As an outdoor bushcraft type person I have a terrible confession to make: I hate sharpening knives, axes, and tools. I can never seem to get it just right. At the precise moment I think I’m getting it razor sharp, I somehow mess it up and make it blunter than when I started. I’ve taken courses, learned to use all manner of stones from Soft Arkansas to diamond plate. I still can’t get it right.
In mid July 2017 I decided to take the plunge and invest in one of the most expensive knife sharpening tools on the market in Canada: the Work Sharp electric sharpener – Ken Onion Edition. At the local BassPro shop the sharpener was well over $200.00 with taxes. I reluctantly purchased this at my local at the Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario location. With dozens of knives needing sharpening each week, the hope was that this tool will make short work of them. Like many business owners, I bought this as a tool for work, and headed home to use it right away.
For those who are unfamiliar with the manufacturer, Work Sharp is a 4th-generation family owned company out of Ashland, Oregon. For over 40 years they claim to have been creating industry-leading sharpening tools in the United States of America with over 100 employees. (Until I purchased this sharpener, I had not heard of them)
Ken Onion is a knife designer was the youngest ever inductee into the Blade Magazine Hall of Fame in 2008, he is recognized as one of the most innovative and successful knife designers of all time.
The sharpener itself is basically fancy belt grinder. You could use any belt grinder to sharpen knives the same as the Workshop version if you have the time and patience. However a belt sander does not have the same factory set speed control, and if you are careless, you can take the temper out of your expensive blades by overheating them.
What sets this sharpening tool apart from any old belt sander is the fact that it has an adjustable blade angle guide built into it. This means you can easily set the blade guide to whatever angle you want (most people use a 25 degree angle) and you will get a great edge with every pull.
The sharpener comes with an amazing instruction manual and a poster that will educate you on all manner of blades, edges, types of blades, and everything you could ever want to know about knives. This is great if you are just getting into blades. It’s also good if you are an experienced blade user because you never know what you can learn.
Online reviews state this tool sharpener can get your most stubborn knives “razor sharp” in just a few minutes. I have never been able to get anything razor sharp. Even my razors I use every day I replace frequently because they’re no longer razor sharp. I decided to put this to the test and sharpen my most stubborn knife: my Ka-Bar Tanto. It is a great knife as I love the tanto tip, but Ka-Bars are very, very hard steel and very challenging to sharpen.
The blade had a rough edge on it, with a few small rust specs because it spends a lot of time in its sheath. I put the fine grit belt on the sander, and ran it through about 10 times on each side. The bevel grinder worked great at 25 degrees. The tool was fairly quiet compared to a full sized belt sander. The sharpener took all the rust off immediately, very few sparks went flying around and I could see a beautiful edge on the blade that caught each and every ridge in my fingerprints.
But “Shaving sharp?”
Anyone who knows the Ka-Bar brand knows that hard metal is almost impossible to get any edge, let alone a shaving sharp edge on the blade.
To my honest-to-goodness surprise, I was able to shave my calf with my Ka-Bar Tanto blade! It took almost no work whatsoever to get the edge actually “shaving sharp”. I was impressed to say the least.
The tool is very simple to use. You simply set your blade edge number, turn on the machine, and drag your blade through the belt repeatedly. Eventually you will see the sharpness. You can then put a finer and finer sanding belt on the tool until you are using the finest belt. The edge will get a professional mirror finish and incredibly sharp. Since it’s purchase I have used the tool to put edges on incredibly dull throwing axes which originally were as sharp as a dining room table edge. About 20 minutes work with progressively finer sanding belts, and they, too, can be used to shave with. Yes I tried.
I have put edges on some of the most student abused, nicked, dinged, pried blades I have in my collection. Each time this tool will grind out all the mess and leave a beautiful edge that looks like it was put on at the factory.
The belts last quite a while if you take care of them by using progressively finer belts instead of using a nicked and dinged edge on the “fine grind” belt.
The simple question of: Is this tool sharpener worth over $200.00 Canadian? – undoubtably YES.
I have dozens of axes and knives to sharpen each week for my work as a survival instructor at Barefoot Bushcraft. This tool makes the job simple, quick, and is the fastest and easiest way to get an amazing edge on any bladed surface that I have used.
Yes you can buy any number of sharpening gadgets from the Speedy Sharp to the Soft Arkansas Stone – but to get a fast, razor sharp edge with almost no effort or time, buy the Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener (Ken Onion Edition). My hope is that this tool will sharpen blades thousands of times of the coming years, and will be replaced with the same model if it ever breaks.
If you either don’t like sharpening blades, or you want a no-effort razor edge on your blades, this tool will be a great asset to your collection and I highly recommend it.