Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife & Tool Sharpener
One of the most intimidating aspects of the knife-collecting hobby for newer entrants is sharpening. From the outside looking in, it can seem like a mystical, dark art that can only be mastered by mysterious beings that seem to be able to speak to stones and metal as easily as if they were ordering a coffee. Of course, it isn’t nearly that magical, but it can be hard to find out what sharpener system works best for you.
If you pop onto any knife forum on the internet, you’ll mostly find suggestions for guided sharpening systems of many different kinds or calls to just jump to the much more advanced whetstone methods. One that’s often overlooked (or even looked down on) is a powered sharpener. That’s really a shame.
A good powered sharpener such as the Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition can work more than fine for 90% of daily knife users and is by far the best option out there for some larger tools.
Enter Work Sharp
Work Sharp was kind enough to provide me with the full Ken Onion Edition, the optional Blade Grinding Attachment, and all the different belts that the company offers. The initial investment for the Ken Onion Edition is about $130. This will probably work fine for most end users.
If you want a little bit more adjustment and options for more custom edges, the Blade Grinding Attachment runs around $80, and sets of new or optional belts are $18.
This is quite a chunk of change to be sure, but you can pick and choose which options you want. There’s even a much less expensive model simply called the “Knife and Tool Sharpener” if you need something more basic.
“I just took a quick ‘man glance’ at the excellent provided instructions and was up and running within a handful of minutes.”
The advantages of the Ken Onion Edition are the adjustable guide systems that allow you to more easily replicate the factory edge on your knife or tool or customize it to your wants and needs and replicate that angle every time.
In stock form, the Ken Onion will guide you through angles of 15 to 30 degrees. If you opt for the Blade Grinding Attachment, you get more options and can easily switch between angles of 10 and 35 degrees, and you get some more belt options. The belts are also longer and wider so they should last longer.
Easy Peasy Sharpener
This was my very first experience with a powered sharpener and I admit I had a bit of trepidation. This was totally unfounded.
As most men do, I just opened the boxes and started setting it up without even looking at the instructions. That was a bit of a mistake. It’s easy to set up for sure, but not THAT easy. However, I didn’t have to watch instructional videos or do any advanced reading.
I just took a quick “man glance” at the excellent provided instructions and was up and running within a handful of minutes.
“This thing is truly hard to beat for tools and kitchen knives.”
It took a bit more reading and some minor head scratching to figure out the individual angle settings, but it never reached the level of swearing. Once you get it, you get it and it couldn’t be easier. This rings true whether you’re using the out-of-the-box setup or the grinding attachment.
In photos, I’ve always wondered if the Work Sharp would be stable on a tabletop. Short answer is yes, it is. It has just enough heft and grip that I never had an issue with it moving around on a working surface, even with the motor speed cranked up to maximum. This is especially true with the Blade Grinding Attachment in place.
The biggest complaint you’ll hear from purists about powered systems is that you can’t get as precise of an edge as you can from a guided system like a KME, Viper Sharp, or Wicked Edge. This is true to a point.
However, in minutes you can get a great user edge that’s 85% as nice as you can with hours on a guided system. And as we’ll cover later, there are certain types of tools and larger knives that those systems just can’t easily handle.
This is simply a byproduct of one simple factor best articulated by Jeremy Clarkson: POWERRRRR!!! The motor speed is variable on the Ken Onion Sharpener, and it’s probably not a bad idea to start off at a sort of medium speed and work your way up. It’s also a good idea to start with a less-expensive knife and more easily manipulated steel before you start grinding away at your expensive M390 or Maxamet knives.
I took it easy and started out with a couple of long-neglected budget folders in 14C28N and 9CR18MOV steels. Then I moved up to some D2 folders and then on to a few pricier knives in M390 and LC200N. Each jump only took me a few passes to get the feel and I was pleased with the results.
Even with the stropping belts that came with the Blade Grinding Attachment, I wasn’t able to get that perfect mirror finish edge that I can on my Viper Sharp, but I could come within sight of it in just minutes instead of an hour and a half. And it must be said that not everyone wants that crazy mirror polish on their edges. When it comes to blades with recurves, the Work Sharp made life especially easy.
Both the Ken Onion and the Blade Grinding Attachment use variations on a set angle guide system. While the stock setup is a bit more intuitive and consistent, the Blade Grinding Attachment offers much more angle range, is adjustable in infinite increments, and still isn’t very difficult to use.
I must also point out that the Work Sharp is going to give you a bit of a convex edge. That’s just the nature of the beast with belt sharpeners. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, personally, but if you have some sort of religious principal against convex edges, this may not be for you.
The only other downside I found using the Work Sharp is that it does throw more than its fair share of dust. The supplied compound for the stropping belts also tends to make a bit of a mess.
Emphasis on WORK
Where the Work Sharp powered systems truly shine is when sharpening tools. You can’t easily sharpen an axe or a big machete on a fancy manual guided system. Traditional whetstones are always an option, but even your grandfathers knew that a big spinning wheel or a belt grinder were much better choices.
I used the Work Sharp on the Tramontina machete featured elsewhere in this issue. It definitely needed a good sharpening when I got it. Work Sharp’s little machine worked a treat. I used the Blade Grinding Attachment to get a much steeper angle than I’d ever put on a pocketknife. Obviously, a pretty, shiny edge isn’t a priority on what is (for me) primarily a yard tool.
Even with what amounted to a full re-profiling of the entire edge (especially at the tip), the job only took about half an hour. I started with the most aggressive belt P120 Extra Coarse belt and worked down to the X22 Medium, which was plenty good enough for my needs. I did wear through probably half the life of the P120, but I can’t imagine how long this job would have taken on a set of whetstones.
After that, I got a bit cheeky and tackled my grandfather’s old axe. The Ken Onion made quick work of that as well, although I did use it in a bit more of a freehand mode in that case.
After those two experiments, my wife reminded me that we had some very dull kitchen knives. The Work Sharp worked great on those, too, with its ability to drop all the way down to 10 degrees.
I have no doubt that it would work equally well on all sorts of sharp-edged tools in your garage or shed. This thing is truly hard to beat for tools and kitchen knives.
If You’re in a Hurry
Sometimes sharpening with manual systems, whether it be a guided system, free handing with stones, or using some of the less expensive set angle systems (that Work Sharp also makes), can be a more meditative, soulful experience than a powered system. There is no doubt about that. I get more enjoyment out of it myself. And the results on a manual system used by a skilled sharpener are almost always going to be prettier and probably a bit sharper as well.
However, if you’re someone who truly uses your knives on a daily basis, you may just not have time for that. Even if you’re not looking for a pristine edge, what may take you 30 to 40 minutes once every week or two will take you 3 to 4 minutes on the Work Sharp. That time adds up. And in heavy daily use, I can’t say with 100% conviction that you’d actually notice the difference.
Model: Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife & Tool Sharpener
Street Price: $129.95
Model: Blade Grinding Attachment for Ken Onion Sharpener
Street Price: $79.95
Included Belts: P120-Extra Coarse, X65-Coarse, X22-Medium, X4-Fine, and 12000 Extra Fine
Replacement Belts: $15-$18
Work Sharp Sharpeners
210 E Hersey St.
Ashland, OR 97520