Sunday, June 12, 2022

The Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener

Not actually Erin.
& is used with permission.

Last week I reviewed a sharpener which didn't solve my problems with hard-to-sharpen knives, and promised that this week I'd tell you what I bought which did finally solve those problems.

The answer to that is "a belt grinder"; specifically, the Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener (Ken Onion Edition), which is a belt grinder designed especially for knives. 

I held off buying this for many years, partly because of its price but mainly because of the fact that it is a power tool and if I lose electricity then I cannot use it. For some reason, buying a tool that required electricity to work made me feel like a "bad prepper" and so I held off... until I finally lost my temper with not being able to sharpen things. Spite, as it turns out, is a marvelous motivator.

For the record, I specifically recommend the Ken Onion edition ($130) over the standard Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener ($80). I do this for three reasons:
  1. The Ken Onion edition will sharpen in 5 degree increments from 15 to 30 degrees, whereas the standard will only sharpen at 20 and 25 degrees. 
  2. The Ken Onion edition will accept standard belts, whereas the standard will not accept Ken Onion belts (their widths are different).
  3. The Ken Onion edition can sharpen much larger blades, either by rotating the sharpening module forward or by replacing it with another attachment, whereas the standard edition cannot. 

It's my opinion, born out through my experience, that this utility is well worth the additional $50 in price. Once you see how well it works, I'm sure you'll agree. 

And boy howdy does it work. It's fast, it's efficient, and like any belt grinder it can aggressively mess up a blade if you aren't careful. My advice is to practice with a banged-up knife first; it's not like you're going to make it any worse, and you might make it better. After that, work your way up, and soon you'll be sharpening almost any blade to a razor edge and mirror polish.

Here's some more advice based on my experience:
  1. Changing the belts isn't difficult but it can be annoying, so if you have multiple knives to sharpen, group them by coarseness. "These are really bad and need extra coarse for re-profiling, these just need medium for sharpening, and I want to hone this one with extra fine."
    • If you do this, only sharpen at one angle setting. Trust me, it's super easy to get wrapped up in this and then midway through realize "Oh dang, that last knife was 25° instead of 20° like the others, and now I've just done them all at 25° with coarse grit."
  2. I highly recommend that you wear hearing protection. While not especially loud on its own, if you're sharpening a lot or working on a really banged-up blade you can end up subjecting your ears to some sustained loud noises, especially if you have the RPMs running high. 
  3. This is a grinder, so it will kick out a fair amount of ground metal in the form of dust. Don't use this in an enclosed area (or if you do, wear a respirator) and be prepared to sweep up a lot of blue-black metal dust. 
  4. Be very careful when sharpening a tanto tip as you can very easily grind that down into a curve if you aren't careful. I would suggest using the Precision Adjust sharpener for those. 
  5. Blades which are both long and curved (such as kukri) or which have very thick bodies (such as axes) don't do well here. For those, I recommend using the Work Sharp Blade Grinder Attachment, which is only compatible with the Ken Onion edition. I will review this attachment next week.

Despite its price and reliance on electricity, I really like this product. It's amazingly aggressive, which as far as I'm concerned is a feature and not a bug, as it solved in a few minutes problems which had bothered me for at least a decade. It took knives which had divots on the cutting edge and made them sharp and shiny (if somewhat slimmer) again. This tool may not be for everyone, but if you absolutely need something sharpened and you have electricity, you can sharpen it. 

The Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition is available at Amazon for $130 with Prime shipping and it comes with one set of belts (extra coarse, coarse, medium, fine, and extra fine). Extra belt kits may be bought for $18 with Prime shipping. 


  1. Oldest boy has one and loves it. I've got a set of diamond sharpeners and a 12"steel. Works for me and for him. I can sharpen an inside curve, pure "d" pain in the ass for him. He's in his forties with two kids, a demanding job and a wife who just had open heart surgery...I'm retired and have all the time in the world....kinda feel like that's the tradeoff

  2. I've been using a craptastick Harbor Freight 1"x30" belt grinder for years. No blade guide on it, but with practice it can make almost anything scalpel sharp. Also I can get 1x30" belts it everything from 50 grit upto 30 Micron grit (something like 30,000 grit).

    Still, might have to grab one of these for quick edges on 'field' knives and kitchen knives.


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