While sharpeners remove material from the blade and can make an unusable knife seem new again, honing rods simply uncurl the very edge of the knife and keep it from starting to become dull. That being said, many heavily-used knives will benefit from a monthly sharpening in addition to daily honing. And that's just the beginning of understanding sharpness.
This is the price point to get premium features and three stages. The three stages give you more versatility in what you can sharpen. The Chef's Choice 120 Diamond Hone will take care of basically all of your blades. It sharpens to a compound angle so you get the durability of a 20º and the sharpness of a 15º angle. You can use the 3rd stage for touching up your serrated bread knives, or for a quick honing session before you julienne carrots.
Honing is kind of like dusting the furniture while sharpening is more like reupholstering the furniture. Honing is purely a maintenance activity that should be regularly practiced to make sure the blade is clean and sharp as can be every time you use it. It’s easily done using a honing rod, a leather strop or a sharpening stone; as most stones have a side for sharpening and a side for honing. Honing is akin to trimming your hair to remove the split ends. It’s not a full on haircut. What it does is realign the tiny sharp protrusions along the edge of the blade that can be bent over with use, so that they stand more or less straight.
This is a great sharpener for budget conscious cooks. You can use it with equal facility whether you’re right or left handed, it has a convenient finger guard to cut down on accidents and most important, it only takes a few swipes on a regular basis to keep your knives in tip-top condition. It’s not glamorous. It won’t add anything substantive to your kitchen decor. But it will ensure your knives are always ready for whatever dish you have in mind.
Our only gripe about this sharpener is the terminology used in its documentation. When the Spyderco manual refers to a 40-degree knife edge, it's actually referencing what most knife-makers and manufacturers or sharpeners would call a 20-degree blade, the standard for Western kitchen knives. The reason for this disconnect is because Spyderco is measuring all the way across the blade, while most others measure just one side of the blade at a time. What Spyderco calls a 30-degree blade would typically be called a 15-degree blade, the standard for Asian kitchen knives, although some Western manufacturers are beginning to use this narrower blade angle as well.
Stones are divided into hard oilstones (often called Arkansas stones), which use mineral oil or kerosene as a lubricant, and soft (often called Japanese) waterstones, which use water as a lubricant. Whereas the hard oilstones rely on directly abrading the knife steel, the soft waterstones wear away rapidly as you sharpen, producing an abrasive slurry that cuts the new edge; they work more quickly, but you have to regularly reflatten them by rubbing them against a sheet of glass. With both kinds, you have to set and maintain the sharpening angle using only your eyes and hands, and any sloppiness can quickly produce a rounded edge that will hardly cut butter. Doing it right is not all that hard once you get the knack, but there’s a difficult initial learning curve. You also need at least two stones, coarse and fine, to do a proper job—and good stones aren’t cheap. And both oilstones and waterstones make a bit of a mess in use and take a lot more time to set a new edge than the sharpening tools we recommend here—10 to 20 minutes versus three minutes or less.
This unit looks great, with its stainless steel construction material and soft touch accents. It also works well, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. After all, it’s manufactured by Smith’s Consumer Products, Inc. and they’ve been in the business since 1886. If you need to sharpen straight edge, double-beveled European and American style knives, this is a great option.
These are unquestionably great starter stones. After all the sharpening done over the course of a couple days, they're still perfectly flat, showing little to no signs of wearing down. Mind you I did watch tons of how-to videos online before undergoing the endeavor, so I knew how to try to make the stone wear evenly. But, my 15 year old nephew who was working on the Ontario, as I told him he could have it, if he wanted to fix it up, didn't watch all those videos and I didn't see any uneven wear on his stone after working it about a half hour either.