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Mar 25, 2011 04:46 AM

Anybody have a Spyderco Sharpmaker?

It just arrived for me today, and so far, I'm not impressed.

I watched the instructional DVD, and it was alright. I was hoping they'd show the guy sharpen a chefs knife from blunt-as-a-brick to razor edge, but instead, he sharpens the "camera guy's" 2-inch pocket knife.

You're kidding me, right?

Anyway, I tried sharpening a cheap 12" chefs knife to give this thing a shot. I don't even know how old the knife is, but I looked in the drawer, and it looked like the worst knife of the bunch. I'm very nearsighted, and when I zoom in on it, I can literally see the jagged edge. It's been used and abused for probably a decade+.

After swiping at the assortment of rods, 20X per side on 40 degrees, I tried cutting paper, and the knife failed miserably. This was worst than the demos they show of blunt knives. Usually the "blunt" knives in demos can slice through paper... just not as efficiently. The only way for me to slice paper with this knife, is for me to hold it steady and firm. If the paper is just loose and flimsy, the edge is not sharp enough to cling to the paper. It'll just punch it away.

So I tried repeating the process. Still the same result. I don't notice any improvement when I try to slice through paper.

Repeat the process for the 3rd time. Same result.

I thought, perhaps you need to sharpen it at 30 degrees for it to slice through paper. This time, I swipe 40X on each side. The whole process is very grueling, and my hands are cramping up.

No noticeable improvement.

I finally give in and conclude that this knife is so bruised and battered, that it's beyond the Sharpmaker's capabilities. Maybe an Edge Pro can restore it. Maybe a swordsmith. Who knows... it's a lost cause.

So I move on to a 12" Henkels chefs knife. I've owned it for 2 years, and it's never been sharpened, but the blade is still in decent condition. No warping, no jagged edge... but it's pretty blunt, at this point.

I swipe it 40X on each side of the rods at 40 degrees.

It cuts paper as well as the previous knife... in other words, it can't.

I repeat the process. 20X on this go, exerting more pressure this time.

No noticeable improvement.

So far, I'm pretty disappointed. I'll try it again tomorrow. Maybe my technique will improve, or maybe this thing needs "breaking-in" before it really starts responding. I don't know... but I feel like I've been pretty patient with it, despite a serious lack of progress or incentive to reinforce my efforts.

I just don't understand how something like this warrants 4.5 star reviews on Amazon by hundreds of customers. I read one review that said he or she was looking around the house for things to sharpen, presumably because it was so rewarding and effective. At the rate I'm going, I would not look forward to sharpening anything on the Sharpmaker.

It's dreadful, tedious, futile, unproductive, and my back hurts.

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  1. finalera,

    Thanks for the feeback. Spyderco Sharpmaker is mostly designed for maintaining knife edge. It is a fairly slow and gentle gadget. Its strength lies in its ability to provide a good finish blade. Think of it like a sandpaper on the finer side. Once a knife is dull as described for your first knife, then it will take a long time to sharpen on the Spydero. Of course, the diamond rods will be much better, but those are extra:

    Now, on to your Henckels knife. Is it a Henckels International knife or a Zwilling Henckels knife? The reason I asked is that the ability to get to a sharp edge depends on both the sharpening tool and the steel, and Henckels International knives are not made with good steel. I have personally sharpened these two lines before and Henckels International knives could barely take an edge sharp enough to slice a paper. They did, but barely. I have seen some inferior knives which were never able to take on an edge to slice a papper. Of course, I have some great knives which can push-cut paper: i.e.: I just go straight up and down without pulling the knife toward me.

    Long story short. Some knives can never slice a paper because of their steels, and some take additional works to get to that point. If your Henckels is a Zwilling Henckels, then it should be able to get that sharp edge.

    Here is what I will do. Focus on using the medium rods. Now, I understanding the instruction is 20 swaps and 40 swaps.... Forget about the number of swaps. Go for the burr. I suspect the edge may be quiet dull. Make sure you get to feel the burr before moving the next step. There is absolutely no point of going to the next step until you get a burr. Again, absolutely make sure you can feel a burr before moving to the next step. Here are some pictures of a burr:

    Edited: there are two common and simple mistakes in not getting the edge sharp. One is not getting to form a burr in the first place. The other is not finishing the edge correctly and removing the burr at the end. I am assuming your challenge is the first one, but it could be the second one. You can also use the Spyderco Sharpmaker as a flatstone when the two rods are placed on the back. This will speed up the sharpening speed, but that is a different story all together. If you still experience problem, then maybe the best course of action is to invite someone who know knife sharpening to show your how to use the Spyderco Sharpmaker.

    There are plenty old posts on Sharpmaker on CHOWHOUND -- if you want to look for information.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      Thanks for the informative response.

      I don't know how to spot the burr on my knife. Is this something you can see with the naked eye? I noticed all of your pictorial examples, were sketched.

      I tried running my fingers across the edge, and I couldn't tell if there was a burr or not. I'm not versed enough in knife sharpening to discern the difference, at this point.

      As for my knife, it's a Zwilling Henkels I got from Macy's. It's not the supbar stuff from Target. I probably paid more for it, than it was really worth, but it's definitely the more costly line. It came in a set that was around $200, and each knife is stamped Zwilling Henkels with the twin signature. I think the full name is J.A. Zwilling Henkels, or something. It has that full name on the chefs knife.

      Anyway, I tried sharpening it again, today. This time, 50X @ 40 degrees with the medium rods. And then 20X with the fine rods. If there was an improvement, it was extremely minimal. It still can't slice through paper... but sometimes it clings... I would assume the knife got sharper, just because you can't run a knife through rods or sharpening stones at a decent angle, and not make it sharper. It's just the laws of physics.

      My only problem is the Sharpmaker's efficiency. So far, it does what a bunch of rods are supposed to do, when you grind your knife through it. But I've yet to experience the "OMG-this-works-way-better-than-it-looks" typa eureka.

      It is what it is, at this point. A bunch of rods, with a setup that helps you visually maintain a perpendicular angle to the base.

      Thanks again, and I will give the same Henkels another sharpening session tomorrow. I'm still sore from yesterday's efforts, so I can't go at it for more than half an hour. I'm lefthanded, and for me, it's easy to swipe the right side of the edge... it's feels natural. But swiping the left side of the edge, takes considerable more effort, because I'm exerting pressure outward... it almost becomes a deltoid workout.

      1. re: finalera

        "I don't know how to spot the burr on my knife. ...I tried running my fingers across the edge, and I couldn't tell if there was a burr or not..."

        You can spot a burr with naked eyes on some knives, but it is not easy on other knives. You can almost always feel the burr. Probably the single most important thing in knife sharpening is to find a burr. An existence of a burr proves that one side of the bevel has met the other side. It is absolutely useless to move to a finer stone unless a burr is formed. Chad Ward has written a short section on burr. Scroll down to Section Four and read the first subsection: The Burr:

        In case you like see a how a person feel a burr. Here is a youtube video. Thomas Stuckey was feeling the burr at time 0:39 min and 1:10 min. Also notice that Thomas made sure he has a burr before flipping the stone to use finer side:

        Again, do not move to a finer stone until you get a burr on the rougher stone.

        I can think of four common reasons why you are not getting a sharp edge for your Zwilling Henckels by using the Spyderco Sharpmaker.

        a) Your knife is much duller than you think.
        b) You are hitting the knife at the wrong angle. For example, your Zwilling Henckels knife factory bevel angle is 20° and you are sharpening at the 15°.
        c) Like finalera has suggested, the stones/rods are clogged.
        d) In fact, the burr was formed, but it wasn’t removed at the final step.

        All of these are likely, but point a-c sounds more so.

        For possibility a, there is not much you can do except use a rougher stone or spend more time.

        For b, Spyderco can be set up at 15 degree and 20 degree. Make sure you are using the 20 degree for your Henckels. I am attaching my diagram. Here you can see the knife bevel at 20°, but the rod is set up at 15°. Therefore the rod is removing the metal at the side of a knife blade as opposed to the edge. It will take a long time to remove all the metal until you get to the tip. You won’t notice any sharpening effect on the knife until the rod get to the tip. If there are scratch markers on your blade, then you may be hitting the side as opposed to the tip.

        For c, finalera has already offered the solutions.

        - - - - -

        "As for my knife, it's a Zwilling Henkels I got from Macy's"

        Good to know.

        "But I've yet to experience the "OMG-this-works-way-better-than-it-looks" typa eureka. "

        Well, you won't feel anything until you get your edge. It does not sound like you have get to the edge yet. Spyderco is not a fast tool, but it finishes the edge in a better state than many other tools on the market.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Thanks, I watched the video and read the subsection. I'll try to look out for the "burr" on my next trial.

          For the Henkels, I'm not using the 15 degree angle. I'm using the 20. I know it's not a Shun, so I've been grinding it on the 40 degree setup.

          The manual also suggests to grind the knife's back bevel to 15 degrees, and then sharpen at 20 degrees, if all else fails. I haven't resorted to that quite yet.

          I also cleaned my rods after the sharpening session today, so I'll give it a go later on tomorrow and update ya'll regarding any progress - or lack thereof.

          As far as removing the burr on the final step, I highly doubt it. I grind my knives while standing, just to make sure my knife is perpendicular to the base. In general, I'm not a sloppy, careless technician.

          BTW I'm "finalera," so I'm assuming you were refering to LaureltQ. Well noted.

          1. re: finalera

            "The manual also suggests to grind the knife's back bevel to 15 degrees, and then sharpen at 20 degrees, if all else fails. I haven't resorted to that quite yet."

            One of the reasons to use this method is to thin the metal behind the edge after a knife has been sharpened many many times, so I won't suggest it for now. First, you have not sharpened the knife many many times. Second, it is a big job. Third, thinning behind the edge reduces the "wedging resistance", but is does not improve slicing paper ability. Fourth and final, Spyderco Sharpmaker is not an optimal tool for this. Yes, it can do it, but it is not designed for a reprofile job like this.

            "As far as removing the burr on the final step, I highly doubt it. I grind my knives while standing, just to make sure my knife is perpendicular to the base. In general, I'm not a sloppy, careless technician."

            Actually you do want to remove the burr at the end. You want to form it first, but you have to remove it at the end. Some people try to remove every single steps. Others just remove at the very end. "Removing a burr" is a much more subtle and advanced skill than "Forming a burr". No knife sharpener (expert or amaetuar) will ask about how to find a burr because it is the very first thing he learned, but many knife experts still struggle with burr removal from time to time. Needless to say, I have also. Here is a burr removal discussion from some very well-known experts. I won't say burr removal is tough to learn, but it is difficult to master.


            Based on what you have described, I doubt burr removal is your main problem now.

            "I'm "finalera," so I'm assuming you were refering to LaureltQ"

            Yep, I mistyped your name when I suggested cleaning the stone. It was really late when I wrote that reply.

            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

              Thanks for that additional tidbit on the 30/40 degree bevel grinding. Very important to consider.

              And thanks for clarifying the burr removal aspect of knife sharpening.

              I'll give my knife another sharpening session tomorrow. As I told LaurelQ, it's improving by small margins... not leaps and bounds.

              Question: How much does a typical knife sharpener charge per knife? 'Cause I'm wondering if it's just more economical to send my knife to one of them. Seems like each knife takes hours and hours to acquire a razor edge. Why not just leave 'em to a knife sharpener for like $7?

              1. re: finalera

                "Question: How much does a typical knife sharpener charge per knife? 'Cause I'm wondering if it's just more economical to send my knife to one of them. Seems like each knife takes hours and hours to acquire a razor edge. Why not just leave 'em to a knife sharpener for like $7?"

                I think that sounds about right. Cheaper knife sharpeners charge about $5-7 per knife. The more expensive knife sharpeners charge about $15 per knife. The problem of expensive knife sharpeners are that they are obvious expensive. The problem of cheap knife sharpners are that some of them are not very good and there are plenty stories about ruining knives. Just think of it like really cheap car mechanics. Many of the cheap car mechanics are good, but many can actually make your car worse off in the long run.

                1. re: Chemicalkinetics


                  What do knife sharpeners use? Do they have a specially expensive setup that makes sharpening knives efficient?

                  I'm assuming they're not just charging $7 to work on your blunt knife on a bunch of whetstones for an hour...

                  1. re: finalera


                    I think most knife sharpner (in US) use a belt sander or a grinder to sharpen knives. The very expensive knife sharpeners do use waterstone, but that is partly why they charge you much more. When you get to water stone sharpening, then we are talking about $30-50 per knife (just for sharpening) and can go up more for additional services like fixing broken tips, new bevel, clean up the Damascus blade....etc

                    For example, Dave Martell and Korin provde waterstones sharpening service:



                    Also another thing is that knife sharpeners will increase the price if the knives are particularly dull or damage. They will call that "fixing" a blade instead of "sharpening".

    2. Finalera,
      I understand your frustration. What I'd guess, is that the knife clogged up your stones almost immediately. If you have something like barkeeper's friend or another lightly abrasive cleaner, try scrubbing them with the scrubby side of a sponge and that cleaner. As you get used to it, you'll begin to feel and hear the difference between clean and clogged stones. It's hard to tell when the coarse ones get dirty as they are already brown. The white (fine) stones can be easy to visually tell, but once the stones get clogged up (and this happens quickly when you're trying to reprofile a blade) they're pretty much useless. Getting a new knife profiled correctly, I usually go through all 3 corners and all 3 flats and sometimes have to repeat the process depending on what the initial edge looked like.

      15 Replies
      1. re: LaureltQ

        "the knife clogged up your stones almost immediately"

        That is one possibility. The rods are loaded. Excellent suggestion.

        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

          Im almost certain that this is what happened. The stones probably clogged well before they were able to ever get to and create an edge. I bought a piece of crap cleaver shaped piece of stamped steel at goodwill this week (for 75¢!!!) that i plan to try sharpening to destroy chickens this weekend. I'll see how many strokes it takes to clog my coarse stones as an experiment.

          1. re: LaureltQ

            Thanks, I didn't know it would take that much effort to sharpen a stinkin knife.

            I saw a YouTube video of a guy effortlessly producing what looked like a razor edge, simply with a ceramic mug.


            Then again, I'm starting to suspect that it's BS. My knives can't even slice the paper like it shows when his knife is supposedly blunt... look how smooth he cuts it until he purposely jams the knife and drags it across the paper to show how rough it is...

            What do you guys think?

            Can a knife really go from blunt to razor sharp in what seems like 4 or 5 swipes on a ceramic mug? If so, Spyderco needs to watch that video and learn.

            BTW I used Ajax to clean out the clogged rods. I can already tell the difference between clogged rods and clean ones. There's more traction with clean rods, and a distinct abrasive sound when you run your knife across it. With the clogged rods, it's more like you're sliding the knife...

            1. re: finalera

              So are you able to put an edge on the knife after cleaning the metal out of the stones? Are you still in the same boat?

              Id say that the sharpmaker is a simple, easy to use sharpener and a step up from the drag through type. I have had to spend a considerable amount of time putting edges on pocket knives. My wustof classic knives only took 5ish minutes apiece to get to the point that they'd easily shave hair off my arm. Maintaining the edge is cake. It only takes 1-2 minutes once every week or so to keep things sharp.

              1. re: LaureltQ

                "Id say that the sharpmaker is a simple, easy to use sharpener and a step up from the drag through type"

                Agree. There may be some exceptions out there, but I agree with you. Actually, Thomas Stuckey said exactly that in the following video as well. Scroll to time 1:20 minute time:


                P.S.: Thomas Stuckeye is probably the only person who makes decent videos for ExpertVillage.

                1. re: LaureltQ

                  I can't imagine anything ever taking 5 minutes to sharpen, unless it's a 2-inch pocket knife that was used for the Sharpmaker demo.

                  That said, I gave the Henkels another sharpening session today.

                  60 passes on the medium rods, and then 30 passes on the fine rods.

                  The entire process took around 45 minutes.

                  The improvement - if any - was minor. It clings a little better to the paper. I wouldn't say it's "scary" sharp by any stretch of the imagination.

                  I tried slicing some apples. I slice apples extremely thin and extremely fast. The traction on the skin was improved, so I guess it's getting better, but the performance upgrade of my chopping action was minimal, at best.

                  Will sharpen again, tomorrow.

                  1. re: finalera

                    Is it too late to return this Sharpmaker thingy and get yourself some whetstones?Sounds like more hassle than it's worth.In 45 mins I can sharpen 3 knives on 2 different stones(1000grit&6000grit),then strop them on an old leather belt to deburr them.I get a screaming sharp edge every time and I'm still a newbie at sharpening.

                    1. re: petek

                      :) Depending how dull your knives are. For your typical factory finish knives, we can probably sharpen 5-7 knives in 45 minutes. However, I have seen some real dull knives from my friends. When I turn the edges toward me under the light, I can see very large white light refractions on those edges -- which means there isn't really an edge on them. Those knives took me noticeably longer. I hard to pull out tones rougher than 1000 grit to start. It would have taken me much longer had I start with my 1000 grit stone.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        True enough Chem.Looks like a job for a 500grit stone at least.
                        I hope I didn't come off sounding like a waterstone fanboy(which I am).
                        finalera,if you still have problems achieving a good edge on your blades,maybe you should consider taking them to a pro sharpener to get an initial bevel/edge and use the Sharpmaker strictly for maintanace.

                        1. re: petek

                          :) Yeah, I used a DMT coarse diamond stone to start with those knives. I should get a rough waterstone when my DMT stones die. I think many of us are waterstone practitioners. Yeah, I agree with you. Sharpmaker is for edge maintenance. Based on the comments, I am suspecting the knife is fairly dull and is out of Sharpmaker's ability.

                      2. re: petek

                        Gah, if it were up to me, I'd get the Edge Pro. From the demos I've seen, it seems like you can grind the heck out of your knife in no time with such setup. But I shouldn't... I already own a lot of junk, as is, and I'm trying to be a minimalist. Who knows how long my obsession with knife-sharpening is gonna last...

                        Besides, I live with two women (mother and sister). They can justify spending $2,000 for a handbag, but if I brought up buying a knife sharpener for a couple hundy, they'd go batshit.

                      3. re: finalera

                        Any more than 30 strokes on any corner/edge will probably clog the stone. I don't do more than 20 with my wustofs before cleaning.

                        1. re: LaureltQ

                          Cleaning the stones are an incredible hassle, I may add.

                          Takes me around 10 minutes to scrub down all the rods.

                          1. re: finalera

                            That sounds worse than I thought. I would think it would only take a minute or two. I don't recall spending that much time cleaning the stones, but then I don't have the Spyderco rods. Did you try to use a brush (i.e. old toothbrush) to brush the rod with Bar Keeper's Friend.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              It only takes me about 5 minutes to scrub down all of the stones. I use the abrasive side of a sponge with BKF. I put a fair bit of pressure on them though.

            2. Sorry for the late reply.

              I didn't really have the time to dive into a sharpening session for the last two days. Now that I've done this a couple times, I understand I'm gonna need at least an hour of time to spare... and energy, as well. I feel pretty depleted, afterward...

              It's like I went for a run at the park... just without the cardiovascular/health benefits and the consequential boost of endorphin to raise my mood.

              Today, I swiped the blade 60X on the medium rod and 30X on the fine rod. It still couldn't cut paper, as effortlessly as I've seen such action on videos. With the right angle and holding the paper more firmly, it sorta cuts and tears through it. But it's not a clean slice, like Fruit Ninja or anything.

              However, since the last sharpening session, I've noticed that the knife has improved in performance. It definitely clings to the apples, better... I slice apples on a daily basis for my green smoothies...

              So in conclusion, there is somewhat of a noticeable improvement in the knife's edge. But is it razor sharp, or "scary sharp"? Not by a long shot.

              4 Replies
              1. re: finalera

                Interesting. With basic maintenance, my 9" Chef's will go through paper effortlessly. A short stroke motion to get it started in the paper and then all it needs is even downward pressure and it goes straight through.

                1. re: finalera

                  I'm too late to this thread to add anything really substantive - Chem and Laurel laid it out pretty well above. Just another opinion to consider:

                  I've heard people who use the Sharpmaker say that it would be more accurately named the "sharpkeeper" - that it's better suited towards keeping a sharp knife sharp than working with dull knives. And you can see why - it has narrow abrasives (available in limited grits) that clog up quickly when you try to remove much metal since they don't release like waterstone grits do. You could try wrapping the sharpening rods in a coarser grit wet-dry sandpaper for larger jobs and then using edge-trailing strokes only. Might help a bit if the coarsest grit you have is still too fine. Still, it's never gonna be the best device for making a sharp edge from a genuinely dull one.

                  You've got a few problems here. Possible but unlikely- the problem could be the knife. Zwilling Henckels should take a nice sharp edge, but there is the remote possibility that you got an oddball with a poor temper. Impossible to say for sure unless you succeed in sharpening or have someone else who can sharpen well check for you.

                  Another problem - as Chem noted above, you don't know for sure whether your bevels are meeting. Try this - now that you've done some work on the blade, sharpen one side ONLY until you feel a burr along the ENTIRE edge on the opposite side. Then apply the same number of strokes to the opposite side (you'll feel a burr earlier when sharpening this side because you'll 'flip' the burr you just created). Then alternate a few strokes per side to diminish the burr and then go up to the finer grit abrasive, where you should only need a reasonable number of strokes - 20-30 per side, maybe less.

                  Another problem - sounds like your abrasive rods are clogging with metal filings. I'm not sure the best way to unclog them since I am mostly familiar with waterstones that seldom have this problem. But I suspect rinsing them with water occasionally while sharpening will help. An old toothbrush might help as well.

                  Another problem - you have mentioned several times the physical toll sharpening is taking on your body. I'm wondering if you are applying too much pressure or are too tense while sharpening. The key to good sharpening is good, clean, steady strokes. If your strokes are good, you don't need much pressure (though there are some good sharpeners who use a decent amount of pressure on coarse stones). And if your strokes are bad, applying additional pressure could exacerbate the problem, making it even harder for you to ever attain a sharp edge (as well as make sharpening harder on your body). So relax a bit - breathe. Focus on making good strokes. Eventually you'll likely find sharpening less demanding and maybe even relaxing.

                  All that said, the the best evaluation of the Sharpmaker is using it as intended - to maintain a nice sharp edge once you've gotten there. It's pretty decent at that, best I can tell. Don't pitch it until you've tried it for that job. Worst case scenario - pay a pro a few bucks to get that nice, sharp initial edge.

                  1. re: finalera

                    Reiterating a point cowboy made (to emphasize the important of it), a burr need to be formed. Have you able to find the burr thus far? It is a very different story if you are able to form a burr and unable to slice a paper vs if you are not able to form a burr and unable to slice a paper.

                    Also I think it is much easier if you just pay someone to sharpen your knives first. I suspect your knife is very dull and that you have not able to form a burr along the entire edge. Spyderco Sharpmaker is not designed for these situation.

                    1. re: finalera

                      So, a year and a half later, do you still use the Sharpmaker? Have you been able to get it to work for you?

                    2. The Sharpmaker as others have stated is great for maintaining an edge but would suck to resharpen a very dull blade.

                      What it rocks at is serrated maintenance.


                      3 Replies
                      1. re: knifesavers

                        "The Sharpmaker as others have stated is great for maintaining an edge but would suck to resharpen a very dull blade."

                        Even if you get the additional diamond triangles? Would it still be sub-par for resharpening very dull blades?

                        1. re: linzertorte

                          <Would it still be sub-par for resharpening very dull blades?>

                          Not as good as other options.

                          1. re: linzertorte

                            I've never tried the diamond inserts but I have the ultra fine ones and suggest the Sharpmaker to clients to maintain their knives.

                            I use a belt sander for very dull blades or 220 grit waterstones.