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  1. #1

    A Comparison of Popular Forms of Sharpening - Reference

    Hi guys.

    At another forum, I'm posting a comparison of different kinds of sharpening. It is a food forum, not a dedicated knife forum, so a lot of the people I'm writing for don't have very nice knives and aren't willing to spend a lot of time or money in maintaining em - few have the interest to learn to use a waterstone.

    I post this here not because I think it will be helpful to you guys (most of you already know perfectly well how to sharpen), but to ask for any advice or tweaks. Does anything stand out to you as wrong or badly rated? Also, I figured some of you might at least find it interesting.

    Here is the post from the other forum:

    "One of the questions that gets asked often around here: "which sharpener is the best?" It's a very reasonable question, because reading about sharpeners is confusing. Most manufacturers talk up their sharpener as the ideal solution for everybody, admitting to no downsides. People who have picked one method or another tend to do the same. The knife nuts (myself included) tend to push high end methods that not everyone is willing to consider due to difficulty or expense - that stuff is all well and good for a dedicated forum about knives, but not for a more general food forum like this one. The reviews online are almost always glowing for any sharpener that works at all, since people are actually reflecting on how nice it is to have usably sharp knives.

    What people don't realize is that all of the popular methods of sharpening involve a trade-off. There is no one best way to sharpen, nothing that is simultaneously easy, cheap, fast, and produces top-notch results. If there was, everybody would be using it.

    I've decided that what people need is a way to quickly compare the most popular methods of sharpening (we'll leave maintenance in between sharpenings for another day). So I've listed here the most common types of sharpening, and scored them ('very low' to 'very high') on several categories. These categories are:
    Fast - how fast these methods are as they are actually used by most people. In other words, this is not just a measurement of grinding power
    Easy - considers not just ease of use, but also learning curve
    Effective - how sharp an edge it produces, how it affects edge retention, whether it allows you to thin behind the edge for improved cutting and continued performance
    Cheap - low = expensive, high = cheap. Sorry for any confusion
    Versatile - a combination of two things. One is whether a sharpener works well on different types of knives, and different edge angles, and different types of steel. The other is whether the sharpener quickly changes the geometry of the edge, usually by removing metal very aggressively, thus damaging performance or shortening the lifespan of the knife.

    Without further ado:

    Carbide shearing sharpener (Accusharp type)
    Tungsten carbide blades set in a V which shave bits of metal off the edge
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Chefs-Choice-P.../dp/B000CSK0DM
    Fast.......... Very High
    Easy......... Very high
    Effective.. Low-Medium*
    Cheap...... Very high
    Versatile.. Very low**
    *Depends greatly on the knife being sharpened
    **Not only do carbide shearing sharpeners remove metal quickly and typically not adjust their angle to the knife - they seem not to work on harder, more brittle steels, causing chips and splinters rather than sharpening smoothly. I tried one recently on a hitachi white steel 'fruit' knife (hrc 63) - the result wasn't pretty.

    Whetstones
    Self-explanatory
    Fast.......... Very Low-Medium*
    Easy......... Very low
    Effective.. Very high
    Cheap...... Very Low-High**
    Versatile.. Very high
    *Early on, sharpening takes a looong time. With practice, most people get much faster
    **You can get the stones to do good work for under $10 (a hardware store oilstone) and great work for under $70 (a combo medium and fine grit waterstone, a cheap coarse stone, and a homemade strop). BUT many people who use whetstones wind up spending more than that, either because they view it as a hobby they want to enjoy or because they are chasing the 'perfect edge' or because they become convinced early on that their mediocre results are the fault of their equipment rather than their still-underdeveloped skill.

    Electric sharpener (Chef's Choice powered sharpeners)
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Chefs-Choice-P.../dp/B000CSK0DM
    Fast.......... Very high
    Easy......... High
    Effective.. Medium
    Cheap...... Low
    Versatile.. Low

    Abrasive rods in an X shape (handheld Wusthof sharpener)
    Rods are at a fixed angle, and sharpen both sides at the same time. Often found as one part of a two part sharpening system - usually along with a carbide sharpener.
    Example: Whustof's 2 stage sharpener http://www.amazon.com/W%C3%BCsthof-2...257145&sr=1-10
    Fast.......... Low*
    Easy......... High*
    Effective.. Very Low*
    Cheap...... Very High*
    Versatile.. Low*
    *These ratings are just for the abrasive rods part of the sharpener, not for the combined 2 stage system using a carbide sharpener. Many people buying the 2 stage system seldom use the rods or else find that the rods are mainly useful in maintaining a mostly-sharp edge, but not in sharpening a dull one.

    Variable-Angle rods (Spyderco Sharpmaker)
    Rods set at an angle, but only one side is sharpened at a time. Rods can sometimes be laid flat and used without an angle guide like very narrow whetstones.
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Spyderco-Tri-A...1257502&sr=1-1
    Fast.......... Low*
    Easy......... Medium
    Effective.. High
    Cheap...... Medium
    Versatile.. Medium
    *Sharpening a fully dull knife with one of these takes a LOOONG time. But maintaining a sharp edge is reasonably quick.

    Wheel sharpeners (cheap, handheld Chefs Choice sharpeners)
    Wheels hold the knife against stationary v-shaped abrasives (sometimes, just springed walls are used instead of wheels). Both sides are typically sharpened at once.
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Choice-Diamond...257742&sr=1-44
    Fast.......... Medium
    Easy......... High
    Effective.. Very low
    Cheap...... High
    Versatile.. Low

    Angle controlled system (EdgePro, Wicked Edge System)
    Un-powered mechanical device boasting varied abrasives, very controlled customizable sharpening angles
    Example: http://edgeproinc204.corecommerce.co...Pro-System-c3/
    Fast.......... Low
    Easy......... Medium
    Effective.. Very High
    Cheap...... Very Low
    Versatile.. High

    Professional sharpening.
    Speaks for itself.
    Fast.......... Very Low**
    Easy......... Very High
    Effective.. High*
    Cheap...... Low*
    Versatile.. High**
    *These factors are heavily dependent upon the pro sharpener in question. Figures provided are guesses/averages, assuming that your professional sharpener at least is minimally competent.
    **These factors especially

    Honing steel
    A grooved honing steel used as the knife's only form of sharpening.
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Wusthof-4461-2...1260114&sr=1-1
    Fast.......... Low-High*
    Easy......... Medium
    Effective.. Very Low-Low**
    Cheap...... High
    Versatile..Very Low
    *A honing steel is fast assuming you use it every time you use the knife.
    ** Many say that a steel only trues an edge, and for most people that is true. However, I've come across people who use their grooved steel like a file (applying more pressure), and actually scrape off enough metal that the steel is effectively sharpening the knife, albeit not especially well. This type of use is dependent on technique and also what knives you're using.

    Ceramic/diamond honing steel
    A ceramic or diamond abrasive honing steel used as a knife's only form of sharpening
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Henckels-10-Inc...
    Fast.......... Very Low-High*
    Easy......... Medium
    Effective.. Medium
    Cheap...... Medium
    Versatile.. Medium
    *A ceramic steel is fast assuming you use it every time you use the knife. It is very slow to sharpen a fully dull knife with one.

    These figures are the best I could come up with. I have first hand experience with all of the above types of sharpener except for the Variable Angle rods/Sharpmaker style - for that, I've extrapolated from reviews and what I know of sharpening."

    That was it. Any suggestions from this forum?

  2. #2
    Once this is finalized, I'll probably make a color coded graph for easier quick reference.

  3. #3
    I would change "fast" to "speed" and then change the ratings to slow, average, fast, etc.
    "God sends meat and the devil sends cooks." - Thomas Deloney

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyChance View Post
    I would change "fast" to "speed" and then change the ratings to slow, average, fast, etc.
    Yeah, the wording is still pretty clunky. Basically, I was just trying to keep 'low'=bad and 'high'=good. Hence low=expensive. I had already decided to change 'cheap' to 'affordability' or something like that, so changing 'fast' to 'speed' would also seem like a good idea.

  5. #5
    THANKS-I must say- its very informative--coOl--MARK

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by cowboyardee View Post
    Yeah, the wording is still pretty clunky. Basically, I was just trying to keep 'low'=bad and 'high'=good. Hence low=expensive. I had already decided to change 'cheap' to 'affordability' or something like that, so changing 'fast' to 'speed' would also seem like a good idea.
    "Cost" maybe. "Easy" to "Difficulty".
    "God sends meat and the devil sends cooks." - Thomas Deloney

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnnyChance View Post
    "Cost" maybe. "Easy" to "Difficulty".
    Right now I'm thinking
    Fast -> Speed
    Easy -> Ease
    Effective -> Performance
    Cheap -> Affordability
    Versatile -> Versatility

    Some of these are still clunky words, but they're less grammatically wonky. And it's still important to me that I stick with one scale (V. low - V. high) where 'low' is undesirable and 'high' is a good thing across all the categories.

    Thanks for the suggestions. It definitely needs a little work.

  8. #8
    This is a bit TMI for casual, uncaring users. I'd pair this with a much simpler rundown of what is going on for those that are really clueless or careless, and then it will free you up to focus on accuracy with this one, instead of simplifying.

    This needs to be in graph form. It's too hard to visualize all of this information after translating it. The words used for ranking the qualities would either be inaccurate independently(by standardizing them), or confusing collectively(by diversifying them). I would think the bar graphs would end up kind of like the rundown you get in racing video games of each car "top speed, acceleration, etc"...they can be very informative, but must be done very uniformly or else they get confusing.

    You have LOTS of info on many different kinds of pull-through sharpeners. That's really great that you've done that, I might reference this in the future for something. I HATE pull-through sharpeners, so if I'd done this list it'd be more like "Whetstones, services, jigs, honing rods, and crap, crap, megacrap".

    The "angle controlled systems" are precisely called "jigs", it's not just lingo. The problem calling them "angle controlled systems" is that other systems(like the Chef's Choice) are angle-controlled, but not jigs.

    I would also ask the moderators in advance if they are cool with you posting Amazon links in something that(I am assuming) you want to be stickied. It's kind of a running endorsement, Google-wise.

    I also think this should be moved to the Kitchen Knife Knowledge Center!

  9. #9
    Thanks for the feedback. I will make a graph eventually, but only once I'm pretty sure I'm not gonna tweak my numbers. I agree that the information might be too much and too buried for a casual reader. To combat this, I've reformatted and put the important information all at the top of the post. The reformatted list follows.

    Linking to amazon is no problem on the other forum, but if it's a problem here, the Mods are welcome to PM me and I'll take the links down. I just have them up as a reference, not as a suggestion.

    Here is the reformatted post:

    Below is a comparison of different methods of sharpening. All numerical scores are relative. Scores are on a 1-5 scale. 1 is the lowest or least desirable score and 5 is the highest.

    Carbide shearing sharpener (Accusharp type)
    Speed............ 5
    Ease............... 5
    Performance.. 2-3 [a]
    Affordability.. 5
    Versatility...... 1 [b]

    Whetstones
    Speed............ 1-3 [c]
    Ease............... 1
    Performance.. 5
    Affordability.. 1-4 [d]
    Versatility...... 5

    Electric sharpener (Chef's Choice powered sharpeners)
    Speed............ 5
    Ease............... 4
    Performance.. 3
    Affordability.. 2
    Versatility...... 2

    Abrasive rods in an X shape (handheld Wusthof sharpener)
    Speed............ 2 [e]
    Ease............... 4 [e]
    Performance.. 1 [e]
    Affordability.. 5 [e]
    Versatility...... 2 [e]

    Variable-Angle rods (Spyderco Sharpmaker)
    Speed............ 2 [f]
    Ease............... 3
    Performance.. 4
    Affordability.. 3
    Versatility...... 3

    Wheel sharpeners (cheap, handheld Chefs Choice sharpeners)
    Speed............ 3
    Ease............... 4
    Performance.. 1
    Affordability.. 5
    Versatility...... 2

    Jigs (EdgePro, Wicked Edge System)
    Speed............ 2
    Ease............... 3
    Performance.. 5
    Affordability.. 1
    Versatility...... 4

    Professional sharpening
    Speed............ 1 [g, h]
    Ease............... 5
    Performance.. 4 [g]
    Affordability.. 2 [g]
    Versatility...... 4 [g, h]

    Honing steel
    Speed............ 3-4 [i]
    Ease............... 3
    Performance.. 1-2 [j]
    Affordability.. 4
    Versatility......1

    Ceramic/diamond honing steel
    Speed............ 1-4 [k]
    Ease............... 3
    Performance.. 3
    Affordability.. 3
    Versatility...... 3

    EXPLANATIONS OF TYPES OF SHARPENERS

    Carbide shearing sharpener (Accusharp type):
    Tungsten carbide blades set in a V which shave bits of metal off the edge
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Chefs-Choice-P.../dp/B000CSK0DM

    Abrasive rods in an X shape (handheld Wusthof sharpener):
    Rods are at a fixed angle, and sharpen both sides at the same time. Often found as one part of a two part sharpening system - usually along with a carbide sharpener.
    Example: Whustof's 2 stage sharpener http://www.amazon.com/W%C3%BCsthof-2...257145&sr=1-10

    Variable-Angle rods (Spyderco Sharpmaker):
    Rods set at an angle, but only one side is sharpened at a time. Rods can sometimes be laid flat and used without an angle guide like very narrow whetstones.
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Spyderco-Tri-A...1257502&sr=1-1

    Wheel sharpeners (cheap, handheld Chefs Choice sharpeners):
    Wheels hold the knife against stationary v-shaped abrasives (sometimes, just springed walls are used instead of wheels). Both sides are typically sharpened at once.
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Choice-Diamond...257742&sr=1-44

    Jigs (EdgePro, Wicked Edge System)
    Un-powered mechanical device boasting varied abrasives, very controlled customizable sharpening angles
    Example: http://edgeproinc204.corecommerce.co...Pro-System-c3/

    Honing steel
    A handheld grooved steel rod used as the knife's only form of sharpening.
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Wusthof-4461-2...1260114&sr=1-1

    Ceramic/diamond honing steel
    A handheld ceramic or diamond abrasive-coated rod used as a knife's only form of sharpening
    Example: http://www.amazon.com/Henckels-10-Inc...

    EXPLANATION OF SCORING

    Speed - how fast these methods are as they are actually used by most people. In other words, this is not just a measurement of grinding power
    Ease - considers not just ease of use, but also learning curve
    Performance - how sharp an edge it produces, how it affects edge retention, whether it allows you to thin behind the edge for improved cutting and continued performance
    Affordability - 1=expensive and 5=cheap. Sorry for any confusion
    Versatility - a combination of two things. One is whether a sharpener works well on different types of knives, and different edge angles, and different types of steel. The other is whether the sharpener quickly changes the geometry of the edge, usually by removing metal very aggressively, thus damaging performance or shortening the lifespan of the knife.

    Notes:
    [a] Depends greatly on the knife being sharpened
    [b] Not only do carbide shearing sharpeners remove metal quickly and typically not adjust their angle to the knife - they seem not to work on harder, more brittle steels, causing chips and splinters rather than sharpening smoothly. I tried one recently on a hitachi white steel 'fruit' knife (hrc 63) - the result wasn't pretty.
    [c] Early on, sharpening takes a looong time. With practice, most people get much faster
    [d] You can get the stones to do good work for under $10 (a hardware store oilstone) and great work for under $70 (a combo medium and fine grit waterstone, a cheap coarse stone, and a homemade strop). BUT many people who use whetstones wind up spending more than that, either because they view it as a hobby they want to enjoy or because they are chasing the 'perfect edge' or because they become convinced early on that their mediocre results are the fault of their equipment rather than their still-underdeveloped skill.
    [e] These ratings are just for the abrasive rods part of the sharpener, not for the combined 2 stage system using a carbide sharpener. Many people buying the 2 stage system seldom use the rods or else find that the rods are mainly useful in maintaining a mostly-sharp edge, but not in sharpening a dull one.
    [f]Sharpening a fully dull knife with one of these takes a LOOONG time. But maintaining a sharp edge is reasonably quick.
    [g] These factors are heavily dependent upon the pro sharpener in question. Figures provided are guesses/averages, assuming that your professional sharpener at least is minimally competent.
    [h] These factors especially
    [i] A honing steel is fast assuming you use it every time you use the knife.
    [j] Many say that a steel only trues an edge, and for most people that is true. However, I've come across people who use their grooved steel like a file (applying more pressure), and actually scrape off enough metal that the steel is effectively sharpening the knife, albeit not especially well. This type of use is dependent on technique and also what knives you're using.
    [k] A ceramic steel is fast assuming you use it every time you use the knife. It is very slow to sharpen a fully dull knife with one."

    That was it.
    An improvement?

  10. #10
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    I think it is an improvement, but after waking up and reading the whole first post I need to digest it some more. With that said, I think a general guide like this would be good for chowhound, which is the form I think you are talking about. Here we love the people who ask for knife buying advice over and over as it is a proxy for our own excessive habits, but on Chow, multiple similar threads is a bit of a problem IMO. A post like this would be good to reference back to and have a more standard info package and not get a bunch of people chiming in about their favorite electric sharpener or get a bunch of knife nuts dragging the post into different stone grits (even though that is what they should do)

    Btw, you left out the sharpener that is mounted on the back of a can opener.

    k.
    "There's only one thing I hate more than lying…skim milk, which is water that's lying about being milk." -- Ron Swanson

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