After testing a variety of sharpening tools and methods; we think the Work Sharp – Ken Onion Edition is the best value and easiest way to get keep your knife collection razor sharp.
Knife makers and professional tool and knife sharpeners have a trick up their sleeve. To produce those impressively sharp edges, many use a motorized belt knife sharpener. The fast-moving belts reduce the time it takes to grind an edge onto knife blanks tremendously, as they take off metal at a phenomenal rate. Recently, these systems have found their way into home use.
The beauty of a belt knife sharpener is that even a novice can get a frighteningly sharp edge with one. As the belt spins, it grinds continuously and can quickly achieve an amazing cutting edge. Some of these sharpening systems use guides to produce set angles, taking the guesswork out of knife sharpening.
These systems aren’t without their flaws, of course. For one, those belts aren’t cheap. They come in different grits, and you must eventually replace whichever ones you use most.
Another issue is that the blade could get quite hot because of friction. Set the speed to high or linger in one spot and overheated edges become brittle. They won’t shatter, but they lose their temper and their edge may round off. So, keep the belt speed as low as possible and use only the low temp belts from the sharpener manufacturer.
Why You Need a Belt Knife Sharpener.
In our experience, there is no better way to keep your collection razor sharp. Knife experts and forum discussions will push you to use whetstones and more traditional sharpeners. But, the truth is that for 99 percent of the knife owners in the world – a belt knife sharpener is perfect. We highly recommend them for blades that get frequent or hard use. Kitched knives and a belt sharpener complement each other exceptionally well. And, when your EDC is struggling a few minutes on the belt will make it as good as new. On really high-end blades, costing hundreds of dollars, you might want to heed the advice of the experts/forums. However, for the vast majority of us… the path of least resistance is an electric belt sharpener.
Kitchen knives and a belt sharpener complement each other exceptionally well. And, when your EDC is struggling a few minutes on the belt will make it as good as new. On really high-end blades, costing hundreds of dollars, you might want to heed the advice of the experts/forums. However, for the vast majority of us… the path of least resistance is an electric belt sharpener.
Here are our favorite belt knife sharpeners….
Work Sharp WSKTS Knife and Tool Sharpener
The Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener (WSKTS) is the original purpose-built belt knife sharpener, and you can sharpen almost any cutting implement with it. From straight edges to curved, and filet knives to your EDC, the WSKTS can put an edge on all of them.
Work Sharp included two guides with the unit, one a combined 50 degrees (hunting knives) and one a combined 40 degrees (kitchen knives). The WSKTS comes with three belts of varying grits (P80, P220 and 6000) so you can work gradually. It has a 120-volt, .7-amp fixed-speed motor.
The belt is only ½ inch by 14 inches, though, which is smaller than the other options listed here. Also, the belts can rather pricey to replace. And it’s duty cycle is only about 30 percent, so you won’t be sharpening knives all day even if you want to with the WSKTS.
Work Sharp WSKTS-KO Knife and Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition
Moving up a step from the original, the WSKTS Ken Onion (named after the famous knife maker) edition tacks on a few key features that may make it worth the extra cost to some buyers. Both machines will put a wicked edge on a blade, but the WSKTS-KO gives you more control over the results.
The belts on the Ken Onion edition are ¾ inch wide, and you get five on them (P120, X65, X22, X4 and 60000) instead of three. It is also variable-speed (1,200 FPM — 2,800 FPM), and the guide it is adjustable, from 15 degrees to 30 degrees. The 120-volt, 1.5-amp motor can run continuously for one hour. A tool grinding attachment is available, as is a leather honing and polishing strop/belt.
The Ken Onion edition addresses most of the WSKTS’ shortcomings, except for the expense of the belts. It pays to let the tool do the work for you with this sharpener, as added pressure will only make the belts wear out faster, and generate excessive heat. Still, both Work Sharp options do their job well and are all the sharpener most users will ever need.
Grizzly G1015 Knife Belt Sander/Buffer
Compared to the Work Sharps, the Grizzly G1015 is downright monstrous. It stands vertically ant 39 inches, much taller than the Work Sharps. Its 100-volt, 1-HP single-phase motor runs at 14 amps, it turns a 2-inch-wide belt at 3600 FPM and can be run more or less continuously. With that sort of power, the Grizzly can whittle a flat knife black down to a fine edge in minutes.
The Grizzly is more bench belt grinder that sharpens knives than belt knife sharpener. It is designed to be bolted into a workbench and includes an auxiliary arbor for sanding drums and the like. Its size can be a blessing, though, as it facilitates tool sharpening. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, the Grizzly warrants consideration.
However, it is not without its problems. It is fixed-speed, and its 1725 RPM is extremely fast. That speed means it will remove a lot of metal, fast. It also means it can tear through belts, so a light touch is a must. More importantly, it is the most expensive option on this list by a long shot.
Central Machinery Belt Sander
The final option on our list isn’t technically a belt knife sharpener at all. See, when the Work Sharp hit the market, people were already using small belt sanders to sharpen knives and tools. It wasn’t a popular option, but it was effective. All you need is a small benchtop belt sander, like the Central Machinery 1-inch by 30-inch unit and the proper sanding belts.
This belt sander uses a 1/3-HP, 120-volt, 3-amp motor that turns the sanding belts at 3400 RPM. This is plenty of ponies for sharpening knives, though some woodworkers may find it weak. The rev speed is also easily fast enough to remove material from a blade. To use this sander as a sharpener, simply purchase a set of ceramic sanding belts of the same size as your sander, and you’ll be sharpening knives like a pro. You can also leather strop/belt for honing.
The 1/3-HP motor on the Grizzly is churning at a relaxed 3400 RPM. It is also fixed speed, so the only way to limit the amount of metal being removed is to change belts. Its continuous operation also means you will need a careful hand to avoid accidentally rounding off the knife edge, especially at the tip.
Final Thoughts on Choosing a Belt Knife Sharpener
Belt knife sharpeners are brilliant. While some people see dragging a knife across a stone for hours as cathartic, even mystical, others find it mind numbing. The belt sander takes a dull edge to sharp in a matter of minutes, though it does take the time to learn proper technique. Practice sessions with throw-away knives might save your favorite blade.
As far as which solution is best, to a certain extent, it depends on what you’re going to use it for. But, only one option on this list has variable speeds, which lends incredible control to a decidedly delicate process. Slower sanding produces less heat, so the chances of drawing out a knife’s temper is diminished. Extra points for being mobile, with adjustable guides.
If we could only recommend to you one belt knife sharpener, it would have to be the Work Sharp Ken Onion edition. Someone sharpening blades for days might go with one of the bigger boys, but most of us only need a few sharp knives. And, we just want them extremely sharp without wasting hours of our lives to get them there.