In a recent post on BladeReviews.com, Dan posts his top 5 must have items for maintaining knives. First on the list is a sharpening system. I could not agree more. As I've tried to maintain knives over the years, I've been frustrated by my lack of skill with most flat stones. I've often gotten people to sharpening my knives for me or even just bought a new knife when the edge of the old becomes totally useless.
Sharpening systems with guides to help you maintain or resharpen edges at consistent angles are a huge help to those of us who don't have the experience. I had seen them and even used to cheap Smith Sharpener some time ago, but one day I saw a set of Lansky Crock Sticks at a local sporting goods store, and I decided to give it a try. Now my knives stay sharp.
The Lansky Turn Box Crock Sticks is a surprisingly simple yet effective design without bells or whistles. It is effectively a wooden block, with two left and right facing 20 degree and 25 degree holes cut into the top. There two medium grit and two fine grit 5" long alumina ceramic rods will rest. The four rods are stored horizontally from the end where a turning door keeps them inside when not in use.
Setup consists of placing the rods of the desired grit into the holes of the desired edge angle. I prefer the 20 degree edge using medium grit if the knife has gotten pretty dull or the fine grit when touching up or finishing. Then, starting from the top, the edge is kept point downward as you run the knife down the rod while drawing it towards you. You then do the same action for the other side of the blade with the parallel rod. Simple, keep this up in even strokes until the edge smooths out. Easy!
For maintenance, I run the rods under warm water and then scrub them with a rag or paper towels after a few uses. Mind the guide holes and check for debris, blow them out if necessary. Remember those guide holes need to stay uniform so your edges do likewise.
I've had great luck with bringing VG10, AUS-8, 7CR17, and 154cm blade to shaving sharpness. I have had less luck with the 5CR15MoV. I'm unsure about carbon steel. Both my carbon steel knives I've tried to use with this, I found a bit too long to use properly. The 5inch sticks are just too short. However, Lansky makes a kitchen version of this with 9inch sticks. I feel that I really need to pick one up soon.
The Spyderco Sharpmaker that Dan recommends is effectively a much nicer and more elaborate setup than the Lansky. However, the simple Lansky is a third of the price and certainly has less to lose. Having had solid luck with the Lansky, I'll admit that I might want something similar with more features. The Sharpmaker is certainly that.
The Lansky Crock Sticks are simple, inexpensive, and effective. They are by no means perfect. However, they are an excellent starting point for the beginning knife sharpener. This system will pay for itself quickly and tell you if you want or need something more advanced. Even after going with something nicer like the Sharpmaker, you might find the Lanskey going into your kitchen knife drawer or put into your trunk or truck box to serve as a backup.