Work Sharp Bench Stone, by Pat Cascio

I’ve been around knives all my life – ever since owning my first one, at about age 5 or 6. So I know a little bit about cutlery. Over the past 28 years, I’ve been fortunate enough to test hundreds of new knife designs — and perhaps more than a thousand new designs. I’ve lost count. It’s exciting to get new knife designs to test and write about – no doubt about that. And, just when I think I’ve seen it all, when it comes to cutlery, someone comes out with a new design, or new locking mechanism, or new blade design. I’m an amateur knife designer myself – well, I guess that’s what I’d be called, even though several of my knife designs have gone into production with some major knife companies. Still, I consider myself an amateur in this regard – I’ll certainly never get rich off my designs.

One of the most asked questions I get from readers, or those who know my martial arts/military/law enforcement background is: “What’s your favorite knife?” Of course, this is impossible to answer in simple terms. It just depends on what the knife will be used for…be it in hunting and dressing game, self-defense, general cutting, etc. The second most common question that I get is: “How do you put a factory edge back on a knife blade, after it gets dull?” Again, a not-so-easy to answer. I’ve watched the pros at several knife companies who do nothing but sharpen knives on their 8-hour shift. And, it never ceases to amaze me how fast they can put an edge on an unsharpened knife. Most of the time, primarily using a specialized power belt sharpener it takes little more than a minute to do this.

These guys who sharpen cutlery for a living sit at two machines, one has an abrasive belt on it, for getting the primary edge put on a knife, and the second, has a buffer on it, for putting the finishing touches on a blade, so it is hair-popping sharp out of the box. Then, they have a stack of old newspapers, that they use to test the sharpness on a blade – they slice the edge of the newsprint, and if it doesn’t “shave” they run it back across the buffer. Like I said, this is all these guys do – all day long – and they are the best at it. So, if you want that “factory” edge on your blade, you’d best get some training, and have the right tools – power tools.

As a rule, I don’t allow my knives to get too dull, if I do, it takes more work than I want to get a sharp edge back on a knife. So, usually every week or two, I’ll take whatever knife I’ve been using and touch it up on some “V” croc sticks, or a similar set-up and it only takes a few minutes to get that edge back to where I want it to be.

With that said, there are times when I let a knife get too dull, and then it takes some work to get that edge back to where it needs to be. I’ve used several bench stones over the years, some work better than others. However, the hardest part is keeping the knife blade at the same angle all the time, and I have to work extra hard to be precise and consistent. Or, some bench stones don’t work as well as others, and that causes more work for me. Some “old timers” use stones that require oil on them in order to sharpen a blade – that is a pain, and it is messy as well.

Today, we are looking at a sharpener made by Work Sharp Sharpeners, of Ashland, Oregon. I’ve tested some of the products in the past for SurvivaBlog readers, and I was more than a little impressed with the high quality, as well as the most reasonable prices on their products. Work Sharp recently sent me their new bench stone for testing. This one has three different, and replaceable “stones” with it. But these are not “stones” per se, but let’s just use this term for practicality. We have an 800-grit diamond-impregnated surface, followed by a 320-grit, and the finishing stone, that is ceramic, for putting that extra fine edge on your knife.

The Bench Stone Set

Looking at this product — just recently added to their web site – it comes on a stable base, and there are two angled guides, one is for 20-degrees bevel on the knife’s edge, and the other is 25-degrees. Between those two, it will cover many of your knives’ typical edge angles. The base is made out of polymer, and has rubber “feet” on it, so it won’t slip off the surface you place it on. Your choice of the tri-angle stones fit neatly into the base, and you can either lock them in place, with a sliding lock, or leave them loose – more on this shortly. It is very easy to change the angle you desire, only takes a few seconds – I like simple and easy, when it comes to just about everything. Plus, it only takes a few seconds to rotate the tri-stones to a different angle.

There is a lock that locks the tri-stone in place. If you are sharpening some knives, and following the angled guides, you might want to unlock the stones, and allow whichever stone you are using to “rock” as you move the knife along the stone, for an even better edge. It is easier to see than it is to explain, but I tried it, on several knives – fixed and folders – and it just seems to work some kind of “magic” by allowing the stone you are using to move a little bit towards you as you finish the edge.

Practical Use

To sharpern a knife, you will want to place the blade on the desired angle – 20 or 25 degrees, and starting with the bottom of the knife, draw it across the stone – keeping the angle you selected, and as you go across the stone, you will want to finish up with the tip of the blade at the end of your stroke. Once again, it sounds harder than it really is. Check out the Work Sharp website, and they have a demo on a similar stone, and you’ll see it’s easy to do. Sharpen only one side of the knife at a time…do 10-to-12 strokes on one side, then flip the blade and do the same number of strokes on the other side. Try to keep an even count on each side.

As the knife becomes sharp, you will want to switch to the next finer grit of stone, and do the same thing. You will start to see a “wire” edge on the blade – you can see it and feel it – careful here, that you don’t apply too much pressure and cut your finger open. Then, move to the ceramic stone, for that finishing touch, and apply very light pressure when using this stone, you are only removing the wire edge, and it will “buff” that edge, until it is actually factory shaving-sharp – to be sure, it will take some practice, but in short order, you will have it all mastered, and it will become second nature for you.

This particular model from Work Sharp, is actually small enough that you can pack it in your backpack, or keep it in the glove box of your truck or care, for use in the field. If you’re in the military, then be sure to not let your buddies see you using it. Because if you do, in very short order, your entire squad or platoon, will be lining up to have you sharper their knives. Or worse yet, the entire company will be putting you to work doing their knives – think I’m kidding? Not!

You can also use this bench stone set to sharpen other cutlery, like scissors or even hatchets or axes – they will take a bit longer, because they are harder to maneuver on these stone. Note that when it comes to hatchets and axes, you do not want a hair-shaving edge, if you do, it will fold over with hard use, so keep the sharpening to the 600-grit and the 320-grit stones. You only need a “working “edge on these axes and hatchets, not a shaving edge. I actually tried to put some kind of an edge on a couple machetes I have at my digs – and once again, you don’t want the shaving-sharp edge…while I did manage to get both of them re-sharpened, it took a lot of work to get there – those super long blades were hard to move on the stones. However, I did get some decent edges on those long blade – made it easy to chop down blackberry vines.

The suggested retail price on this new model from Work Sharp in $44.95 – and that is more than fair. And, one last topper: You can replace the “stones” if they get too worn out – that’s just excellent!

You will get as close to a factory shaving-sharp edge as possible with this set-up.




5 Comments

  1. There are a LOT of knife sharpeners available that work pretty good. I discovered in 1976 that most are just gimmicks when my roommate in the army sharpened a blade, shaving sharp, with a file.

  2. This is the most frustrating part for me, sharpening knives. I did inherit my Grandfather’s three stone in a similar set up. It is well used and over 100 years old. I will take a look at this product. As always, thank you for sharing your experiences.

  3. I have several Work Sharps including one in the kitchen. They are very good and versatile sharpeners because of the two grit, ceramic and leather system. In the kitchen I always rinse and wipe a blade after sharpening to avoid getting metal debris in food. I’ve seen many a man that sharpen and go right to the cut.

    I have found the best sharp system to be the Japanese water stones. I have an expensive set (even the cheaper stones are good) and they really do the job from sharpening to polishing. They are a bit of a project to set up the little water bath but that makes for a fun time sharpening everything you own which might take a whole weekend. OK, just joking.

    Remember, the best approach is to keep your knives sharp so that you avoid a major sharpening job especially in the field.

    Most men I know have dreamed of being a knife maker. I once visited Merle Seguine in his Juneau, Alaska shop and marveled at the basic equipment he used to turn automobile leaf springs into custom knives. The knife bug bit. And I still have that knife of Merle’s basic design.

    Speaking of being bit by the knife bug, see page 245 of JWR’s book “How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It”. I would agree that most of us are expert at BUYING knives. I chuckle every time I read it.

  4. If you prefer not to sharpen your own knives on a routine basis, consider using Cold Steel knives. They sharpen their products for only a flat shipping charge. You send a box of knives to them with $7 flat return shipping fee and they will return them in a few weeks beautifully sharpened. I have many Cold Steel knives which I rotate as the blades dull. When I’m down to a couple sharp knives I send in a box for sharpening. They are far more skilled than I am and their knives are among the best values out there.

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