Last updated 11.12.22 — Five years gone and thousands of published words later and it’s time to refresh the KKG list of professional knife sharpening services. I’m still a very very very very picky person, so rest assured, I’m still not taking my mission lightly. But the landscape has changed.
First off, one of the three knife sharpening services I originally reviewed has closed its doors—after being in business 80 years! Go figure. (You can’t give folks just two knife sharpening services to choose from, can you?) Secondly, when I googled “professional knife sharpening,” a bevy of new possibles flooded my iMac screen—more than I remember seeing five years back. Thirdly. . .it was time.
Four Top Services
Life is short and I have no interest in dissing knife sharpening services. It’s a tough enough grind as it is (pun intended!). So please know this—all four of these finalists are good to go. I’ve already done the heavy screening and any sharpening services deemed unworthy have been banished from these pages. Who’s left are the cream of the crop (starting with my two originals):
Bozeman Knife Sharpening (seattleknifesharpening.com)
Where: Bozeman, MT / Contact: Bob Tate
Martell Knives (in the process of moving)
Where: Philadelphia, PA / Contact: Dave Martell
Where: Berry, KY / Contact: Phil Fox
REK Knives (rekknives.com)
Where: Greenville, SC / Contact: Josh
Although I still have some quibbles and some of these sharpeners do certain things better than others, all of these top-drawer pros understand how to achieve true sharpitude and how to do it without hurting your loved ones, er, your knives. On top of this, they are great communicators, responsive, and genuinely nice guys. They love what they do and they love making the world a sharper and better place.
These knife sharpening services are all:
1) Deeply experienced. All have sharpened, literally, thousands of blades and many have been doing it for decades.
2) One-man bands—they, personally, do the sharpening themselves. They have no assistants, no trainees, no life-long buds who sub in on the grinding belts if they get buried. Nope. Nobody touches your knives but the owner/operator. (Could I be any clearer?)
3) Well-established bricks-and-mortal businesses, as well as mail-order outfits. They have clear instructions and procedures (well, some clearer than others—oops, I’m already quibbling) as to how to send them your beauties.
Finally, and maybe most important of all, I have personally auditioned them all. Yes, pinky promise (as my teenage daughter used to say). I am not simply parroting what I’ve heard or read about or garnered from multiple websites, but sharing my own personal experience as a fellow consumer. And, this time around, believe me, it was a ton of work.
These five pro knife sharpening services only represent a fraction of the pro sharpeners I researched and considered. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure there are more high-quality knife sharpening services out there. So just because a knife sharpener doesn’t appear in these pages, doesn’t mean they’re not high-quality. On the other hand, please please be careful who you give your knives to. (Read Finding a Professional Knife Sharpening Service for more advice.)
I’ll begin with the two knife sharpening services from my original review and then proceed to the ones most recently sampled.
Very Important Note: I do not receive a cent from any of these knife sharpening services for referring customers. It’s a freebie. If for some reason this changes, I’ll be the first to let you know!
Bozeman Knife Sharpening (formerly Seattle Knife Sharpening)
IMPORTANT UPDATE! Seattle Knife Sharpening is now back in business under his new name: Bozeman Knife Sharpening! After pulling up stakes and moving to Montana, Bob Tate has finally found a suitable space and is, once again, sharpening knives. Hallelujah!
I first found out about Bozeman Knife Sharpening by accident from a YouTube video. Early on in my knife-sharpening education, I stumbled onto a clip of a very satisfied Bozeman Knife customer showing off his newly sharpened set of Global knives. He sliced off slivers from a sheet of paper with ease and raved about the sharpitude. I was entranced.
I went to the Bozeman Knife Sharpening website and liked what I saw (literally as well as figuratively—it’s a nicely designed site). The business seemed to be a small operation by one guy, Bob Tate, which I found attractive. Personalized service.
He had learned his craft from Bob Kramer, one of the most well-known and high-quality bladesmiths alive. And—judging from what he wrote on his site—Bob (Tate, that is) seemed open and friendly. I wrote him an email or two with questions about his craft, how he ground his edges, and he answered back quickly.
“I zipped through a tomato—the first time in years without a serrated in my hand.”
His method is slightly unorthodox, but wickedly sharp. He explained that for each knife he started from as sharp an angle as he dared as his primary angle, and then ground the rest of the blade down so that it smoothly segued from the edge up to the spine. It sounds thorough, and it is.
As he mentions on his site, it’s a 6- to 7-step process using belt sanders and polishing wheels along with sharpening compounds. On a German-style knife this often means thinning down the blade a bit and creating an edge angle much sharper than usual. Fine with me!
Bozeman charges $2.00 per inch, plus a $5 handling charge. Bent tips are fixed for free; broken tips are $10.
I boxed up a bunch of my knives as per Bob’s instructions and sent them off to Washington state (long before he moved to Montana). Almost two weeks later I got them back (unfortunately, I live on the other side of the country). I was a little disappointed at the turnaround time—but the knives, the knives! They looked sharp.
I grabbed a newly-sharpened chef knife and immediately tried what I’d seen the guy in the YouTube video do. Oh, yeah. Right through paper, not only without resistance, but not leaving any roughness either. The cut edges of the paper were perfectly smooth—like I’d used a pair of German scissors. I zipped through a tomato—the first time in years without a serrated knife in my hand. This was as true for the Henckels knives I’d sent him as my Japanese-made Global.
As if this were not enough, Bob was also big on follow-through. He recommended the best type of hone to use to keep my knives sharp as long as possible (see My Favorite Honing Steels), and even gave me honing instructions over the phone. What a guy! I was off to a great start with my first professional knife sharpening service.
BOZEMAN/SEATTLE UPDATE I just got back a box of freshly sharpened knives from Bozeman/Seattle Knife Sharpening—it was like Christmas in July. Spot-checking sharpitude (and this batch was much larger than my original) proved that Tate has not lost his touch. If you’re hungry for more, be sure to read my two-part interview with Bob.
I heard of Dave Martell—the owner, chief cook, and bottle washer of Martell Knives (in the process of moving)—from my favorite kitchen knife book, An Edge in the Kitchen by Chad Ward. Dave has been building a reputation in professional knife sharpening for over a decade and has a special passion for Japanese blades. Actually, he’s divided his business into two separate sharpening services—one for Western-style knives, the other for Japanese.
Having no Japanese knives that needed sharpening [at the time of my original review—that has changed], I chose the more standard Western-style service. I queried him about his sharpening process and he confirmed that it was the usual combo of belt sander followed by a de-burring wheel or buffer. But, unlike Bob in Seattle, Dave prefers to sharpen Western knives at the more traditional angle of 20 degrees or so.
He’ll do the majority of the blade at a steeper, more acute, angle, but for the final bevel, he will widen it out a touch. Although he feels it’s not as “pretty,” he’s found it be to the most durable angle for German steel. Different strokes for different folks. (Interesting note: Dave is the only professional sharpener reviewed that takes a decidedly different approach to sharpening German steel from Japanese.)
For German knives, Martell Knives charges $1.50 per inch with a $5 minimum. Broken tips are steep—$11 (not sure why). Japanese factory-made knives are another story—$3 per inch with no maximum ceiling. So an 8-inch chef will run $24. Zowie! And then there’s Japanese hand sharpening which starts at $5.50 an inch and goes up from there.
“The poor bread knife had been seriously abused over the years, sawing through frozen bread among other things. . .”
I packed another box, not quite so many this time, and the knives were returned in one week. Yes, in half the time of Seattle Knife, but then Fleetwood, PA, where Martell is located, is only a 5-hour drive away. The bevels (the part of the blade that Vs in to the cutting edge) were impeccable—as even and straight as if they’d come from the factory and the sharpness matched factory standards as well. They cut through tomatoes, sliced cucumbers nice and thin. They slivered paper—just like the YouTube video.
That said, if I were to be persnickety (and that is my job as KitchenKnifeGuru), they weren’t quite as searingly sharp as Seattle Knife. But more than sharp enough for your average home kitchen or any other that’s not filigreeing radishes a mile a minute.
Global Chef Knife (G2), 8-Inch
Global makes some of the most strikingly modern kitchen knives on the planet. And they also happen to be killer sharp. Most of them, including this chef’s, are what I call Japanese hybrids—designed and manufactured in Japan, but with German-type blades and a Western sensibility in mind. They’re light and sleek and won’t tire out your hand. I own their 7-inch santoku which always makes carving up pineapples fun instead of a chore! (For more suggestions on chef knives, make sure to visit Best Chef Knives — Six Recommendations.)Global Chef Knife (G2), 8-Inch @ Amazon
One of the knives I sent Martell Knives was a workhorse Henckels—a wedding present—that not only had many years of faithful service to its name (decades, really), but many sharpenings of mixed-quality that had left it with an ugly, uneven edge. If you chopped parsley on a flat board, you’d miss sections with every chop. Sure enough, when I got it back from Martell, the edge was straight and even. No more gaps on the cutting board. Hurrah!
I also sent them one of my serrated bread knives which they sharpen for an extra charge. Not every professional knife sharpener can handle serrated, but most in this review do. The poor bread knife had been seriously abused over the years (another wedding present), sawing through frozen bread among other things, and really needed an overhaul. It came back refreshed, but not fully restored—which may be the best one can hope for a serrated blade, I know they’re challenging to fully resuscitate. (Though I might send another bread knife to another service and compare sometime.)
Martell Knives’ website has a mailing form (pretty basic) you can print out for totaling up your charges (Seattle does not, you must create your own). Martell also has a very convenient payment system where they email you a Paypal invoice when the knives are ready to ship back. Very fast and easy for the customer to process—a big plus in my book. All-in-all, a top-notch operation.
And now for the new reviews. . .
KySharp (as in “Kentucky” Sharp) first caught my eye not only because it had a clean and inviting home page design, but also, on that very first page, said the kinds of things I wanted to hear. Things like, “this [sharpening] process removes only a minimal amount of metal and gives a very stong, long-lasting edge.” Minimal metal, long-lasting edge. Bingo!
As I dug in deeper, the story only got better. The owner/operator, Phil Fox, had a love for quality knives since he was kid, held degrees in physics and engineering, specialized in sharpening only kitchen knives, considered himself a craftsman (not a “sharpener”), and had worked for years to discover a sharpening system that could consistently produce razor sharp edges. Double bingo!
“Phil doesn’t differentiate between German and Japanese knives…”
I emailed Phil some questions about his sharpening technique and the difference between his three sharpening rates—$8, $10, or $12, irregardless of length. He explained a two-stage process, similar to Dave Martel’s, but with a very important difference—Phil doesn’t differentiate between German and Japanese knives.
For his top-of-the-line Signature Service ($12) Phil sharpens at 15 degrees, adds a mirror polish bevel, and fixes anything that needs to be repaired (broken tip, chip removal, bolster reduction, etc.). His Deluxe Sharpening ($10) is the same as Signature, but doesn’t include any repair, and Serrated Sharpening is exactly as the name implies, for serrated blades only. (Which is great, because some services won’t touch serrated.) Unlike Dave, Phil doesn’t feel it’s a waste to finely finish German knife edges, thus, he’s more in sync with Seattle Bob. Good enough for me!
While I packed up the knives—super-easy because of Phil’s incredibly clear and well-thought-out website—I mused about why a man with degrees in physics, engineering, and math (yes, I forgot to mention) would opt out of the traditional job market and hole up (with his wife and two kids) in the wilds of Kentucky sharpening knives. People never cease to intrigue. . .and I love that about them.
Five days later, including a weekend, I got the knives back from KySharp! Whoa. The Blue Grass State felt as close as Jersey. And—which was just as sweet—I hardly recognized the knives. All dings and bends had evaporated including a broken tip I couldn’t tell ever existed. The edges looked smooth, consistent, and polished.
I immediately carved a half moon out of folded-over magazine paper (a test I picked up from a Bob Kramer video) and the blade cut effortlessly, leaving a smooth edge, no raggedness. That’s the way they do it in Kentucky. Yay, I’ve found a new professional knife sharpener!, I silently cheered.
Kitchen Knife Supply Pipeline
Right about here I should pause and explain that this time around the whole knife gathering, mailing, receiving, and evaluating process became much more complicated than five years back. The main problem being that I have become more educated, and finicky, about who should have command over my beauties. Plus, most of my blades are newer, higher quality, and in more pristine shape than they were five years back. Truth be told. . .I couldn’t quite bear to have an untested knife sharpening service—even if highly-screened and hand-picked—sharpen my darlings.
My solution? Offer free knife sharpening to my friends and borrow their kitchen knives! And if you’re thinking, “What a minute, he won’t send his own knives, but he’s willing to let his friend’s knives get trashed”, please let me explain: 1) I was pretty darn sure none of my friends owned any fancy-schmancy kitchen knife brands, and 2) I was fully prepared to replace any blades if for some bizarre reason they were ruined.
So. Ten knives total from three different friends. Which ended up being a project management challenge in-and-of itself, what with tracking who’s knife was who’s, what kind of shape it was in before (plenty of mind-numbing pics), which pro sharpener to send it do, and, finally, testing how well the freshly-sharpened blades sliced stuff up. But somehow my artsy-fartsy brain made it through the organizational gauntlet intact.
The only mildly horrifying thing was discovering the condition many of my friend’s knives were in—nicked edges, bent tips, scratched up blades. Poor babies. . .but excellent trial-by-fire for my three new knife sharpening services.
* Extra credit: Guess which knifemaker made eight of the ten commandeered knives? (See the bottom of this article for the answer.)
Ignore the scary-looking REK Knives home page and the scary-sounding name and you have the nicest, most competent, blade sharpener you’d ever want to meet. Josh, the sole owner/sharpener, has been a full-time professional knife sharpener since 2010.
And all you need do is sample one of his blog entries (like, What is a regrind and how does it help my knife?) and you will be thoroughly convinced that this is a man who lives and breathes knife sharpening and its mastery.
REK Knives originally came to my attention from a comment left on this very page—a reader who had recently sampled Josh’s services and was thrilled with the life it had breathed into his kitchen knives. And he had not even used Josh’s premium Hand Sharpening!
Speaking of which, Josh offers an incredible array of services, like PVD coating and grind conversions (I have no idea), things that have little to do with kitchen knives and much more to do with that whole other world of hunting and tactical knives. Which is a wonderful thing, but does give his kitchen knife customers more info to wade through.
Plus, I think his various services and options could be described in a simpler, clearer way. (Oops, did we just stumble into a quibble?) Fortunately, Josh is only an email away and very responsive. We had a nice exchange where he clarified his prices as well as explained (along with photos) what he meant by a micro bevel.
As far as kitchen knives are concerned, Josh has two services: 1) Machine Sharpening—with a belt sander only, slow speed and under coolant, of course, and 2) Hand Sharpening—with a belt sander followed by hand sharpening on the Wicked Edge Precision Sharpener where he adds a microbevel.
Out of curiosity, and to get a fuller sampling of what Josh was capable of, I specified two knives machine sharpened and one hand sharpened. Machine Sharpening costs $2 an inch—with an $8 minimum and $15 max. (So, a 3.5-inch paring costs $8; an 8-inch chef $15). Hand Sharpening costs $6 an inch with a $25 max.
See the Money, Money, Money section for a cost comparison chart on all five services.
Just call me dense, but in spite of asking for a clarification of prices, I still missed something. I did not fully digest the fact that unless you either use the premium Hand Sharpening service, or pay $.50 an inch for reprofiling, Josh will simply restore the factory edge and angle. Which means if you’d like him to improve on the edge angle of, say, an older Henckels 6-inch chef, bringing it down to 15 degrees from its factory 22, you will need to either pay $3 extra for reprofiling (on top of $12) or use his Hand Sharpening service.
In my case, Josh ended up, for all practical purposes, sharpening one knife twice—but he did not charge me for it. He was a really good sport and only added on the reprofiling. Classy guy . . . and I very much appreciated it. (Just for the record, Seattle Knives and Art of Sharp include reprofiling in their regular sharpening rates and do not charge extra. KySharp includes it in his Signature and Deluxe services only.)
REK uses a spiffy, online form to record which knives you’re sending in, etc. I love the convenience, even more now, because I believe it’s been improved from when I sent in my knives last year. I would still recommend, as a safety, sending along hard copy in your shipping box (i.e. a list that includes each knife and what you wish done). Regardless, Josh will email you if he has any questions about your intentions.
After the usual couple emails back-and-forth, I packed up the last three blades and sent them on their way. And if it hadn’t been for my reprofiling SNAFU (mentioned above), the turnaround would have been five days. Sweet! So if you live on the East Coast or East of the Mississippi, your turnaround should be quick.
All knives were returned plenty sharp! And an old Henckels six-inch chef’s with dings in the edge that underwent premium hand sharpening, came back reborn—shiny and smooth and razor sharp. As if it had come from Seattle.
KKG ANONYMITY I’m not much of a sneak, I’m a straight-shooting type of guy. But not letting these professional sharpeners in on the fact I owned a kitchen knife website seemed like the right thing to do. I wanted to test how they would honestly answer questions and handle a typical customer without being tempted to offer any special treatment, or perks, to me as a reviewer.
This is where the knife nuts will all gravitate and everyone else just glaze over. But what would a review of five knife sharpening services be without some testing and comparing of sharpness? If you feel yourself already nodding off, please feel free to skip to the end of this whole section where I draw some conclusions about all the professional sharpeners and compare them.
In my original review, I handled my evaluation of edge sharpness in a pretty general and unmethodical way. I sliced some paper, cut a few veggies, and that was that. This time around—and especially, since with three new sharpeners, it would be a total of five sharpening services I would be recommending—I wanted to be able to offer a better basis of comparison. Something a little more concrete. Hmmm. Easier said than done.
What happened at first was, when each batch of blades came in from each different sharpener, I grabbed some newspaper (or better yet, news magazine paper ) and slivered off corners with the newly-sharpened edges. Cool. The first batch (KySharp) did excellently; and the next (RazorEdge) whizzed right through. OK. I could tell all these knives were in the proper sharpness universe and certainly sharper than knives in at least 95 percent of all U.S. home kitchens—but I still felt I was skimping on analysis.
SHARPNESS TESTING SYSTEMS Interesting enough, in one of my queries to the pro sharpeners, I had asked one if he tested his edges to confirm their sharpness. And he’d said, early on in his practice, in an effort to precisely quantify how he was doing, he’d tried out the Edge On Sharpness Tester. But he had found the device so inconsistent that he quickly sold it and has since simply relied on his fingers, his eyes, and, in a pinch, shaving a few arm hairs—methods which seem to be the norm for most pros.
After some trial and error, I came up with a two-part system:
First, with each knife, I tried to carve half moons through loosely folded-over news magazine paper (as already mentioned—something I culled from Bob Kramer). The object was for the knife to enter and exit the paper without resistance and remove a complete half moon (really, more like an orange slice shape). Ideally, the edges of paper the knife cut through would be smooth without any toothiness, thus, confirming a extra level of sharpitude.
In short order I discovered the newspaper test was not demanding enough. Although a few of the Art of Sharp blades had problems with exiting the paper, in general, all the knives (from all five sharpeners) could carve full, and pretty smooth, half moons. Darn. (Below: sharpness test with newspaper)
Second, I added the classic and most knife-problematic vegetable to the mix—the tomato. (Yes, I know, it’s really a fruit.) I quickly discovered tomatoes were much much better at revealing how sharp a blade was. Unquestionably more exacting than paper. Good, but I needed to codify my procedure—because I wasn’t being nearly consistent and detailed enough in my recording of tomato data. (Wow, do I sound like a knife nerd or what?)
Number One, my tomatoes weren’t all the same exact type or in the same ripeness. Big diff, folks. And Number Two, I wasn’t paying close enough attention to exactly what kind of resistance, or lack or resistance, the knife edges were giving me all along the entire edge. Plus, I wasn’t applying the exact same types of cuts or being diligent enough about exerting the same amount of pressure. Ha!
But from these initial phases, I finally came up with my final series of parameters for my final series of tomato tests. It was exhausting. But here they are:
#1) The tomato: The best tomato—because it was the most challenging—was a common, ripe, hothouse tomato. The kind most grocery stores sell all year round and come quaintly displayed in vined bunches. No plum tomatoes, too firm. No other kind of tomato in general, too firm. And no tomatoes that hadn’t softened into ripetude.
#2) The cut: Every cut needed to be a push cut. First, because that was a cut that demanded the most from the cutting edge, and second because it was a cut that was fairly easy to track and control.
#3) Edge consistency: Multiple push cuts were needed in order to determine whether the sharpitude was consistent along the entire edge. To suss out weak spots. So I performed a minimum of three push cuts, each starting from a different area of the blade—tip, belly, heel. (Have you nodded off yet?)
#4) Pressure/weight: Ideally, a finely-sharpened knife should take very little downward pressure (or hand/arm force) to break through the skin of the tomato. And it should be one, uninterrupted push. Any need to saw back-and-forth was evidence of inferior sharpitude.
Unfortunately, because of the varying weights of the knives themselves (some widely), downward pressure was sometimes the trickiest element to gauge. Larger, and older, knives that carried more heft always seemed to slice more effortlessly. So be it. . .just something to be aware of.
Important Note: One major element I didn’t have to worry about was inconsistencies stemming from using a wide variety of models (high-end to low) from a bevy of manufacturers (Wusthof to Shun). All but one blade was German-made, and five out of the ten were the exact same line—Henckels Four Star. See the exact brands and models below in Sharpness Test Results. (I warned you this section was for knife nuts, didn’t I?)
So, I drove to my local grocer; bought pounds of ripe, hothouse tomatoes; piled them into baskets on my kitchen island; and I was on my way! (Below: KKG’s journey through his Tomato Sharpness Test.)
(BTW, I have no idea what that wooden mixing spoon is doing there. For a sense of scale?)
Sharpness Test Results (for slicing tomato)
A rating of:
excellent = little resistance, minimum pressure, no weak spots
good = additional pressure needed or had weak spots
OK = significant pressure demanded and/or sawing back and forth
(All three knives at $12 signature rate)
– Wusthof Gran Prix chef, 6-inch: excellent
– Henckels Four Star chef, 8-inch: excellent
– Henckels Four Star slicer, 8-inch: good, better mid-blade than tip
(Each knife sharpened at a different rate.)
– Henckels Four Star chef, 6-inch [$25 hand sharpening rate]: excellent plus, absolutely no weak spots, every millimeter sharp
– Henckels Twin utility, 6-inch [$12 machine sharpening rate, plus $3 for reprofiling]: excellent plus, absolutely no weak spots
— Calphalon parer, 4 1/2 inch [$9 machine sharpening rate]: good to OK, always had to apply pressure
As a means of further comparison, I also auditioned knives sharpened by my original two sharpeners, as well as a blade with a factory-sharpened edge.
($1.50 per inch—standard rate for German-style knives)
— Henckels Four Star, 6-inch [$9 standard rate]: OK—wouldn’t cut on first push even with serious pressure, buuut. . .could slice very thin. [I never used this blade after having it sharpened years ago—it stayed in a drawer wrapped in newspaper.]
Seattle Knife Sharpening
($2.00 per inch, standard rate—plus $5 handling per package)
— Calphalon santoku, 7-inch [used quite a bit]: excellent plus
— Global santoku, 7-inch [used quite a bit]: excellent to good, no weak spots, minimal pressure
— Henckels Pro S, 8-inch [used quite a bit, our go-to chef knife for years]: excellent plus
— Wusthof Classic Ikon chef, 9-inch [newly sharpened]: excellent plus
Wusthof Factory Edge
— Wusthof santoku, 7-inch [lightly used, honed regularly]: excellent plus
First off, let me just say as a general disclaimer that all of this is just One Man’s Opinion!
1st Place, Top of the Class
Seattle Knife Sharpening and REK Knives sort of tie—both of these guys produce consistently super-sharp edges. But please note, with REK Knives you must pay extra for this performance. His standard “machine rate,” while more than adequate for most home kitchens, does not match the sharpitude of knives sharpened at Seattle’s single-tier rate.
Oh, and my Wusthof santoku with factory-sharpened edges places here as well. Like all of Wusthof’s Japanese-style knives, it’s a thinner blade and sharpened at a sharper angle than your regular Wusthof German-style knife. Congrats, Wusthof!
2nd Place, but no Slouch
KySharp comes in very close behind with a strong point of rock-solid consistency. Also note, that KySharp’s test results were from knives sharpened at Phil’s top-level Signature Service with 15-degree edge angles. His Deluxe Service should equal this performance, but his Express Service (with 20-degree edge angles) might not.
KySharp had a challenge with his slicer (long, thin carving knife)—but, to be fair, neither Seattle nor Razor Edge had a slicer to compare to. I queried another pro sharpener I know about whether slicers are particularly hard to sharpen and his answer was negatory. But I’m still not convinced. I think the fact a slicer is so long and narrow might make it harder to ensure a consistent sharpitude along the entire length of the edge. Just my opinion. . .
3rd Place, but still Highly Acceptable
Martell Knives comes in last along with REK Knives machine edges only (which, actually rates a bit higher—maybe in-between second and third).
I was a bit disappointed that Martell didn’t show better, but in Dave’s defense, German-style knife sharpening is not his preferred thing. Plus, he purposely sharpens his German knives with less acute edge angles. His passion is Japanese where he has long been considered a master. I would be willing to bet that factory Japanese knives sharpened with his Japanese technique would score “excellent” to “excellent plus.” I look forward to someday, when I have a Global or Shun that needs sharpening, sending him one to weave his magic on.
From these tests on these knives, it would appear the biggest difference in performance lies between Second- and Third-Place knives. First- and Second-Place knives are not as noticeably different in sharpitude. So if you are finicky and truly appreciate super-sharp edges, stick to the First- and Second-Place knife sharpening services. And save the Third-Place services for a rainy day. . .
Also, be aware that other brands and models of kitchen knives might perform differently. My testing is probably most useful as a reference point when reading the next section below on pricing. It can help guide you as to what kind of bang you’re getting for the buck.
Finally. . .please remember that all the knife sharpening services considered in this article stand head-and-shoulders above the majority of other pro sharpening services, and all produce knives sharper than those in probably 90 percent of home kitchens in the U.S. of A. In addition, none of them will, in a million years, damage your knives, but sharpen them correctly at slower speeds, using a coolant if necessary.
You’ve got the top of the pops!
Money, Money, Money
So, say you sent off three knives (or six) to each service—an 8-inch chef, a 6-inch chef, and a 4-inch paring knife. What kind of tab would you run up?
Lets assume the knives don’t need any repair—although, as I’ve already mentioned, some sharpening services perform minor stuff for free. We also won’t include shipping and insurance which we will deal with separately. And, because of all his options, lets figure Razor Edge at three different levels of sharpening, to give us a full range. Also: rates on a couple of these services have gone up since I shipped out the knives for this review—so, we’ll use the latest prices.
Cost Comparison Chart—Sharpening Only*
|Sharpening Service||Three Knives||Six Knives|
|Martell Knives (German knives)||$27.00||$54.00|
|KySharp (Deluxe Service)||$30.00||$60.00|
|REK Knives (Machine Sharpening)||$32.00||$64.00|
|Seattle Knife Sharpening (including service fee)||$41.00||$82.00|
|REK Knives (Machine Sharpening w/reprofiling)||$41.00||$64.00|
|REK Knives (Hand Sharpening)||$60.50||$120.00|
|*If you treat your blades right, you could go three years or more between sharpenings.|
Interesting spread, no?
It’s kind of a fun surprise that, even though the knife sharpening services all vary in the way they charge, the majority of them come in closely clustered in price. Only REK Knives’ more premium services begin to leave the pack, with his hand sharpening topping out at double the cost of many of the others. Which begs the question, could it possibly be worth it? And what about Seattle Knives versus Martell? Could Seattle be worth the extra ten dollars?
Let’s look at REK first:
I must admit I have ambivalent feelings about REK Knives’ hand sharpening service. On one hand, I immensely enjoy and respect the incredibly sharp edges Josh is able to produce. On the other, I wonder if he’s pricing himself out of the market. Because the difference in sharpness between REK’s premium hand sharpening and Seattle’s standard sharpening is pretty much nil. And the difference between it and KySharp’s deluxe service is next to nil.
For me, it’s not worth paying up to twice as much for. Thus, I’d only consider using REK’s hand sharpening for a knife or two I really really cared about, or a couple that were my kitchen mainstays, but not indiscriminately. Otherwise, I would stick with his machine sharpened service, or combine machine with reprofiling on knives that had wide edge angles I wanted narrowed down. Or I’d go elsewhere.
Seattle Knives is another story. Paying a bit more for Seattle might be worth it because, 1) his knives are consistently sharper and more refined than the rest (other than RE’s hand sharpening service). The edges have been ground, buffed, and polished to a higher degree. And, 2) his knives will probably stay sharp longer. This is mainly due to the simple fact that Bob’s standard process of creating a long gradual bevel from spine to edge tends to make the edges thinner in general. As the edges wear down, they’re still pretty darn thin and will continue to cut better. We are talking Western blades here. For Japanese, where the blades are already thin, Bob’s technique might not make as much a difference.
Bear in mind KySharp does some standard reprofiling himself to thin blades out—so who’s to say who’s edges will last the longest? We’d need to run some more tests!
As a final sidenote, I should point out that there is one possible negative to Seattle’s sharpening method—and that is, because the knife edges are thinner, they are more delicate. They won’t take as much abuse.
So if you plan on slamming into frozen cookie dough (don’t laugh, one of Bob’s customers did), or if you just can’t afford the mental energy to think about protecting your kitchen knives’ edges, then Seattle might not be the best choice for you. You’d be better off with Martell’s or REK Knives’ machine sharpening. Those edges will be plenty sharp for your average kitchen, but less apt to get damaged or dulled. Up to you. . .
PACKING YOUR KNIVES The simplest and cheapest way to pack up your knives is to wrap them in newspaper. Wrap each knife separately and secure with tape. (Don’t put anything special on the point.) There are styles and techniques of wrapping, but any kind of wrap that thoroughly protects the edge and point from doing any damage will work.
Bad News/Good News
Believe it or not, in the above scenario, the total cost of shipping-and-insurance (both ways) will be around $30—or close to price of the sharpening itself. That’s the bad news. Buuuut, if you ship the way I recommend, you’ll pay the same for six knives as you will for three. That’s the good news. Which means the more knives you ship in a single box, the more you’ll save per knife in shipping costs. Got it?
More good news is USPS’s Flat Rate Boxes. They cost exactly the same, no matter where you send them and now matter how many knives you stuff into them. And the largest Medium Flat Rate box (13-5/8” x 11-7/8” x 3-3/8”), the size I recommend, will fit a whole lot of knives. I’ve personally packed as many as twelve, over half of them 6- to 9-inch chef knives. And the cost? Only $13.60. That’s lit (as my daughter’s gang would say)! I shipped a box all the way across the country to Seattle, WA for only $13.60.
You can pick up a Medium Flat Rate box at any post office for FREE and to top it off it’s Priority 2-Day Delivery. Can you beat that? Unless you live five million miles away from a post office, it’s the only way to go. And to round things out, the knife sharpening services will mail your knives back to you the most economic way, which nine times out of ten will be USPS as well.
Shipping Costs Recap
– Best value shipping—USPS Medium Flat Rate Box, Priority 2-Day Delivery: $13.60
– Insurance average: $2.05 (up to $100) – $4.60 (up to $300)
– Shipping/insurance going: $15.65 – $18.20
– Shipping/insurance returning: $12 – 18
TOTAL shipping/insurance (both ways): $28 – 36
If we add an average cost of shipping/insurance ($30 for three knives; $32 for six knives) to the sharpening prices listed above, this is what we get:
Cost Comparison Chart—Including Shipping/Insurance*
|Sharpening Service||Three Knives||Six Knives|
|Martell Knives (German knives)||$57.00||$86.00|
|KySharp (Deluxe Service)||$60.00||$92.00|
|REK Knives (Machine Sharpening)||$62.00||$96.00|
|Seattle Knife Sharpening (including service fee)||$66.50||$100.00|
|REK Knives (Machine Sharpening w/reprofiling)||$71.00||$114.00|
|REK Knives (Hand Sharpening)||$90.00||$152.00|
|*Sorry to have to repeat this, but please remember—if you treat your blades right, you could go three years or more between sharpenings.|
To some, it may seem like a suitcase of money, but it really isn’t. Not when you understand that:
• Your knives are the most valuable tools in your kitchen—yes, even more valuable than your pans. Because you can easily create a meal without cooking anything in your pans. But try creating a meal without a knife and you will get nowhere. You’ll be ripping apart fruits and veggies with your fingers!
• A quality professional knife sharpening job can last an amazing amount of time. It all depends on how well you treat your beauties when you get them home. (Yes, “beauties” because thinking about them that way will help you treat them better.) Depending on how much you use a newly-sharpened blade, it could stay sharp for three years or more. (I own a chef knife that is still tomato-cutting sharp and the last time it was sharpened was six years ago.) There are just three things you must do to make their sharp edges last:
1) Not slice or chop on anything other than the right kind of wooden or plastic cutting board
2) Not use your knives to power through frozen food, bones, or anything else they were not designed to do
3) Hone them regularly with a ceramic hone.
• And finally: You will work faster and have more fun in the kitchen with sharp knives!
If you take, say, Seattle Sharpening’s price for six knives and divide it by three years—you pay $33.33 a year. For keeping your kitchen knives super-sharp 24/7. Doesn’t that seem worth it?
As far as I’m concerned, you can’t go wrong with having your knives sharpened by any one of these four professional knife sharpening services I have reviewed. They are all masters of their craft, consistent, and well-organized. They all produce sharp knives. If you love and appreciate handling a sharp kitchen knife, there’s no reason to put it off any longer. I have done the homework for you. If you don’t have a clear preference—relax, close your eyes, and pick whichever one your finger falls on!
If you’ve got a knife you know needs some minor repair work, here’s a quick snapshot of the five sharpening services’ repair policies:
– Seattle Knife will straighten a bent tip for free; but fixing a broken one is $6. Don’t know their policy on chips, but I’m guessing it’s fairly liberal.
– Martell Knives has a large disclaimer up front from that they do NOT fix any thing extra (“no edge nicks or broken tips”) for free. Nothing about bent tips though (ask, he might throw them in as a freebie like Seattle). Martell did even out a couple of swales on my well-worn blade for no extra charge. Broken tips are $11.
– KySharp does not charge for repairs a la carte, but folds them into his Signature Sharpening Service which is only $2 more than Deluxe. So you pay only $2 for everything from a removing a chip or smoothing out a swale to fixing a broken tip. Best deal ever if you’ve got a seriously beat-up knife!
(Above: Wusthof Grand Prix chef knife shown earlier with a ding and bent tip after being sharpened and repaired by KySharp.)
– REK Knives doesn’t list standardized prices for the most common repairs, so it’s not clear what he charges and if he includes anything for free. But he does clearly state that the $25 cap on hand-sharpened kitchen knives does not include any repair work. At any rate, Josh is extremely responsive and approachable, so don’t be afraid to ask.
Important note: If you have any repair issues you are not clear about, make sure and ask ahead of time. That way you’ll avoid any misunderstandings.
POSTLUDE . . .
Japanese Knife Sharpening Services
Every knife sharpened (with one exception) in my knife-sharpening odyssey was a Western/German-made knife. But there’s a whole world of Japanese-made knives out there that need sharpening as well. Most traditional Japanese knives (which Global is not) should only be sharpened by a specialized service in the Japanese tradition using a water stone (usually a combo of motorized and manual). I do not currently own any of these thoroughbred Japanese knives, so this particular market is outside my personal experience.
But if you own a traditional or high-end Japanese blade, here is a list of Japanese knife sharpening services with impeccable credentials. The first three have huge reputations and the fourth is not too shabby. They are not cheap—but you are probably getting a half hour or more of a master sharpener’s expert care. If you value your Japanese knife and wish to use it for years and years, do not skimp!
Japanese Knife Sharpening [japaneseknifesharpening.com]: As mentioned earlier, this is Dave Martell’s (of Martell Knives) other sharpening service (his true love, really) that specializes in Japanese blades. He is passionate about his craft and a longtime master. Check out this quote from his website: “Dave still continues to hone his skills everyday. He strongly believes that the most intriguing part of sharpening is that you never achieve pure perfection no matter how long you work at it.”
Korin [korin.com]: Written and talked about everywhere, Japanese master Chiharu Sugai is the name brand in Japanese sharpening. Recommended by the The Wall Street Journal and, apparently, everybody in the known world.
Carter Cutlery [cartercutlery.com]: Created by another legendary bladesmith, Murray Carter, the twist being he’s an anglo who studied in Japan 18 years. He mastered age-old Japanese knife making and sharpening techniques and became a 17th generation Yoshimoto Bladesmith. Fascinating story. Still sharpens everything himself. . .or does he?
Elite Edges [eliteedges.com]: Stumbled on a YouTube video where Elite Edges completely rejuvenated a beautiful hand-forged Japanese blade that had been trashed. He feels like the real deal.
Canada Knife Sharpening
After the U.S.A., my Canadian visitors number the most. So here’s a couple of knife sharpening services I can recommend North of the Border:
New Edge Sharpening [halifaxknifesharpening.com]: I met the owner, Peter Nolan, online a few years back and have been quite taken with his dedication to the craft of sharpening. He sharpens by hand, only using Japanese waterstones, so he should be on my “Japanese Knife Sharpening Services” list above as well. He’s a humble student of the age old craft. Located in Nova Scotia.
Tosho Knife Arts [toshoknifearts.com]: Both partners have solid credentials and much promise and specialize in handmade Japanese knives. Located in Toronto.
Knives List (which knives I sent to each sharpening service)
Henckels Professional “S” chef, 8-inch
Henckels chef, 6-inch (natural wood handle)
Global G-48, 7-inch
Sabatier slicer, 8-inch
Calphalon santoku, 8-inch
Henckels Professional “S” paring, 4-inch
Henckels Four Star paring, 3.5-inch
Henckels Four Star chef, 8-inch
Henckels Professional “S” chef, 6-inch
Henckels Professional “S” bread knife, 8-inch
Wusthof Grand Prix chef, 6-inch
Henckels Four Star chef, 8-inch
Henckels Four Star slicer, 8-inch
Henckels Four Star chef, 6-inch
Henckels Twin utility, 6-inch
Calphalon paring, 4.5-inch
* Zwilling J.A. Henckels
(Photo credit: sharpening wheel courtesy of Bob Tate of Seattle Knife Sharpening.)