Can a compact, inexpensive tool keep your kitchen knives in top shape?
Published July 1, 2015. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 21: A Trip to Vietnam
Japanese bladesmiths have long favored chef’s-style knives with blades that are ultraslim—that is, sharpened to about 15 degrees on either side of the blade—and for good reason: In addition to being thin and lightweight, these blades have a supernarrow cutting edge, which helps make them razor-sharp. We’ve also come to favor a thinner edge. After years of testing dozens of chef’s knives, our longtime favorite is from Victorinox, a Swiss-made knife that is sharpened to 15 degrees on either side of the edge, allowing it to push and slide through food more easily than do more traditional European blades sharpened to at least 20 degrees.
Over the past decade the trend toward slimmer knives has continued to spread, as European manufacturers including Wüsthof, Henckels, Messermeister, and Mercer have launched their own 15-degree knives and sharpeners. (In fact, Wüsthof and Henckels discontinued their 20-degree knives.)
To maintain that narrow edge, we use a tool specifically designed to sharpen a blade to 15 degrees. (We’ve also reviewed sharpeners designed for knives with 20-degree edge angles.) Our favorite electric models for 15-degree edges, both from Chef’sChoice, do a fine job of restoring an ultrakeen edge to a 15-degree angled chef’s knife. But what about manual models, whose smaller profiles and lower pricetags make them an appealing option? We rounded up five manual knife sharpeners designed to put a 15-degree angle on a knife, priced from about $20 to about $50, and headed for the kitchen.
To evaluate them, we bought five of our favorite Victorinox chef’s knives and assigned one to each sharpener. We then dulled the knives identically and sharpened them according to manufacturer instructions. To assess sharpness, we slashed sheets of copy paper and sliced delicate tomatoes, repeating the dulling, sharpening, and slicing process four more times with multiple testers (for more information, see Testing Knife Sharpness). We also compared the manual sharpeners’ performance with that of our favorite electric models.
All manual sharpeners work similarly: The user repeatedly drags the blade against an abrasive surface at a set angle, which trims and reshapes the blade by removing microscopic amounts of metal that are blunted or too far out of alignment. (Using a honing rod is for knives that are less dull, as it removes very little metal and primarily repositions metal on the blade edge that is slightly out of alignment). With electric sharpeners, the abrasives are on motorized wheels or belts that spin against the blade; with manual sharpeners, they’re either on nonmotorized whe...
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Hannah is an executive editor for ATK Reviews and cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube.