Having the best hunting knives in the world means nothing if they have gone dull and you cannot properly sharpen them. Sharpening by hand can be a tricky task, however, as most do not have the finesse to maintain the proper sharpening angle to produce a razor sharp edge. Over the last few years, though, some manufacturers have developed solutions that can produce knife blades sharp enough for surgery.
This article will look at what factors go into a high quality knife sharpener, and later, I’ll provide you with five of my absolute favorite knife sharpeners for hunting blades.
Features of a Good Knife Sharpener
When you sharpen a knife, what you are doing is grinding off the rounded edge of the knife, then re-beveling it to a desired angle and removing the burr created by the bevel. Traditionally, this meant using a whetstone lubricated with water and oil and then free-handing the sharpening while one hoped they did so at a consistent angle.
Of course, not many can maintain a consistent angle when eyeballing it, and many a knife was ruined during the process of trying to restore its blade. To be considered a good sharpener, this article limited the possibility to include only those that did the following:
- Ensured a consistent angle was used for sharpening;
- Ensured a novice could sharpen a knife without ruining it
- Ensured that an old or damaged blade could be restored to good working order
- Worked for a wide variety of knife shapes
Requiring a consistent angle be applied between sharpening stone and knife ensures that the knife blade will burr properly and then, when that burr is removed, will maintain a consistent edge. With knives, the angle used to sharpen the blade is determined based on the needs of the knife.
- 30 degrees or more: suitable for axes, hatchets, and machetes
- 20 to 30 degrees: suitable for everyday carry knives and hunting knives that are expected to contact bone and cut through sinew
- 15 to 20 degrees: suitable for scalpels and chef’s knives, but risk chipping and pitting if used for harsher work
Based on these factors, the following knife sharpeners are ideal for those looking to ready their hunting knives for the field.
Wicked Edge 100 Precision
The Wicked Edge 100 is not cheap, but with the sticker shock of seeing a knife sharpening system for over $300.00 comes a system that ensures that a knife can be sharpened rapidly and consistently. To use the Wicked Edge 100, one has to clamp a knife parallel to the sharpening platform, then set the angle on two external arms used to hold the sharpening stones.
Once that is done, the user can attach the sharpening stones and begin sharpening with the same sort of hand movements normally seen when someone uses a NordicTrack or an elliptical machine. The Wicked Edge 100 is extremely customizable, and the blade angle can be set at anything from 15 to 30 degrees.
The vice of the wicked edge can hold a knife up to 3/8” thick, which means it can handle even the thickest bushcraft knives. Because of the way the arms are locked in place, a consistent angle can be maintained every time the user sharpens a knife.
Wicked Edge sells a wide variety of sharpening stones, from 50 grit extremely course diamond stones to 3 micron stropping films (for those that find leather strops too rough, apparently). Like the Wicked Edge 100, these stones are all expensive (and retail for roughly $70, which is as much as some mid-range knife sharpening systems). The wide variety of stones available for the Wicked Edge 100 mean that even the dullest knife or a damaged knife can be restored to good working order.
The biggest, most obvious downside to the Wicked Edge is that it is astronomically expensive compared to even electric knife sharpeners. Wicked Edge is currently developing model known as the Wicked Edge Go that is expected to be half the price of the $325.00 Wicked Edge 100.
Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition
For those that want knife sharpening to go quickly, yet do not want to pay $300 or more for a sharpening system, an electric sharpener like the Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition may be the way to go. The Work Sharp Ken Onion sharpener, endorsed by the knife designer frequently associated with CRKT blades, is a belt knife sharpener that works much like a belt sander (frankly, virtually identically to how a belt sander works).
The Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition uses blade guides to ensure a consistent angle is maintained, and has tolerances between 15 and 30 degrees for blades (the sharpener can be used without the guides as well for sharpening fish hooks, arrows, and tools, such as axes and Pulaski blades). However, there is a varying quantity of flex in the abrasive belts used on the sharpener, which means that, with inconsistent pressure during sharpening, a user could change the angle of the grind on a knife.
Despite the flex in the abrasive belts, the blade guides do a good job of helping a novice knife sharpener avoid ruining their knives. Care must be taken, however, to not accidentally round the tips of blades.
Work Sharp offers abrasive belts for its sharpener that vary from a grit of 80 to 12,000, and also offer specialty belts to sharpen ceramic blades. The wide variety of abrasive belts ensures that even the most damaged knife or tool could be made sharp.
The belt flex that, as discussed above, can make the Work Sharp less than precise does allow it to be able to sharpen unique blade shapes, such as gut hooks and serrated blades.
Work Sharp retails its Ken Onion edition sharpener for approximately $125, which is substantially less expensive than the Wicked Edge 100. Belts retail for less than $20, so the replacement costs for the sharpener are not astronomical.
Chef’s Choice Angle Select
Sometimes, the best way to ensure the consistency of sharpening of a hunting knife is to look for a tool from the world of cooking, and the Chef’s Choice Angle Select is that tool. The Angle Select is an electric tabletop knife sharpener intended for chef’s knives (hence the name), and will sharpen blades to two different angles: 15 degrees and 20 degrees (15 degrees being the preferred angle for Japanese-style cooking knives and 20 degrees being the preferred angle for western cooking knives).
The Angle Select has three fixed chambers that a user runs their knives through to sharpen them. Because there is no adjustment and the chamber holds the knife in place, there is little room for failure at setting the angle of a blade.
The Angle Select uses diamond sharpening stones for sharpening and honing the edge of knives. The diamond sharpeners can restore even the most dull, pitted knives out there.
The downside to the Angle Select is that it does not work with anything that cannot fit within its three chambers, ruling out the ability to use this sharpener to sharpen axes and other tools. Additionally, while the Angle Select will work with serrated and plain edge blades, it will not produce an edge of any shape other than 15 or 20 degrees. While a 15 degree bevel is perfect for cooking knives, it is a recipe for disaster (in the form of damaged and chipped blades) if applied to a hunting knife that has to come into contact with rope, wood, and bone.
Some may prefer the ostensibly duller 30 degree bevel used on bushcraft knives because they expect to be rough on their knives. This is not possible with the Angle Select. However, if one is content with a 20 degree bevel on their knives, the knife is virtually idiot-proof.
The Angle Select retails for approximately $150, slightly more than the Work Sharp Ken Onion edition. This is particularly expensive given that the sharpening wheels used in the Angle Select cannot be replaced (as far as I can tell), meaning that the device suffers from planned obsolescence.
Lansky Four-Stone Deluxe Diamond
For those unwilling or unable to afford the cost of the Wicked Edge, Work Sharp, or Chef’s Choice knife sharpeners, there are more cost-conscious solutions available, such as this Lansky knife sharpener. Lansky makes two sharpening systems, one using diamond stones and the other using traditional sharpening stones. Because the diamond works so much more efficiently, it is preferable to the traditional sharpening system.
Lansky’s system is based on guide rods and a knife clamp, much like the far more expensive Wicked Edge System, and has four angles that are available to use: 17 degrees, 20 degrees, 25 degrees, and 30 degrees, which allow for all of the major bevels needed for kitchen knives, everyday carry knives, hunting knives, arrows, fish hooks, and tools.
The Lansky System has a wide variety of sharpening stones, from 70 grit to 600 grit, which allow for delicate work or reshaping of severely damaged blades. Interestingly, the Lansky System also comes with honing oil, which should never be used with diamond sharpening stones.
Additionally, though it does not come with a base, the Lansky system works best when mounted on a base. Lansky provides two different types of bases, one which can be anchored with a c-clamp, and the other which can be permanently anchored with screws. Retailing for approximately $75.00, the Lansky system is extremely reasonably priced compared to the more expensive options on this list.
Of all the sharpeners reviewed on this list, the Spyderco Sharpmaker is the most affordable, retailing for approximately $50.00. The Sharpmaker is designed with angled rods set into a horizontal plate for easy sharpening (as one would just hold the blade tip straight down as they passed the blade across the stones).
So long as a user holds the blade in a vertical position as they pass the blades along the sharpening rods, they will maintain a constant edge. The downside to the Sharpmaker is that there is no certainty to the process; a constant edge can be made, but the sharpener cannot be set to specific measurements as it can be with the other sharpeners on the list.
The Sharpmaker can restore damaged knives as well, but it will take a very long time to do so. However, if a user is looking for a sharpener that will work well on a basic level, and without a lot of bells and whistles, the Spyderco Sharpmaker is a fine option. Additionally, the Sharpmaker comes with rods that makes it functional as a ceramic knife sharpener.
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