Part of every toolkit should be at least one sharp knife. Knives of course wear with use and require sharpening. Up until now, I've relied mostly on traditional sharpening stones or a Smith's sharpening system (similar to a Lansky).
Last weekend I asked my father to bring over his Spyderco Sharpmaker for me to try. I used it to touch up a couple of blades and was impressed with how easy and fast it was to get a good edge. So, Sunday night I ordered one from Knifecenter.com. While I was on their site I also ordered a Gerber Diamond Pocket Sharpener. UPS dropped them off today.
Before using the Spyderco I read the included written instructions and viewed the instructional DVD.
The Sharpmaker consists of a base, a set of medium grit ceramic rods, a set of fine grit ceramic rods, and two brass rods to act as handguards. When assembled the ceramic rods are set to give you a selectable edge angle of either 30 or 40 degrees. (See a picture here.) You hold the blade vertically and move it against the rods.
After dinner, I used it to sharpen several of my knives: a Case Moose with chrome vanadium blades, an Ontario RAT-3 with a 1095 carbon steel blade, a Benchmade Griptilian with a 440C stainless blade, a Schrade LB7 Bearpaw with a stainless blade, and a Mora Swedish Army Knife with a stainless blade. None of these knives were dull to start with, but now they're sharp. I had especially good results with the RAT-3, the clip blade on the Moose, and the Griptilian, all of which are now like razors (and I have the bald spots on my forearm to prove it).
I am impressed with not only the ease of using the Sharpmaker, but also with the speed one can put a sharp edge on a knife with it. Also, as shown in the video, the tool can be used to sharpen other implements like axes, serrated blades, and even scissors.
It's much easier to keep the blade vertical and move it against an angled surface, than it is to keep the blade at a constant angle and move it against a horizontal stone. This is a large part of why the Sharpmaker works so well.
The Gerber Sharpener consists of two sets of diamond grit coated rods, one fine and one coarse, in a plastic handle. You place the blade in the "V" between the rods and draw it through. It works fine for quicky sharpening jobs in the field. I used the fine rods to touch up the large blade on my Victorinox Explorer SAK, and it worked well.
Freehand sharpening with a stone remains a valuable skill. However, for routine sharpening of most knives, I'm going to use the Sharpmaker because I get better results with it than anything else I've tried. The Gerber sharpener will go into my possibles bag after I add a lanyard of some bright yellow string, to help me find it if I drop it. It weighs almost nothing and will serve to put a usable edge on a knife if it gets dull in the field.
Remember, dull knives are dangerous. They require you to exert more effort to cut something, which increases the likelihood you'll slip and cut yourself. Sharp knives are much safer. The Spyderco and Gerber are good tools to help you keep your knives sharp.