many different grits, and you can buy them in bulk. They are quite affordable, with a 24-pack or 30-pack costing less than $20. The E5 has the most expensive replacement belts, but because this sharpener isn't as high powered as the others, the belts are going to last longer.
You can also find aftermarket belts to fit most Work Sharp belt grinders. They're cheaper, but they have a reputation for being less durable.
Belts are going to be your biggest ongoing expense when using a belt grinder. Work Sharp estimates that their belts will last for 75-100 sharpenings. Be sure to use a belt until you're certain it's no longer sharpening in order to get the most use out of it. A belt can look dull but still work well. Doing this will ensure you get the most life out of your belts.
Unfortunately, the Work Sharp belts are different for each grinder, so you also have to be sure you're buying the right belts for the grinder you own.
Overall Durability and Warranty
Of course you want a belt grinder that's going to last. It can be hard to say how long any power tool will last. We love that all Work Sharp products are made in the USA and all of them have a three year warranty.
Work Sharp products aren't going to be as durable as work shop belt grinders, but they're also lighter, easier to use, and less expensive. We think for the price, Work Sharp belt grinders are a great deal, and they should last at least as long as their warranty, and are likely to last considerably longer.
Remember, most electric knife sharpeners have a warranty of one year, so with Work Sharp's three year warranty, you're already ahead of the game.
Review: Work Sharp E5 Knife Sharpener
See Work Sharp E5 sharpener on Amazon
See Work Sharp E5 sharpener with ceramic honing rod
See Work Sharp E5 upgrade kit on Amazon
About $150/$180 with honing rod/upgrade kit about $60
Work Sharp E5 Replacement Belt Kit (about $18 for 5 belts)
The Work Sharp E5 is Work Sharp's kitchen knife sharpener. It's made for use indoors, with a handy vacuum to collect the metal dust and shavings during sharpening. It has three speeds--Shape, Sharpen, Refine. You will use Shape if your knife is badly damaged, otherwise you'll use the Sharpen and Refine setting most of the time. Overall, it's a nice system, if your knives have a 17 degree angle (34 degree inclusive). The upgrade kit allows you to sharpen 15- and 20-degree blades, as well.
These options cover several brands of kitchen knives, including Global, Henckels, Zwilling, MAC, and Victorinox, and are close enough for others that are between 14-16 degrees, including Shun and Wusthof.
If you have Japanese knives, such as a Wusthof or Zwilling Santoku or Miyabi knives, the blades are 9-12 degrees, and the E5 Sharpener won't keep their thin angles (which, if you spend this kind of money on knives, you probably want to keep).
Included with the E5 sharpener is a quick start guide, a user manual, and two medium coarse belts and one finer belt. Check out their E5 video page for help on setup and use.
The E5 has a few impressive design features such as rubberized top part for easy grip (easy to hold and move), thick rubber feet that do a great job holding it in place during sharpening, and simple instructions printed inside the sharpener in case you lose your manual. The front wall folds down easily for quick belt changes. And the vacuum is a no-brainer for a kitchen knife sharpener.
Our testers found that the E5 sharpener worked great: it got knives quite sharp. One interesting feature of the E5 is its timed cycles: it will run for 90 seconds then shut off automatically. This should be enough time to shape, sharpen, or hone your blade, but if not, you can simply run another cycle. This is a nice feature because with belt grinders you can inadvertently remove too much metal, and the timed cycle helps prevent that.
You will probably also want a ceramic honing rod, which you'll use to smooth out the blade when you're done sharpening. Work Sharp did have an E5 package that came with a honing rod, but they seem to have discontinued that. (If you don't have a ceramic rod for your kitchen knives, get one ASAP: it is an important tool to help you keep your knives in good working order between sharpening.)
The E5 does have a learning curve, so as with all electric sharpeners, practice on old knives first. For best results you should probably get the upgrade kit, even if you don't care about sharpening to other angles, because the variety of belts will give you the best results.
The bad: The E5 is a great little kitchen knife sharpener, with a few complaints. The most common one for Amazon reviewers is that it's underpowered and therefore unable to put a satisfactory edge on a blade. We did not find that in our testing, although it took a fair amount of practice to learn to use the sharpener correctly.
Our biggest complaint in testing is that the E5 sharpener, like most belt grinders, may scratch up your blades if you're not careful. This is all the more more reason to practice with old knives before you use it on your good knives.
We also wish the E5 came with more belts, but you can get the grind you want by controlling the speed. Thus, one medium coarse belt can do most of the work you want, as long as you use it at different speeds. Of course, this adds to the learning curve of using the sharpener.
Pros and Cons of the Work Sharp E5 Sharpener
- Easy to use
- Best angles for kitchen knives other than Ken Onion
- Designed for indoor use, with vacuum to collect metal dust.
- Like all electric sharpeners, there's a learning curve (practice on old knives)
- Some users thought it was underpowered
- Can scratch blades if you're not careful with it.
Recommendation for the Work Sharp E5 Sharpener
The Work Sharp E5 is Work Sharp's belt sharpener designed specifically for kitchen knives. It does a great job sharpening and is easy to use, but is limited to a 17 degree angle (34 degrees inclusive). There are several kitchen knives that are 14-16 degrees, and 17 degrees is probably close enough for many cooks. With the upgrade kit you get the ability to do both 15- and 20-degree angles, as well, making the E5 a real contender for kitchen use. The upgrade kit also includes more belts, so you can achieve a more precise finish on your blades.
The E5 is also the only Work Sharp belt grinder sharpener that has a vacuum to suck up metal dust, which makes it nearly perfect for all your kitchen knives (as long as they're 15, 17, or 20 degrees--or close enough to not matter).
buy work sharp e5 sharpener:
Buy work sharp e5 upgrade kit:
Review: Work Sharp Combo Knife Sharpener
See the Work Sharp Combo knife sharpener on Amazon
See the Work Sharp Combo knife sharpener at Wal-Mart
Work Sharp Combo Replacement Belt Kit (about $13 for 24 belts, 4 ea./6 grits)
The Worksharp Combo is probably the easiest to use of all the Work Sharp belt grinders. It's more like using an electric pull-through sharpener, with excellent sharpening and guides that keep your blade at a fixed 25 degree angle. It also has a ceramic hone for honing blades and small enough for sharpening serrated blades fairly easily (although serrated blades can be a pain because you have to sharpen one tooth at a time).
The good is that the flexible sharpening belts are replaceable, and you can grind to different levels of smoothness by changing the belt, which is easy to do.
Unfortunately, the fixed 25 degree sharpening angle is too wide for nearly all kitchen knives, so it's not a great choice. Sharpening your kitchen blades to 25 degrees (50 degrees inclusive) will result in knives that feel less sharp and don't slice as nimbly as thinner blades will. You may not mind a thicker angled blade, but 25 degrees is really thick for a kitchen knife.
However, it's a great sharpener for folding knives and hunting knives, and it's small enough to fit in a glove box. If you need a sharpener for the field that's easy to use, the Work Sharp Combo is a great choice.
For information on using the Work Sharp Combo belt grinder, check out the Work Sharp Combo videos.
The bad: Most negative reviews complained that the sharpener just didn't sharpen very well. This could be due to lack of expertise (there's always a learning curve), or the smaller motor just may not be powerful enough to get a blade razor sharp. Most reviewers were happy with how it works.
Our testers thought that both the MK2 and the Ken Onion produced sharper blades, but the Combo produced satisfactory blades.
We also had some issues with the ceramic hone: it's short and a little awkward to use for honing, though the thinness makes it great for sharpening serrations.
Also, Work Sharp seems to only make one belt for the Combo, the P120 coarse belt. Other Work Sharp belts won't fit it. However, you can find after market belts with different grit that will fit it.
Overall, it's a nice little sharpener for 25 degree blades and serrated knives (which leaves out most kitchen knives).
Pros and Cons of the Work Sharp Combo Sharpener
- Easy to use, not as messy as other belt grinders
- Can use the ceramic hone to sharpen serrated knives correctly (it's small enough to reach individual teeth)
- Small enough to be portable.
- The 25 degree fixed angle is too wide for most kitchen knives
- Didn't produce as sharp an edge as the Ken Onion or MK2 (lower powered motor?)
- The ceramic rod is small and awkward to use for honing a smooth blade.
Recommendation for the Work Sharp Combo Sharpener
The Work Sharp Combo sharpener is neater and easier to use than their other belt grinder sharpeners because it's more like an electric pull-through sharpener. This would be great for kitchen knives, except the fixed 25 degree angle doesn't match most kitchen knives today. Thus, it's a better tool for folding knives and outdoor knives.
The ceramic honing rod is quite nice for sharpening serrated blades, but a little too short for honing smooth blades easily.
buy Work sharp combo sharpener:
Review: Work Sharp Ken Onion Knife Sharpener
See Work Sharp Ken Onion Sharpener on Amazon
See Ken Onion Elite Blade Grinding Attachment Upgrade Kit on Amazon
About $140 (Upgrade kit is about $80)
Ken Onion Replacement Belt Kit (about $19 for 30 belts, 5 ea./6 grits)
The Ken Onion is Work Sharp's most versatile sharpener. Named after the famous knife maker, the Ken Onion can sharpen blade angles from 15-30 degrees (each side), or 10-35 degrees with the upgrade kit. You can set it on a table or hold it in your hand like a power tool to sharpen large or awkward edges.
The Ken Onion is marketed more to outdoorsmen and tool users than it is to cooks, but if you have several different brands of kitchen knives, and in particular knives with narrow angles--which today includes both Japanese and German/Western blades--the Ken Onion is your only option among all the Work Sharp belt grinder sharpeners.
The sharpener comes with a DVD, detailed user guide, and quick reference guide, as well as 5 assorted belts (from extra fine to extra coarse). The quick reference guide is great for beginners because it lists everything you need to know for different types of knives: belts, angles, speed, and number of strokes.
For information on setup and use of the Ken Onion, you can check out Work Sharp's Ken Onion video page.
We found the Ken Onion sharpener easy to use, but like all belt grinders it requires some care or you can remove too much metal, or take off the tip of your knives. It's very important to practice with cheap knives before graduating to your higher end pieces, and be sure to read the manual and watch some of the videos before you start.
The variable speed motor might be the best feature of the Ken Onion. This allows you to start out slowly, which is very important if you are just learning how to use a belt grinder: slower speeds keep the grinding process slower as well as cooler, so there is a far smaller possibility of damaging a knife.
Work Sharp also has great customer service people who are available to answer any questions you have.
Angle adjustment is easy, though the dial could be a little sturdier:
Changing belts is easy, too: one twist of the top pulley loosens the belt for removal and the addition of another. Some people complain that several belt changes is a hassle, but there's no other way to achieve the finish you want. (If you were using whetstones, you would need as many whetstones as you do belts.)
The blade grinding attachment took the Ken Onion experience to a new level. It uses wider belts and made it easy to sharpen any type of blade. Even if you don't care about expanding the blade angles you can sharpen, the attachment made the Ken Onion feel and work like a real professional tool.
The bad: Most negative reviews were about the learning curve, with everyone recommending that you start with old, cheap knives (we agree). Some reviewers complained about getting scratches on the blade, including on the outside edge that runs against the edge guide. In our testing, we had some scratches, too, but nothing too noticeable. But if you have a beautiful knife with, say, a Damascus finish, you may not want to use a belt grinder (or any electric sharpener, for that matter). The upgrade kit largely eliminates scratches, but you may not want to spend another $80 to find out that you're still not happy with the sharpener.
Reviewers also complained about the messiness, which we agree with: this grinder sends metal dust everywhere, and there is no way to prevent this, so use the grinder in your garage or work area, not in your kitchen. You may also want to wear a dust mask during operation.
Finally, some reviewers complained about the belts not lasting long enough and the cost and hassle of replacing them. Work Sharp says that the belts will last for about 75 sharpenings, which seems reasonable to us--and, that people may throw belts away before they need to. Be sure to use the belts until you're certain they're not sharpening at all anymore.
We found a good selection of Work Sharp replacement belts on Amazon at reasonable prices. You can buy after market belts for less, but the general consensus is that the Work Sharp belts are better quality and will last longer.
Pros and Cons of the Work Sharp Ken Onion Sharpener
- Fast way to sharpen a knife
- Sharpens the largest number of blade angles of all Work Sharp belt grinders
- Variable speeds allow you to sharpen safely as you're learning and more precisely as you gain experience
- Can use freehand and sharpen all types of knives, scissors, and tools
- Can sharpen any length knife
- Comes with DVD and detailed user guide
- Sharpens from 15-30 degrees without upgrade kit; sharpens 10-35 degrees with upgrade kit.
- Learning curve: inexperienced users can remove too much metal and ruin a blade
- Belts for original and attachment are different sizes (more to buy)
- Loud: about 100 decibels
- Messy: use in a place where you can easily pick up metal shavings and dust
- Like all belt grinders, can scratch blades if you're not careful.
Recommendation for the Work Sharp Ken Onion Sharpener
The Work Sharp Ken Onion is our favorite Work Sharp belt grinder and our best belt grinder recommendation for kitchen knives. You can sharpen blades from 15-30 degrees or get the upgrade kit and sharpen blades 10-35 degrees. This offers the most variety of all the Work Sharp sharpeners. Even if you're not interested in expanding your blade angles, the attachment uses wider belts (so they'll last longer) and makes for a better sharpening experience overall (e.g., easier to see what you're doing, fewer scratches on blades).
If you're inexperienced with belt grinders, practice on your cheap knives before attempting to sharpen your good ones. It's easy to use, but takes some practice to get it right.
Also have a place to use this tool: it spits out a fair amount of metal dust, so it's too messy for the kitchen.
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Review: Work Sharp MK2 Knife Sharpener
See the Work Sharp MK2 Sharpener on Amazon
See the Work Sharp MK2 Sharpener at Wal-Mart
Replacement belt kit for MK2 (about $15 for 24 belts, 6 different grits)
The Work Sharp MK2 is the original Work Sharp belt grinder. It can grind to a fixed 20- or 25-degree angle. It's easy to use and easy to swap out the belts.
This sharpener is great for tools and folding knives, but not a good choice for kitchen knifes. Unfortunately, the fixed angles of 20/25 degrees are too wide: today, most kitchen knives have angles of 17 degrees or less (each side). You can sharpen them to 20 degrees, but you will be sacrificing some performance if you do so. (That is, the knife will feel slower and more cumbersome to use.)
Like all belt grinders, the MK2 is also loud and messy. It spits metal dust during sharpening, so you really don't want to use it in your kitchen, and you should probably wear a dust mask and safety glasses when using.
Overall this is a great sharpener for what it's good at, it just isn't great for most kitchen knives. Along with the sharpener, you get 6 belts (2 ea. coarse, medium, extra fine), the 20- and 25-degree angle guides, a 65-degree angle scissors guide, a user manual, and a very helpful quick start guide.
For information on setup and use of the MK2, see Work Sharp's MK2 video page.
The bad: Most reviews are positive, but some reviewers complained that it didn't get knives very sharp, that it rounded the tip of the knife, and that the guides didn't work very well, particularly at the tip of the blade. Though these are mostly complaints of people who haven't figured out how to use the sharpener correctly, it does indicate that there's a learning curve to using a belt grinder sharpener (which there is).
Pros and Cons of the Work Sharp MK2 Sharpener
- Great for all knives and tools that have a 20- or 25-degree angle
- Gets blades extremely sharp
- Easy to use
- Can only do 20- and 25-degree angles, which are wrong for most kitchen knives
- Learning curve: practice with cheap tools and knives before trying it with higher quality blades
- Loud and messy (do not use in your kitchen and wear safety glasses)
Recommendation for the Work Sharp MK2 Sharpener
The Work Sharp MK2 sharpener does a good job, but it can only sharpen 20- and 25-degree angles. This leaves out several brands of kitchen knives (including Wusthof, Zwilling, Henckels, Global, and nearly all other Japanese brands). For pocket knives and other tools, the MK2 is a good choice. But for kitchen knives, it's not. Most kitchen knives today have a cutting angle of 17 degrees or less. Sharpening them to 20 degrees will ruin the nimble feel of thinner angle kitchen knives.
Also, like all belt grinders, it's loud and messy to use, so it's best used in a garage, with safety glasses and a dust mask.
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Final Thoughts on Work Sharp Belt Grinder Knife Sharpeners
Belt grinders aren't the right choice for everybody, especially if you want a sharpener just for your kitchen knives. They can be loud, messy, and restricted to just one or two sharpening angles.
But if you have the right place to use one (such as a garage), and are willing to practice on old knives until you learn how to use one, they are a super fast, easy way to put a sharp edge on a blade.
We recommend the Ken Onion for its versatility, especially with the upgrade kit. Or, if you have mostly 15- and 17-degree knives and want something you can keep and use in the kitchen, the E5 is the way to go.
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