Knife Sharpeners, 20-Degree (Conventional Western)
How we tested
A sharp knife is a cook’s best friend. If you look closely at the sharpened edge of a blade, called the bevel, it’s shaped like a “V” or a wedge. Traditionally, knives from Western manufacturers featured broader bevels, about 20 degrees wide on either side of the point, while Asian manufacturers ground narrower bevels, typically 10 to 15 degrees wide on either side.
Through two decades and several rounds of testing we’ve consistently preferred an 8-inch chef’s knife from Victorinox—the rare Western manufacturer that has always used 15-degree blades. But as we reported in our recent testing story, Next Generation Knife Sharpeners, there’s change afoot in the industry and distinctions are blurring as an avalanche of Western manufacturers such as Wusthof, Mercer, Messermeister, and Henckels are narrowing their blades, too. The reason: A well-made narrower blade will feel sharper because it has less mass, and thus requires less force (read: effort) from the user to move through food. To tell if a knife’s edge is 15 or 20 degrees, we recommend calling the manufacturer, but if it’s from a Western maker other than Victorinox and five years or older, it’s most likely 20 degrees.
As knives are narrowing, new sharpeners are cropping up to maintain them. We tested nine 15-degree sharpeners and found three excellent models to recommend, including one that can actually shear off metal to narrow a 20-degree blade down to 15 degrees, but we understand that not everyone has or wants a 15-degree knife. Some purists reject the idea of altering the geometry of an existing blade; others may not want to buy a new knife or mess with a treasured older blade.
For that reason we also tested nine sharpeners designed to maintain 20-degree knives. The chart features our three favorites three winners; our manual winner from AccuSharp was easy to use, lightweight, and didn’t require electricity--excellent for quick touchups. The second and third models were both electric and restored dull edges with ease. One sharpens only 20-degree knives, and has a special slot for steeling knives. The other has sharpening slots for both 15 and 20-degree blades, handy for the cook that wants both knife styles, but only one sharpener. Whichever you choose, we have one piece of advice: Use it! A sharp knife is safer, and will make easier and more precise cuts.