Review of the Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife and Tool Sharpener
Whether your a knife enthusiast (like myself) or simply have some utility and kitchen knives in your house, knife sharpening is something you should be concerned about. If you’re like most people, you’ve probably got some reasonably nice kitchen cutlery that’s no sharper than a butter knife because you either don’t know how to sharpen a knife, or simply don’t take the time. I know…I’ve been there too.
Back in 2011, I picked up the Spyderco Sharpmaker (click here for my review) and I maintain that it’s the best bang for your buck sharpening solution out there. The key though is starting with a knife that’s relatively sharp. Trying to sharpen a very dull knife means you need to remove quite a bit of material (re-profile) from the blade…which can be done with the Sharpmaker, but it will take a great deal of time and effort to do so.
There are other more expensive manual sharpening systems out there. One which is highly recommended in the online knife enthusiast community is the Wicked Edge System. It’s a more sophisticated and precise system than the Sharpmaker. It’s also even more time consuming and VERY expensive. I’ve also not had the best of luck using it.
Most knife experts will tell you to stay away from “electric knife sharpeners.” While they vary greatly in design and effectiveness, the big problem with them is that they tend to remove too much material too quickly – it’s very easy to turn your expensive knife into an expensive toothpick. However, I started reading very positive feedback regarding the Work Sharp Ken Onion Editionknife sharpener (model WSKTS-KO).
It’s so ingrained in my psyche was the notion that no “electric” sharpener is good that it took me a while to even consider the Work Sharp. But here’s the thing: When knives come from the factory, they’re sharpened on some form of a grinder – usually a belt grinder. And that’s exactly what the Work Sharp is – a miniature belt grinder. So try not to think of it as “an electric knife sharpener” but rather think of it as a miniature version of the same tool the factory would use to sharpen your knife.
First let me say that the Work Sharp is incredibly easy to use. The only thing you really need to know ahead of time is the angle of your blade’s edge so you can set the blade guide on the Work Shop to that corresponding angle. Google is your friend here, but most folding knives are sharpened at a 20 degree angle (40 degrees inclusive) Spyderco is a notable exception, with most of their knives being sharpened at 15 degrees (30 degrees inclusive). You can also call the manufacturer and simply ask the correct angle at which to sharpen your particular knife. Even when you know the angle of the knife you’re sharpening, it’s not a bad idea to use a trick I learned while trying to sharpen knives on the Wicked Edge – the “Sharpie trick.” Simply take a Sharpie (or other similar magic marker) and put a black line along the cutting edge of your knife. If you have the proper angle setting, after you make a pass with the Work Sharp, the black line should be gone. If it’s still there, you know that you have to correct the angle adjustment.
Now, in the video below I’ll actually demonstrate how fast and easy it is to use the Work Sharp. The Work Sharp comes with 5 different belts, starting with the extremely coarse/abrasive P120 belt, and finishing with the ultra-fine 6000 belt. The idea here is that you start with a very abrasive belt which will remove a lot of material, and progress through the belts, each less abrasive and more fine than the previous in order to refine and polish the edge. Herein lies one of my few complaints about the system – there’s nothing intuitive about how the belts are labeled which would indicate in which order they are to be used. So I constantly have to refer to the manual to see in what order to use the belts. But just keep the manual handy and you’ll be fine.
I did a fair amount of research and reading on knife enthusiast forums regarding the Work Sharp, paying particular attention to the things you should be mindful of as a new user. The first bit of advice I received was to go slowly – both in pace and in the variable speed adjustment. The Work Sharp is set up so that you grasp and control the operation of the belt with the left hand, while using the right hand to control and guide the knife that is being sharpened. Once the proper sharpening angle has been set, start with the machine off, and place the knife into either side of the sharpener, as far forward as needed to sharpen the entire blade. The Work Sharp features an “edge guide” which can employed to help keep the knife level as you pull back and toward you – slow, steady, and with a light touch. Depending on what kind of knife you’re sharpening though, the edge guide may not be of much help, or may catch protruding components the knife has (like thumb studs for example). The edge guide can be twisted out of the way, leaving the user responsible for maintaining correct vertical control of the knife which is not particularly difficult – especially if you’ve already developed muscle memory on something like the Spyderco Sharpmaker.
It’s advisable to start with a relatively inexpensive and easily replaced knife, which I did. I first sharpened a a 20 year old Gerber Gatorback knife that I use on any task I wouldn’t want to use a more expensive knife for. It’s been at least a year since I had sharpened it, so it was well dulled. Per the instructions, I didn’t start with the most abrasive P120 belt – it’s more meant to be used with larger cutting tools like axes and lawnmower blade and will remove A LOT of metal quickly. Instead, I started with the X65 belt, alternating from the left side of the belt to the right side of the belt 3 times each. I then changed to the next finer belt (the X22 belt) which could not have been easier – no tools are required (belt changing is demonstrated in the video below). I then repeated the procedure I used on the previous belt, and did so with each subsequent belt until I finished with the 6000 belt. I then inspected the blade and was pleasantly surprised by two facts – the blade was shaving sharp and the blade exhibited a mirror polished edge! Here’s a photo:
I did round/blunt the tip of the knife just a tad…but not too badly. It’s easy to do when you first start. To avoid rounding or blunting the tip, just make sure you don’t pull the tip all the way through on the belt – instead leave the tip rest about half-way across the belt, and release the power trigger (effectively turning off the device). I also pushed the blade too far forward and ended up polish well based the end of the blade. Both of these errors were easily corrected. But even with the time taken by my unfamiliarity with the device, I sharpened the knife in no more than 10 minutes.
Next I broke out a set of four steak knives we use day to day (we even throw them in the dish washer which is a no-no) and sharpened them using the same process as above, but being mindful of the mistakes I made. I would run all four steak knives though one belt, then change to the next belt and run all four on that one, and so on. I was done in about 15 minutes and this time not only were the steak knives sharp, but they had great tips too!
I was then ready to progress to some of the pocket knives in my collection. First up were a couple of Kershaw Skylines I have (one red, one black). Again, I used the same process I used before – three passes on each side of the belt, change belts and repeat until I got to the last belt. When I finished, the Skylines were as sharp as I’ve ever gotten any other knife – I could easily shave hair on my wrist and slice through paper. The knives were not only sharp, but again, they had that wonderful mirror polished edge which I’ve never been able to get as well or as easily with other sharpeners:
I then progressed to a fairly expensive custom Benchmade Griptilian I have in S30v blade steel with the same fantastic results:
After finishing the Benchmade Griptilian, I was pretty confident and decided there was no reason not to try my more expensive knives. So I sharpened my Spyderco Sage 3 and this Zero Tolerance 0550:
In total, I sharpened 10 knives. Now that I know what I’m doing, I think it will take me no more than 10 to maybe 15 minutes to sharpen a knife – and I get consistent results each and every time. To even touch up the edge on the Spyderco Sharpmaker would take me a good 20 minutes – and I wouldn’t be able to achieve the mirror polished edge I can get with the Work Sharp which I find to be so attractive. Taking a knife from fairly dull to mirror polished/razor sharp on the Wicked Edge can easily take an hour. Sometimes I get great results with the Wicked Edge, and sometimes not.
Are there any negatives to using the Work Sharp vs. other sharpening systems? Not many that I can see. One possible negative is that the blade angle adjustment isn’t as precise as the Wicked Edge or other systems I’ve seen. To most people (myself included) this won’t be a big deal. There are uber serious knife enthusiasts who use digital angle measurement devices to achieve their sharpening angle down to the half-degree and they won’t be happy with the Work Sharp in that you can’t set a sharpening angle more precisely then 5 degree increments.. Most of my knives are at 20 degrees (except for my Spyderco knives which are 15 degrees). If I ran across an oddball knife that had a different angle, I’d reprofile it slightly to the nearest 5 degree increment.
As a supplement to this written photo review, I’ve also recorded a video which better demonstrates how to use the Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition:
The Work Sharp Ken Onion Editionknife sharpener (model WSKTS-KO) is a truly fantastic device which will make short order of what can be an arduous task – knife sharpening. I look forward to trying it with other household items, like scissors and gardening tools. I highly recommend you pick one up – Amazon has them at the best price (click here).
John B. Holbrook, II
John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com. *All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.