I occasionally get questions from readers about sharpening: what my “system” is, what products I recommend for sharpening, how I sharpen my knives, etc.
While I wouldn’t call myself an expert on sharpening, I can certainly keep a blade sharp, and I have tried a number of different sharpening kits over the years.
Whenever I hand out recommendations for a sharpener, I always come back to the Spyderco Sharpmaker. It may not be the sexiest system, but it works. Some might be surprised to learn that before Spyderco sold knives, they sold knife sharpeners. The Sharpmaker is actually the first product Spyderco ever produced.
I’m not sure what these sold for back in the day, but today the Sharpmaker can be had for around $50. For $50 you really can’t beat the Sharpmaker. It allows you to go from knowing nothing about sharpening knives to getting hair shaving, paper slicing edges in minutes. It almost sounds too good to be true, but I have experienced it first hand when I bought the Sharpmaker years ago. It was one of the first sharpening products I purchased, and I still have and use it to this day.
What You Get
The Sharpmaker is a very simple tool. Once you pry it free of its blister pack you are left with 4 ceramic sharpening rods (2 fine and 2 coarse), 2 brass guide rods, and a 2 part plastic base / case. I believe it also includes written instructions and a DVD, although these days everything is available online. All the components are well made and sturdy. I like how the entire package tucks into itself and forms its own little case. Very cool and easy to store.
Using the Sharpmaker is pretty simple. If you can hold a knife perpendicular to the floor, then you can use the Sharpmaker. Basically, you put the base on a sturdy flat surface, put the rods into the base, hold your knife perpendicular to the floor, and run the edge of the knife up and down the rods. That’s all there is to it.
Once you get the basics down, you can play around with the nuances of the Sharpmaker. The rods come in 2 grits and you can place them in 2 settings: a 40 degree setting (20 degrees per side), which Spyderco advises for normal sharpening, and a 30 degree back bevel setting, which you can use to “relieve” the shoulders of the edge and make the edge a little more durable. You also don’t want to forget the brass guide rods. I’m sure general counsel for Spyderco wants me to mention that.
The rods themselves are ceramic. The main things to watch out for with ceramic sharpening stones is to be careful not to drop them as they are brittle and can shatter, and that you will need periodically clean them with Ajax or a similar powdered abrasive cleaner. Ceramic is porous and you will see the rods fill up with tiny metal shavings. Once they fill up they must be cleaned out or the rods won’t work as efficiently. The good news is that the rods are triangular so you can rotate them around and get plenty of use in between cleanings. The other nice thing about triangular rods is that you can even sharpen recurved edges if you use the corners of the stones.
Generally I have been pretty happy with these ceramic stones. The only thing I noticed is that over time they seem to have developed little bumps or chips. Apparently they don’t do anything to mess up your edge, but I find it a little unnerving when I use the system and the blade catches one of the bumps.
If you want to get really fancy you can order diamond and ultra fine rods for the Sharpmaker. The diamond rods are used to re-profile and aggressively remove steel. These diamond rods are good if you are trying to remove a chip or fix a really crummy edge, or maybe if you are working with a very difficult steel. The ultra fine rods can refine your edges even further for an even sharper knife. Personally, if the knife can cleanly cut paper and shave the hair off my arm, that’s as sharp as I need it. I can usually get that level of sharpness with just the regular stones that come with the Sharpmaker.
In addition to using the stones in the jigs, you can also use them as bench stones, and apparently you can use them to sharpen scissors. I free hand sharpen with the Sharpmaker stones all the time. I just hold the rod in one hand and sharpen with the other. That is the nice thing about the Sharpmaker system, you can use the guides to get a feel for how to sharpen, and then use it to learn how to freehand sharpen.
Spyderco Sharpmaker – Final Thoughts
If you are new to the world of sharpening or are just looking for a simple kit that can take you from dull to sharp in minutes, I can safely recommend the Sharpmaker. It was one piece of equipment I purchased early on in my knife collecting career that I still use to this day. The system is near fool proof, the components are all high quality, and the price is right. For $50 you really can’t go wrong.
These also make great gifts, and are not just for hardcore knife enthusiasts. They are handy in the kitchen and are designed to be used by almost anyone. In our fast-paced single serve world maintaining what we have sometimes falls to the wayside – especially when we can just buy new cheap stuff. Learning how to keep your edged tools sharp is fun and empowering, and for that reason I think the Sharpmaker can be a very thoughtful gift.
In closing I cannot recommend the Sharpmaker more highly. It’s a versatile no-nonsense sharpening system that almost anyone can learn how to use.
I recommend purchasing the Sharpmaker at Amazon or BladeHQ. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.