It might sound crazy, but a dull knife is a dangerous knife. When a kitchen knife is dull, it’s more likely to slip off whatever you’re attempting to cut, and when it slips, that’s when it can hit a finger. A super-sharp knife, on the other hand, will stay where you want it to—away from your hands—and also make your life far easier in the kitchen. So if you have a kitchen knife, you need a kitchen knife sharpener.
But there are so many different kinds of home sharpeners. There are electric sharpeners, two-stage hand sharpeners, and whetstones. It can be difficult to know which one is right for you, but a lot depends on what kind of knife you have, and how much you care about keeping it around. Remember that when you’re sharpening a knife, you’re removing metal. The more you remove, the shorter your knife’s lifespan will be. The goal is to remove the bare minimum of metal, which can be tricky at first. The best knife sharpener will maximize your knife’s lifespan and effectiveness.
- Best electric knife sharpener: Chef’sChoice Trizor XV
- Best knife sharpener for Japanese knives: Premium Knife Sharpening Stone Set
- Best honing steel, inexpensive option: 10 Inches Honing Steel Knife Sharpening Steel Sharpening Rod
- Best honing steel, upgraded model: Saveur Selects Carbon Sharpening Steel
- Best manual, pull-through sharpener: Mueller Original Premium Knife Sharpener
- Best budget kitchen-knife sharpener: Whetstone Knife Sharpening Stone Set
What should I look for in the best knife sharpener?
The best knife sharpeners come in a variety of configurations and with lots of different features. The options with bells and whistles aren’t necessarily what the professionals would recommend, but they can be the easiest to use. Here’s your guide to finding the best knife sharpener.
Are knife sharpeners bad for my knives?
Potentially, but only if you use the wrong sharpener—or the right sharpener in the wrong way. When you sharpen a knife, you’re shaving down the metal of your blade to create a new edge. This is a very precise process. When using a knife sharpener, it’s all too easy to create nicks and divots in a blade, or to create an edge that’s dull or uneven.
Before using a knife sharpener, read the instruction manual cover to cover. Don’t assume you know how the sharpener works, and don’t just jump in: That’s the quickest way to ruin the most important tool in your kitchen. Follow the instructions as carefully as possible. And never, ever apply too much pressure: The weight of the knife should do the work here, and it’s much better to go too easy than too heavy.
Best electric knife sharpener: Chef’sChoice Trizor XV
Diamond abrasives ensure a smooth, sharp edge. Amazon
Electric knife sharpeners aren’t cheap, but if you’re unsure of your skill with a trickier whetstone sharpener, the Chef’sChoice Trizor XV is an excellent option. It’ll keep your knife in exactly the right position, so you don’t have to worry about creating a weird angle on the knife edge. It’s also far faster than manual options, delivering a perfectly sharp knife in just a few minutes. If you want to invest in a great knife sharpener but don’t want anything too difficult, this is the product for you.
What about my Japanese knife?
There are a wide variety of Japanese knife designs, with many dedicated to a specific task. The most common one in the U.S. is the santoku, which is a general-purpose knife that’s distinct from Western-style blades in a few important ways. For one thing, the blade is much thinner, which makes for a great cut but also makes it more brittle and prone to breakage. Japanese-style knives are also only sharpened on one side of the edge, while Western knives are sharpened on both. This means that you absolutely should not use a pull-through sharpener on a Japanese knife; instead, go for a whetstone knife sharpener.
Best knife sharpener for Japanese knives: KnifePlanet Premium Whetstone Set
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This kit includes a non-slip rubber base to keep your whetstone in place. Amazon
Whetstones are an older style of sharpener; they’re slower but also much less expensive, gentler on blades, and after a bit of practice, easy to use. Whetstones are essentially blocks of sandpaper in different textures. You hold your blade at the desired angle, drip some water on the stone, and rub the blade back and forth to wear it into a sharp, honed edge. This particular knife sharpening stone set includes everything you need: different grits of whetstone sharpener, a rubber non-slip base, and a bamboo holder. A slightly more expensive runner-up is the Sharp Pebble Extra Large Sharpening Stone Set with a non-slip bamboo base.
What about honing steels?
Honing steels are an essential part of keeping your blades sharp—but they aren’t in themselves sharpeners. A sharpener erodes part of the metal on your blade to create a new edge; a honing steel does something different. Think of a blade as a toothbrush, with each individual bristle being a little bit of the edge. A blade may look like one piece, but each of those individual bristles can get out of alignment, creating a duller feel, even if the actual blade doesn’t need sharpening. A honing steel is a length of metal that aligns all of those bristles when you run it back and forth on the blade. You should be honing your knife before each use—it only takes a few seconds, and it’ll make a huge difference.
Best honing steel: Utopia Kitchen Honing Steel
Worry not, lefties: This carbon-steel tool fits either hand. Amazon
A honing steel is a pretty simple tool, and you should never need to spend too much on one (especially because you’ll have to replace it every year, because the grooves will wear out). This particular tool is inexpensive, available in two sizes, and has a nice ergonomic handle. If you’re willing to invest a little more cash for a sharpening tool, we recommend the thoughtfully designed Saveur Selects Carbon Sharpening Steel. It uses industrial-grade diamonds for the sharpening surface and carries a lifetime warranty against defects.
What kind of knife sharpeners should I avoid?
In general, you’ll want to avoid the pull-through-style manual knife sharpener. This type has multiple V-shaped openings through which you stick your blade and pull it through. They’re not recommended by most professionals, because they eat away a lot of the blade and can create uneven, almost serrated edges. That said, they’re very quick and inexpensive, so it wouldn’t be crazy to have one around for stuff you don’t care so much about: pairs of scissors, little paring knives, that kind of thing.
Best pull-through knife sharpener: Mueller Premium Knife Sharpener
This pull-through sharpener has a special notch just for scissors. Amazon
Pull-through sharpeners aren’t ideal for expensive knives and should never be used for Japanese knives of any sort. But they are great for a quick re-sharpening of little blades and scissors. This Mueller knife sharpener has a four-stage process, which minimizes the amount of metal you’re removing in each stage.
I’m on a budget. Do I have to live with dull knives?
Definitely not! Your best option here is a whetstone sharpener. Even the best whetstones aren’t very expensive, but you can opt for a double-sided one for under $25. The trade-off is the same as with any other whetstone: It just takes a little practice to perfect the motion you need to use them. But the rewards are also the same. You can create a perfect, professional knife edge on a Western-style or Japanese-style knife, a pair of scissors, or any other blade in your home.
Best budget kitchen-knife sharpener: KnifePlanet Dual-Grit Whetstone
This whetstone features a different grit on each side. Amazon
You might notice some figures on a whetstone, like 1000/6000. Those refer to the “grit” or little particles that make the surface rough. The higher the number, the more grit in the same amount of space (meaning, the higher the number, the smoother the stone). The clever design of this knife sharpening stone allows you to simply flip the whetstone sharpener over to go from rough to fine.
FAQ: Everything else you need to know
What’s the best knife sharpener for beginners?
The best knife sharpener for beginners depends on one major question: Do you want to put in the time and effort to learn to use a whetstone? If not, go for an electric sharpener; it’s the easiest, most foolproof way to sharpen your blades.
What’s the best sharpener for a chef’s knife?
The best sharpener for a chef’s knife is either an electric knife sharpener or a whetstone for a chef’s knife. A chef’s knife is a Western-style knife; it’s sharpened on both sides of the blade’s edge, and is more curved than, say, a Japanese-style santoku. When using a whetstone, you’ll have to flip the blade over to sharpen both sides, but it’ll work perfectly well.
How long does a knife sharpener last?
In general, knife sharpeners last a really long time. Electric ones often have diamond-tipped metal pieces, which won’t wear out. Whetstones also won’t wear out, but they do require a little bit of upkeep. Refer to your whetstone’s instruction manual, but it’ll probably involve soaking in water every now and then.
A final word on shopping for the best knife sharpener
Sharpening your knives at home can be a soothing, meditative experience with a whetstone, or an ultra-efficient job with an electric sharpener. What’s most important is that you keep your knives sharp—both for ease of use, and for your safety.