For how much we spend on kitchen gadgets, from dehydrators to air fryers, sous vide wands and blenders with the horsepower of a small automobile, comparatively little attention is often paid to a cornerstone of cooking: knife maintenance. It’s unfortunately too common to walk into someone’s home and see top-shelf knives from powerhouse brands like Global or Zwilling, with edges equivalent to butter knives.
Thankfully, it’s not hard to give your home cutlery a touch-up. These are some of our favorite tools to keep knives sharp, spanning a cross-section of convenience and utility.
Old-School: Sharp Pebble Premium Whetstone
Humans have been sharpening things on rocks since tools were invented, and many millennia later, this basic technique is still embodied through the humble whetstone. Unfortunately, what many chefs argue is the best way to sharpen a blade, also requires the highest level of skill. Still, if you’d like to have ultimate control over the angle and bevel of your blades, or just enjoy the tranquil practice of meticulously honing your knife the old-fashioned way, you can’t beat a good sharpening stone.
We recommend the Sharp Pebble Premium Whetstone for an affordable option that will help you get the most out of your knives. The double-sided stone includes two levels of grit: a #1000 option for tough sharpening jobs, like grinding out chips, structural blemishes or reshaping a severely dulled blade, and a finer #6000 grit side for honing and finishing edges. While not as set-it-and-forget-it as an electric sharpener, the reward of a stone-sharpened blade will be felt in every tomato sliced.
Traditional Meets Convenience: Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker
If you’re looking for the best middle ground between ease of use, affordability and quality, our unequivocal recommendation is Spyderco’s Tri-Angle Sharpmaker. The base holds abrasive rods at precise positions to ensure even bevels and provides options for multiple blade angles.
Easy to set up, the Spyderco locks two rods into position, allowing for a quick vertical swipe of your blade along each for fast sharpening. Most Western-style kitchen knives will work well with a basic 40-degree angle (20 degrees on each side), while those who seek a sharper edge can adjust to 30 degrees, though it’s worth noting that these will dull more quickly. Two grit levels allow heaver and finer grinds, and rounded edges allow you to even touch up serrated blades that may otherwise require professional sharpening. Durable and easy to store, this investment will keep you and your knives happy for decades to come.
Electric: Chef'sChoice Diamond Hone AngleSelect Sharpener Model 1520
Electric knife sharpeners are a mixed bag. While they provide a convenience and uniformity not always found in manual devices, the impact on your blade differs depending on what you pay. Cheap electric sharpeners can quickly grind down your blade, and often leave burrs in the metal that will cause the edge to dull quickly. This requires even more aggressive sharpening, continuing the cycle of abuse as your chef’s blade slowly turns into a paring knife.
However, if you’re willing to invest, the Chef’sChoice AngleSelect Model1520 is one of the best options available. Blades can be completely brought back from the brink of destruction in under a minute, and routine touch-ups can take a little as 10 seconds. While Chef’sChoice offers other models with set angles—particularly the popular Trizor XV that reshapes blades to a static 15-degree bevel on each side—if you’re going electric, we think it’s worth investing in the AngleSelect that gives you the option of dialing in your blade to either 15 or 20 degrees.
Handheld: Lansky Blademedic Pocket Sharpener
Why are we including a $15 handheld sharpener meant for pocketknives? For those moments you find yourself at a relative or friend’s house, attempting to help in the kitchen only to find dull, near-useless knives that make it impossible to so much as chop an onion. While we don’t recommend the Blademedic for serious, long-term sharpening jobs, throwing one in your bag before heading to a potluck, picnic or family dinner can allow for a quick touch-up on the fly, and help you avoid a headache.
Honing Steel: Korin Mac Black Ceramic Honing Rod
We’re including a honing steel as one of the main options you’ll see in home kitchens, but also one of the most misunderstood. Despite popular misconception, these rods do not generally sharpen your knives, but rather hone the blades.
What’s the difference? When you sharpen a knife, or use it repeatedly on a cutting board, a near-microscopic burr will form. However it comes about, it usually ends with a small amount of steel folding over the edge and dulling the knife.
Using a honing steel will work this burr out of metal, leaving you with a clean edge. It can also realign micro-abrasions in the blade (think: mini-serrations that are nearly invisible on a kitchen knife but work wonders when you’re cutting), and give you a better cutting edge. They’re invaluable to have in your kitchen, and great to use before/after any task to keep your knives in top shape. However, the one thing they won’t do is shave away enough metal to replace a proper sharpening.
While there are countless options and all will serve the purpose of touching up a knife before use, we recommend Korin’s Mac Black Ceramic Honing Rod. Purportedly made from a harder compound than traditional white ceramic, the Mac Black works on a variety of steel types, regardless of the metal’s strength. Additionally, Korin incorporates two grooved sides for aggressive honing and reshaping micro-abrasions, and two smooth #2000 grit sides for polishing. It’s also lighter than a traditional steel honing rod, which helps prevent arm fatigue.