The Best Knife Sharpener, According to the Best Experts

published Oct 18, 2019
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Credit: By David P. Smith/Shutterstock

You’ve probably heard it before: A dull knife is far more dangerous than a sharp one. With a dull knife, you could end up hacking away at something until you slip and get a finger. Whereas a sharp knife will cut right through nearly anything — like it’s butter. How do you make sure you have a sharp knife, though, short of constantly buying new ones? You just need a sharpener or a honing steel (we’ll explain the differences below).

While it’s entirely possible to ruin a good knife with some overzealous sharpening, lots of gadgets out there now make it totally easy for a novice to sharpen their own knife at home. We looked to see what knife sharpeners and honing steels our competitors are recommending and then we added our own two cents at the end.

Let’s get to the point. (Sorry.)

The Differences Between a Knife Sharpener and a Honing Steel

  • Knife sharpeners: When a knife is sharpened, bits of the blade are ground and shaved off to produce a new, sharp edge. This can be done with a water stone, whetstone, or an electric or manual knife sharpener. It’s not something that has to be done too frequently — usually just a few times a year, depending on how much you use a certain knife. Note: Water stones and whetstones are harder to use correctly, so it’s not surprising that they didn’t come up in our searches.
  • Honing steels: A honing steel essentially pushes the edge of the knife back once it’s started to roll over (which it will naturally do over time with use). It corrects the edge without shaving off much, if any, of the blade. Honing doesn’t actually sharpen the knife but it will make your knife seem sharper. This should be done more often than sharpening — some people hone their knives before every use!

The Best Knife Sharpener, According to Wirecutter

The editors at Wirecutter tested 11 manual and electric knife sharpeners before picking this electric one. They said it quickly and reliably put a razor edge on almost any kind of knife. (Yes, the product does work with serrated knives, but Wirecutter only tested straight-edge blades.) It had the most consistently impressive results, is super durable (it’s what’s been in their test kitchens for years), and is basically impossible to use incorrectly. See, the slots have spring-loaded guides that grip the blade at just the right angle and keep it from shifting around during the sharpening process. Do yourself a favor, though, and read (and hold onto!) the manual that comes with the sharpener. The folks at Wirecutter say it’s one of the selling points of this gadget and that it’s super detailed to really help you minimize mistakes.

The Best Honing Steel, According to Serious Eats

When it comes to honing steels, you’re not going to see much difference in performance from brand to brand. (The difference, for the most part, comes from the materials — whether it’s stainless steel, ceramic, or diamond. The latter of the two actually remove some metal from the blade, which means they have a slight sharpening effect.) That said, Serious Eats picked this stainless steel option because it’s comfortable to hold, feels decently solid, and is inexpensive. If you want a ceramic option, Serious Eats picked this one from DMT, which, funny enough, is known for its diamond honing steels. For diamond, Serious Eats went with this reasonably priced Messermeister. Their post explains the differences in more depth, if you’re curious.

The Best Electric Knife Sharpener, According to Cook’s Illustrated

Cook’s Illustrated picked this sharpener — the same one that Wirecutter picked — back in 2015 and they still stand by their choice. The editors there also noted the spring-loaded chambers and liked that it “precisely and gently” guides the blade. In just 10 minutes, it took a severely damaged knife and got it looking (and slicing!) like new. To get a little technical, it can convert a 20-degree edge to a sharper 15 degrees.

The Best Knife Sharpener, According to The Spruce Eats

The Spruce Eats called out this sharpener for its look (it’s like a modern art sculpture!) and for being foolproof. Spring-action bars adjust to the angle of the knife’s blade as you pull it through. The product listing says you can control the angle from 12 degrees (“for a super-sharp fillet knife”) to 20 (“for a rugged chopping blade”), but that does take some degree (ha!) of operator skill, so while we do like this sharpener for more advanced home cooks, we don’t agree that it’s totally foolproof.

The Bestselling Knife Sharpener on Amazon

At just six bucks, it’s hard to beat the price of this little guy. And it’s not just the price that shoppers like — this thing really works. (See: I Bought the $6 Knife Sharpener That Amazon Shoppers Are Obsessed with, and … Whoa.) Some reviewers come back years later to say that they’re still shocked at how well it’s working, while new shoppers leave reviews saying they’re amazed it works so well.

Credit: Rachel Shaw

Kitchn’s Thoughts on the Best Knife Sharpener

If your knives are just so-so, you only have a few on the nicer end, or you don’t cook all that often, go with the $6 one from KitchenIQ. Again, it’s just six bucks! And yet it has some impressive results. If your knives are on the nicer side (like, $100 each) or you cook (and chop!) regularly, it’s worth splurging on the electric Chef’sChoice option. We know what you’re thinking: Ugh, one more gadget that I have to store! And we hear you. But it really will make a difference and keep your knives on point. It has three sharpening slots, which, when used in order, gradually build up a smooth, incredibly sharp edge on any knife. And you really don’t even need to know what you’re doing — the guides hold your knife at the correct angle (read: you can not mess this up). We stand by this choice for novices and even highly skilled home cooks. It just takes the risk out and means your knives are one less thing you have to worry about.

Do you have a knife sharpener or honer that you like? Tell us about it in the comments below.