Knives are one of the oldest and most essential tools for survival. In the wilderness they are used for many tasks, from batoning to creating feather sticks to skinning an animal. It takes a user years and years to learn what survival knife they like best, and why, and how to use it to its utmost in every task.
Along with this learning curve, a knife user also must learn to maintain his blade. This means many things, but first among them is the maintenance of a sharp edge. A dull knife is going to do you no good in the wilderness.
Below, please take a look at some at a few knife sharpeners–some of which we’ll be discussing in-depth today–and see how well they compare to one another based on price, features and more.
$ = $1 – $30 | $$ = $31 – $60 | $$$ = $61 and above
|Chef'sChoice 15 Trizor XV||Electric||$$$|
|Wusthof Precision Edge 2||Manual||$|
|Edge Pro Apex||Manual||$$$|
|Wicked Edge Precision Knife Sharpener||Manual||$$$|
|Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker||Manual||$$|
Examining Survival Knife Sharpeners
This article will discuss four of what I consider to be the best manual knife sharpeners available, and one automatic knife sharpener that is affordable and competitive with the others. All of these sharpening systems are viable options for maintaining that crucially important edge on your survival knife.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling knife sharpeners currently for sale on Amazon:
- SunrisePro Knife Sharpener
- Presto 08800 EverSharp
- Work Sharp WSKTS-KO (Ken Onion Edition)
- Wüsthof Hand-Held Sharpener
- Chef’s Choice 15 Trizor XV EdgeSelect
And now, let’s get into our favorite sharpeners and why they are worthy of your consideration.
The Edge Pro Apex System
The Edge Pro Apex is probably the most popular sharpening system of its kind, because it is the preferred sharpener of Nutnfancy, a premier reviewer of survival tools and gear (amongst other things).
The Edge Pro Apex is an angled tripod with a clamp for your blade (it can hold any blade up to 3.5” wide). Above that clamp is a rotating arm that can hold any number of different grit sharpening stones.
This arm is moved over the edge at a consistent angle, which means that not only are you going to get a cleaner, more stable edge profile, but you’re also going to have less of a chance of accidentally scraping the finish off of your blade by striking the stone against it.
This consistent angle also makes removing a burr very easy, which is great. Why? Because survival knives are longer than most kitchen knives or pocket blades, finding and removing a burr with a freehand sharpening system is often a time-consuming and difficult process. The Edge Pro Apex comes in a number of flavors; each one adds finer and finer grit sharpening stones to increase the keenness of the edge you are able to put on it; here are the grits of the stones, from low to high, available for the Edge Pro Apex:
- 120 grit
- 220 grit
- 400 grit
- 600 grit
- 1000 grit
These stones, as well as other accessories, can also be purchased separately, so you can replace stones that you wear out or add finer grit stones to your existing kit. In short, the Edge Pro Apex can grow with you as you become more and more proficient with it.
The Edge Pro Apex possesses many charms for the survival knife user: it is fairly affordable (starting at $165), requires no special knowledge to begin using, and has a variety of add-ons that can be purchased separately as the user learns what he or she likes. It is a great option for your knife collection.
Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener
]The Edge Pro Apex is not the only consistent angle sharpener in town. The Wicked Edge has its fans as well, particularly it seems within the Usual Suspect Network forums, and for good reason.
The Wicked Edge works similarly to the Edge Pro Apex, although whereas that system was a sort of tripod that stayed in place as you used it, the Wicked Edge needs to be mounted at either the end of a workbench or table, or attached to a custom-made stone base that is sold separately. This is somewhat inconvenient, but in truth stability is very important when sharpening a knife, and the suction cups that the Edge Pro Apex uses, while adequate, are not as reliable as a properly-mounted Wicked Edge.
The Wicked Edge is also pricier than the basic Edge Pro Apex model at $300, but that gets you the sharpener and eight sharpening stones, so you won’t need to purchase any additional equipment for a good long time.
Now, the Wicked Edge, like the Edge Pro Apex, is not a particularly portable sharpening solution; it is designed for maintenance between uses, as opposed to in-the-field sharpening. Wicked Edge does make the Wicked Edge Field and Sport Pro model, which is designed to be more portable than the standard model. At $450 it is a much pricier option, but it also doesn’t need the mounting stone and comes with additional, higher grit stones.
The Wicked Edge, with its higher price and more involved set up, is definitely more of an enthusiast’s sharpening system. But because it gives you a more out of the box, and because you can get higher grit accessory stones for it than you can for the Edge Pro, it is a worthy competitor in the consistent angle sharpening system market.
The Spyderco Sharpmaker is a no-frills, simple sharpening system made for the average user who isn’t interested in getting deep into the craft, but that needs a way of putting a good edge back on his or her survival knives and other fixed blade and folding knives.
The Sharpmaker is a small plastic base, with two different sets of slots for the stones it comes with; one set of slots is for setting a back bevel (i.e., removing material on an edge that has gotten too narrow after much use and sharpening), and one for putting on the main edge. The user places first the two coarse stones and then the two fine stones into the slots, which align them at the correct angle, and then passes his or her blade back and forth, from one stone to other, in a downward cutting motion, pulling the blade back towards him- or herself. There are two sides to each set of stones, and they take the blade from a dull edge all the way back to a useable sharpness.
The Sharpmaker’s appeal is twofold: first, it is very easy to use and requires very little maintenance; the user will just need to scrub the fine stones with Comet from time to time to remove embedded steel.
Second, it is portable: you can easily take this with you on a camping trip or extended outdoor excursion, and have an easy and reliable way to put a decent edge back on your survival knife.
I say “decent” specifically, because the Sharpmarker, for its many charms, will not put as keen of an edge on your knives as something like the Edge Pro Apex. It is designed to allow someone with minimal training, minimal time, and minimal effort to sharpen their knives effectively. It is quick and workmanlike, but not extraordinary. It would make an excellent secondary sharpening system, or a good first system for someone just learning how to maintain their outdoor equipment—and, at $50, it is an easy investment to make.
This one is a bit out there, but there are a lot of guys and gals that use a bench grinder to sharpen their knives quickly and well.
Bench grinders are a common tool in woodworking for sharpening chisels and the like, but additionally most manufacturers of grinders (such as Grizzly), offer stones for sharpening the edges of knives as well. These knife sharpening add-ons usually consist of two sharpening wheels and silicon grit, and you spin the wheel and hold the blade to it to remove steel and create an edge.
Like the Sharpmaker, this sharpening system is inexpensive: a bench grinder can be had for about $70; after that you just need to buy the sharpening wheels and you’re good to go; the whole package shouldn’t run you more than $150. The bench grinder method is also quick, but unlike the Sharpmaker, can put really remarkable edges on your blades.
There are two downsides to keep in mind: one is that the bench grinder will remove a lot more material than other sharpeners. It’s not something you’ll notice right away, but years of wheel sharpening will age your blade faster.
Additionally, the bench grinder method, unlike the Edge Pro Apex or Wicked Edge, does not maintain a consistent angle for the user; it is the responsibility of the user to keep their blade against the wheel without moving it all over the place, resulting in a sloppy edge. In this way, the bench grinder is a more skill-intensive method than the options discussed above.
Despite these caveats, the price-to-results ratio with a bench grinder is hard to ignore.
Sharpening stones are the simplest sharpening tool there is, and also the most demanding.
In short, freehand sharpening with stones is the process of passing your blade over stones of increasingly fine grit to develop an edge. It can get more in depth than that, because you may want to reprofile an edge, or simply deburr a knife, or something along those lines, but that’s the basic idea.
This is a difficult method to learn. You need to maintain a very consistent angle. You need to be able to look at your edge and see where burrs are developing to work them out. You’ll need an understanding of the way different grinds and steels react to the stones and angles you use. You will not get immediate, gratifying results like you will with the Edge Pro Apex or Sharpmaker. Learning how to freehand sharpen, you will certainly mar a few blades, end up with large burrs, and generally frustrate yourself as you attempt to come to grips with this demanding, involved chore.
However, once you get over the hump, there is nothing that compares to the control that you have over your knives’ edges. You can convex your edge for added toughness (convex edges are particularly popular amongst bushcrafters), or sharpen out nicks and chips with ease. Because there isn’t a contraption between you and your knife, you really develop an appreciation for how a knife works and what makes an edge. Stones are also fairly inexpensive (the price varies, but somewhere in the $80-100 is about the starting point).
Freehand sharpening is difficult, it’s true, but that additional control and understanding is worth the effort for this willing to try.
An important part of owning tools is learning how to maintain them. If you never learn how to put a proper edge on your survival knife, you’ll never get the performance you want or need out of it. And, to reiterate, learning to maintain your tools deepens your relationship with them. Sharpening a knife is an important a part of getting to know it as using it in the wild. The sharpeners above are all great ways to facilitate that learning process.
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