Story and Photos by Joshua Swanagon
Taking care of your knife is a vital part of ensuring that your knife will take care of you, for many years to come.
Knife sharpening is a skill that can take years to perfect but can also be very rewarding. However, there can be some instances when you may be working with steel that is hard to sharpen (like a stainless steel) or have a really dull edge that will need a lot of work.
In times like these, using a regular bench stone can take a very long time and be very tedious, because you really have to pay attention to your angle with every single stroke. Angle guided sharpening systems help take the stress out of reprofiling, working tough steel or fixing a really dull edge.
I will not be going into sharpening basics in this article, but if you would like more information on that or other types of sharpening systems, check out my article from last summer on knife sharpening.
With angle guided sharpening systems you simply lock your blade into the clamp, find your angle (see the article on sharpening basics) and let the angle guide hold your angle for you.
One drawback to angle guided systems is that you will need to find your angle every time you use it (see my article on sharpening basics for instructions) and run the full set of stones—because every time you place the blade into the clamp it will be positioned differently from the previous time.
One thing that should be noted about angle guided sharpening systems is that they are not great for long knives or knives with a lot of belly. You can sharpen knives with a bit of belly to them, but it will take some time finding the best placement of the blade in the clamp, to ensure that you get the entire edge evenly.
In this article I will be focusing on three different popular systems, that fall roughly in the same category with each other. The Work Sharp Precision Adjust, the KME R.P.S.H. Combo Kit and the Lansky 3-Stone Standard Diamond Precision Knife Sharpening Kit.
The Work Sharp Precision Adjust system is a bench top sharpening solution that features a base for tip free use.
The base of the Work Sharp Precision Adjust is light, so it still requires two hands; one to sharpen and one to hold the base down. The Precision Adjust has a single angle guide that is adjusted—via an adjustment wheel at the top of the arch—in increments of 1°, ranging from 15° – 30°. The rod is held in place via a magnetic connection, making it easy to remove for transport.
The Precision Adjust comes with a Tri-BrasiveTM sharpening stone, consisting of 320 & 600 grit diamond stones and a fine ceramic. At the time of this writing there are no other stones available for this system, which I find to be a bit of a drawback.
The Tri-Brasive stone set comes in a triangular platform, with a stone on each side. Once you are done with one grit, you simply turn the platform to the next grit and continue working. The Tri-Brasive platform moved smoothly and easily along the rod, during the entire procedure.
The knife is held in place via a removable clamp, that snaps into the base unit via a magnetic connection. I found that it was a little tricky to get the clamp open at first, but once I figured it out it was a little easier.
With the distance that the clamp sticks out from the base, it felt a little spongy during use and I was getting a little movement with every pass of the stone. However, it didn’t seem to affect the angle.
Once the knife is in place, lightly run the Tri-Brasive stone along the edge of the knife—from the ricasso to the tip—while simultaneously drawing the stone downward. You do not want to press hard, nice and easy will do it. If it is taking too long to remove the steel you need, go to a more abrasive stone.
To flip the knife over there is a button on the back of the base, that disengages the rotation lock, allowing it to turn freely. Press the button in and rotate the clamp until the opposite side of the blade is in position.
Personally, I found this to be a little stiff to operate and opted instead to just pull the clamp unit out from the base, turn it over and place it back in. Although, I recommend exercising caution if you go this route.
To test the Work Sharp Precision Adjust I sharpened the Spyderco Mantra 2 TI, made of CPM M4 tool steel, and it did a good job overall. It provided a basic edge that was serviceable, but once I hit it with my strop bat from JRE Industries, I had a good keen edge.
Overall, with an MSRP of only $59.95 I was very impressed with the Precision Adjust, although I would love to see more stone options.
The KME R.P.S.H. (Repair, Profile, Sharpen, Hone) is a handheld unit that is more easily portable than the Work Sharp Precision Adjust.
The R.P.S.H. features a handle base, providing a solid interface for the hand during sharpening. Being a very compact unit, the platform almost resembles a handgun, but for sharpening knives.
The clamp is placed just forward of the grip, keeping it close to prevent any wobbling. The tension wheel to tighten the clamp is just above the grip, in between the clamp and angle adjuster. To the back of the angle adjuster is a tension wheel to tighten or loosen the pivot for rotating the knife during sharpening.
Just above the backstrap of the grip is the sliding angle guide, which is adjustable—via a tension screw at the back—in increments of 1°, ranging from 17° – 30°.
Due to the awkward configuration of the R.P.S.H. I found it difficult to get the clamp open, get the knife in place and tighten it down. I felt that if I had three hands it would have been easier. But once the knife was in place it held very tightly.
The R.P.S.H. comes with four different stones, a 100 grit XX-Course diamond hone, 120 grit ceramic stone, 320 grit ceramic stone and 1,000 grit Arkansas stone. However, the stone clamp will accommodate any 4-inch pocket stone, if you have a favorite or just want different levels of abrasion.
Like the Work Sharp, to flip the blade and get the opposite side, simply rotate the clamp until it clicks into place via the retention detents. I found the rotation of the clamp on the R.P.S.H. to be very easy to use.
The only issue I had with its operation is that the stone rod got in the way and just kind of flopped around while rotating the clamp. It was pretty annoying.
One thing I found to be a nice touch with the R.P.S.H. is that you can purchase a base for it, with a protruding rod that the handle slips down onto, just in case you are like me and feel a third hand would be helpful.
To test the R.P.S.H. I sharpened my Spartan Blades Zelos Auto, with CPM S35VN blade, and was able to get a good edge—after running it on my strop bat, the edge was keen and ready to go.
Other than being a little awkward during initial setup, I found the KME to be a good sharpening system that would easily fit into any backpack. Although, with an MSRP of $159.95 it is a bit steep for a smaller handheld system like this.
By far the simplest of the three, the Lansky 3-Stone Standard Diamond Precision Knife Sharpening Kit has been around for quite a while.
There is not much to say about the Lansky, as it is a very simple platform that requires little effort to use. Due to its size, it is also the most portable of the three systems and would easily fit into even the smallest day pack.
The Lansky system is comprised of the jig—which is composed of the angle guides and clamp—and three rods and stones. Although it only comes with three different stones (120 grit diamond, 280 grit diamond and 600 grit diamond), it is expandable to five stones, for a more refined edge.
Even though the clamp on the Lansky is the easiest of the three to place the blade, it is the only one that requires a separate tool (Philips head screwdriver) to operate. Simply loosen the tension screw (which can be done by hand) and then loosen the main screw with the Philips head screwdriver. Then place the knife into the clamp and lightly tighten the main screw—but not too tight. Once the main screw is lightly tightened, use the tension screw to lock the blade in place.
The Lansky system only has four angle settings, 17°, 20°, 25° and 30°. When you first place the sharpening rod into the angle guide you will notice that it is loose and a bit sloppy. This does not affect the angle during sharpening, even though it feels like it would.
Unlike the other two sharpening systems, you do not rotate the clamp to work the other side of the blade. Instead, you pull the sharpening rod out, flip the whole unit over and place it into the same angle guide on the opposite side. It feels a little clunky, but it works pretty well.
One thing I did notice while working with this is that even though I used the same angle guide on both sides, one side seemed to have a different angle—most notably at the tip. I can only guess that the blade must have been off a little bit in the clamp. I eyeballed it before sharpening and it looked ok, but it must have been just enough to make a difference.
To test the Lansky, I sharpened an old Luke Swenson neck knife I have had for years. I chose this knife specifically due to its 1095 High Carbon construction. Being a simpler model, I decided to work a steel that is much easier to sharpen.
With the 600-grit diamond being the highest grit stone in the kit, I got an edge that would be serviceable for a field knife, but I would want at least a ceramic in there for anything other than a rough edge. Although, hitting it with my strop bat helped.
I like the simplicity and uber portability of the Lansky 3-Stone Standard Diamond Precision Knife Sharpening Kit but would not turn to it as my main sharpening system. However, with an MSRP of $97.99 it is steep for such a simple system.
Although, you can get the standard kit for $39.99 or the standard 5 stone kit for $57.99, which do not include the diamond stones that the $97.99 kit include.
All told, I was pleasantly surprised at the performance of each system and liked certain aspects of each, better than the other two. Honestly, I really feel that the decision of which is best, ultimately comes down to your personal needs.
For myself, I would select the Work Sharp, because it is a great bench top solution. There are some things I would do differently, such as make the clamp easier to rotate, add some weight to the base, add more stones and strengthen the contact point of the clamp; but I wouldn’t consider any of that to be deal breakers. And I was actually surprised to find that it is the cheapest of the three.
As for portable solutions I would give the edge to the KME. It really came down to a more solid clamp, more angles (at smaller adjustment increments) and the option to add any 4-inch stone you would like.
In short, you really can’t go wrong with any of these systems, but for me the Work Sharp was easier to use overall, had more features and a lower price tag, and that tipped the scale.
Stay sharp my friends. K&G
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Work Sharp(800) 597-6170www.WorkSharpTools.com
KME Sharpeners(800) 561-4339www.KMESharp.com
Lansky Sharpeners(800) 825-2675www.Lansky.com
Work Sharp Precision AdjustWork SharpBlade HQ
KME R.P.S.H. Combo KitKMEBlade HQKnifeCenter
Lansky 3-Stone Standard Diamond Precision Knife Sharpening KitLanskyKnife Depot
Joshua Swanagon has studied survival in both urban and wilderness environments in Colorado and Michigan for most of his life, while also adding experience in harsher terrains abroad. He utilizes his experience and years of diverse martial arts and combatives training and real world application as a self-defense/combatives instructor, published freelance writer and Field Editor for various magazines in the fields of knives, survival, self-defense and tactical subject matters. Joshua also brings with him his years of experience as Editor of, and Subject Matter Expert for, Knives Illustrated Magazine.
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