One of the negative aspects of knives is that all of them become dull or blunt over time; as their cutting and slicing capacity deteriorates, not only do they make it harder to get a job done but they can also become a health hazard. In fact, in some circumstances you are more likely to get cut while using a blunt knife than you are using a sharp one in good shape.
Properly sharpened, high quality metal knives can also help save time by making you more efficient. This efficiency is further enhanced if you use a well made, properly functioning electric knife sharpener.
Shopping for an electric knife sharpener though can be challenging, especially if you don’t know what to look for, what caveats to keep in mind, and how to properly compare the different major brands.
If you are thinking about the best electric knife sharpener for your kitchen, whatever your budget happens to be, then you can find everything you need to know in order to make a “slicingly” good decision.
Top 5 Best Electric Knife Sharpeners for Home Use (2017) - Our Picks!
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN HONING AND SHARPENING
To understand the difference between honing and sharpening you first have to know why and how knives get dull or blunt. Two main problems turn a sharp knife into a blunt instrument: the sharp edges are lost and/or a blade’s edges are no longer properly aligned. The tricky thing is that you can have a sharp knife that is misaligned sharpness, in other words, isn’t enough for a knife to cut properly.
Honing is done more often than sharpening in order to push edges of knives back to the centre, thereby straightening the blades. This process doesn’t sharpen the knife, although it will make it more proficient at cutting well again.
Sharpening, on the other hand, involves grounding the blade in order to bring about a sharp, new edge. Metal is lost in the process (which is why you should not over sharpen), usually done with a water stone, whetstone or electric knife sharpening appliance. Most knives don’t need sharpening as much as they need regular honing.
MANUAL VERSUS ELECTRIC KNIFE SHARPENERS
Actually, many people decide to have both a manual and an electric knife sharpener in their kitchen since each type of knife sharpener has advantages over the other one. If you find yourself without electricity, for example, obviously the manual one will work wonders for you; on the other hand, if you are pressed for time, then a high-quality electric knife sharpener may be your best choice.
Regardless of which you decide to buy, there are special features that apply to both but, also, features that are unique to each. Some of the questions that can help you in your choice are:
- How much are you looking to spend?
- What kind of knives do you intend to sharpen?
- How many knives will you be sharpening and how often?
- Where will you be doing all this sharpening?
- Will these knives be for home use, or do you need them for work purposes?
- Will a compact sharpening model do, or are you looking for something industrial sized?
If you are a hands on type and rather dexterous, you may want the reassuring feel of a manual sharpener. This can be physically demanding though, and besides, an electric sharpener can sometimes be too rough on the blade of a knife. You may also find that, in general, manual knife sharpening tools will come with a lower price tag.
Other advantages of manual sharpeners are their usually much smaller sizes, their usefulness while hiking or camping, and the fact that, in general, they are easier to use.
As for electric knife sharpeners, some of the advantages they boast of include:
- They come with strongly abrasive sharpening stones/wheels
- They can do a job in a relatively short time
- They come with pre-set angling guides, meaning that all you do is set the knife in place
- They can be set to more precise sharpening than is possible with a manual sharpener
- They come with diamond abrasives that are hard to beat in terms of sharpening quality
- They can provide a critically important 2-step process of sharpening, then followed by honing
FEATURES TO LOOK FOR
- Stones/wheels with highly abrasive, hard surfaces; the materials that excel at this are diamond, polished ceramic and tungsten carbide. Abrasiveness is measured in terms of “grit,” the higher the number the more “fine.” A 1000-grit stone, for example, is much finer than 200-grit coarser stone.
- An adjustable, accurate and easy to operate angle guide. The more self-adjusting the guide is, the better, especially if multiple blade angles can be accommodated. They help to make sure that the knife is at the best angle for the most accurate sharpening. Not all models have these installed and not all guides offer the same kind of dependable service. Make sure that the guides can handle multiple angles, including a 15 degree angle for Asian knives.
- Offering multiple standard sharpening stages; coarse abrasiveness is excellent for rather dull, blunt knives and finer abrasives are good for polishing and touch-ups. Having just one of these can spell disaster since you don’t want a coarse sharpening surface on a good knife that merely needs a slight adjustment in sharpness.
- The right kinds of safety features, including low likelihood of cutting your fingers. This can be prevented with special guards that separate the blade from skin and rails/slots that guide knives directly into belts and disks, rather than your hand. You should also look for models that offer rubber grip handles and non-slip rubber feet.
- A relatively good warranty and helpful customer service by the manufacturer—you can pre-determine both by reading reviews and researching the company, as well as the model/brand you intend to purchase. The warranty should be from 1 to 3 years and should preferably cover the wheels. By all means, find out what your warranty covers before purchasing.
- Offering the right number and order of stages and sharpening process: a first pre-sharpening stage wheel and a 2nd stage involving polishing of the blade. Some models may include additional super-fine sharpness stages.
- The right numbers of sharpening slots, preferably one slot for each side of the knife—long for two-slots-for-each-sharpening-wheel models.
- Knife suitability: look for models that accommodate serrated as well as straight blades and that can handle carbon, stainless steel and alloys. The most versatile models can also handle scissors and hunting knives. You should know what types of knives the model can handle.
- Preferably, 100% diamond abrasives: these sharpeners help to keep the blades sharper for longer periods and, because no heat is generated during the sharpening, knives aren’t likely to get damaged. These sharpeners are best if you have lots of sharpening to do.
- The right dimensions for your needs: obviously, the compact models are good to have but not if you aren’t getting all the bells and whistles you expect. Be aware that some models can be a bit bulky.
- The right amount of weight: Look for models made using aluminum oxide or other light materials—otherwise, these appliances can get a little bit heavy.
- Portability issues: the best models are mains operated, although some do use batteries. The latter aren’t as practical, though, as the mains ones. The best situation is leaving the appliance plugged in at a corner from which it won’t have to be moved.
- Easy to clean: Be aware that metal residue is generally produced by knife sharpeners. The best models have a scrap metal collecting tray that you can remove and empty out, as well as magnet to automatically attract and keep in one place said tiny scraps.
- Preferably 2 grinding wheels, each with 2 slots to allow sharpening of both sides of a knife.
- If available, a three-stage triple bevel process, which adds a preliminary knife preparation stage to the 2 stages usually offered.
- A bi-level high-quality magnetic guide that leaves little guessing work in producing razor-sharp edges.
- Metallic pads that pick up metal shavings and dust; this makes the cleaning process much easier.
- If available, look for models with hybrid technology that offer manual and electric knife sharpening options; these provide quality sharpening and give you the best of both worlds of sharpening.
- Highest sharpening versatility possible, including Deba style thick blades, single bevel edges, pocket knives and, of all things, machetes.
- Spring guided systems that offer optimal control sharpening options.
CAVEATS AND REMINDERS
Of course there are always dangers, challenges and shortcomings to keep in mind. After all, knife sharpening instruments can lead to serious injuries. Also, you may end up damaging some of you finest knives if you end up buying the wrong model or a model that you end up not using properly.
Even most “automatic” electric models require some care and careful dexterity on your part. With that in mind, here are some of the most important caveats:
- A guide will take a lot of the guess work and need for manual precision on your part out of the way; they can also increase the quality of each sharpening experience.
- Remember that most electric knife sharpeners usually generate lots of heat, which can damage, if not ruin, knives. This can be overcome, however, with things like diamond abrasives and newer technologies.
- Always limit the amount of pressure that you impose on the knife when introducing either into an electric or a manual machine; the more pressure you impose, the more likely that you will get cut—it will also affect the severity thereof.
- Remember that there is no such a thing as a perfectly “safe” knife—they can all cut you and, ironically, more seriously after you sharpen them.
- Both manual and electric knife sharpeners involve a learning curve specific to your dexterity, how well you read the instruction, the condition of the machine you will use, and the experience you have (if any) sharpening knives.
BEST PRACTICES AND RECOMMENDATIONS
By all means, put safety first when using any knife sharpening equipment. For example, wear eye protection since metal shavings can fly off and something can always go wrong with the mechanics of the machine.
Be aware that each knife sharpener will require a certain amount of skill from you. Prepare well and do some research (or get some lessons) before you begin sharpening.
Unless the knife is very dull or blunt, electric knife cutters can take care of them rather quickly, if the operator knows what he/she is doing and the machine is up to par.
Using manual knife sharpeners (especially sharpening stones) require almost artistic skills; skills that you can only build over time and with lots of practice. Electric knife sharpeners, however, require less skill and can polish, sharpen, steel, resurface, and strop blades.
They don’t yet make a one-size-fits-all knife sharpener. Realise that whatever model, make, or type of sharpener you get may not be suitable for all sharpening needs or situations.
Talk to and get feedback from someone you know that has sharpened knives or is more familiar than you are with the process in order to make a better informed decision.
If you own expensive knives (or other sharp instruments) that you don’t want to see damaged unnecessarily, then you should consider getting a top of the line electric knife sharpener that is virtually automatic; or you can just either pay someone to do the work.
Most knife sharpeners make noise, so be ready for that.
You can’t rush knife sharpening, allocate adequate amounts of time, especially if you don’t have enough experience to move at the same rate as a professional knife sharpener.
Most knife sharpeners are made to accommodate both left and right handed persons.
Be aware that over-sharpening can reduce the life of a sharp instrument.
In general, the average home owner can probably make out rather well by purchasing a basic model electric knife sharpener. There is no question that the electric knife sharpeners made today are much better (both in terms of quality, as well as in capacity) than previous models.
If you are a knife aficionado or collector (meaning that you don’t want to damage any of your valuable possessions, if at all possible) or if you are a chef, restaurant manager or butcher (meaning that you have lots of sharpening to do on a regular basis), then you may need a high quality, multiple function electric knife sharpener.
For both sets of folks the criteria to follow in making a good purchase is the same: basically, you need to know what to look for, what to avoid, and what you can expect from your purchase, assuming you make the right one.