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Pros & Cons of Various Sharpening Devices

Below I have detailed out several kinds of sharpening devices and their pros and cons. For those looking for a way to sharpen knives, hopefully this article will give you a little guidance on what kind to purchase. In this article I will not get into specific materials, but instead give general information on the different styles and devices.

White Sharpening Stone - A.G. Russell Knives 

Ceramic & Diamond Rods

A.G. Russellâ„¢ Ceramic Sharpener

Sharpening rods are two rods set in a base at a specific angle, 30 degrees for the ones I use. The rods can be round, square, or triangular - as long as the knife has a smooth surface to slide along. Many of these rods are made out of Alumina Ceramic. The material is a distant cousin of what your crock pot is made of, but a much higher grade.


Sharpening Rods are my favorite way to maintain my edge. They are quick, easy to use, and easy to learn. Rods are limited in that they can only sharpen the preset angles, and more uncommon knives with special angles won’t benefit as much from a Rod Sharpener.



  • Easy to Use

  • Easy to Learn

  • Excellent at quick maintenance and keeping your blades sharp (Keep Sharp Not Make Sharp)

  • Relatively inexpensive (require less material)

  • Can be useful on certain serrations such as:



  • Has a set angle

  • Is only useful for edge maintenance - Keep sharp not make sharp



Because they are so easy, they are my preferred way to maintain my edge, and also my #1 recommendation for new knife users.

Watch this video to see me using the Ceramic Rods



Bench Stones

DMT Diamond Dust Bench Stones knife sharpening stones

When someone refers to a sharpening stone, or a Bench stone, they are usually referring to a flat block of dense material between 2 and 14 inches long used in the sharpening and shaping of metal tools, such as knives. These stones can be made out of a myriad of materials: natural stone, man made stone, diamonds embedded on a block, alumina ceramic, and many other materials.



  • One of the most efficient ways to sharpen

    • One of the best ways to sharpen multiple tools, and lots of them

  • Fast - One of the faster ways to sharpen tools (depending on stone material)

  • Excellent skill to have.

    • Useful in disasters. If you have a survival group, I’d usually suggest someone in the group be good at sharpening by hand.

    • Plus you get bragging rights

  • Flexible in use. You can sharpen many different tools at many different angles since it is all free hand sharpening.



  • Difficult skill to master - takes a lot of practice

  • Requires a steady hand

  • Requires at least two different grits

  • Certain stones can be expensive



In my opinion, mastering free hand bench stone sharpening is well worth your time if you find you require sharp tools often.

Watch my Stone Sharpening Guide

Differences in Stone Materials (link to separate article - not published yet)


Guided Sharpening Systems


Very similar in exercise to bench stones, guided sharpening systems enjoy many of the benefits of bench stones, while reducing the time it takes to learn the skill. As shown in the picture, the system guides your knife at the appropriate angle along the stone.



  • Very efficient sharpening

  • Fast sharpening

  • Easier to learn than free hand

  • Very flexible with many angle options

  • Smaller in size = less expensive

  • Most systems come with all the grits you need



  • Not quite as flexible as free hand

    • Can’t sharpen larger tools like chisels, large knives, axes, etc.

  • Still requires some skill and knowledge.



Guided systems make an excellent halfway point. There are many knife users who use the guided system, and are completely satisfied with their sharpening skills and results. It is not quite as useful a skill in a survival situation (because you have to be able to find a system), but for a lot of people those situations are unlikely anyways. If you aren’t quite ready to make the leap for full free hand stone sharpening, but want to be able to do more than get your knives sharpened by a professional, this is an excellent device to use.




Also known as a Pull Through sharpener, a V-sharpener takes two pieces of hardened Tungsten Carbide and places them in a V shape. To use, you pull the knife through the V. Be sure to go at a steady pace and put even pressure on the blade during the whole movement. Do not put too much pressure or the blade will skip and create a jagged edge.


Sometimes you’ll find a pull through sharpener on the back of a can opener or part of a kitchen knife set. I would not use them on kitchen knives, get a set of Rods instead.


If you have small nicks in your blade, the V-Sharpener can smooth those out quickly. But some larger nicks get caught in the V, making the nick worse. Due to the nature of the V-Sharpener, if you put uneven pressure on the blade while sliding it through the sharpener, you can eat too much of the blade away in one away and not enough in another. Uneven pressure and sliding can also produce a jagged edge, encouraging the nicking of your blade.


Sometimes blades are so old and used that their grind has completely gone, and the blade has sort of rounded out at the edge. Because V-Sharpeners remove so much material quickly, they can make an excellent tool to quickly reintroduce a grind to a blade and get the edge bevel prepared to be returned to its original sharpness.



  • Small, easy to carry around

  • Puts a rough edge on a knife

  • Very fast

  • Smooths out small nicks quickly

  • Inexpensive

  • Can be used to reintroduce a grind to a blade



  • The edge is very rough

  • Can eat too much of your blade away in one pull, and not enough in another

  • Can exacerbate nicks



A V-Sharpener is a field sharpener, and should be used as such. They are small and easy to carry with you in the field. The edge produced is rough, and toothy. A useable edge for a survival knife. They are very useful for reintroducing an Edge Bevel to your blade. In my opinion the edge is not ideal, and will have to be fixed once you are no longer in the field.


Take a look at my video on V-Sharpeners


Butcher’s Steels

DMT Diamond Butchers Steel 12" industrial diamonds, sharpener, kitchen knives

A butcher’s steel, also known as a Honing Steel (or just a Hone), is a long rod of steel attached to a handle. There are three types of butcher steels: smooth, ridge, and diamond coated. The smooth butcher’s steel is made of a super hardened steel and is the most common of the three. It does not actually sharpen your knife, as it does not remove any particles of steel. It does, however, realign the edge of your knife into a straight line - which in effect makes the blade sharper. Its effects are more noticeable on a butcher’s blade, which is usually made of a softer steel.


The ridge and diamond coated butcher’s steels will actually remove particles of steel and so do sharpen your knife, as well as helping to align the edge.



  • Very common

  • Easier to use than bench stones

  • Moderately improves Cutting Ability

  • Looks good in your kitchen block

  • Inexpensive



  • Doesn’t actually remove any steel

  • Can’t fix a blade that is actually dull

  • Can’t remove nicks



Butcher’s steels do take a moderate amount of skill. They are easier to use than a bench stone, but not as easy as ceramic rods. The Butcher’s Steels that we sell are actually coated in diamond dust, so they actually DO sharpen your blade.

In conclusion, Butcher’s Steels are certainly serviceable. If you are used to using them, get a diamond coated or ridged one to sharpen your blades. If you are looking for a new maintenance tool, I still stand by my main recommendation of using Ceramic Rods.



A 13-1/4" x 1-3/4" Leather Strop w/ Metal Handle & Swivel Hook. Single sided strop, for best results

Strops are a flat piece of soft material (usually leather) with a little give to it. They are often glued to a piece of wood for stability, but the iconic straight razor strop you see in old barber shops have a metal hook and swivel instead (pictured on the right). Strops are similar to butcher’s steels in that they do not sharpen the knife, they merely realign the edge. Strops are most often used with straight razors, although many in the knife community will use them to achieve a “super edge” with their EDC knives as well. Strops are a little divisive in the knife community. Many claim stropping is very important to the knife sharpening process. Others believe stropping to be an unnecessary step with limited results.



  • Removes burrs from sharpening

  • Improves your edge

  • Compounds can be added to improve your edge even further

  • Stropping can be very soothing

  • Having a super edge that can slice a falling hair on it can be very satisfying



  • Strops are overkill. Your knife should be sharpen enough with ceramics

  • Strops do not remove steel, and do not actually sharpen a knife

  • Unless you are using a straight razor, why do you need to slice a falling hair?


I am of the opinion that stropping, while nice, is typically an unnecessary step if you already have ceramic rods. Although if your sharpening process produces burrs on your blade, then it is important to use a strop to remove them.



Belt Grinders

Belt Grinder

Belt Grinders are big belts of sandpaper and other abrasives and buffs that are attached to large spinning wheels. 95% of all professional knife makers use belt grinders. They are fast, efficient, expensive, very dangerous, and require great skill to use.



  • The fastest and most efficient way to sharpen or shape knives



  • Can quickly ruin a blade

  • Requires a lot of practice and expertise

  • Dangerous

  • Expensive


Unless you intend to get into knife sharpening or making as a hobby or for employment, I do not recommend using a belt grinder. We do not sell belt grinders, as I know for a fact we will get a lot of complaints and returns. When you are first learning, you can typically expect to ruin at least 10 knives before you get the hang of it, and even after that you still have to be very careful. If you decide this is something you want to pursue, I suggest gathering a bunch of inexpensive kitchen knives. Your friends are bound to have a number of extra dull half ruined kitchen knives they wouldn’t mind letting go of.