For the average user an electric knife sharpener will produce a great result
Sharpening knives isn’t easy, and for many people an electric knife sharpener may well be a good option. For the average user an electric knife sharpener will produce a great result. Lets look at how electric knife sharpeners work and what options you have if you would like to consider this type of sharpener.
Whilst a simple stone may well be a good solution that is very effective at sharpening your knife and is also, in many cases, cost-effective, an electric knife sharpener will produce a consistent result for you unlike the result you are likely to get learning to use a stone, at least at the beginning.
The beauty of an electric sharpener is that it is easy to use and is consistent. Most electric sharpeners work in stages, commonly either 2 or 3 stages. When switched on the device will circulate a diamond grinder which is used to bevel the knife where the knife is significantly dull. This will produce a basic bevel which can be worked on in the later stages.
When producing this bevel it’s very important to keep the knife at the right angle, commonly around 20 degrees. This is one of the difficulties found by people learning to hand sharpen knives on a stone, for example. Keeping the knife at the right angle, by hand, is not easy and takes significant practice.
An electric sharpener on the other hand has guides, and often magnets, which will allow an inexperienced user to maintain the right angle throughout the sharpening process. This produces an effective result even for people not experienced in sharpening knives. This is one of the major advantages of electric knife sharpeners (and some other non-electric sharpeners as well).
And many have 2 sides to each stage, left and right. Commonly you will alternate between drawing the knife through the left, then the right side to grind evenly. Some will only feature a single slot where the grinder grinds both sides of the knife at the same time.
The first stage produces the basic bevel and the second stage fine tunes the bevel with a finer grit. In some cases the first stage, being a coarse grit, can produce some scratches on the surface of the knife and the second stage, being finer will help remove these scratches.
The third stage, or what can be a second stage in some sharpeners, is effectively a honing stage, putting the final edge on the knife, and this is usually done mechanically rather than electrically.
If you have a particularly dull knife you begin at the first stage to reproduce a bevel angle. However where your knife has been recently dulled and is not seriously turned over then a quick go with the third stage will hone your knife to a good edge. This is what you’re doing when you are using a honing steel on a knife. And just like using honing steels, if you do it regularly and don’t allow your knife to become too dull then this is all that is required most of the time.
So if you’ve bought an electric knife sharpener remember you don’t need to use the first stage all the time if you regularly hone the knife using later stages. You only need to use the first stage where your knife has become significantly dull and needs grinding.
We should mention here that most electric knife sharpeners are made to sharpen European knives, which are the most common types of knives that you are most likely to have in your kitchen. European knives are different to what are sometimes called Asian knives or Japanese knives, and not all electric sharpeners work on Asian or Japanese knives. That’s because on European knives the bevel angle is commonly around 20 degrees, whilst for Asian knives to bevel angle is narrower at around 15 degrees.
There are however specific electric sharpeners made that will work on Asian knives, particularly some of the Chef’s Choice sharpeners such as the Chef’s Choice 1520 Angle Select Diamond Hone Sharpener. This model, however, is considerably more expensive and not necessary unless you use both types of knives.
The Positives of Electric Sharpeners
1. The best models used diamond abrasives. Diamond is the hardest substance and is the best abrasive to sharpen a knife.
2. The best models also guide the knife using a slot which makes it very difficult for even a beginner to get the angle wrong, whereas other knife sharpening systems, particularly hand sharpening systems, can produce an inferior result because the user cannot hold the correct angle.
3. Most, particularly the Chef’s Choice Electric Knife Sharpeners, come with small suction cups on the base. Provided you are sharpening on a slick surface which allows the suction cups to grip this is a significant advantage as it stops the sharpener moving around and avoids the necessity to hold it still.
4. Once you’ve bought your sharpener it’s unlikely you’ll need to replace the diamond abrasives for a long time, they have an extremely long life.
5. A good electric sharpener can be used to sharpen any type of knife which fits in the slots, including pocket knives and others, (though not serrated knives in some cases, see below, or in some cases Asian or Japanese knives).
6. Quality models should provide a solid warranty of at least 2 if not 3 years.
7. The best models have magnetic filters or pads to collect the microscopic pieces of metal shaved off knife during sharpening. You don’t want these on your bench.
The Negatives of Electric Knife Sharpeners
1. They aren’t cheap. It is possible to get much cheaper knife sharpeners than most of the common electric knife sharpeners on the market. For instance the Chef’s Choice 110 electric knife sharpener, whilst being a great sharpener, retails for slightly over $100. (Note that it is generally much cheaper on Amazon, who routinely offer good discounts).
2. Whilst these sharpeners are effective they are also bulky, and either take up bench space or will need to be put in the cupboard, where space needs to be found. If our kitchen is anything to go by finding space for more appliances isn’t easy.
And if you hone your knife regularly, or polish it using the final stage of a sharpener, then it’s annoying to have to pull it out of a cupboard and put it away regularly, so leaving it on the bench is quite an advantage, but it takes up quite a bit of space.
3. Some models, though not necessarily all models of electric sharpeners will not work on serrated knives. Some, for instance the Chef’s Choice 110 will, but will not sharpen the whole knife, generally only the tip. If you’re looking to sharpen serrated knives you will need to choose a more expensive model like the Chef’s Choice 120.
4. Whilst some knife sharpeners will sharpen scissors electric knife sharpeners are not suitable, and if you want to sharpen scissors then you will need to purchase scissor sharpeners. Some hand sharpeners can also sharpen scissors.
5. Some models can be annoyingly noisy to use.
6. Not necessarily a negative feature but certainly something worth mentioning is that if you’re left-handed check the sharpener you’re planning to buy to see if it can be used with the left hand instead of the right, not all can.
There is no doubt that an electric knife sharpener is an expensive piece of equipment, and it’s possible to buy quality knife sharpening equipment cheaper. However the reality is that for many people learning how to sharpen a knife to a very fine edge using hand sharpening equipment takes a long time, and often produces an inferior result.
An electric knife sharpener is a significant investment but will produce a superior result for most people and will do so for a long time. It’s easy to learn to use and will produce a great result right from the start for anyone who is just beginning on an electric sharpener.
Experts at hand sharpening will probably produce a better result, but most cooking enthusiasts are not experts. Even some chefs will send their knives to a professional knife sharpener, and it’s unlikely that your average enthusiast will learn to hand sharpen a knife any better than the result they will get with an electric sharpener.
But if you buy one you will also need to put up with finding space for it and finding it annoyingly noisy during use. Everything has its downside as well as its upside.
(And to visit our knife sharpeners comparison chart to see some more knife sharpeners).
And here’s a video of the Chef’s Choice 120 in use
Just to give you the idea