Monday, March 15, 2010

Miscellany: Lansky Deluxe Sharpening System review

It's pretty difficult to sharpen a knife without guides or tools. The problem is keeping a consistent angle - each pass along the stone must be made with the knife in the same position in order for you to remove metal from the edge in a predictable manner. If your freehand sharpening technique is bad, you might actually make the knife more dull.

So, if you're a duffer like me, you turn to knife sharpening kits to keep your blades in business. The Lansky Deluxe Sharpening System is the most economical of the controlled-angle sharpeners, retailing at around $35. There are much fancier variations on this theme, like the Edge Pro Apex, but most people probably won't even consider buying a $150 sharpener, no matter how well it works.

Here's how you use the Lansky kit: you place the knife blade in the clamp, take the hone of the desired grit (the deluxe kit has hones ranging from extra coarse to ultra fine), attach the metal guide rod to the hone, and methodically brush the hone along the edge of the knife. The guide rod assures that each sweeping motion will be at the (roughly) the same angle.

I tried the Lansky on a number of different types of knives - my lightweight folding knives, kitchen cutlery (including cleavers and paring knives), a Cold Steel bolo machete, and even an old Swiss Army knife that I had laying around.

The results were mixed, to be honest. For larger blades (over, say, 5" in length) the Lansky is pretty cumbersome: the limited range of the sweeps of your hone means you'll probably have to split the work up into multiple segments, clamping and unclamping the assembly along the edge of the blade. Compared to a traditional V-style sharpener like the Spyderco Sharpmaker, it's a real chore.

The very small blades posed problems, too. The Swiss Army knife blade was so thin that it was impossible to get it to stay in the clamp. I eventually resorted to using the hone as sort of a mini bench stone to sharpen it, but that defeats the whole point of the kit in the first place.

When used on regular size folding and hunting knives, though, the Lansky comes into its own. You get a decent selection of preset edge angles to choose from; after some experimentation, my Kershaw Skyline took a razor sharp edge that easily push cut Post-It Notes. The paring knives also got pretty sharp, especially after some judicious stropping.

All in all, the Lansky kit is a good addition to any knife collector's workshop. The components are solid, the package is portable, and the hones will last for years for the average user. It won't replace a traditional bench stone or even a crock stick/rod setup, but it sure takes the guesswork out of sharpening.


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