If you like knives at all you are probably very familiar with sharpening systems.The vast majority of systems discussed on the Internet Knife Community (IKC) trace their origins back to a design by Louis Graves--two ceramic rods mounted on a platform in a “V.” The Graves sharpener is very similar to the Spyderco Sharpmaker and a number of others. Another design, most typified by the Lansky system, holds the knife still and uses rods or blocks impregnated with grit medium and an angle to achieve a sharp edge. Variants of this design include the KME sharpener, the EdgePro, and the Wicked Edge.
For the most part powered sharpeners, like the electric models found in many kitchens, are off the menu. Most are too rough on blades to consider as real alternatives. They are cringe-inducing, especially when you imagine hauling a beautiful edge from a Spyderco Chaparral or a Chris Reeve Mnandi through their terrible jaws. The Worksharp is the first and only powered sharpener I have used that didn't make me want to cry.
My system until about two months ago was a Sharpmaker and a pair of strops. For the most part, I got what I needed out of them. But twice in recent memory I had to resort to outside sharpening services (including the excellent Spade Knifeworks). This system is quite good at maintaining an edge, but restoring one using just the Sharpmaker and strops is virtually impossible. Restoring an edge on a big knife like the BK9 just couldn’t be done and tackling a uber steel like ZDP-189 is the stuff of nightmares.
Then Worksharp reached out to me and offered be a chance to use the Ken Onion Worksharp along with the grinder attachment. I took them up on it and I am glad I did. The Worksharp is, without question, the most fun I have had with knives in years. Since unboxing the kit it has sat, plugged in on my workshop bench, ready to burnish blades to brilliant beauty (oh...). My BK9 has a new edge on it, as does my Schrade SCH36, and a dozen or so other blades. And these aren't the toothy chop jobs you typically get on big knives--these are real, useful, and high end edges. I have never had a 1/4 inch thick blade get sharp enough to slice (not tear) paper towels. Now I have two of them--both big choppers are hair-popping sharp.
In this review I will take a look at the Worksharp and the grinder attachment. Worksharp also sent me their manual sharpener, which is also amazing and the best manual sharpener I have used, but I will leave that review for another day.
In case you are unaware, the Worksharp is a powered sharpening system. It looks like the handle and motor of a corded drill with a weird attachment where the drill chuck should be. The Ken Onion version is distinguished from the regular version by have a beefier motor and more ergonomic handle.
It also has a more robust duty cycle, capable of being run for an hour straight (compared to 20 minutes out of an hour...a limitation you will probably never run up against in real world use). Finally, the Ken Onion version has a variable speed trigger allowing you to do honing as well as high speed reshaping of edges.
The first attachment, and the one that comes with the standard with the Ken Onion Worksharp, is a guided sharpening system.
The belt runs in a triangle pattern and two guides, one for each side of your knife, push the blade into the belt at a consistent angle. The other attachment, the one that works only with the Ken Onion Worksharp, is a mini grinder that, in theory, works the massive stand up grinders you see in custom makers shops on lining the walls of Bark River’s factory.
Instead of using massive belts the grinder attachment uses teeny, tiny belts and has a teeny tiny platform to register the blade.
Both attachments have a wide variety of adjustments that can be made to accommodate different grinds, blade thicknesses, and the angle of the edge you wish to put on the blade. The results, given the belt system used, is a micro convex edge, something like the Bark River convex edge, but only on the actual cutting bevel. My review sample came with four belts for each attachment (they use different length belts, the guide runs 3/4" x 12" belts and the grinder runs 1" x 18" belts, which is something of a design swing and miss): coarse, medium, fine, and polish. The belts themselves are very high quality, equal to the Klingspor paper I used in woodworking in terms of grit consistency and retention. There are third-party belts for the system and they are cheaper, but checking around on the internet people claim they generally do not last as long and are poor at grit retention. My experience in woodworking matches this, as some of the third-party options for my Festool sander have been terrible.
The Ken Onion Worksharp retails for $149.95 and the grinder attachment costs another $99.95. The grinder attachment is not compatible with the original Worksharp, so the only way to get the kit I tested for this review is to buy both the Ken Onion Worksharp and the grinder attachment.
When my grandfather died I inherited a few coffee cans full of old folders. Some of these dated back to the 1930s and many had terrible edges, battered by decades of use and sharpening. I also had my two "beater blades" lying around, a Buck Odyssey (found some railroad tracks) and a Buck Vantage (which I love...I just wish it was a bit better made). I also had my experimental "Wal Mart knife" from Black Friday. It had an "edge" technically, but it couldn't cut open a bag of fruit snacks for my son--the absolute least demanding cutting task around. Finally, I had my two choppers--the BK9 and the SCH36. These were the knives I started sharpening.
My concern, one that I had after reading up on the sharpener, was that the tips tended to round off when using the guide attachment. I wanted to start on a knife that didn't really matter all that much as practice. I am glad I did. The guide attachment did, in fact, round the tips on a few knives. There is no real way to avoid it at first. If you simply swipe the blade through the guide you round the tip off. If you do as the instructions say and leave the tip on as you release the trigger and the belts slow to a stop you get a bit of a wide spot at the end. After a while I was able to minimize the wide spot until it was not noticeable, but if you are even a bit inattentive, it is easy to screw up the tip of your blade using the guide attachment.
The grinder attachment has no such problem, but it is significantly harder to use. Unlike the guide attachment, you are free to do all sorts of stupid things to screw up the edge on your knife with the grinder attachment. It can chew away material, especially on coarser grits at high speed, in seconds. And, I would imagine if you are particularly stupid person you could ruin the heat treat as well. But results from the grinder attachment, once you have learned the technique, are free of tip problems and quite sharp. As between the two, I greatly prefer the grinder attachment. I would go so far as to say that the regular Worksharp, while a fine and effective system for most people, wouldn't satisfy a true knife knut. Members of the IKC should pony up for the Ken Onion version solely for the ability to use the grinder attachment.
It has taken me almost two months to get the technique down, sharpening quite a few knives each weekend. I have also not yet worked my way up to extremely high end knives (the Sawby Swift has not even seen the Worksharp yet, let alone touched it) or difficult grinds (the Chaparral's paper thin grind is something my less than deft hands would ruin instantly). But I have expanded beyond the original lot of "test" blades.
The results are, simply put, amazing. While you never get something for nothing, the ease of use, once you get the technique down, makes me feel like the Worksharp is breaking that maxim. Its fast, easy, truly fun (for reasons I will detail below) and the results are powerfully effective. Here is the aforementioned Buck Vantage with a full four-belt treatment:
I have found that the paper towel test is an effective gauge of sharpness. Lots of blades will shave your arm hair (and boy did the Worksharp cause some serious knife mange) and score your fingernail, but only the sharpest can cut and not tear paper towels. Even more difficult is cutting and not tearing toilet paper or facial tissues. The Vantage, post-Worksharp, could do all three. This blade, in Bos-treat 420HC, is one of the sharpest knives I have ever handled including stuff out of the box. Its worth mentioning that pre-Worksharp, the Vantage was my glovebox knife and had been beaten into submission after years of roadside use. It was not capable of cutting paper before I sharpened it and it had been left that way since last December (when I used it roadside to cut away a branch that had lodge itself on the undercarriage of my car). I could not be more impressed with the results, especially after using my "edge maintenance" system of Sharpmaker and strops alone for the past three or four years. The Worksharp is a huge upgrade.
One of my favorite sharpening jobs was the one I did on the SCH36. Here is the pre-sharpening edge--note chip very close to the tip and general dull edge.
The knife, post-Worksharp, is the image at the start of this article. The edge is blinding sharp, clean, and I was able to remove the chip. Also, because the edge is a micro-convex one, it has remained sharp and stable longer than the factory edge. In terms of sharpening big, thick, heavy blades, the Worksharp is the way to go. The crock sticks or Lansky style systems just can't do these knives justice in a reasonable time frame. There is too much material to hog away. The Worksharp gave me a very sharp and very stable edge in minutes, once I got the technique down.
The Side Benefit
One tremendous benefit of the Worksharp, especially with the grinder attachment on, is that you get just a tiny bit more understanding about knifemaking and steel. When all you do is maintain knives, you aren't really getting under the hood, so to speak, with a steel. I can tell you that ZDP-189 is harder to sharpen than AUS-8, but its hard to pull apart the differences between S30V and ZDP-189. With the grinder attachment whirring, I get it now. I feel like I know steels a little better.
AEB-L is truly amazing. Zipping the edge of my JFS across the belts of the Worksharp tells me EXACTLY why Jesse Jarosz and Michael Walker love it. Those two guys have a bit of an experience gap in terms of how long they have been making customs, but the minute I pulled the gleaming, hair whittling edge off the belt I knew what they both loved. The steel gets sharp very fast and the edge is a clean one. There is no squirreliness here.
I also get why people dislike S30V and moved, almost instantly, to S35VN. The former is both hard to sharpen and somewhat unpredictable. On some knives it took a long time to get a decent edge. On others, it felt like days. And the results were inconsistent. S35VN was noticeably tamer dancing across the grit.
I also learned why, to this day, people still love 1095. In a chopper I got wonderful, brag-on-Instagram level results and on my grandfather's ancient, patinaed blades I quickly got a real edge back. In my mind, no steel sharpens as nicely or as quickly as 1095.
The Worksharp taught me a difference between something getting sharp nicely and quickly too. VG-10, when put on a powered belt, gets sharp relatively fast. But the edge it took wasn't exactly right. There seemed to be some unevenness to it. It wasn't toothy, something that I found on D2, but it was patchy with some spots being near-mirrored edged and others not. It got sharp quick, but the resulting edge wasn't all that nice.
Overall, I really like AEB-L, CPM-154, S35VN, and 1095. I now have a new reason to dislike S30V and VG-10. D2 reacted in a very weird way. Despite progressing through the belts correctly, it seemed like it just didn't respond to the last two grits. I only sharpened one D2 knife so it is entirely possible it was me, but I waited to tackle this particular steel after I had a bit more confidence with the Worksharp.
There is undoubtedly a learning curve. And its a pretty harsh one. This is a sharpening system that can ruin a knife permanently. You are well-advised to practice on some beaters before you toss your Sebenza on the belts. There were some fiddly things with the attachments and the belt swaps take getting used to. I am also not thrilled by the fact that there are two different sized belts. But all of these things are a drop in the bucket.
The bucket of good here is huge. Your knives will never have been sharper, unless they came from a grind master. Even then, with a month or two of regular use and practice, you will be getting nutty results. I have not had this much fun with my knife collection in years. I would throw on a blinding sharp edge down in my workshop, run up the bulkhead stairs outside, chop up some kindling or whittle some firesticks, and then pop back downstairs to put the mirror edge back on. Its very fair to say that once you get the hang of the Worksharp, it is addicting.
The guide system is fine, but for the real fun and real sense of control, the grinder attachment is the way to go. Its so essential to the experience I had that I would look at this sharpener as costing $249, still a few hundred short of some of the high end kits like the EdgePro and Wicked Edge, basically assuming that you would always purchase both the Ken Onion Worksharp and the grinder at the same time. You can do it separately, but you're not really getting everything out of the sharpener unless you have the grinder attachment. I'd go so far as to say, I wish Worksharp would sell the Ken Onion with the grinder attachment instead of the guide attachment standard, but given the learning curve with the grinder, I understand why they don't. Very few people are as crazy about knives as we are.
With my strops and the Worksharp I feel like I can take on all comers now, regardless of steel or the size of the blade. I still have some learning to do before I can get produce consistent angles, but my edges are definitely good enough for any cutting task. I know, if I continue to practice, I can get some mirror edges in the next few months.
Simply put, if you like knives, this is the sharpening system to get.