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.