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Electric Sharpeners

Photos: Scott Phillips
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Electric sharpeners are similar to some pull-throughs—you pull the knife through several stages of abrasives, ranging from coarse to fine—but they add a motor to the equation for more aggressive metal removal. The angle is set for you, and in each stage there are two slots, one for sharpening each side of the cutting edge. The abrasives are generally diamond or ceramic. Prices range from about $40 to $400. We worked with a mid-priced, three-stage model with diamond abrasives that cost about $130.

What the experts say

Electric sharpeners have their fans and their detractors. Everyone we consulted said that the machines are simple to use and effective—KnifeCenter.com’s Howard Korn describes them as “easy and straightforward”—yet nearly every expert shared a couple of concerns: 

  • The coarser stages can be aggressive, so you run the risk of wearing down your knives prematurely if you overuse the coarse stage, apply too much pressure, or use too many strokes. The machines can be fine when used carefully, but their high-speed motors can remove a lot of steel. So be careful with timing as you draw the knife through the slot to make sure all areas of the blade get even contact.
  • The machines can present a problem for knives with bolsters (the wider portion of the blade just before the handle) that are too thick to fit through the slots. After repeated use, a notch can develop near the heel of the blade, where grinding stops because the bolster won’t fit.

Our experience

Our testers’ reactions ran the gamut from “fantastic!” to “easy to use, but the grinding sound really freaks me out.” Everyone agreed that the machine noticeably improved even the dullest blades. Because the machine seemed so self-explanatory, some testers dove right in without consulting the directions, and therefore timed their strokes incorrectly or used the most aggressive stage needlessly; both can cause the edge to wear down unevenly over time.
Pros: Fast; clean; very simple; effective when used carefully; removes all the angle guesswork by setting and maintaining it for you; let’s you hone blades (by using the fine-grit stage) or truly sharpen them (by using the coarse stage).
Cons: Loud, high-pitched grinding noise during use; could be too aggressive if used without reading the directions; with extended use, might damage knives with thick bolsters; expensive.

Is it right for you?

If you want very sharp knives at all times and don’t want to work too hard at getting them that way, an electric sharpener is your tool, indisputably quicker and easier than stones and many manual systems, and more convenient than sending knives off to a  professional sharpening service. If you choose an electric sharpener, don’t just dive in—invest time up front and learn how to use the machine properly.

Option #6: Professional Sharpening Services

Consult the yellow pages or the Internet to find a professional sharpening service in your area. But before you entrust a sharpener with your knives, ask questions…Read more

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