As many of you know, I like knives and do a great deal of custom work on khukuris. My problem is that I also have what is known as a “hereditary” or “necessary” tremor, which means my hands shake. I have to really focus when I do work that requires fine motor skills and sharpening with a belt sander and jig is a bear for me that I try to avoid. A little over a year ago, I was visiting the Smoky Mountain Knifeworks store in Sevierville, TN, when I saw my first Work Sharp brand sharpener. It looked somewhat like a gimmick to me and I didn’t bother spending much time at their demo table. I thought to myself “who needs a little triangular belt sander to mess up a fine blade” and left it at that.
About six months later, I was getting more and more blades to sharpen and in researching methods I ran across the Work Sharp again but this time folks were talking about the heavier duty Ken Onion Edition Work Sharp. Now this intrigued me because the reviewers mentioned how quick the set up was, that the unit was very portable, powerful motor, variable speed and that the angle could be adjusted with a dial. What really wold me is that it could do a consistent convex edge (note, there are many types of convex edges and I’m not going to go into that now – but for me the idea of consistency was and still is a big deal). The other big reason is that really hard metals take a long time to sharpen by hand, which is what I usually did when it came to doing tune ups & that took a lot of time.
I decided to take the plunge and ordered the Work Sharp Ken Onion edition plus some additional belts off Amazon. Thanks to the Prime shipping program, the box arrived two days later like clock work and I started testing and using it in early February 2014. I point this out so you know this was written after quite a bit of use.
I learned a looooong time ago, never start with any blade of value when you are learning and this is another example of that. I have been using this sharpener for close to six months and really like it but you do need to practice and learn how to hold the blade and get used to the feel. I need to insert a caution here – it is always easier to take more metal off than put it back on!!! If you use a coarse belt then you can remove a lot of material fast. That’s why I recommend practicing first on knives you don’t mind if they get scuffed up a bit.
The photos are of my six month old sharpener. The belts actually last quite a while but I would still recommend you get an extra package or two of them just in case.
The unit has a 1/4″ thread on the bottom if you really want to secure it. I find I can use it just fine without mounting it and this is great because I can move the unit to where the work is. For example, I was outside on my work bench and brought the sharpener out there. The red dial you see is the variable speed control. I purposefully bought the Ken Onion edition as it has a bigger higher torque motor to avoid bogging down while sanding. My experience is that it does a great job. I can sand my big khukuris without a problem.
The yellow lever lets you rotate the sanding cartridge so you have a flat sanding surface if you want it. I tend to use use one of my other sanders but this could be handy for folks who need an all in one unit. By the way, the roller you see in the lower right corner of the catridge is spring loaded. With the unit off, you press that in and slide the belt off the top. To install a new belt, load the belt at the botton, push the pulley in and slip the belt over the top. This makes belt changes very easy. You can see the other belts in the background of the photo – I start with coarse and work my way up to the edge I want. With the khukuris, they are sharp but I don’t put hair popping edges on them so they are stronger. I figure a customer can always go sharper if they want.
Now, you really ought to buy an angle guide to set the angle of the sharpener. There is a very easy to use guide that can let you find out what something is set at easily made by Richard Kell out of brass. It takes away all the guess work. You side the blade into the guide and if the edge goes into the little circle at the bottom and there isn’t any slop then you have found your angle.
Now the Work Sharp only adjusts 15-30 degrees. For kitchen and field knives, this tends to be just fine. It tends to be with tools that you get into tools that you go past 30 degrees. I wish it could go wider but I can deal with those tools on one of my regular sanders as they are exception rather than the rule. I knew I needed something to speed up my work and make a consistent edge of the right angle on knives so the angle range the tool can do works out pretty well for me.
The belts are color coded and have their ID inside each for easy identification. Note, the Ken Onion edition uses wider belts than the normal edition but those will work as well I am told. Also, the belts really hold up well. As they wear, they just cut slower. I’m actually very pleased that they used good abrasives and not the junk that just falls apart.
In the next photos, you see me using the X4 fine belt to put a very sharp edge on a Himalayan Imports khukuri that is hardened 5160 alloy steel plus you see a photo of my every day carry, a Kershaw Compound KS1940 that my daughter got me for my birthday a few years back. I use this knife literally every day to open boxes, cut strap, cut open plastic containers, and so forth in the shop. It is 8CR13MOV alloy and needs sharpening each week due to all of the use. The Work Sharp does great in both cases.
In summary, this is a very useful tool for many reasons. For novices, this is a great sharpener. For more experienced folks, this is a handy tool that is very portable and can help save you time while producing a quality edge as sharp as you want! So, I would highly recommend the sharpener, spare belts and the angle guide and Amazon makes it easy to one stop shop and get all three:
Update 7/23/2018: The unit still works great. Here’s a post I did about affordable belts.
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