Work Sharp Tools are well known in the knife industry for the electrically powered Ken Onion Edition Knife & Tool Sharpener – which uses abrasive belts and an adjustable angle guide to put sharp edges on knives fast. It’s a fantastic tool to mount to a bench and put professional edges on anything sharp – but such a big, bulky, expensive tool isn’t always practical or even desirable – sometimes you need a high quality manual knife sharpener to fit in a kitchen drawer, your toolbox, or even your pocket.
To meet these needs, Work Sharp is coming out with some new additions to their manual sharpeners line for people that don’t want to jump in with both feet to an electrical sharpener. Here we’re taking a closer look at three offerings – the tiny Micro Sharpener & Knife Tool, the small Pivot Plus Knife Sharpener, and the impressive Angle Set Knife Sharpener. We put all three to work for a while to bring you some use impressions right as these products hit the market in late 2019.
Micro Sharpener & Knife Tool
The Micro Sharpener is a cool pocket-sized combination of two sharpening stones and a torx bit driver meant for quick use in the field. The form factor of the tool is very efficient, combining two useful functions into something that can slip into your pocket unnoticed.
The body of the tool is roughly square shaped, with a rough diamond stone on one side and a smooth ceramic stone opposite it. The edges of the handle are beveled at a certain angle to set the edge angle as you sharpen at 20 degrees on the coarser diamond rod, and 25 degrees on the fine ceramic rod. There are knurled grips on the other two sides you grasp with your thumb and forefinger – run the blade along the stone one direction, then flip it over and go back the other way to get both sides of the edge bevel sharpened evenly.
It’s important to start from the heel of the blade and run to the tip as you pull it across. I found this sharpener works well on smaller blades like on a Swiss Army Knife, able to put a decent edge on the dull blade of my old Explorer with a little practice. The actual abrasive edge of the two stones is high quality (it’s surprising to see a diamond rod in a tool this size!) but they’re far too short to be practical on a longer blade, like a full sized pocket knife. Still, they work great in a pinch – which is what this is designed for.
Of more use to knife nerds like us is the Torx bit driver. The driver itself (1/4” hex) is on one corner of the tool, opposite the included lanyard. It has a tiny magnet embedded in the body at the base of the driver to retain the bits – which is a nice touch – and the center of the tool contains a holder with a Torx T6, T8, and T10 bits. These are all the common sizes used on most pocket knives for pivot, body, and clip retaining screws. The bit holder is pretty clever too, using a rubber compression fitting to “snap” into place but able to fold out for you to grab the bit you want.
I’m not sure I understand the point of the included lanyard, but it’s there. The Micro Sharpener & Knife Tool has an MSRP of $9.95 and it offers a lot of useful features for that low price, considering it’ll fit handily in your gear bag for emergencies – or loose screws. Great for camping!
Pivot Plus Knife Sharpener
I’m not traditionally a big fan of pull-through style carbide knife sharpeners. They give people the impression they’ve sharpened a knife when really they’ve created a toothy asymmetric burr on a blade that will briefly cut things very well before it gets knocked down and the knife is dull again. So I wasn’t as excited for the Pivot Plus sharpener as the others in the kit.
Upon closer inspection, it looks like Work Sharp has created a better mousetrap with this sharpener though. It still won’t work as well as a guided rod sharpener, but for knives that are well suited to a pull through style sharpener this one’s better than the rest. For one thing, it has two different grit sharpeners – a carbide sharpener and a ceramic hone. The trick is that the carbide sharpener portion has a pivot inside of it that responds to blade pressure – moving the carbide stones to follow the curve of the blade and create a convex edge.
There’s a red locking tab on top of the sharpener that allows you to lock this function out – sliding it away from the stones unlocks the carbides for pivot response, sliding it towards the stones locks it out for fixed use. You can lock out the pivot response feature when doing lighter sharpening to remove less material. The ceramic hones let you put a more polished edge on after you get the angle set with the carbides. There’s also a small tapered diamond rod that folds out of the bottom of the housing for sharpening serrations and gut hooks. It’s designed to be sat upright on a counter and held in place with one hand while you pull a knife through it with your other.
It’s not something I’m going to be pulling any Zero Tolerances though – although I’m sure you could get it sharp with some work – but what it excels as it is quickly putting a sharp edge on kitchen knives! We’ve been using a pull through sharpener to touch up our kitchen knives for years, and this does a better job of sharpening our santokus and paring knives than a regular pull through sharpener with only a single abrasive does. I did notice on my test sample that the switch to control the pivot of the rough carbide was exceptionally stiff, requiring a screwdriver to actuate it the first few times I fiddled with it, but it broke in after a couple cycles.
It’s not a replacement for a Wicked Edge, but it’s more compact and much better performing than most hand hell pull through kitchen knife sharpeners. It’s great for when your spouse says “Ugh, this knife is dull!” and you want to look like a hero. The compact size also means it takes up little of the precious kitchen drawer space it shares with tongs, scissors and other implements.
Angle Set Knife Sharpener
I’ve saved the best for last here, because you’re going to want to snag one of these. The Angle Set knife sharpener is a high-end sharpener designed in conjunction with renowned knifemaker Ken Onion, who’s worked on other Work Sharp tools as well – like the aforementioned Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition power sharpener. It works similar in theory to the classic Spyderco Sharpmaker, but – spoiler alert – it functions better in almost every way.
The basic idea is the same as the Sharpmaker – you set the sharpener up on a flat surface, and you choose an angle to set the rods at on the base. You draw your knife (or whatever you’re sharpening, this setup is very flexible) down the rods from the base to the tip perpendicular to the table, so you’re sharpening the edge at the set angle of the rods.
The first area this setup is superior to a Sharpmaker is the available angles – Sharpmaker gives you a choice between a 40 degree (inclusive) or a 30 degree (inclusive) back-bevel. The Angle Set gives you five choices – 15, 17.5, 20, 22.5, and 25 degrees (per side, or 30/35/40/45/50 inclusive) so you can sharpen anything from kitchen knives to an axe head.
While the Sharpmaker uses pairs of rods in different grits that set in angled slots, the abrasives on the Angle Set Sharpener are all mounted on one assembly. The legs are hinged at the top, and the three sided abrasives have 360 degree pivots at the hinge side (on the top) as well as the bottom (where the horizontal pins attach to the magnets.) You set the bottom horizontal pins in the appropriate magnet slots for the angle you want, then rotate the abrasive legs until the side you want is facing outwards. It’s very easy to set up and adjust. You have three abrasive choices – the coarse and medium grit sides are diamond abrasives, while the fine side is a clean ceramic stone. The diamond rods are pretty surprising considering the MSRP on this unit is $49.95- the Sharpmaker’s MSRP is more than double that at $105. Of course it includes more abrasives (two of each, each three sided) as well as some protective rods – but it’s still hard to justify.
The Angle Set Sharpener stows in itself very neatly, one of the holes on the top hinges sliding into a horizontal pin and the bottom metal pins sitting on the magnets so the whole assembly lays down securely in the horizontal position. The hinged covers close on top, covering everything up and keeping dirt and lint off the abrasives- this whole kit is very portable. Those holes on the top side hinges are also where the included ceramic tapered rod mounts, which allows you to sharpen serrations at the same set angle of the blade.
How does it work? This sharpener blew me away, especially considering the MSRP! The coarse grit diamond rods are incredibly effective and restoring the edge geometry of a screwed up blade quickly, taking off material very effectively and accurately. It will take visible chips out of softer steels with ease, bringing “pediestrian” alloys like 8Cr13MoV and AUS-8 to razor sharp in about 5 minutes. It even works well on harder super steels – I used this sharpener to put an edge on the Steel Will Mini Tasso which uses Bohler Uddeholm M390, a very hard and very high carbon steel.
It would have taken all day on the Sharpmaker or Lansky setup, but it was pretty easy on the Angle Set. Being able to rotate the stones while maintaining the same angle (there are no detents on the pivots) lets you set the stones up where it’s most comfortable for you to sharpen in terms of wrist angle. The medium grit stone is a good balance between material removal and refining the edge, while the ceramic stone is pretty mild – it’s mostly just for polishing.
The one area that needs improvement is some way to safely hold the sharpener in place while you’re using it. The covers can be removed by folding them up at a 90 degree angle and sliding them out of the hinges, but they can’t be reattached in the other direction to form a handle, and if you open them up 180 degrees they’re too tall to let the base sit flat – so you have to hold the base with your fingers while you’re sharpening, which puts them in the path of the blade if it slips off the stones. The Sharpmaker uses those slick brass rods to prevent this – they’ll catch the blade if it slips off, but they’re soft enough to not damage the edge you’ve been working on. You can hold the Angle Set Sharpener at the very top with your thumb, but it’s somewhat awkward and tippy feeling.
All of these manual sharpeners should be widely available in November according to Work Sharp’s website, and they’ll be available through Work Sharp’s Amazon Store as well as their own website which offers free shipping over $99. If you’re looking for a new pocket sized sharpener to throw in your camping gear, the Micro Sharpener will tighten Torx screws and tune up your Swiss Army Knife in a pinch. The Pivot Plus sharpener is good to toss in a kitchen drawer for when the paring knives aren’t paring very well any more, and neither will break the bank. I think if Work Sharp can find a way to make the Angle Set sharpener easier to hold in place they’ll have a real hit on their hands, especially considering the price of the unit and the adjustability of the angle.