Asian Knife Sharpeners

Published November 1, 2009. From Cook's Illustrated.

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Is it worth it to invest in a sharpener specifically for your Asian knives?

Overview:

What’s the best way to sharpen an Asian knife? Because Asian knives have a 15-degree cutting angle on the blade—unlike European knives, which use a wider 20-degree angle—you can’t put them on just any sharpener and expect to get back that perfect, effortless slicing you enjoyed when the knife was new.

Or can you?

We dulled multiple copies of our favorite Japanese chef’s knife, the Masamoto VG-10 Gyutou ($136.60), on a whetstone, then sharpened them on different models of Asian knife sharpeners. Then we asked 21 testers to compare each side by side with a brand new copy of the knife as they sliced ripe tomatoes. To see if it mattered whether the edge angle was 15 or 20 degrees, we also sharpened one knife on our favorite Chef’s Choice 130 electric sharpener ($149.99), which creates a 20-degree angle. Why buy a special Asian-knife sharpener if nobody but a sushi chef could tell the difference?

The good news: Most testers found both the 15- and 20-degree edges sharp enough to slice a tomato effortlessly. Only the knife wizards… read more

What’s the best way to sharpen an Asian knife? Because Asian knives have a 15-degree cutting angle on the blade—unlike European knives, which use a wider 20-degree angle—you can’t put them on just any sharpener and expect to get back that perfect, effortless slicing you enjoyed when the knife was new.

Or can you?

We dulled multiple copies of our favorite Japanese chef’s knife, the Masamoto VG-10 Gyutou ($136.60), on a whetstone, then sharpened them on different models of Asian knife sharpeners. Then we asked 21 testers to compare each side by side with a brand new copy of the knife as they sliced ripe tomatoes. To see if it mattered whether the edge angle was 15 or 20 degrees, we also sharpened one knife on our favorite Chef’s Choice 130 electric sharpener ($149.99), which creates a 20-degree angle. Why buy a special Asian-knife sharpener if nobody but a sushi chef could tell the difference?

The good news: Most testers found both the 15- and 20-degree edges sharp enough to slice a tomato effortlessly. Only the knife wizards among our test cooks noticed “some” drag on the tomato with the 20-degree angle that wasn’t there when the angle was 15 degrees. So in a pinch, you could just use a good Western-knife sharpener—it’s always better than a dull knife.

Even better news: We found one compact, low-cost, easy-to-use manual sharpener, the Chef’s Choice Model 463 ($39.99), boasting diamond abrasives that were able to restore a completely dull knife to razor-sharpness and the proper 15-degree angle within a few minutes. (Other manual Asian-edge sharpeners by Wüsthof and Smith’s did not measure up. They used ceramic abrasives, which were woefully ineffective despite many repeated passes through the sharpeners.)

Two electric Asian sharpeners by Chef’s Choice also did a terrific job in even less time than its manual model, but these require electricity and storage space, and cost more than twice as much, so why bother? The only reason: The electric versions also can handle single-beveled traditional Japanese knives, which are sharpened on just one side of the blade. The manual model is appropriate only for double-beveled knives. (One of the electrics was designed for both 15- and 20-degree knives, single and double-beveled. It’s a good choice if you have many types of knives.)

A final note: Traditionalists insist that to use fine knives you should learn to sharpen them on a stone. While there is merit to learning this technique, it is exacting work, and most home cooks can’t spare the time. We believe it’s better to maintain the sharp edge with a convenient, affordable sharpener than to use dull knives.

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  • Product Tested

  • Prices are subject to change.
  • Highly Recommended - Winner (Asian Dual-Sided Blades Only)

    Chef’s Choice Diamond Hone Asian Knife Sharpener, Model 463

    This economical manual sharpener uses diamond abrasives in two stages: coarse and fine. It efficiently restored a crisp, smooth, 15-degree angle on a completely dull knife—several testers even preferred it to the factory edge. Small enough to store in a drawer, this is the best inexpensive manual sharpener we found for Asian knives. Note: This model can only handle double-beveled knives, such as hybrid gyutous, which are sharpened on both sides of the blade (traditional Japanese knives are single-beveled).

    $39.99

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended - (Asian Single-Sided or Dual-Sided Blades Only)

    Chef’s Choice Electric Sharpener for Asian Knives

    This electric sharpener did an excellent job restoring the edge of our 15-degree Asian knives. True, it was easier and faster than the company’s manual Model 463, but at twice the price, and requiring storage space and a power outlet, these tradeoffs landed this model in second place. However, if you own single-beveled traditional Asian knives (sharpened on only one side of the blade), this model can sharpen both single and double-beveled blades.

    $79.99

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended - (Asian and Western, Single-Sided and Dual-Sided Blades)

    Chef's Choice 15/20 Angle Select Electric Knife Sharpener

    Designed to sharpen both Asian knives to 15-degree angles and European knives to 20-degree angles, it can also be used for single-sided Japanese knives. Easy to use, it restored a completely dull Asian knife to like-new sharpness in a matter of minutes, using the slots designed for 15-degree angle knives, and did the same for a 20-degree European chef’s knife. (It can also sharpen single-beveled Japanese blades.) If you don’t already own an electric sharpener, and have both Asian and Western knives in your arsenal, this is a great choice.

    $169.99

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended - (Asian and Western, Dual-Sided Blades Only)

    Chef’s Choice AngleSelect 4623 Knife Sharpener

    Even though it required many more knife strokes than its electric counterpart, the two-stage (coarse and fine) diamond abrasives on this economical knife sharpener restored both Asian and Western blades to almost-new condition.

    $29.95

    BUY NOW Amazon
  • Recommended with Reservations - (Best for Western)

    Chef's Choice Electric Knife Sharpener, Model 130

    Our favorite electric knife sharpener for Western knives, this machine sharpened a completely dull blade in a few minutes, but put a 20-degree edge on a knife made for 15 degrees. Many testers could not detect a big difference, but experienced test cooks noticed “some drag” while cutting the tomato with the 20-degree edge, compared to the original 15-degree edge. The upshot? In a pinch, using this sharpener for Asian knives is better than working with a dull edge.

    $149.99

  • Not Recommended

    Smith’s Edgeware Santoku Sharpener

    After long minutes of laborious work on this manual sharpener, the knife cut through a ripe tomato, but required much more effort than a new copy of the same knife. A close look at the blade revealed several tiny notches where pieces of the steel broke off during sharpening on this device’s crossed ceramic rods.

    $12.98

  • Not Recommended

    Wüsthof Universal Knife Sharpener

    This two-stage manual sharpener, which uses carbide blades to sharpen and ceramic rods to hone and finish the blade, took more than 200 strokes to get our Western knife sharp enough to slice through a tomato, and even then the blade dragged. Even worse, it created a small nick on the Asian knife’s blade.

    $29.95

  • Not Recommended

    Wüsthof Knife-Life Santoku Sharpener

    More than 50 tedious strokes through the ceramic rods of this ineffective manual sharpener barely made a difference. The still-dull knife dented and squashed the tomato. Testers just laughed derisively when we asked them to compare these results to the same knife with its factory edge.

    $19.95

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