If you’ve ever had to rebevel a knife, or sharpen through a chip or nick in the edge, you know that this can be a time consuming and mind numbing task. If you, like me, have been looking for something that can speed up this job have I got a tool for you. Behold, the Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife & Tool Sharpener.
I’ve had to fix uneven bevels on enough knives that I’ve come to dread doing it by hand. This is where my initial interest in the Work Sharp systems started. Far from being just a tool to fix the grind on a knife, the Ken Onion Edition Work Sharp is a complete system for sharpening and honing your blades.
When I visited the Darex booth (parent company of the WorkSharp brand) at BLADE Show, they were enthusiastic about sending us some items for review. Full disclosure, I purchased and have been using the Ken Onion sharpener for some time now. When I reached out to Darex about reviewing the Blade Grinding Attachment for the unit, they not only sent me the BGA, but also a fresh base unit to attach it to, as well as their new manual Guided Sharpening System and a pile of swag. I will be reviewing the BGA and the GSS soon.
Manufacturer: Work Sharp
Motor: 120VAC / 1.5 Amp
Switch: Variable Speed; On / Off / Momentary
Duty Cycle: 1 hr continous
Included Belts: P120 (120 grit), X65 (220 grit), X22 (1000 grit), X4 (3000 grit), ½” wide 6000 grit
Belt Size: 3/4″ x 12″
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP/Street Price: $149.95 / $130
Weight: 5.55 oz.
The Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener Ken Onion Edition (talk about a mouthful, I’ll refer to it as the Ken Onion Work Sharp or WSKTS-KO from here on out) is simply a hand-held belt sander optimized for knife sharpening. The belt spins around in a triangular configuration with a set of angle guides on either side, which are adjustable from 15-30 degrees. Unlike larger general-purpose belt sanders which can overheat a blade due to their high speeds, the WSKTS-KO speed is adjustable. On the slowest setting, I have been able to re-bevel edges without ruining the temper on my blades.
At a street price of around $130, the WSKTS-KO is not cheap, especially compared to the standard edition Work Sharp which retails for around $80. What you get for the extra money is wider belts, a stronger motor, a greater range of angle adjustment, and most importantly, adjustable speed. The Ken Onion Edition can be adjusted to speeds both slower, and faster than the standard edition. Being a belt based system, the edge produced will be convexed, rather than flat, or even hollow, the way most knives come from the factory.
The only con I can see with the design of the WSKTS-KO is that it is decidedly right-hand biased. I could not find any lefties to give the system a try, but I have to think it would be awkward for them, at best.
The sharpener comes with a set of five belts, the finest of which is narrower than the others and intended for use on serrations and gut hooks. Belt changes are quick and easy, requiring no tools, thanks to the spring loaded lower arm.
If this is the first time sharpening a blade, you will need to start with the coarse belt in order to set the new bevel. Subsequent sessions will only need the finer grits, depending on the level of edge degradation. Once the bevel is set, I have been doing 8-10 strokes per side with each of the finer belts.
To begin sharpening your knife, simply set the angle guides at your desired increment, place the blade on the appropriate belt, and then pull the trigger. Draw the knife towards you (the instructions recommend doing this at a speed of 1” per second), keeping the edge perpendicular to the direction of the belt, and when the tip of the knife reaches the center of the belt, release the trigger while holding the knife stationary.
If you draw the point past the centerline with the belt still in motion, you will round the tip of your blade because of the way the belt will flex. It only took a little getting used to for me to stop at the right point.
A word about the angle guides. I don’t like them.
They work by laying the flat of the blade against them and drawing the knife through. They are not super accurate, as they can flex if you put too much pressure on them, and they will follow the flattest bevel of your knife which can alter the angle from your selected increment depending on what type of grind the knife has. They also won’t work as well with convex grinds, like the one found on my L.T. Wright Rogue River, which don’t have any flat section. They are also difficult to use with blades that are smaller or have big thumbstuds.
The good news is, you don’t need the guides at all! I have been using the WSKTS-KO without the guides for months. By holding the knife vertically, you can use the device just like you would a Spyderco Sharpmaker or similar crock/stick based sharpening system. The resulting edge angle is somewhere between 15-20 degrees.
I’ll take it a step further and only use the right side of the belt, reversing my grip on the knife and drawing away from me for the alternating strokes. This ensures that the slack of the belt is the same for each side, creating even bevels, and that the direction of the belt is always going away from the sharpened edge. This is by no means necessary; it is just my inner OCD showing.
The entire belt assembly is also capable of rotating forward so that it is pointing away from the handle. In this configuration it can be used to sharpen larger stationary items like an axe or lawn mower blade.
Even when using the WSKTS-KO in my own, convoluted way, the device is able to achieve fantastic results. The finished edge will be hair popping sharp and close to a mirror polish.
Shortly after I received the new unit, I had two knives in my possession with uneven edge bevels, one made of AUS8, and the other of D2. This would be a good chance to test the effectiveness of the Ken Onion Edition on two very different steels.
The AUS8 was a cinch. I fixed the uneven grind on my CRKT G.S.D. and the coarse belt made quick work of the steel, saving me a lot of time with benchstones. In less than ten minutes I had worked my way through all of the belts and had achieved hair shaving nirvana.
Unfortunately, the D2 bladed Smith & Sons Pioneer that I picked up from BLADE Show 2015 was also guilty of uneven edge grinding. D2 has a reputation for being difficult to sharpen so I was not looking forward to fixing this with stones. The reputation is well earned. Even with a fresh extra-coarse belt on the Work Sharp, the process took… for… ever. I spent close to three hours(!) on the machine before I finally started to get a burr on the edge.
In all my time with the Work Sharp, nothing has ever presented such difficulty as the D2. I’ve re-beveled dozens of blades, and never run into problems. Simpler steels such as the 1095 on my ESEE Izula-II and 8Cr13MOv on my CRKT Doug Ritter RSK Mk6 were predictably easy to shape. Some more complex stuff like the 3V on a Fiddleback Forge Camp Knife and Benchmade’s S30V and 154CM take a bit longer, but were still no problem.
Moving on to longer blades, the Ken Onion Work Sharp also made rebeveling an Old Hickory 8” Chef Knife (1095 carbon steel) an easy task. Anything beyond that length I found more difficult to manage, due to the normal range of motion of the human arm. The BLADE Show rep mentioned to me that the Blade Grinding Attachment was better for working with longer knives. Look for the review of that attachment once I have been able to use it for some amateur knifemaking.
In all cases, even with the recalcitrant D2, the finished edge was simply sublime. I could even read reflected newsprint off the edge of the Pioneer. A few small scratches can crop up outside of the polished area, so be aware of this if you are concerned with keeping the knife looking pristine.
The Ken Onion Edition Work Sharp has quickly become an indispensable fixture in my pantheon of sharpening tools. Versus a full sized belt sander, it has the advantage of being smaller, slower, and very portable. Even if you are living in a small apartment, this is something that could live in a drawer until you need it.
The appeal of the Ken Onion Work Sharp to me is that it can be used as a standalone system, or as part of a wider array of sharpening devices.
For my field knives, the convex edge from the Work Sharp enables easy touchups with a small paddle strop. After a camping trip I can return to the device and run the knife through the belts before putting the blade away.
For my EDC, I have a hanging strop, loaded with compound, which is hooked to the wall in my bedroom. Every couple of days, a few swipes before going to bed is enough to keep the edge screaming. Before I had hung the strop though, I was using the 1000 and 3000 grit belts on the WSKTS-KO to maintain the edge.
For kitchen knives, I like to use my Sharpmaker (which sits out on my kitchen counter) for quick touchups. Instead of a honing steel, I’ll swipe the knife along the white sticks a few times before each use. The angle created by freehand sharpening with the WSKTS-KO is compatible with the Sharpmaker with the sticks in their 40º inclusive position.
The WSKTS-KO also works great on my beater knives, fixing any nicks or dings in the edge very quickly, keeping me from relegating any of them to the scrap heap.
Is all of this worth the $130 price tag? For me, a resounding yes. The Ken Onion Work Sharp makes the task of re-beveling a knife easier and more precise than any method I have ever tried, and the fact that it effortlessly gets the blade to a scalpel sharp edge is the icing on the cake.
BONUS: Darex sent me a lot of swag, so I’m passing some of it on to you! The first person to correctly identify the knife pictured on this sticker gets a couple of stickers and a WorkSharp baseball cap. Leave your answers in the comments below!