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Knife Sharpeners, 20-Degree (Conventional Western)

Published June 2015
Update, November 2018
We still trust the Chef'sChoice Model 130 Professional Sharpening Station, AccuSharp Knife and Tool Sharpener, and Chef's Choice 15/20 Angle Select Electric Knife Sharpener. While we typically recommend knives with a 15-degree angle, these western-style sharpeners remain our top pick if you have 20-degree blades.

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.

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The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.