I do love a good knife. I've got more chef's knives and and santoku than you can shake a honing rod at and my main technique for ensuring they are sharp has tended to be buying a new one on a semi-regular basis. Which is a bit lazy of me really, but I've always found that keeping a really good knife razor sharp just isn't easy as I'd like it to be. However now something has come along that could solve my blade-sharpening woes forever. It's the Horl 2 knife sharpener!
It's a bit of a sad state of affairs that I own a superb set of whetstones from Tog Knives (opens in new tab), but I don't quite feel qualified to use them. Whetstones are the best way to keep the best chef's knives as sharp as the day you first bought them – sharper in fact, if you really know what you're doing. I'm just not dextrous or patient enough to maintain my knives in the style of Rambo in a training montage, however.
The issue with blade maintenance is the need to sharpen at just the right angle – broadly speaking, 20º on Western knives and 15º on Japanese ones. This is what causes anxiety when using stones. There are lots of sharpeners where you just pull the blade through a pair of ceramic or metal disks or rods positioned at the requisite angle – albeit nearly always 20º rather than any other option. The best of these work reasonably well for maintaining an edge but can't compare to a whetstone.
Horl 2 takes a whole new approach – well, I've never seen another sharpener like it, anyway. I shot this video to try to show how it works. It's not the most visually perfect clip ever filmed, I grant you, but just turn the volume up and enjoy that authentic knife-sharpening sound – it's so satisfying.
Hopefully you can see how the Horl 2 works from that. The compact wooden wedge part – known as the 'S-Pad' for reasons I can't quite elucidate – contains extremely strong magnets that grip your knife very firmly indeed. The even cleverer bit is that one end is angled at exactly 20º for all your standard knives, and the other is angled at exactly 15º for your fancy Japanese ones.
Once your blade is thus angled just right, all you have to do is run the business end of the Horl 2 along it. This is a pleasingly hefty little barrel that has a sharpening steel surface on one end, and a ceramic honing disk on the other. When sharpening a knife for the first time with it, you will need to roll it up and down along the edge of your knife for several minutes. This is to 'train' the edge to the Horl 2's specifications. You then reverse the knife on its magnetic mount to sharpen the other edge of the blade.
Subsequently, you can sharpen or hone with just a few passes, particularly if you're going for a 'little and often' approach to blade maintenance.
It is hard to over-emphasise just how satisfying this process is. I felt confident that I couldn't mess up my blade's edge, and the end results have been uniformly impressive, on everything from cheapo German utility knives to expensive Japanese ones made of Damascus steel.
This gif shows the process rather better than the video above, but it's quite low-res and lacks the satisfying sound of metal being sharpened.
If your knife is particularly large – a cleaver for instance – it's still possible to use the Horl 2 with a little effort, as you can place the knife mount on your work surface and then use a bread board or similar to elevate the sharpener.
Made in a factory on the edge of the Black Forest, the Horl 2 is, as its name suggests, the follow-up to the original Horl sharpener. This won the German equivalent of Dragon's Den a few years ago, putting the Horl 2 up there with Reggae Reggae sauce as one of the very best things ever to come out of that show.
The version I've been testing is the 'standard' Horl 2, which has an exceedingly pleasing, natural wood finish. You can also get the more affordable Horl 2 Cruise, which has a white painted finish and only a 20º sharpening angle. True connoisseurs may crave the Horl 2 Pro, which uses 'planetary gearing' to send its barrel edges whirling around three times faster than by manual rolling alone. That is a touch pricier, mind.
Overall, I love using my Horl 2, and the results pass all the usual sharpness tests – making short work of tomatoes; finely chopping onions; slicing up the edges of bits of paper without the paper buckling – with flying colours. One day, I really will learn how to use whetstones like a pro, but for now the Horl 2 is keeping my knives super sharp whilst requiring barely any skill or effort from me at all.
Horl 2: price and availability
Horl 2 is available in most of Europe and has just gone on sale in the UK. It's available from Horl's own site (opens in new tab) and also at Borough Kitchen (opens in new tab), which just happens to be arguably my favourite online cook shop.
Pricing is as follows: the Horl 2 is £139, the Horl 2 Cruise is £99 and the Horl 2 Pro is £299 – but then it does sharpen three times faster than its simpler siblings.
If you live in American or Australia, brace yourself for bad news: the Horl 2 is not available in your countries, as yet. Hopefully the UK roll-out means the rest of the English-speaking world isn't too far behind.