In Defence Of Pull-Through Knife Sharpeners

A sharp knife makes a safe kitchen, but there are so many conflicting schools of thought out there that learning how to sharpen your own knives can be overwhelming. My philosophy is this: I'm a cook, not a bladesmith. I need a fast, reliable sharpening method because I don't have backup knives to use while mine are at the hardware store getting sharpened and I don't care to spend a couple decades mastering the art of honing a blade.

Photo via Amazon.

For this reason, I'm devoted to the pull-through knife sharpener. If you are too, I'm here to validate you.

Generally speaking, handheld knife sharpeners work by using two pieces of tungsten carbide in a "V" formation to wear away the metal on either side of a blade, creating a new edge. Depending on your point of view, this is either a great way to revive dull blades or an absolute abomination. "But the angles!" knife snobs cry, pearl-clutchingly. "And those handheld sharpeners remove so much metal! You'll shorten the lifespan of your knife!"

Well, you create an edge by removing some of the metal, no? A handheld sharpener just does it faster and less precisely than a stone. As for the "shortening the lifespan of your knife" argument, I really don't know what to say. It's almost impossible to truly ruin a knife because knives are made of metal. Occasional sharpening won't make the metal more brittle, nor will it wear the blade away to a sad, unusable little nub, even if you are very, very strong.

The angles argument, though -- that one makes a certain amount of sense. A V-shaped sharpener can only remake an edge in its own image, so they work best on knives that are beveled at a similar angle.

The AccuSharp one I use has an angle of around 20 degrees, which is pretty standard; because I use pretty standard knives -- Kiwi and Wüsthof chef's knives, plus a Challenger bread knife -- it works very well for me, and I'm comfortable with that. Sure, it doesn't put a beautiful mirror-like polish on my Wüsthof like a professional can, but it gets the blade plenty sharp in a few minutes.

If you're a fancy lad with a thousand-dollar carbon-steel knife, I'm obviously not suggesting you use an AccuSharp. You paid good money for that edge, which means you get to continue paying good money to have someone maintain it for you. But for the rest of us who just need something sharp, a handheld sharpener get the job done well and quickly.

Remember the immortal words of Julia Child: "Keep your knives sharp, and above all, have a good time." Whatever sharpening method lets you have a good time in the kitchen, I encourage you to keep it up, guilt-free.


    I have to agree, and I taught myself years ago to use stones.

    I am not a professional chef, but I do fairly well in the kitchen and love my wusthof knives. Those, I stone, but I use a pull through on many other blades. I have some older knives that have been sharpened so many times over the decades that the profile has changed, but they are still good knives. Besides, any wearing away, which is what sharpening is, will over enough time be noticable whether by stone or sharpener.

    Rock, meet water plus time equal Grand canyon.

    Though I also don't like the preset angle for certain blades.

    Ok, so i am a chef and career knife sharpener. Sharpening knives is something i learned early on in my apprenticeship so its a skill i have always had. These pullthrough sharpeners are quick alternatives to use if you don't have the skill, much like honing a blade on a steel, the issue isnt as much that it removes too much metal, tbose water wheels can do exactly the same thing. The big issue is that it removes the belly of the knife, which allows you to do an effective roll chop. Stones give you an aspect of control here. Depending on the stones you use, depends on how much steel you take off. For a victorinox or kiwi, you the edge retention isnt great so you need to use low grit stones and give them a more obtuse angle. But you can then usually get away with sharpening them once per week. High carbon knives can get to much steeper angles and are much better on your super fine grits, but they are much higher maintainanxe and you would never get one without knowing how to maintain it yourself.

    Holy crap! What a load, it takes me less than a minute to put a razor sharp edge on my el'cheapo kitchen knives with a small honing block. I'm talking sharp enough to shave your arm too, not the blade killing sharp you get with a V Pull-through. If you are a professional and need to spend that kind of money on sharpening your knives, I suggest watch a couple of Youtube vids on the subject and buy a half decent honing block to save yourself a big pile'o'bucks. Merry Christmas, Hone, Hone, Hone!

    You should probably delete this horrible article mate. You don't need 10 years to learn to hone a knife properly but I'll accept you're probably just being overly dramatic for the sake of your flimsy point. If you want to form an edge you're right that you have to remove material from your blade. Once you have an edge however you maintain it with a steel. Replace your accusharp with a Spyderco sharpening system or if you can spare 10 minutes for the process a Lansky sharpening system. You said you have a Kiwi and a Wüstof? If you really do have a boner over your accusharp trash I'd suggest sucking it up and sending the Wüstof to be sharpened professionally and just live with accusharping your Kiwi while it's gone. here's a picture of what happens from regularly sharpening a knife the way that you suggest. Sure, the speed in which it happens depends entirely on how frequently you're using it and sharpening it but after a decade my knives look new and are still sharp enough to shave the hairs off the arse off fly.

    Completely agree with solonoid's comment.
    As a professional, you should know how to look after your tools, and honestly, you could have sharpened a few blades with a steel in the time it took to write the article.
    Learning how to use a steel and stone is a couple of hours well spent, though I'd suggest starting with a cheap knife, so any mistakes are inexpensive and easy to rectify.

    General rule of thumb, cheap knives are easier to sharpen, as the metal is softer. Harder steel knives will hold their edge longer, but can be a devil to resharpen.
    Unless you're actually sharpening a razor, avoid sharpening so sharp you can shave with it, as it will blunt and burr very quickly in normal/field use, and once the edge has folded over, it is harder to sharpen the edge back.
    Nonetheless, if you're not interested in learning the basics, a pull through sharpener is a very valid method of getting an edge, and keeps a consistent angle too.
    I used to keep one in my field kit, along with a steel.

    A honed edge lasts longer as it's stronger.

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