Sharpening

Review: Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener, Ken Onion Edition

ken-onion-work-sharp-hero4

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 Knife & Tool Sharpener, Ken Onion Edition.

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.


Detailed Specs
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.


OVERVIEW

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-hero2

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-hero1

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.

PROCESS

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. 

ken-onion-work-sharp-belt-change

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-knife-and-angle-guide

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-folder-in-guides

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-forward-grip

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-reverse-grip

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-rotated-belt-assembly

PERFORMANCE

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.

crkt-gsd-worksharp-edge

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-pioneer

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-reflective-edge

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

Just some of the many blades I have sharpened with the Ken Onion Work Sharp.

Just some of the many blades I have sharpened with the Ken Onion Work Sharp.

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.

ken-onion-work-sharp-swag

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!

Discussion

30 responses to ‘Review: Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpener, Ken Onion Edition

  1. that’s a great review man! I have the original edition of the worksharp and i love it. I have started to use it freehand in the past several months due to the stupid set angles on the original work sharp and have gotten fantastic results thanks to my practice on freehand stones.

    I love the ability to sharpen my knives so quickly and easily. I would like to pick up the ken onion edition though, along with the grinder attachment.

  2. I agree, drifter, without the thumb stud.
    I have this model Work Sharp and can’t recommend it enough. For the money. it can’t be beat.

  3. Great review, thanks for the in-depth information. I had read/seen complaints about the blade angle guide which made me very reluctant to give it a try. But with the guides off it looks like a great system.

  4. The WorkSharp with the BGA, in my opinion, is easily the best sharpener on the market… and I’ve used pretty much all of them. I think many overlook the key ingredient that makes it great (that this review gets right)… variable speed. Not only does it keep the heat down, but it sharpens with minimal metal removed, and actually allows the person sharpening to totally control the process. The simple guide allows you to sharpen freehand when needed, while providing a quick reference to keep the blade level. I could go on and on about the benefits of this sharpener, but probably bad form to out write the reviewer. 🙂

    In addition, the WorkSharp can be used for more than just sharpening. My favorite “find” was keeping my dogs “tree trunk” thick nails trimmed. :-). Believe it or not, worked great!

  5. I’ve had a KO for a couple of years and was happy, but not blown away by it. It got my knives sharp, but the blade guide and angle guides always left me wishing they were easier to use. I never thought to remove the angle guide and sharpen freehand until I read your review this morning. I gave it a try right away and got the best edge I’ve ever achieved. Thanks much for the great suggestion.

  6. David:
    Thank you for your detailed review! It’s hard to miss your passion for the blade. Job well done!
    Sparky

  7. I recently bought the worksharp and I keep having trouble with the finer belts as the backing is less stiff. I get a great edge going up to the fine x4 belt, but I seem to lose the edge at that point. SG-2 steel. I am certain it is my technique, but if you worked through this issue let me know. I am keeping very light pressure on the knife.

    I do find the WSKO very easy to use and controllable. The variable speed is great

  8. How does it work on ceramic knives? Is there a better system that you are aware of that quickly and easily sharpens ceramic knives? I own a professional sharpening service and since ceramic knives have come out, I have had trouble locating a machine or technique which can quickly and easily produce a wicked edge.

  9. I make knives from scratch using the stick removal technique. Would this work to make the initial bevel? I do it by hand on a belt grinder and then with my Lasky kit. THAT takes forever and is very hard to get the angles the same. What do you think?

    • Ryan,

      I have done a little stock removal knifemaking with the Blade Grinding Attachment and it also takes a long time. I was attempting to convex grind a four inch blade of 1/8″ 1095 (annealed) and I used up two 60-grit belts in the process and still did not have the knife ground down as much as I wanted it.

      This standard base unit might work ok if you are doing a scandivex grind, but for anything more elaborate it pays to remember that it is a hobbyist device… a darn good one, but a hobbyist device nonetheless.

  10. So if you are not using the adjustable edge guide, why choose the KO model and not the regular model? You are essentially just using the belt freehand?

  11. Great review. Very thorough and detailed. Out of all the electric knife sharpeners out there, this is definitely my favorite (for now, at least!). I also have their guided sharpening system (GSS) which works really well too! Work Sharp definitely put out some great products!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *