"Used regularly, it's a very inexpensive way to get $10 knives to perform almost like $80 ones."

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Slowly but surely, I've gone from being the girl with terrifyingly unsafe knife skills to being relatively nimble with a blade. But if there's one thing that still remains squarely outside my comfort zone, it's manual sharpening. As my current roommate is the fortunate owner of some enviable Wüsthof knives, I've yet to upgrade from my not-so-desirable (and since discontinued) Ikea set. Considering that the roommate (and her Wüsthofs) won't be around forever, I decided to put a knife sharpener to the test. With some TLC, could I get my crappy set to mimic the sharp competition?

I quickly mustered up my old scientific skills to devise an empirical test. The gadget? A handheld 2-stage Wüsthof knife sharpener. The victims? A juicy heirloom tomato and a shockingly oversized cucumber. With two textures to challenge the blades, and a certain engineer boyfriend to act as referee, I was sure we'd pinpointed the most objective method to judge our chopping prowess.

Round One

Unsharpened, our 8-inch Wüsthof chef's knife scored a somewhat surprisingly low 2 out of 5 stars on the tomato test, with only a marginal improvement of 3 stars against the cucumber. The Ikea counterpart, having gone through considerably less use, beat the Wüsthof in the unsharpened tomato race with a score of 3 stars, but fell flat with the cucumber and earned a sad 2 stars there. Against my expectation, there was no clear forerunner pre-sharpening. A dull knife, it seems, is a dull knife.

Round Two

After running each blade through the coarse and fine slots of the sharpener, my knives looked ready for a second wind. In its newly refurbished glory, the Wüsthof knife justified its initial price tag--it rated 4.5 and 4 on the tomato and cucumber tests, respectively, falling just a hair shy of professional quality. The Ikea knife, which deceived me with an ever so subtly serrated blade and didn't maximize the sharpener's potential, improved regardless with scores of 3.5 and 3.

The Verdict

Seeing as that both knives improved considerably in performance--the Ikea knife would have had better results had it been a fully smooth blade--I'm declaring the sharpener today's winner. In terms of value, it is the least expensive option on the market (electric ones are about three times as much), and it's surely effective and compact enough to satisfy any beginner or intermediate cook. Used regularly, it's a very inexpensive way to get $10 knives to perform almost like $80 ones--and if I'm not killing myself (or the boyfriend referee) in the process, it's all that much better.

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