Ken Onion x Work Sharp: A Legendary Partnership

Presented by: Work Sharp Knife & Tool Sharpeners

The Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife & Tool Sharpener remains the premier powered sharpener on the market, offering users a combination of performance, depth, and accessibility that put it in a class of its own. We recently sat down with Work Sharp to learn the origin story of this brand-defining product.

A Chance Encounter
Work Sharp broke onto the scene with the Original Knife & Tool Sharpener (KTS), which brought the concept of a powered knife sharpener into a brand new market: that of outdoorspeople, working people, and other everyday knife users.

Ken Onion first encountered one at an Alaska’s Healing Heart hunting event. He attended in support of wounded veterans and, naturally, was chosen to sharpen the rest of the group’s blades. “When you’ve got Ken Onion in the camp, who better to sharpen your knives?” jokes Work Sharp’s Kyle Crawford. Onion used the KTS and found that it emulated the equipment in his shop. “We wanted to replicate the kind of belt sharpening that companies and makers use. It’s how knives are actually made,” Crawford says.

Onion at the sharpener in his shop

Onion at the sharpener in his shop

Eventually, the sharpening gurus in the knife enthusiast community discovered Work Sharp’s machine. Needless to say, the KTS had a long row to hoe when it came to impressing these hardcore fans. “Until we came along, powered sharpeners were crossovers from the kitchen market,” explains Crawford. “No one had done it right so people were burning blades, there was no angle control, and no way to do it that wasn’t high risk.”

But Onion himself advocated for the KTS, cropping up in a BladeForums thread dedicated to discussing the device’s merits. “We were watching the discussion and saw that he came in and said our baby was beautiful,” Crawford recalls. It proved to Work Sharp that it could make – and deserved to have – a spot for itself in the enthusiast sector. “That pivoted the dialogue around our products completely.”

Work Sharp

A Superstar Partnership
After meeting in person at Blade Show, the friendship between Onion and Work Sharp became a partnership in 2012. Crawford flew out to Onion’s workshop in Kaneohe, Hawaii for a prolonged brainstorming session, with the goal of coming up with a new, enthusiast-friendly sharpener. “We literally sat in front of a white board and came up with our customer,” Crawford explains. “What kind of knife he had in his pocket, what kind of truck he drove – what sort of beer he drank.”

Onion and Work Sharp brainstorming in 2012

Onion and Work Sharp brainstorming in 2012

What would it look like? What would it come with? “In terms of industrial design, we tried to merge a working man’s product with something that embodied Ken’s personal style,” Crawford tells us. The Ken Onion Edition’s handle emulates the bold, organic style that Onion brought to his custom and production knives for decades. But the team knew that the nitty gritty (literally) would be what kept their target customer coming back to sharpen his blades on their new product. To that end they outfitted it with five different belts – ranging from extra coarse to extra fine grits – and a sharpening angle that can be adjusted from 15 to 30 degrees.

An early drawing of the Ken Onion Edition sharpener

An early drawing of the Ken Onion Edition sharpener

It’s a comprehensive sharpening solution, but also an instructive system that grows with its user; few other commercial products teach you as much about edge geometry and steel performance as the Ken Onion Edition. “The exciting thing is that people aren’t just learning a mechanism: they’re learning how to sharpen, understanding edge geometry and convexing a blade,” says Crawford. For those who want to take it to the next level, Work Sharp even offers a blade grinding attachment so you can do serious reprofiling and edge shaping.

This depth lends it an innate appeal for any knife enthusiast, but, importantly, the Ken Onion Edition can also teach a novice or non-knife person the value in a quality pocket knife or fixed blade. Crawford believes that knowing that you can take care of what you own makes you want to own something worth taking care of. “That education can bring someone up to a premium knife, such as a Benchmade, because they don’t see a knife as consumable anymore.”

Featured image: Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife & Tool Sharpener

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