After 15 hours of research and testing, and several adult lifetimes of kitchen experience, we recommend the manual Chef’sChoice ProntoPro 4643 as a mechanical knife sharpener. It’s incredibly simple—almost intuitive—to use: You run the blade back and forth between its diamond-impregnated sharpening wheels to cut and then hone a new edge. The ProntoPro 4643 works on both traditional European and Japanese knives, which use different edge angles, making it universally utilitarian. (Note that we also link to otherwise equivalent but cheaper single-angle sharpeners below.) In our tests it took seriously dull blades—we ran them against a chunk of concrete curbstone until they were all but useless—to tomato-filleting sharpness in less than a minute. And like all our picks here, it’s far easier to master, and far cheaper, than traditional sharpening stones or modern jig systems. Effective, affordable, simple to use, and easy to store, the ProntoPro 4643 is the clear winner for most people.
If you’re a serious home chef, we recommend the Chef’sChoice Trizor XV Sharpener. (And we’re not alone: It’s the top pick for Cook’s Illustrated as well.) This model is much more expensive than our top pick, but it produces a professional-quality, polished and honed edge, as opposed to the ProntoPro 4643’s “toothy” edge. “Polished and honed” means it’s inherently sharp: The Trizor XV brings the metal of the blade to an infinitesimally fine point rather than to the relatively coarse edge that our main pick produces. That means you can chop straight down through, say, onions and carrots rather than stroking through them as with a saw. And that makes for faster, more efficient knife work—as long as you possess the knife skills to take advantage. But the Trizor XV is a bit bulky (about the size of a loaf of homemade bread) and heavy, so you’ll need to find space for it under your countertop.
The Brød & Taylor Professional Knife Sharpener is distinctly different from our main picks, not just in its obviously unique form but also in the way it sharpens. Whereas the others grind a new edge with rotating wheels, the Brød & Taylor model carves one with stationary tungsten-carbide stones. Some of the cheapest and worst sharpeners employ a similar method, but the Brød & Taylor’s clever design and precise construction allow it to deviate from the norm. After quickly carving an impressively keen, even edge on a dull knife, with a simple tilt of the blade you can then hone and polish the edge on those same tungsten-carbide stones, obtaining a durably sharp knife. And because this sharpener is compact and handsome, it can live on your countertop, so you’ll be more likely to keep up with regular knife maintenance. It’s the clear choice for style hounds.
I’ve been sharpening knives since I was 9 or 10 years old, starting with a Browning pocket knife that I still carry. Later, working on a cattle ranch, I was at various times responsible for keeping the butcher’s knives and the boarding house’s kitchen knives in good working order using Arkansas oilstones. I’ve been cooking for myself for almost 20 years, and I’ve been keeping my trusty santoku shaving-sharp that whole time using Japanese waterstones (more on those in How we picked). So I appreciate a truly fine edge. But I’m also big on the Korean concept of koenchanayo (“that’s good enough”), and so for the past seven years I’ve also used an electric sharpener for my cheap, stamped-steel paring knives (which The Sweethome’s Lesley Stockton also loves) and for my expensive, forged heavy chef’s knife. In short: I’m not one of those knife geeks for whom nothing less than an atom-splitting edge is acceptable. The defining characteristic of a sharp knife is that it cuts neatly, easily, and safely in its intended tasks—and there’s more than one way to get an edge that sharp.
Everyone who owns a knife needs a sharpener. Even the highest-quality knife will lose its edge over time and with use. The metal wears away on the cutting board, it chips on animal bones and bends on tough root vegetables, and it dissolves in the acids and salts of the kitchen. A dull knife is a dangerous knife. To keep it safe, and to keep a knife working, you need to sharpen it regularly.
That’s not to say that you need one of these knife sharpeners—as we note below in the next section, you may prefer another type of sharpener, one that arguably produces an even better edge. But the simple, foolproof sharpeners we’ve picked here will satisfy most people, and they all do the job quickly. That means you’ll be far more likely to use one of these, and that means you’ll always have sharp, safe, effective, and enjoyable knives at hand.
One other thing: A knife sharpener and a honing steel (aka a knife steel) are not the same. The former puts a new edge on a blade, whereas the latter helps keep the edge aligned (and thus keen) between sharpenings. Because most “complete” knife sets come with a honing steel, it’s easy to think that’s all you need. But over time, honing without sharpening will create a dull, rounded edge that not only works poorly but is also more dangerous to use, because it requires you to use more force. In short, if you own only a honing steel, you need to invest in a sharpener or occasionally pay for a professional sharpening (usually about $5 per knife, but such services are increasingly hard to find outside of big cities).
You can find four basic types of knife sharpener: stones, jigs, manuals, and electrics.
For this guide, we limited our focus to manual and electric sharpeners. Such models are by far the most popular choices for sharpening knives, and for good reason. When well-designed, manual and electric sharpeners are effective, extremely quick and easy to use, and durable. (By the same token, when poorly designed they’re cumbersome, flimsy, and ruinous to blades.)
Manual sharpeners fall into two basic categories: those that use a V-shaped cutting notch, often made of ultrahard tungsten carbide, to carve a new edge onto a blade, and those that use fixed or rotating abrasive elements (either an abrasive ceramic or diamond-impregnated steel) to grind a new edge. In general you get what you pay for with both kinds. Cheap models under $20 get a lot of complaints about sharpening performance, ergonomics, and durability. Move into the $40 to $50 range, and you begin to see more solid results. The cheap V-notch sharpeners, in particular, get terrible marks from most knowledgeable reviewers; such models remove huge amounts of metal, rapidly wearing knives into toothpicks, and they leave uneven edges that cut poorly and dull quickly. (I used one of these for about a week in the ranch kitchen and can attest to their awfulness.) However, as you’ll see below, when done right a V-notch sharpener is an attractive option.
Electric sharpeners use rotating ceramic or abrasive-impregnated metal wheels to grind a new edge into a blade. Low-end models, which start at about $25, feature a single set of coarse wheels that produce a rough, if potentially serviceable, edge—it depends on how even the edge is, and that’s a matter of overall design and engineering. Higher-end models can cost $200 or more (and professional models for slaughterhouses can approach $1,000), but they feature stronger motors and multiple grinding wheels—coarse, fine, and often polishing/honing—that when well-engineered can put an extremely keen, durable edge on knives of every style and quality.
In narrowing our choices down to a manageable number, we consulted reviews and expertise on professional-knife sites (including Chef Knives To Go and The Epicurean Edge), as well as on Amazon and other retailer sites. We consulted with Sweethome and Wirecutter staff for their preferences and concerns. And as is often the case, Cook’s Illustrated proved to be a valuable resource with its in-depth sharpener tests and reviews. Finally, we used factors such as manufacturer warranties and product availability to refine our choices, and in the end we had seven models—four electric, three manual—to test.
Be aware that few sharpeners of any type can properly sharpen serrated knives; that’s a job best left to a professional, so we didn’t knock points off our test models if they lacked the capability. Luckily, serrated knives tend to stay sharp for years and years, since it’s the teeth (rather than the edge) that do most of the work. For this review we focused on the sort of knives that sharpeners are designed for: those with standard, straight-edged blades, such as paring and chef’s knives.
You may be wondering about the other sharpener types, namely stones and jigs. For our knife guides, we talked to experts who insisted that stones are best for sharpening knives. But we decided early on that stones aren’t a good fit for our mission: finding the best things for most people.
Stones are divided into hard oilstones (often called Arkansas stones), which use mineral oil or kerosene as a lubricant, and soft (often called Japanese) waterstones, which use water as a lubricant. Whereas the hard oilstones rely on directly abrading the knife steel, the soft waterstones wear away rapidly as you sharpen, producing an abrasive slurry that cuts the new edge; they work more quickly, but you have to regularly reflatten them by rubbing them against a sheet of glass. With both kinds, you have to set and maintain the sharpening angle using only your eyes and hands, and any sloppiness can quickly produce a rounded edge that will hardly cut butter. Doing it right is not all that hard once you get the knack, but there’s a difficult initial learning curve. You also need at least two stones, coarse and fine, to do a proper job—and good stones aren’t cheap. And both oilstones and waterstones make a bit of a mess in use and take a lot more time to set a new edge than the sharpening tools we recommend here—10 to 20 minutes versus three minutes or less.
Jigs, such as the industry-standard Edge Pro, are an extension of the stone method, as they use simple but cleverly designed armatures to maintain a consistent angle between the stone and the blade. They’re extremely effective—professional knife sharpeners are some of their biggest champions—but they’re also expensive, and really practical only with a dedicated workbench.
The advantage of stones and jigs is that, properly used, they can produce exceptional edges, the sort that generate viral videos. (The brown block in the opening shot is a waterstone.) However, the disadvantages are so many—expense, mess, learning curve, maintenance, and the sheer time involved—that we dismissed them out of hand. Again, The Sweethome is dedicated to finding the best things for most people, and most people rightly find stones and jigs to be a bit of overkill.
With our sharpeners in hand, we went about putting them to work—meaning we needed a lot of dull knives. Those are in short supply in the Sweethome test kitchen (Lesley keeps ’em sharp), so we borrowed some from coworkers and sacrificed a few of the test kitchen’s blades. To ensure truly, appallingly dull blades, we ground their edges repeatedly against a piece of concrete curbstone.
Our test targets consisted of 5 pounds of tomatoes and sheets of regular 8½-by-11-inch paper from a writing pad. (The “paper cut” test is a universal standard among sharpening enthusiasts.) After we tested each knife against both objects in its dull state, we sharpened it according to the manufacturer’s instructions on one of the seven sharpeners. We then repeated the tests and noted the relative improvements in cutting performance. We also paid attention to an issue that’s common to virtually all manual and electric sharpeners: their inability to sharpen all the way to the heel of the blade, the part closest to the handle. While stones and jigs can sharpen the entire length of a blade, most manual and electric sharpeners have a slotlike structure around the sharpening element that prevents the last quarter-inch (best case) to inch (worst) of the edge from reaching the sharpening element.
Turning to the sharpeners themselves, we looked at aspects such as ergonomics, speed and simplicity of use, noise level and overall power (for the electric sharpeners), and build quality. We also weighed cost against performance to get a subjective measure of value. After two hours, we had clear picks for the winner and the upgrade choice, as well as an option for people who want high style along with high performance.
The Chef’sChoice ProntoPro 4643 is our overall pick among knife sharpeners. A manual model, it was the easiest of all our test models to use—almost intuitive, in fact: You insert the blade in one of the slots and run it back and forth, from heel to tip, until the tool grinds a new edge. The sharpening elements are wheels impregnated with diamond abrasive—a material that Cook’s Illustrated found to be superior (click the Read More link below the opening paragraph) to ceramics in both sharpening speed and lack of friction. In our test, about 30 strokes on the coarse wheels under light pressure cut a brand-new edge. Another 20 strokes on the fine, polishing wheels gave the edge a reasonably smooth finish.
As you can see in the GIF above, the ProntoPro 4643 easily took a top-quality MAC paring knife made of very hard forged Japanese steel from badly dulled to paper-slicing sharp. Initially the knife struggled to slice through the paper and ultimately tore out; after sharpening, it swept through like a razor. And the ProntoPro 4643 was able to sharpen the blade to within ⅜ inch from the handle—that’s excellent compared with many competitors. It did the same with a cheap French stamped-steel “Econome” paring knife, which you can see in the picture at the top of this review. For each knife, the whole process took about 60 seconds, and the padded handle and level base offered a secure, stable, confidence-inspiring grip.
By employing separate sharpening slots, the ProntoPro 4643 is capable of sharpening both older European-style knives (such as from Wüsthof and Henckels) and Japanese-style knives (such as from MAC—which makes our favorite chef’s knife—and Shun). The difference is in the angle of the bevel that forms the cutting edge: Traditional European knives have roughly 20-degree bevels, while Japanese knives have roughly 15-degree ones. If you own both types of knife, or if you do a lot of heavy work in the kitchen (like chopping up chicken carcasses), you’ll appreciate this feature, as a 20-degree bevel is best for tough jobs. Note, though, that Wüsthof and Henckels have stopped making 20-degree knives, having switched to 15-degree or 12-degree designs exclusively in 2011; the reason is that for all but the heaviest tasks, these more-acute bevels cut better and, with the ongoing improvements in steel alloys, hold their edges for just as long.
To answer an obvious question: The difference between 15 degrees and 12 degrees is so slight that a 15-degree sharpener is fine for both kinds of bevels. So if a dedicated 15-degree sharpener is all you need (that is, if you own only Asian or post-2011 European knives), we have good news: Chef’sChoice makes the otherwise identical Pronto 463, which contains a single Asian-style sharpening slot and costs about 10 bucks less at the moment. (For the testers at Cook’s Illustrated, the Pronto 463 is the top choice among manual sharpeners.) And if you own older European knives exclusively, the company sells a dedicated 20-degree model, the Pronto 464, also at a significant discount.
Be sure to note what kind of edge the ProntoPro 4643 puts on a knife. Chef’sChoice describes it as having “a lot of bite.” That’s accurate. It’s also a nice way of saying that the edge doesn’t end up polished to a fine point but comes out rather “toothy,” or microscopically serrated. This result isn’t a bad thing at all; it’s the sort of edge that most traditional European knives, including those of the highest quality, came with. Toothy edges perform sensationally if you are doing push- or pull-cuts—the sort where you move the knife tip away or toward you as you slice, and the sort most people do. Just be aware that, if you are used to chop-cutting (pushing the blade straight down through a food item), you may have a hard time if you sharpen with the ProntoPro 4643.
The ProntoPro 4643 fits easily into a kitchen drawer; it’s roughly the height and depth of a box of spaghetti, but a few inches shorter at 9 inches long overall. It’s sturdily built and designed with few moving parts, so it will stand up to being stored in a drawer. It comes with a one-year limited warranty.
Two minor drawbacks: This model can’t sharpen serrated blades, because it sharpens both sides of a blade at the same time, whereas serrated knives need sharpening on only one edge. And it can’t operate “left-handed.” That said, few sharpeners can do either thing, so these aren’t unique problems.
If you’re a dedicated home chef, or if you simply demand the best possible edge that doesn’t involve messing with stones or jigs, we recommend the Chef’sChoice Trizor XV Sharpener. Cook’s Illustrated also names this professional-grade electric model as the top pick in the category, and I’ve used a similar model, the 1520, to great satisfaction on my heavy Wüsthof chef’s knife and cheap paring knives for six or seven years now. (The fact is, Chef’sChoice dominates the high-quality sharpener market.)
People often describe the Trizor XV as putting a 15-degree edge on a blade, but the reality is a bit more complex. It in fact produces what Chef’sChoice calls a Gothic Arch Edge, which consists of three distinct bevels, the final one at 15 degrees. Not surprisingly, the company claims that this “blade architecture” is more durable than a single bevel. More convincingly, the testers at Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen use the Trizor XV on all their knives and actually convert 20-degree knives to the Gothic Arch Edge. (Europe’s medieval cathedrals, too, attest to the strength and durability of the Gothic-arch form.)
As the video of our test shows, the Trizor XV took a very dull, very heavy (and slightly bent) 12-inch Wüsthof chef’s knife and made it tomato-slicing sharp. Setting the new edge took about 20 strokes on the coarse wheel; the fine and polishing steps took about 10 and five strokes respectively. All told, the process was perhaps three minutes of work. The motor was impressively powerful, never allowing the sharpening wheels to bog down or “catch” in the metal of the knife. It sharpened blades to within about ⅜ inch of the heel—as with the manual ProntoPro 4643, excellent performance, and a testament to the attention that Chef’sChoice pays to overall design throughout its extensive product range. This sharpening of virtually the entire blade is important. Without it, not only do you lose the ability to cut with the heel of the knife—especially useful when you’re cutting tough root vegetables, where employing the heel provides stability and pressure—but also over time the blade edge develops a “dish,” or dip, that prevents the rear portion of the blade from contacting the cutting board and slicing all the way through a food item.
The Trizor XV is not quiet, but neither is it oppressively loud; it produces a low hum, and the sharpening wheels add a dry but not screechy scraping sound. (Coworkers in the test kitchen were able to conduct videoconferences as we sharpened.)
The edge the Trizor XV made was the best in our tests. In contrast to the “toothy” edge that the manual Chef’sChoice ProntoPro 4643 creates, the Trizor XV polishes an edge to a razorlike finish—meaning the knife is perfectly capable of straight-up-and-down chop-cutting of items like onions and garlic, as well as traditional push- and pull-cutting. Perhaps the highest compliment we can give the Trizor XV is that, when the test was done, we resharpened the knives that we had used with the rejected competition models on the Trizor XV.
As noted above, both Chef’sChoice and Cook’s Illustrated advocate using the Trizor XV to convert 20-degree knives to the arch-shaped 15-degree edge, so if you have European-style knives, you can still use this machine confidently. You can also use the final honing stage to “strop” serrated knives—helping to keep the teeth polished and aligned—but the Trizor XV cannot resharpen them.
The Trizor XV employs a three-stage sharpening and honing process using diamond-impregnated cutting wheels. The first time you sharpen a blade, you use the coarsest setting first to establish a completely new bevel. The fine wheels then form a secondary bevel, and finally the honing wheels polish the secondary bevel. The result is an arch-shaped edge that Chef’sChoice claims is more durable than a standard triangular edge. Thereafter, use of the honing wheels and an occasional pass on the fine wheels will keep the edge sharp for months or years before you need to cut an entirely new edge with the coarse wheels.
Although the Trizor XV is easy to use, you have to use it correctly. That means sharpening one side of the blade at a time until a burr forms, whereas a back-and-forth, one-side-and-then-the-other approach might seem more intuitive. (Don’t worry—the Trizor XV’s manual explains the process plainly.) Maintenance is easy: Once a year or so, you open the bin on the machine’s underside and wipe out the metal shavings that it has conveniently captured there with a magnet.
At 9½ by 4½ by 4 inches, the Trizor XV is about the size of a loaf of homemade bread. It also weighs a hefty 5½ pounds. For most people, these specs make it too big to keep on the counter or in a drawer, and too heavy to store up high. You’ll want to find space for it in an under-the-counter cabinet.
The manual Brød & Taylor Professional Knife Sharpener was the most distinctive tool in our test. Unlike the rest of the models we tried, it employs the V-notch system in which you “carve” a new edge on sharpened tungsten-carbide stones. As noted above, typically you can find such systems in cheap one-step sharpeners that have a deserved reputation for removing too much metal from blades and producing wavy edges that cut poorly and dull quickly. And going into our test, we were skeptical. However, thanks to clever and precise engineering, the Brød & Taylor model produced an excellent edge. It allowed us to hone and polish that edge simply by changing the angle of the blade, producing a sharp, even, stable, and durable edge that nearly matched that from our upgrade pick, the Chef’sChoice Trizor XV.
To sharpen a blade in the Brød & Taylor, you situate the blade tip-down between the sharpener’s spring-loaded arms, press down slightly, and draw the length of the blade through the carbides. Within three or four passes, they remove metal shavings (pictured below) and produce a new, keen edge. You have to hold the blade steady throughout, but the tension that the spring-loaded arms put on the blade makes this task much easier. To hone, you tilt the tip upward and make six to eight passes. Then, to produce a final polished edge, you spread the arms to their widest point with your other hand and draw the blade through horizontally, allowing its weight to provide the only downward pressure. The whole process is simple to master and quick to accomplish—less than a minute.
Our test of the Brød & Taylor turned a dull blade into one that effortlessly and cleanly sliced both tomatoes and paper. Due to the reputation of V-notch carbide sharpeners, however, I was concerned about the durability of the edge, so I did an additional test: I used the Brød & Taylor to sharpen my old pocketknife, which uses 440C steel, one of the earliest knife-worthy stainless alloys and one that more refined alloys have since surpassed. I then made 50 slices through a cardboard box, rehoned and repolished the knife (but did not resharpen it), and made 50 more slices. After all that, I was still able to slice a tomato and peel an apple without problem. That’s impressive: Cardboard is so tough on blade edges that knifesmiths use it as a kind of stress test.
But if the edge it produces isn’t the absolute best (that honor goes to the Trizor XV), why consider the Brød & Taylor? Two reasons. First, its footprint is small enough—4½ by 3½ inches in breadth and depth, and 6½ inches high—that you can keep it on the counter, meaning you’ll be more likely to hone your knives every time you use them, a good practice that too few people are disciplined enough to follow since it generally means pulling a knife steel out of a drawer or knife block. Second, this sharpener is so elegant to look at and so simple to employ that it almost encourages you to use it. Whether you respond accordingly is a matter of personal taste and dedication, of course, but knowing our readers, I’m sure at least a few value such things highly.
Three other positives to the Brød & Taylor: First, you can use it to sharpen serrated blades by tilting the blade in the horizontal plane so that only one carbide (generally the one on the right, given how the edges of most serrated blades are ground) contacts the metal. Second, it’s ambidextrous, because lefties simply have to turn it around to engage their dominant hand. And third, unique among our test models, it can sharpen blades all the way to the heel, because the left- and right-hand carbides meet at a single point. (The ⅜ inch of the blade that our Chef’sChoice picks leave unsharpened at the heel is largely ignorable, but praise where praise is due.)
Its main disadvantage is cost: At about $120, the flagship stainless steel Professional model sits in an uncomfortable middle ground between our main pick and our upgrade pick. That said, an otherwise identical Classic model made of black plastic costs about $70, just $20 more than our main pick at this writing. A lesser point, but an important one, is that this design is not completely foolproof, as our other picks are. You have to pay attention and use a steady hand and pressure to get a straight edge. Not hard—but you may need a little practice to master the process.
The Brød & Taylor Pocket Knife Sharpener uses the same carbide stones as the full-size model noted above, and it sharpens and hones just as well. It would make a solid, pocketable tool for campers, hunters, and anglers. But this compact model is not stable enough for long or heavy kitchen knives, and you can’t engage the spring-loaded arms in order to use a polishing function.
A hybrid manual-electric sharpener, the Chef’sChoice Hybrid 210 uses a motor and abrasive wheels to grind the new edge and employs a manual stage to hone it. At about $25 currently, this sharpener is eminently affordable. However, our top pick, the ProntoPro 4643 multi-blade-angle manual model (as well as its $30 to $40 single-blade-angle kin) produces a better edge and doesn’t make us worry about breakdowns the way the Hybrid 210’s lightweight motor does.
The well-reviewed McGowan Diamondstone Electric Knife Sharpener put a very nice edge on a test knife. It also threw off an alarming amount of dust, indicating that its grinding wheels were rapidly wearing down. That and the lightweight motor made us skeptical of its long-term performance, despite good reviews and a limited three-year warranty.
The Presto EverSharp 08800 electric knife sharpener gets great reviews. In our test, though, its flimsy motor instantly bogged down when our knife contacted its sharpening wheels—and even light pressure threatened to stop the the sharpening wheels entirely. The high, wide guide frames meant it couldn’t sharpen the last ¾ inch of a blade, an unacceptable shortcoming. We’ll take our experience over the reviews.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: May 24, 2016
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