For a long time I used bench stones to sharpen my knives and tools. While it is an effective method, it is slow and takes a certain amount of practice to keep a proper angle on the blade. It’s not the best choice for sharpening certain items such as scissors or machetes that require a dedicated angle and edge profile for best results, nor for tools that require substantial re-profiling when nicked or dulled, such as axe or lawnmower blades.
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I next began to use diamond stones, which cut faster, and I liked the portability of the smaller-sized models like DMT's Diafold double-sided diamond sharpener. However, I still wanted a versatile knife and tool sharpener that could be used to quickly sharpen all types of knives and tools, large and small. After looking over several options, I purchased the Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener (WSKTS). This tool is made in the USA by Darex® , the company that makes the “Drill Doctor® ” drill bit sharpener.
The Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener can be thought of as a small portable electric belt sander that has been optimized for use as a knife and tool sharpener. Using a 120-volt, 1/5 horsepower electric motor, the unit gives a steady belt speed of 3600 SFPM. It comes with a six-foot power cord, two blade guides, six ½ x 12 in. sharpening belts, warranty card, an instructional DVD, and a printed instruction manual.
The WSKTS uses various grit grinding and polishing belts to sharpen knife and tool blades, the same method used by many knife and cutlery companies to sharpen OEM knife blades of knives during the final stages of production.
The 1/2 x 12-inch grinding and polishing belts on the WSKTS consist of two 80-grit coarse tool sharpening belts, two 220 grit ceramic oxide belts intended for knife sharpening, and two 6000 grit belts for final polishing or honing of the knife edge. Two blade guides are included for holding the knife or tool blade at the proper angle: The first has several slots – twin 50° angle (inclusive) guide grooves (25° per side), which will give a ‘utility’ edge for “hunting and outdoor knives” and serrated blades. There is also a dedicated 65° slot for scissors. The second blade guide is intended for kitchen knives, and has twin 40° (inclusive) guide grooves (20° angle per side).
By using a moving belt, the WSKTS has several advantages over other sharpeners. For one, the belt will conform to the shape of any blade. Used freehand, without the blade guide, the tool will sharpens not just straight-bladed knives, but also curved blades knives, tanto blades, fillet knives, and recurved blades. Even serrated blades can be sharpened (at the cost of reduced blade life) by sharpening the flat side of the blade. Scissors can be sharpened using the provided angle slot on the blade guide, while axes and hatchets, mower blades, garden and pruning shears, shovels, and most any tool with a blade can be sharpened freehand. The belt sharpener is also one of the few methods that can be used to easily give a convex edge profile to a blade, which can increase edge life and cutting performance on thicker blades while being relatively simple to maintain.
Operation and Use
After watching the included instructional DVD (I found the DVD much more instructive than the written manual – a picture is worth a thousand words), I collected several knives and tools for sharpening, including kitchen and outdoor knives, a pair of Fiskars scissors, garden shears, a dulled axe and a 16-inch machete. Taking out the tool and its accessories, I sat down at my workbench and got down to business. Unless you have an extremely understanding family, it’s best to use the WSKTS outside or in the garage and not on the living room coffee table. While the WSKTS is remarkably quiet for a power tool, the process of sharpening does leave a fair amount of grit and metal dust behind when you’re done.
The grinding or polishing belt is easily installed by lifting off the blade guide and turning the belt roller guide down, then in one-eighth of a turn, which locks it down, freeing the belt. Slip on a new belt, release the roller, and the belt is tensioned and ready to go. A tracking adjustment allows fine-tuning of the belt position. Reinstall the blade guide, plug in the tool, put on a pair of safety glasses, and you are ready to sharpen.
For the most part, I used the WSKTS with its belt body in the ‘normal’ position, which allows you to place the entire tool on a workbench or other flat surface. The belt body can also be unlocked by pulling back a spring-loaded switch and rotated and locked into a secondary position. This position is handy when holding the tool in one hand and sharpening the knife with the other.
I began with a chef’s knife that had come as part of a kitchen knife and block I think someone sent to me as a ‘gift’ for buying office supplies or the like. Of Chinese origin and (in)famously indeterminate steel, the chef’s knife had a very blunt edge and was about to be thrown out. A good test case, I thought.
With the WSKTS on the table and blade guide installed over the 220 belt (the much coarser 80 grit belt is intended for tools, and will quickly ruin a knife blade), I positioned the chef’s knife into the guide slot or groove with the blade all the way in with the power OFF (this is important!). After I was certain I had the blade correctly and fully seated in its slot, I pressed the power switch. As the belt powers on and contacts the blade, the blade is withdrawn steadily and smoothly through the slot. To avoid rounding the blade tip, it’s best to release the power switch and stop the tool as you sweep the tip out through the slot. After one pass on the right-hand 20° slot, I ran the other side of the blade through the opposing 20° slot on the other side of the guide. I was pleasantly surprised at how quiet the WSKS was in operation. A mild buzzing sound emanates from the sharpening belt and motor as the tool grinds a new knife edge. While eye protection should always be used with a grinding tool, I didn't need the ear muffs I always wear when using my grinder or power belt sander.
A few passes resulted in a clean and shiny edge bevel on both sides, with no unsightly scratches or marks. After sharpening both sides of the blade and raising a burr on one side, I polished off the burr by installing the 6000-grit belt, reinstalling the 20° blade guide and making several passes on the burr side until it was gone. I then finished up by giving the other side of the blade a couple of passes. Once as dull as a dollar-store butter knife, the newly sharpened chef’s knife was now razor sharp! I did all of the standard ‘tests’ that people do: sliced paper with draw cuts on the edge, shaved hair off my arm, etc. Then I decided to be more practical and used it for a few days to prepare lunch and dinner. This was one sharp blade! The chef's knife now carves meat well and the slightest pressure slices through all types of vegetables with ease. Because of the steel used, it’s hard to say how long the edge will last, but if you have a knife, this tool can certainly put an edge on it.
I’ve sharpened several pocket and folding knives with the WSKTS, as well as an axe, machete, and a set of pruning shears. Except for the scissors slot, I have never used the “outdoor knife” blade guide, preferring to use either the “kitchen knife” version or to sharpen freehand with the guide removed entirely. The “outdoor knife” guide has slots set at 50° inclusive (25° per bevel), which are designed to put what is termed a “utility edge” on a knife. To my mind, a utility edge is an edge that will cut – sort of - but is mainly designed to provide an edge that is resistant to chipping and damage when used to cut or chop extremely hard substances or otherwise abused. I never use my knives in this manner, indoors or out, and I prefer a thinner edge with greater slicing performance, particularly for smaller pocket knives.
Folding knives fitted with one-hand opening devices on the blade such as thumb studs will interfere with seating the knife fully into the blade guide groove; it’s best to remove the guide and sharpen these types of knives freehand. Other blades with acute curves, such as hawkbill or pruning blades, are also best sharpened without the blade guide.
The one feature I liked the best about using the WSKTS with a knife blade is the rapidity of the sharpening process. It takes almost no time at all to give the sharpest edge to a dull knife; several passes, a change of belt, a few more passes, and you are done. At a belt rpm of 3600 SFPM, the belt turns slowly enough that you can sharpen a blade without endangering its temper or heat treatment. Of course, this IS possible to do, if you are foolish enough to leave the blade in one place and really grind away, but folks who follow the DVD instructions shouldn’t have any problems.
With some pocket knife blades, the blade guide's slot would sometimes prevent me from fully seating all of the blade against the belt. For these knives, I found it easier to sharpen freehand, with the blade guide removed. This is not as difficult as it sounds, since the tensioned belt is also set at 20°. By carefully but firmly sweeping the edge against the moving belt, one can get a nice 20° bevel with no scratches, even on fully polished blades.
For thinner angles, a two-step process is helpful. First, establish a back bevel (say 20°) by grinding the shoulders off the blade edge. Once that's done, you can re-grind the final edge profile on a diamond stone to a smaller final bevel, such as 15°. For less expensive knives, I also use another method I first saw demonstrated by someone else sharpening a knife with this tool. With the blade guide removed, present the blade nearly flat to the tensioned belt, then press only the edge into the tensioned belt as it rotates, so that the belt deforms slightly inward. This removes more metal in establishing the bevel, effectively altering the edge angle from 20° to around 15° degrees. Those who like a smaller angle on their thin-stock cheese or fish knives for easier slicing and filleting will really like this method, and it takes only a minute or two.
The WSKTS includes a sharpening groove on the “outdoor knife” blade guide for serrated knives. However, this will only sharpen the flat side of a serrated blade. This tends to get the serrations fairly sharp, but does end up shortening and eventually removing the serrations. A better method would be to use a tapering round diamond sharpener made by DMT or another manufacturer to individually sharpen each serration. It doesn’t take as long as it sounds, and it will get a serrated knife unbelievably sharp, while preserving the depth of the serrated ‘teeth’ themselves.
Scissors are best sharpened using the dedicated groove in the “kitchen knife” blade guide, which gives a 65° edge profile. Both of my Fiskars utility scissors were sharpened using this method, and both now cut as well as they did when brand new.
For large tools such as garden shears or thick-bladed knives, the blade guide may be removed if desired in order to get better access to the belt. The machete I own has a 0.1875-inch (3/16") blade, somewhat thicker than standard machetes, and it was very dull. Several passes with the 220 grit belt on both sides established the edge, which I finished by sweeping the blade across a 'Fine' (600) mesh diamond stone. This gave a nice sharp cutting edge, which I repeated with the pruning shears, this time using only the 220 grit belt. As utility tools, I did not want or need the 6000 grit belt for a highly polished edge, but I did note that a slightly finer grit than the 220 would have been useful to hone the edges of both tools just a bit more.
This brings up a point with the belt grits provided. For the most part, they work well together. Nevertheless, it's still quite a large jump from the 220 to the 6000-grit belt, and something in the 400, 600, or 800-grit range would be useful as a final sharpening step for working tools and knives such as machetes, pruning shears or hunting/skinning knives. These tools don’t really need (or benefit from) a fully polished, “push cut” edge, but instead should be finished with an intermediate grit belt. Fortunately, the WSKS uses fairly standard ½ x 12-inch belts, which can be obtained in a wide range of grit sizes from 60 to 1200 (MX Mesh).
The axe head requires removing the blade guide. The edge of the axe I was using proved much too dull for the WSKTS, even when using the 80-grit “tool” grit belt. Instead of ruining several belts (and possibly overheating the tool, which has a maximum continuous operating time of 20 minutes before shutoff is required), I decided to rough in the edge using a bench grinder before I could use the 80-grit to freehand a convex edge onto the blade. A bench grinder WILL ruin a blade or axe head in short order, and I had to work carefully, cooling the edge on a wet sponge in between grinding passes. I don’t know enough about axes to know if a convex edge is the preferred edge for a utility wood chopping axe, but it certainly seems to cut well; my neighbor took cut down a sizable tree with it, then used it to sever the roots and removed the stump, all in one morning. The edge seems none the worse for the wear.
Cleanup consists mainly of vacuuming any collected grit from the tool housing and motor. The belt assembly head detaches, making this job fairly simple. Aside from one belt that broke (due to my overeagerness in installing it without making certain it was fully seated), one 220 grit belt has so far worn out after sharpening more than a dozen knives in a month of usage.
I can strongly recommend the Work Sharp Knife and Tool Sharpener. Unlike larger belt sanding machines, it’s very compact and easy to store, and in overall performance its blade guide slots and quiet operation make it a better choice for most homeowners. While persons experienced with bench sharpening will find a use for this tool, its best attribute is that anyone can use it successfully by following the instructions and working carefully. Very rough or thick bladed tools may require some prep work with a grinder, and a few intermediate fine grit belts would be useful, but otherwise the WSKTS can do the job from scratch. With the addition of a honing steel and perhaps a portable diamond stone for special situations, most homeowners will have all their knife and tool sharpening needs fully covered. As a bonus, this handy tool is made in the USA. Can’t get much better than that.